Unemployment is at a record low. Where’s my job?

Dear Sarah,

Apparently, unemployment is at 3.9%…but, I’m still looking for a job. How do I reconcile this and, you know, find one?

Thanks,

Feeling Alone Right Now

Hey FARN,

Jobless rates are at a five-decade low having just recently dipped from 4% (2/10 of a percentage point lower than it’s record low in The 60s). Significant!

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US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Understandably, this is frustrating to read if you’re an active job seeker. Job hunting sucks and there are a variety of factors that are stacked against you of which you have no control.

‘What are you not doing’, you ask?

Here are a few data-backed tips that may help:

The Job Search… just go for it!

If you meet more than 60% of the job qualifications, you should apply! Many people, in particular women, will avoid applying if they’re not 100% qualified. Apply to as many jobs as you can to make up for the fact that any single job you apply for online is nearly zero.

Your Resume

Not only should you have a simple machine-parsable resume format but you should include as many keywords as possible in your resume AND cover letter from the original job posting.

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Also, describe your job achievements with different action verbs. This one resume tip is is associated with +139.6% boost in getting more interviews. Literally, all you have to do is change the first word in your resume skill set to an action word and it increases your chances of an interview over competition by +140%! Also, if you describe the different things that you did at that company with different action verbs, you’ll have finished strong.

In Person

If you’ve made it to the interview stage of your job search journey you have a solid chance of getting the job. Be your charming self and relax knowing that you’ve made it this far.

Oh, and be sure to get the earliest appointment you can in the day when interviewing. Interviewers get hangry.

All the best!

 

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How Do I Negotiate My Salary?

Sarah,

I’ll start this letter by highlighting the positive: I got a job! But every step in the job-hunting seems to create a new hurdle to clear. And this one is no different.

The time has come to go against all my natural instincts and talk about money. I’m as uncomfortable as the average bear about asking for the amount I think I’m worth, but I don’t want to talk myself out of money I would otherwise earn.

Do you have any tips for someone who has to dig in their heels and ask to be paid?

Sincerely,
Broke And Nervous

Hey BAN,

The first thing you should know is that most people are wary of fighting over money. After all, they’ve been hunting for a job for a while and they don’t want to scare anyone off by insisting on a salary higher than what they’re potential new bosses might be willing to pay.

That’s before we get to the unique disadvantage of salary negotiations at a new job: they know how much money they have to spend and you don’t. But negotiating is crucial for any employee. In fact, people who don’t negotiate can lose as much as $500,000 over the course of a career.

Here are a few tips that will help you when you find yourself having to pull honey from a stone:

Be Brave

We know it sucks. We know you’re nervous. But the absolute worst thing that anybody can do in a salary negotiation is say “no.” Don’t talk yourself down from the salary you want before the negotiation even starts because you’re worried about a bad reaction.

Be Ready

Do your research on the company and do an honest evaluation of yourself. Knowing what you can bring to the company and how much they typically pay will help you argue for the exact amount you believe yourself to be worth.

Stand Strong

Don’t let a “no” throw you off. Before you abandon a request entirely, try and see if you can convince them to see things your way using the facts you know about yourself and the position in question.

Give A Little

Sometimes you aren’t going to get exactly what you want. But if they aren’t able to pay the full salary you expected, seek out other perks and benefits that can add to the overall value of the job for you.

Keeping these in mind will help you avoid starting off your latest gig on a grumpy foot, knowing that your paycheck is going to be exactly what you need it to be.

Best of luck!

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How Long Does The Average Job Search Take?

Sarah –

I’ve been hunting for a 2 months and I’m starting to get discouraged. It’s been hard to keep my enthusiasm level high while working on a seemingly unending stream of cover letters and resumes. I just need to know there’s a light at the end of this tunnel of black ink on obsessed-over .pdfs.

My question is: how long does the average job search take? And how close am I to that point?

Thanks,
Impatient Applicant.

 

Hey Impatient,

If anyone understands how frustrating the job search can be, it’s us. I mean, we cared so much about the ways that the job search sucks that we started  a whole company just to make it better.

On paper, the wait time doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. We want the hunt to be quick and painless and the folks doing the hiring want talented candidates. You think this would make the hiring process quick, but unfortunately, people are still people and there are only so many hours for applying and reviewing in the day.

But don’t let it get you down. According to stats (our fave!) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the  average job search takes around 13 weeks. You’re almost there!

And if it doesn’t come in exactly that amount of time, know that it doesn’t mean anything is off about you or your work history. The tight labor market and low unemployment rate means that there are less jobs coming available. And the type of work your looking for can greatly effect the length of your job search.  We found that it could take mechanical engineers well over three months to find a spot and the average administrative assistant has to send over 200 job applications before being offered a job.

If you won’t believe me, take it from our CEO Kushal Chakrabarti:

There isn’t anything wrong with you. There are good, reasonable, scientific explanations for why it’s so hard to get a job right now. And even though people don’t talk about it, it’s hard for everyone.

Stay strong, folks.”

Hope this helps!

P.S. If you want to give your search a bit of gas, we can increase your chances of landing the job by 5x for just $10. Give our plans the once-over if you’re ready to let us do the hard work.

How should I explain my layoff in my job interview?

Dear Sarah,

I was laid off 5 months ago due to a company merger and it has been tough finding work. I’ve finally managed to snag an interview recently, but now I’m struggling to prepare how I’m going to frame my layoff. Any advice?

Thanks,

Laid Off and Out

Hey LOO,

First of all, congrats on the job interview!

Secondly, you’re not alone having had a tough time getting an interview. At Talent.Works we’ve actually found that the job hunt is tougher for those that have experienced layoffs/firings; having either on your resume is the equivalent of losing 5 years of work experience. (It’s especially hard if you were fired, quit, or laid off in the first 15 months of being there).

The good news is, you’re past the hard part! This company has already viewed your resume, liked what they saw, and decided to start the conversation. At this point, it’s all about communication:

Be Transparent  

Understand that there is nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to a layoff. There are a multitude of reasons that someone will get laid-off in their lifetime and it happens to everyone from star employees to 80% of an entire sales department, for example. (In other words, don’t take it personal as there are business decisions.)

Be honest and transparent about communicating your situation, for example, include the correct start and end dates to your jobs. In your case, explaining the circumstances surrounding your layoff (RE: merger) will also eliminate this as being a performance issue. Whatever the reason, keep it brief.

Explain your value add

Regardless of the amount time you spent at your job, hiring managers want to know how you contributed. Make sure you list out your accomplishments such as raising funds or saving money and tie it back to the bottom line. Even if you were there for 6 months, emphasize your skills and how you contributed to departmental goals.

Make available past work

If you haven’t already considered it, crafting a specialized blog, website, or portfolio showcasing your work is a great way to convince hiring managers you have the skills necessary for this position regardless of past circumstances. Case studies, writing/design samples, and lesson plans are all great examples of what a manager would find helpful in making their decision. Of course, don’t share anything of a proprietary nature.

Gather your references

Social proof! Colleagues willing to provide testimonials as to your work ethic and past performance is incredibly valuable, especially if it’s coming from the job where you experienced the layoff. It will offset potential concerns and they’ll be able to briefly speak to the situation, if asked. If they’re not able to provide a phone reference, send them a reference request via LinkedIN and make sure your hiring manager has access.

All the best!

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Should I have more than one resume?

Dear Sarah,

I’m currently in the job market and have been applying to dozens of different positions a day. It just occurred to me that I might be shooting myself in the foot with just the one resume as I’m not getting any responses. Could this be why I’m still unemployed?

Thanks,

Debating Multiples

Hey DM,

Not knowing your situation fully I can’t attribute this as being The Reason why you’re still looking, but I would say your intuition is correct and here’s why:

Hiring managers are adept at spotting generic resumes. Trust me. It’s actually a big reason why you may be dismissed as a candidate. From the title of your attachment (i.e.: ‘JohnDoe_Marketing’) to the cadence of your cover letter, it’s much more effective and worth your time to tailor each resume to the desired job/position.

I know, I know. It’s easier to cast a wide net with the one resume, and sometimes that works. But, if your response rate is low or your not getting the ‘right’ responses for what you desire job-wise, please consider either adding more personalization or in some cases crafting multiple resumes.

If the jobs you’re applying to have distinctly different needs, it makes sense to have completely separate resumes. For example, if you’re a financial analyst for a non-profit but are looking to cross industries into marketing it would make sense to have two separate resumes where, for instance, you can focus on how your data driven background and brand knowledge precipitated your interest in business. Removing very specific, unadaptive skills and focusing on transferable skills is key.

Unless you’re making a drastic career change, having multiple resumes isn’t really necessary. It’s for this reason that I’d start with tailoring what you have to better suit the job.

Some quick personalization tips, I’d recommend:

  • Use keywords: You’re most likely competing with hundreds of other candidates. Hiring managers (especially in larger companies) are using quick scans and applicant tracking systems to quickly narrow down an applicant pool. Using words from the job description everywhere in your resume helps to ensure you’re still a contender.
  • Focus on the employer’s needs: Really look at the job description. If the role indicates “cross-functional collaboration” and you have the experience working in such an environment be sure to weave that into your resume. Use real examples, as well.
  •  Use numbers with your keywords: Adding numbers to your transferable achievements is extremely eye-catching. Were you responsible for “managing customer service”? Instead of using something ambiguous and vague, use it as an opportunity to tout your accomplishments: “Increased survey response rate by 15% with excellent customer service”. 

All the best!

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How Can I Fix Gaps In My Resume?

Dear Sarah,

I was out of work for quite a while. Now that I’m looking to work again, I’m worried that the gap in my resume will be held against me. I WANT to work, but I have a feeling that my time out of work will keep me from working again, just making the gap in my employment even LONGER. It’s frustrating to think about and even harder to go through. So, I was wondering if you had any workarounds.

Thanks,

Catch-22

Hey Catch,

People take time away from work for many reasons. Maybe a family member got sick, maybe they were changing careers or maybe they were let go unexpectedly and found that it took time to land on their feet.

Unfortunately, resumes aren’t a place for this kind of nuance. The average hiring manager looks at your resume for literal seconds, scanning it to decide if you’re a worthy candidate among the sea of people looking for work (many of whom didn’t have to take time away).

In that initial scan, you’re just trying to catch the manager’s eye in a positive way. While gaps in a resume can be eye-catching, they aren’t the kind of attention you want. And if the resume gap is paired with a short term of employment, things get even dicier. We found that being let go from a position before 18 months drastically reduced hireability, having the same effect as losing ~5 years of experience from their resumes.

Swear it’s not all bad, though. Getting around a gap in employment isn’t impossible, it’s just tough. And there are a few tricks that you can use to trick a hiring manager into thinking about the times you were working as opposed to your absences.

Fill the gaps

This is the most obvious answer and it’s also the hardest to do. But you should definitely consider what you did in your time away and if you did any work that could possibly be related to the position for which you are applying. It won’t be pretty. A patch rarely is. But it’s better than a hole in the wall.

And even if you can’t find a way to fill the voids in your resume, consider having back-up side work for the future. If you find yourself jobless, see if you can easily slide into some part-time work for a cousin who wouldn’t mind picking up the phone and gushing over you. Any job is better than no job.

Play With Numbers

At TalentWorks, we like numbers. Like, a lot. Playing with different scenarios to see what numbers they produce is a big part of what we do and how we help others find work, so we can wholeheartedly endorse fooling around with the numbers on your resume.

If you were let go from a position at the beginning of the year and didn’t land another one until the fall, they were still technically within the same year. Just don’t include months on your resume and the gap is all but gone. Where your resume might read something like this:

Company A – March 2013 – January 2015

  • Etc.
  • Skills
  • And So On

Company B – August 2015 – Present

  • Wow
  • I’m Great
  • Hire Me

You should consider making it look like this:

Company A – 2013 – 2015

  • Did Great
  • What of it?
  • Uh-Huh

Company B – 2015 – Present

  • What gap?
  • I see no gap
  • One job, please

Don’t give them a reason to ask where you were and they won’t. After all, hiring managers are busy.

Increase Your Chances In Other Ways

There’s plenty of other little tricks you can incorporate to keep the person reviewing your resume from thinking about couch time. Start your resume with a narrative statement that puts what you can do for them front and center. Put your experience into hard numbers explaining how you affected the companies you worked for. Apply at the right time, using the appropriate keywords for the industry you’re working in and use leadership keywords to boost your profile.

Of course, if this is still seeming like a bit much, or you’re finding the hurdles insurmountable we have a whole suite of ways that we can help you land your next gig.

All the best!

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How Long Should A Cover Letter Be?

Dear Sarah,

I’m applying for jobs and I have NO IDEA how long my cover letter should be.  I want to fully explain my skills to hiring managers but I also don’t want their eyes to glaze over. I want to ensure that it actually gets read and not skimmed (or worse, tossed). How long should the ideal cover letter be?

Possibly Rambling

 

Hey PR,

Cover letters are hard enough to begin with. They ask the applicant to do something unnatural: tell other people what they’re good at. Like nicknames, there are certain qualities that you can’t bestow upon yourself.

It’s impossible to know if you’re a hard worker, a quick thinker or a “team player.” Side note: under no circumstances should you call yourself a team player. But that’s exactly what the average HR professional needs to know about you to separate you from the other applicants swarming their inbox.

It’s an uncomfortable situation and people in dicey spots tend to babble, looking to span the gap by kicking their feet in the air over the canyon until they land on the other side. If you don’t believe it, I’ve gone three paragraphs and I haven’t even arrived at the question yet! Ipso facto and a QED.

The short answer on how long a cover letter should be is one page. The proof is in the name. It’s meant to be a single page that covers your resume. Back in the antediluvian days of shoe leather and working your way up from the mailroom, it was a way to make the application you handed to someone a little neater than an easily chucked or lost piece of paper. And both the practice and the appropriate length have carried over into our age of surrealist memes and reality TV presidents.

As anybody who has ever gone to college can tell you, a page can fit a widely divergent amount of words. And that’s before you make your periods one font size larger (not that we ever did that). To avoid confusion, let’s say that a cover letter should be four to five paragraphs long. Here’s a few tips about how to fill out that space:

  • Address the letter to a person if you’re sure of their identity. Otherwise, use “Dear Hiring Manager.” Avoid the phrase “To Whom It May Concern” at all costs.
  • The first paragraph should explain why you’re interested in the job and how your values align with the mission of the company.
  • The second and third paragraph should broach your work history and explain how it’s relevant to the job at hand. They should move from broadly relevant to the position to specific to the job offered.
  • The final paragraph should reiterate your excitement about the position and put the idea of talking to you in the near future into the hiring manager’s head

One final tip before I go: while no one likes writing cover letters, it’s best to avoid using a canned cover letter for every application. The average job opening sees hundreds of applicants and hiring managers are better than most at sniffing out someone who didn’t try. Create a basic cover letter template that hits on the key points about you and then customize it based on the opening and the qualifications spelled out in the listing.

Best of luck!

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Ask Sarah: Why Do I Keep Getting Ghosted by Companies?

Sarah—

I don’t expect a response from every job I apply to, but what is up with getting no response after multiple interviews, even after I follow up. Do I suck at interviewing or are employers just that rude?

Feeling Ignored

Dear Feeling Ignored,

Some employers are just that rude. I mean, I can’t say if you suck at interviewing. Maybe you’re showing up in an orange tutu. Maybe you have no idea what the company does and biffed your way out of the classic “What do you know about us?” question. (If you’re not ready for this one, you really need to give one of our wonderful TalentAdvocates a call.)

Although it’s still uncommon to get ghosted after an interview, it’s happening more and more. But, what does happen all the time is getting ghosted after a job application. In fact, it’s pretty much the norm.

Chances are it’s not you. Most of us have the tendency to beat ourselves up about it. “I should’ve worn the blue shirt instead of the black.” “I should’ve smiled more.” “Maybe if I’d asked better questions…” “Oh, God, what if I had a massive booger hanging out of my nose? I knew I should have grabbed that Kleenex!”

We focus on the small, nit-picky things that might have made a difference. It’s easier to do that, because it puts a little control back into our hands. But, here’s the truth: we can follow every bit of advice out there — show up a little early (but not too much), dress up (but not too much), do our research beforehand, give killer answers — and still never hear back. There are so many things that can happen behind the scenes:

  • They already had an internal employee in mind (this happens a lot). Maybe the nephew of some VP needed a job at the last minute.
  • The hiring manager didn’t feel a connection. Personality is a huge part of the equation for a growing number of businesses. You’ll be spending more time with these people than with your own family — finding the right culture fit is just as important for your sanity and health.
  • Another candidate had fancy-schmancy experience. Maybe they worked for big, name-brand companies. Maybe you’ve got years of experience producing videos, but they made feature films.
  • Maybe you applied during the Resume Blackhole. After a job has been posted for more than 10 days or so, it’s almost not even worth applying to it. You’ll get ghosted (almost) every time.
  • They’re simply too busy.

And that last one? That’s the kicker.

Most of the time, it really isn’t you — it’s them. Let’s take a moment to think about it from a hiring manager’s perspective:

  • For every open job, there are often 100+ job applications. You have to review each application and pick 5-10 people to interview.
  • Even if you spend just 15-20 seconds on a resume and 2-3 minutes writing an email, that’s still nearly an hour.
  • The interviews basically take you a full day (assuming 30-60 minutes for an interview, plus notes, plus any other random emails and meetings you had).
  • Making the offer, writing it up, setting them up in payroll, getting them started on their project is probably a full day on its own.

Replying to 100+ job applicants is (realistically) never going to happen. Worse still, replying to every interviewee often falls through the cracks. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.

But, honestly, here’s the thing: You’re going to drive yourself crazy with all the whys and what-ifs. Your time is precious — whatever the reason, don’t give them another moment of your time and energy. Instead, focus all of yourself on looking ahead and maximizing your job search.

There’s both an art and a science to the job search, and making sure you open enough (job application) doors is a big part of that science. The only way you can do that is by looking ahead — not at the closed doors behind you.

Look ahead, sister!

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