The beginning of a new year inspires many professionals to assess the state of their career and dip their toe into the employment market. In this post, I offer several recommendations that can help job seekers conduct a search for a position that’s right for them. But first, here’s a quick look at the latest jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and insight into what the data mean for candidates.
The first jobs report of the year shows that the U.S. economy got off to a strong start in 2017. Employers added 227,000 positions in January — more than analysts expected. January’s figures extend a record stretch of U.S. job growth to 76 consecutive months. Retail trade, professional and business services, and financial activities were among the industries contributing to last month’s gains.
The BLS also released revised job numbers for 2016, reporting that 85,000 more positions were created than previously reported. This brings the total number of jobs added last year to 2,242,000, or about 187,000 per month. That compares to about 226,000 per month, on average, in 2015.
A great time to launch a job search
In January, the national unemployment rate moved up slightly, to 4.8 percent, from 4.7 percent in December. The rate has been at or below 5.0 percent for 17 consecutive months. The unemployment rate for college-degreed workers who are 25 or older was unchanged from the previous month: 2.5 percent.
According to the latest figures from the BLS, the unemployment rates many professional-level roles were also well below the national average in the fourth quarter of 2016:
- Financial analysts: 1.0%
- Accountants and auditors: 1.3%
- Database administrators: 1.6%
- Software developers: 1.9%
- Paralegals and legal assistants: 2.2%
- Secretaries and administrative assistants: 3.2%
- Designers: 3.5%
At the same time, many jobs in the United States are waiting to be filled. The most recent Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey from the BLS shows that more than 5.5 million jobs were open in November — essentially unchanged from October.
Many companies are in hiring mode this time of year because they have renewed budgets to spend, and they are staffing up to support planned initiatives for the year ahead.
Simply put, now is a great time to launch a job search.
Set your job search goals
To help you find a position that matches your skills, experience and interests, consider working toward these six job search goals in 2017:
Goal #1: I will update my resume before I start my job search
You may not like to work on your resume. But you’ll do yourself a favor if you have an up-to-date document at your fingertips.
One mistake candidates frequently make is to wait to update their resume until they find a job that interests them. That prevents them from applying for the position right away. And by the time they have a current version ready to submit, it may be too late. So, don’t delay: Update your resume today.
While you’re at it, review your LinkedIn profile and make sure it reflects your most recent professional accomplishments. Your LinkedIn profile is essentially your online resume, and many employers look up candidates on LinkedIn as part of the evaluation process. You want your profile to reflect the same information as your traditional resume.
Another advantage of having an up-to-date LinkedIn profile? Recruiters often use LinkedIn to help identify passive job seekers. If you maintain a solid profile, you’ll increase the likelihood that a recruiter will come across your information.
Goal #2: I will look for a job that makes me happy
Now is a good time to assess your professional and personal goals and determine exactly what you are looking for in a new job. What would make you happy?
A bigger paycheck, a fancier title, the opportunity to work at a brand-name firm — all of these things are nice, no doubt. They could probably contribute to your on-the-job happiness, as well. But are they more or less important to your overall satisfaction than a shorter commute? An invigorating workplace culture? The potential to advance quickly?
As you conduct your job search, have a clear picture in your mind of the job that would make you happiest and allow you to reach the objectives you’ve set. Without a clear idea of what this job looks like, you’ll have trouble finding the right fit.
Goal #3: I will audit my online presence
You can assume all potential employers will review your LinkedIn profile. Some will also look at other online channels to see if they can form a more complete picture of you as a candidate. If you use the same screen name on multiple sites, connecting the dots may be fairly easy.
Consider how you present yourself on social media and online forums. You may need to do some digital housecleaning.
First, make sure all information is current and accurate and presents you in the best light possible. If there’s anything you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see — photos from a recent family vacation or your unfiltered thoughts about your favorite sports team’s performance this past season, for example — review your privacy settings to prevent sensitive items from becoming public.
Goal #4: I will strengthen my skill set
Even in today’s employment market, where job candidates have an edge, you need to do whatever you can to gain an advantage over the competition. One way is to learn a new skill or earn a certification. No matter your chosen industry or career, change is happening all around you. Your skill set may need a boost to remain relevant and attractive to employers.
Pursuing professional development shows initiative and a commitment to learning, as well as an understanding of what it takes to excel in your field. It also makes it easier for you to answer the question that all hiring managers are likely to ask in one form or another: “How can you add value to the organization?”
Certain in-demand skills and credentials can also help you negotiate a higher salary. (Robert Half’s Salary Guides offer insight into how much more employers are willing to pay professionals with in-demand skills and certifications for certain roles.)
Goal #5: I will expand my professional network — online and offline
If your plan to find a new job in 2017 is to just sit in front of the computer and look for jobs online, you’d better rethink your strategy. In addition to submitting applications through recruiting sites and job boards, you need to work on expanding your professional network — both online and offline. The latter is especially important.
Events held by professional organizations, conferences and trade shows, and employer-hosted open houses are just some of the places where you can build your professional network. These gatherings provide the opportunity for you to meet people in person — including hiring managers and recruiters — and begin to form strong relationships with contacts who may be able to assist in your search.
Goal #6: I will be patient
My final recommendation is to be patient during your job search. For one thing, it can take time to identify an opportunity that is worth pursuing. Employers are also being very selective right now. Despite the tight labor market, some are taking their time when hiring. They want to be sure a candidate is a good fit for the job and corporate culture before extending an offer. It may take weeks, and several rounds of interviewing, before you hear back about the final decision.
That doesn’t mean you should just wait around until an employer makes up their mind. Stay in contact with the hiring manger. (See this post for some follow-up strategies.) And keep your job search going. After all, nothing is certain until you’ve signed on the dotted line.