I suspect hiring managers everywhere could tell you exactly when the economy really imploded: Last fall, I started to see dramatic differences in the hiring process from the employer's side. Everyone knows how the recession has impacted job seekers--there are fewer jobs and lots more competition--but here's what it looks like from an employer's side.
- To no one's surprise, there are way more applicants for any job I post. Overwhelmingly so. I look at every single one, so the amount of time involved has gone way up.
- I'm seeing more high-quality applicants. Generally, after the initial rounds of screening and phone interviews, I end up with a pretty small group of candidates who I'm interested in doing final interviews with--typically no more than three or four. These days, the group doesn't narrow itself down like that; I'm often left with far more high-quality candidates than I can interview.
- I used to tell people that the "required qualifications" in job ads were wish lists, not inflexible requirements, and that candidates who didn't perfectly match weren't automatically disqualified. But these days I'm finding myself more often than not hiring people who are perfect matches, because the job market is dumping them in my lap. So, it's harder for less perfectly qualified candidates to stretch up to a job that in previous years they might have been able to get more easily.
- Most candidates' salary expectations are lower. Working at a nonprofit, I'm used to some candidates (mainly those moving into the nonprofit world from the corporate sector) having salary expectations that are simply out of our range. But it's been a long time now since I've seen that.
- I'm seeing really overqualified candidates applying for internships and entry-level jobs. And relatedly, I'm seeing a lot more candidates where I can't quite understand how the job they're applying to fits into their career plan (because it doesn't).
Now that I've finished that depressing account, let's talk about what can job seekers do to rise to the top of the pile in these conditions. First, make sure you're really targeting your job search to positions that are a strong match. Random resume-blasting, never a good strategy, is almost entirely worthless right now. And you absolutely must make sure your resume and cover letter really spell out the case for why you and the position are strongly matched. Here's some advice that will help:
And there are people who are willing to help -- a whole blogosphere of us, in fact. Good luck!
Alison Green is the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results. She is chief of staff for the Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit lobbying organization, where she oversees day-to-day management of the staff as well as hiring, firing, and staff development. Her writings have been published in the Washington Post, the New York Times, Maxim, and dozens of other newspapers. She blogs at Ask a Manager.