By Gene Kim, Director of Permanent Placement Services, Robert Half

I love my job doing direct-hire placement at Robert Half and talking with my clients and candidates about the peculiarities of the current economic landscape. The top question both are asking me these days is, “How is the job market?” As an economics major, I really enjoy these “big picture” questions.

One of the most interesting enigmas I’m seeing in today’s economy is that, despite record-low unemployment and years of job growth in the U.S., job seekers are coming to me for help after months of getting no interviews, callbacks or offers.

Certainly, we’re in a strange and paradoxical time, when the prices of groceries are noticeably higher, and yet we are still spending like crazy. You may have even taken an extra-nice vacation this year to join in on the post-COVID “revenge travel” trend. So, what’s really going on?

We know one of the biggest forces bending the U.S. economy today is the close-to-capacity job market that never seems to slow down. Analysts say the rosy employment data may be staving off an official recession. But no one knows if we’ll ride this momentum to economic recovery. There is plenty of pessimistic talk about how the economy “feels like” a recession, even though on the surface we are seeing so few people out of work.

Unhelpful messages

Naturally, if we do slip into an official recession, unemployment will likely start to rise, and new job growth will slow. But for now, social media and business influencers are sending job candidates really unhelpful messages like “No one wants to work” and “If you can’t get a job today, you don’t really want one.”

I know these messages are frustrating and hurtful to candidates. So, as I help them land their next great job, I’m also educating them on the finer points of the jobs economy. So let me share some of those nuggets with our blog readers.

The current job market favors employers, not job seekers

Yes, the job market is still slowly growing, and people are landing good jobs, but hiring has slowed significantly. We aren’t seeing major job losses, but it’s very hard to find a better one. Here’s why:

  • Increased competition — Advances in technology — and specifically candidate search tools within applications like LinkedIn — give employers more options for approaching passive candidates. Also, hybrid and 100% remote work options open up employers’ potential hiring pool to the entire country and even beyond. 
  • Lower bargaining power — During the Great Resignation, we saw many employers panicking and offering big starting salaries and benefits to fill critical talent gaps. Now that the dust has settled, pay compression and concerns about equity are making hiring managers more prudent. Employers may have less incentive to meet a candidate’s salary requirements because they know there are plenty of other hopefuls willing to accept the job offer.
  • Skills mismatch — This is probably the biggest cause of candidates’ inability to land a job in this market. Despite the many available job openings, today’s open positions typically require specific skills and knowledge acquired through work experience that many candidates — especially those early in their careers — lack. So, it’s a Catch-22 for many candidates. No work, no experience; no experience, no work. This mismatch between the skills employers are looking for and the skills job seekers possess is a serious problem for our economy, I believe.
  • Geographic limitations — In this and every job economy, open positions aren’t spread evenly across the country, but tend to be concentrated in certain business regions. Think Silicon Valley for tech (although the tech job market is weakening, biotech is doing well), the mid-Atlantic for finance and the Midwest and Northeast for manufacturing.
  • High expectations — In such a competitive job market, employers feel a sense of abundance, and may shift their expectations for job applicants upward. They may require more experience or qualifications and take longer to screen and select a candidate. During the booming hiring times at the end of the pandemic, employers rushed to make strong offers for great candidates. But now, with fewer job options for candidates, employers feel more confident taking their time to hire the “ideal” candidate. 

Remote work was supposed to help fill these gaps, but companies seem to be pulling back slightly on this, and there are entire job categories and industries where remote work isn’t feasible. In addition, job seekers looking for a remote position are now competing with every hopeful candidate in the country, not just in their city.

Beat the odds and stand out to employers

I’ve explained some of the challenges job seekers face today in a low-hiring environment, but at heart, I’m a solutions guy. So here are some tips to help you overcome these challenges and stand out in the competition.

1. Focus on where the jobs are. Do your research on hot industries where your skills are most needed. For entry-level roles, you may have the most luck in sales, customer support, hospitality and retail. If you are fairly established but looking for something new, government, nonprofit, healthcare and professional services have been driving job growth this past year.

2. Expand your network. Let family, friends, former coworkers and classmates, etc., know what you’re looking for. Take it a step further by joining a professional or industry association in your field — or field of interest. And it’s always a good time to up your LinkedIn game.

3. Build your skills. Learn which hard and soft skills are most in demand for your profession, and set about acquiring them, either by taking advantage of training offered by your current employer or pursuing self-directed learning on your own. For finance and accounting professionals, I recommend, for example, polishing your communication skills, mastering Excel and perhaps going after a CPA.

4. Limit the competition. There’s no need to contend with the rest of the world for remote work. By keeping your job search close to home and being willing to accept a hybrid schedule — or better yet, being willing to work 100% onsite — you improve your odds considerably.

5. Consider contract work. Taking on temporary work can be a great way to sharpen your skills, acquire new ones and build your network. According to the 2024 Robert Half Salary Guide, 64% of employers plan to bring in more contract work this year, and 40% say they are open to accepting a contract position.

6. Work with a recruiter. A staffing professional in a talent solutions firm does more than share job leads — they can give you sound career advice as well. They’ll help you uncover hidden opportunities in the job market, all at no cost to you.

Want to start working with a recruiter? Get the ball rolling and submit your resume to Robert Half today!