What to Expect During a Job Search in Today's Market

New job seekers are often startled to find the conventions of the past have changed.

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Alison Green
If you're planning to search for a job this year after being off the market for a while, you might be in for a rude awakening. Today's job market is very different than ones from the past, and new job seekers are often startled to find out how conventions have changed and that what used to work can backfire today.

Here's what job seekers can expect today.

* It will take a long time. In the past, you might have expected your search to take a few months, but today, job searches take much longer; many people search for a year or even more before finding a new position. This means that you should start your search as early as possible, if you can. If you know that you'll need a new job in, say, December, don't wait to start searching until the fall; you should start right now.

* You might need to send a lot of applications. Some job seekers in today's market complain that they've applied to 20 jobs over the course of a few months without any result, but 20 applications are nearly nothing in this environment. In fact, many people would consider you lucky if you got a job after only 20 applications. Today, you'll generally need to plan on applying for many, many positions before you get interviews and offers.

* You'll be lucky to get rejections. If the last time you were searching, you heard back from employers to let you know that you were no longer under consideration, prepare for a rude surprise: These days, employers often don't respond to candidates at all when they've been rejected – even after multiple interviews with them. Instead of receiving a quick rejection notice, candidates often face only silence and are left to wait and wonder what happened.

* You'll mostly apply online. Gone are the days when you'd print out your résumé on thick paper and mail it off, or even drop by an office in person with your résumé in hand. Today, most jobs direct you to apply online, often using an electronic application system. Many of these don't even accept résumés at all and instead require you to painstakingly enter the information from your résumé into their own systems, which are often tediously long and bug-filled.

* It's harder to get someone to take a chance on you. Even the kindest employers who in the past might have taken a chance on someone inexperienced are today finding it hard to justify the risk, when they have so many experienced candidates to choose from.

* Salaries and benefits are lower. With a glut of job seekers crowding the market, employers have lowered salaries and in many cases cut benefits – and still have a sea of candidates willing to take those terms. As a result, many job seekers today are finding that their new jobs pay less than the ones they left behind and offer less attractive benefits.

* A degree isn't what it used to be. A degree used to carry the promise of certain employment, but it no longer opens doors the way it used to. Too many recent graduates are remaining unemployed or under-employed for months or even years, as employers opt for more experienced candidates. Even graduate degrees no longer promise an easier job search. In fact, in some cases, a graduate degree can even make the search more difficult, as many employers are wary when they see newly minted master's holders searching outside the field they studied.

* It's tough to get a job out-of-state. If you're looking for a job outside your local area, hunker down for a longer search. Many employers will consider only local candidates, since there are plenty of them and they're more convenient. (After all, out-of-town candidates generally can't show up for an interview within 48 hours or start as soon as someone local could.) And when employers do agree to interview out-of-town candidates, many expect them to cover their own costs to travel to the interview.

On the other hand, some things haven't changed: Employers are still looking for the best qualified candidates, those with a track record of achievement, and they still appreciate the basics: a strong résumé, a compelling cover letter and a candidate who is friendly, responsive, thoughtful and enthusiastic.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.