There are still some skeptics who say otherwise, but I think the general consensus this year is that the job market is improving. For me, one of the signs of steady improvement has been shorter hiring cycles and fewer interviews before an offer is made.
That’s not to say that prospective candidates should throw caution to the wind and grab randomly at passing opportunities. Like any other market, this transition period between starvation and abundance requires a strategic approach.
The strategy will differ depending on how you’ve been spending your time these past few years. Before you launch your search, take a minute to review these tips for job seekers in three categories: those who are currently employed, those who are underemployed, and those who are unemployed.
Tips for currently employed job seekers. There’s a lot of discussion in human resource circles about the challenges of retaining workers as the market improves. Frankly, I think employers should be worried, particularly if they’ve been busy stacking duties onto workers’ backs without additional pay.
If you’re working now but feeling restless, you need to make a plan that includes these elements:
- Criteria for what you want in the next job, not just what you want to escape from in this position.
- A timeline to complete the transition by a specific date, with milestones set for key steps such as resume development and initial networking contact.
- Time to get your financial house in order, so mortgage refinancing or car purchases can be completed before you make the switch (because creditors prefer long work histories when they review credit applications).
Remember, too, that you will have a strong negotiating position with new employers because you still have a job. No matter how desperate you feel to make a change, don’t switch without negotiating for a good package.
Tips for underemployed job seekers. Workers in this category are at a disadvantage if they are working multiple jobs to make ends meet. With so much time lost in juggling schedules, it can be difficult to conduct a strategic search. For this reason, a two-part strategy might make sense, with the first step being a transition to a single job with a stable schedule, so the worker can more easily conduct a strategic search for the best long-term work solution.
This job seeker might best start by talking with current employers, as they are likely concerned with staff retention during the recovery. Points to cover would include:
- A switch from part time to full time if possible.
- An increase in pay that would allow the worker to drop other part-time jobs.
- A promotion or learning opportunities that would give the worker a better launch point for the future job search.
Tips for unemployed job seekers. This group is likely to experience competition in the market from currently employed workers hungry for a change.
Strategies for unemployed job seekers need to account for the more-crowded applicant pool by including these steps:
- Creating crisp, focused messages emphasizing transferable skills (problem-solving, project management, communicating, etc.) and work style (reliable, efficient, team player, etc.) to help the employer differentiate between candidates.
- Updating skills when possible to show relevance to the current workplace.
- Focusing networking attention on unhappy-but-employed friends who are planning to leave their jobs. Provided these workers are on good terms with their bosses, they are well-positioned to recommend new employees.
Tips for all job seekers. Regardless of your current employment situation, remember to craft a compelling message for potential employers, instead of defaulting to the less-than-exciting “We need each other.” And prepare for the reality that employers may still be moving slowly, and may still be focused on hiring part-time or contract workers instead of full-time staff. A mix of patience and assertiveness will help to keep this process moving in your favor.
Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at email@example.com or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.