How The Economy Is Still Holding Back Job Market Recovery

Economy-Jobs Report

By Alison Green

Depending on who you ask, the U.S. economy might or might not be on an upswing. But talk to job seekers, and it's clear that any recovery still hasn't been fully reflected in the job market. Job seekers continue to find a much harder market than they did before the financial crash of 2008.

Here are eight ways that the economy is still making things tough on workers looking for a new job.

1. There are still often hundreds of applicants for a single opening. With nearly three times as many job seekers as there are job openings, employers are often overwhelmed by the response for even low-paying jobs. The good news in that sentence? In 2009, that number was six job seekers for every job opening.

2. Employers are a lot pickier about who they hire. Because employers have so many qualified candidates to choose from, simply meeting the job qualifications isn't nearly enough these days. That also means that it's much 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. Relatedly...

3. It's still difficult to change fields. No matter how transferable your skills might be, the reality is that employers have plenty of well-trained candidates who meet all the job's qualifications and have already worked in the field. That means that even though you might feel that you could excel at the job if just given the chance, employers don't have much of an incentive to take a chance on you.

4. Job seekers are still often applying for jobs far below their qualifications. Whether it's newly minted college grads applying for retail or coffee shop jobs (and praying they'll get them, because they often don't) or lawyers and Ph.Ds applying for entry-level research jobs, the job market has forced many workers to lower their sights. These days, candidates often must aim for jobs well below the ones they would have been competitive for in past years.

5. Employers still have the upper hand, and they act like it. Job seekers reported a dramatic increase in rude treatment from employers when the economy first crashed in 2008, and it's become increasingly entrenched since then. From interviewing applicants multiple times and then never bothering to get back to them with a "yes" or "no," to forcing applicants to use malfunction-filled online application systems that won't let you apply if you don't submit your salary history and even your Social Security number along with your résumé, many employers have stopped caring about whether candidates feel treated well.

6. Temp agencies aren't the answer they used to be. While signing up with a temp agency used to be a dependable way to generate income in between jobs, it's no longer that same reliable safety net. With so many people out of work and competing for the same income sources – even temporary ones – many qualified job seekers find that the agencies they register don't call with any work for them.

7. Job searches still 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 – sending out hundreds of applications – before finding a new position. This is particularly tough for workers who lose a job without time to get a new one lined up first; they can often find themselves unemployed for long stretches of even a year or more.

8. Companies still expecting people to do more with less. Many companies have laid off staff and/or implemented hiring freezes in the last few years. Even without formal hiring freezes, it's not uncommon for companies to decide not to fill a position when someone leaves, to save money. And then, rather than reducing workload accordingly, frequently employers simply expect the remaining employees to cover that work in addition to their own. The result is fewer openings being offered – as well as overworked employees who feel stretched thin.

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.
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