Record competition and tighter screening mean long waits for work

You would have to go back about 70 years to find a time in U.S. history when it was tougher to find a job than it is now. There are 15.1 million people unemployed and as of August, there were 6.3 people for every open full time position, according to the AP. And if that were not bad enough, companies are much pickier than they have been in the past -- sometimes conducting eight interviews after which they just leave candidates hanging for months, reports The New York Times.

The latest statistics on job competition are sobering. That ratio of 6.3:1 -- representing the number of unemployed to the number of unfilled positions -- is based on 14.9 million unemployed to 2.4 million openings in August 2009. I am not sure how they come up with these numbers but, as I wrote earlier, a big reason for the substantial gap is that many of the people who are looking for work are not qualified for the jobs that are open. This suggests a skills mismatch (and a training opportunity) of epic proportions.

But another problem for aspiring workers is that employers are getting very selective. The Corporate Executive Board did research that concluded such pickiness led to better employees, according to the Times.

In 2003, CEB asked 28,000 new hires how many interviews they had to get their current job. Next, CEB analyzed the quality of those workers by scrutinizing their performance reviews and interviewing managers. CEB concluded that those who were interviewed four to five times were considered the best workers -- better than those who had been interviewed one to three times. Given affirmative action and civil rights laws, such hiring caution also helps keep companies out of legal trouble.

This means that people looking for jobs should try to keep as many irons in the job search fire as they can. They should keep looking and opening up new possibilities until they have a signed employment contract in hand.

And they should try to develop a thick skin because there is a good chance that they'll interview with potential employers as many as eight times, only to end up being ignored by the same people who just a few weeks earlier were giving them lots of encouragement.

Peter Cohan is amanagement consultant, Babson professor and author of eight books including, You Can't Order Change. Follow him on Twitter.

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