By Allison Green
If you're starting a job search in 2015 and haven't been on the market for a while, you might be surprised by how the job market and typical hiring processes have changed in the last five to 10 years. Part of this is a function of how the economy has led to more job seekers than there are jobs, part is attributable to changes in technology and part is simply changing norms of what a good hiring process entails. Regardless, it's a different world for job seekers than it was a decade ago.
Here's what you need to know about job searching in 2015:
1. It will take longer than you think. Employers who move quickly and wrap up hiring processes in a few weeks are becoming a rarity. Employers are increasingly stretching out the interview process and overall time it takes to hire a new employee. Many employers are adding additional steps to their hiring process, including multiple interview rounds in which candidates meet with multiple decision-makers and others who have input on the process. The time between steps and the time it takes to make a decision once interviews are over can be substantial. Some job seekers report hiring processes that stretch on for four or more months before a hire is made.
What's more, employers' own estimates of how long their hiring process will take are often off. It's not uncommon for an interviewer to tell a candidate that the process is moving quickly, that the company feels urgency around filling the position and a decision will be made within a week – only for the process to drag on for months longer.
2. Simply being qualified won't get you an interview. Employers these days are often inundated with applications for loads of qualified candidates – far too many to interview. That means many, many qualified candidates don't even get interviews.
For job seekers, this means it's not enough to show that you meet the posted qualifications for the job; you need to show that you'd excel at it. It's more important than ever to write a compelling cover letter, use your network in any way you can and have a strong résumé that shows a clear track record of achievement and demonstrates your success in the key areas that the employer is seeking.
3. Employers are increasingly relying on online applications, to the detriment of job seekers. While plenty of employers still direct candidates to apply by emailing a résumé and cover letter, there's a growing move toward electronic application systems, which require you to fill out often lengthy online forms. Before you even get a phone screen, you sometimes have to divulge everything from your salary history to your Social Security number to references' contact information.
These forms can take significant amounts of time. They also put many job seekers in uncomfortable positions by preventing them from even applying if they don't answer multiple invasive questions up front.
4. It's tough to change fields. The job market continues to be difficult for people trying to change fields, since selling your skills as transferable can be an uphill battle when you're up against plenty of candidates who won't require any training or ramp-up time. There's little incentive for employers to take a risk on field-changers or to figure out how skills from one field might translate to another one.
That doesn't mean it's impossible to do, but if you're hoping to change fields, it's smart to brace yourself for a longer search and do anything you can to get experience in the new field. (Volunteering can be one good way to do that).
5. You may be asked to demonstrate your work in action. Employers are increasingly testing candidates' abilities through things like writing tests, skills assessments, problem-solving simulations, role plays and creating mock work plans. These requests are reasonable and useful as long as they don't take a significant amount of time – but some employers push the boundaries of what's reasonable. Spending one to hours on an exercise to demonstrate how you'd approach the job is reasonable; being asked to provide a full day of free work or to create work that the employer will actually use is not.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search and management issues. She's the author of "How to Get a Job: Secrets of a Hiring Manager," co-author of "Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results" and the former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management.