Portland’s job market is “hot.” Unemployment has been hovering between 3% and 4% for over a year. New businesses are moving to the city, and many existing industries are growing by leaps and bounds. I talk to regional employers every day who are struggling to find candidates for the open jobs. And at the same time, I know many great professionals who are struggling to find work. So, what’s going on?
Since April of last year, 1.6 million unemployed Americans have been out of work for six months or longer, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Obviously, booming employment rates are not translating into jobs for everyone. Economists offer several theories such as plain old hiring discrimination, as well as the increasing popularity of applicant tracking systems, which many see as a barrier to human interaction and effective hiring. No matter the reason, it can be incredibly frustrating for a job seeker to hear about “full employment” while actively applying. Don’t despair! There are strategies and creative ways to respond to and overcome the hurdles of job hunting in a “hot job market.”
Challenge: Facing age discrimination.
There’s no way to sugar coat it, but hiring discrimination happens. If you’re a 50+ job seeker, employers may discount your skills and experience in favor of a younger candidate who’s more tech-savvy, and potentially less expensive to hire. They may also have assumptions about your longevity in the company as well as your comfort level reporting to a younger boss. These are frustrating stereotypes, but they’re not insurmountable.
Solution: Address biases.
Address an employer’s potential concerns out of the gate. Your resume, cover letter, and interview are all opportunities to contradict biases. Include no more than 10-15 years of relevant work experience on your resume, focusing on results, achievements, and unique skills younger candidates likely won’t have. Your cover letter should emphasize your track record of sustained success, flexibility, and eagerness to work with people of all ages. And, in an interview, speak directly to how your experience and work ethic are the answer to an employer’s unique problem.
Challenge: Looking for a position in a niche industry.
If you’re trying to break into an industry that’s competitive or has a high retention rate, it might feel impossible to get your foot in the door. Portland has several niche industries such as the burgeoning creative fields, and there can sometimes be hundreds of candidates applying for one position. There’s been an influx of new talent into our city, making it even more competitive — so how do you stand out?
Solution: Build relationships.
It’s not enough to rely on your resume. Like never before, growing your network is critical. In fact, some experts would suggest not applying for a position until you have connections within your industry. Meeting and developing relationships with people who can vouch for you is the number one tool in your toolkit. Attend networking events, join professional organizations, and identify industry leaders who you can pursue for informational interviews. Portland has a vibrant networking scene and professionals tend to be generous with their time and energy. Find the format that works best for you and put yourself in front of the decision-makers in your field. If just one person has your name when a position comes up, that could make all the difference in getting hired.
Challenge: Getting lost in Applicant Tracking Systems.
Larger companies receive hundreds of applications for one position and as a result, they’re relying on Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to sift through them all. Using preset filters, they quickly narrow the pool of candidates to a select few and some studies have shown that only 3% of applicants ever even get contacted. This statistic is discouraging especially considering the hours it takes to fill out tedious online applications. Don’t lose heart—there are ways around these machines.
Solution: Customize your resume and cover letter.
Fine-tuning your resume is essential. An ATS is programmed to identify specific phrases and words, so uploading the same, generalized resume for every job won’t get you anywhere. Identify important skills and competencies in each job listing, and make sure to use their key words throughout your resume.
Your cover letter has never been more important. So, you managed to address an employer’s basic criteria, now you have show what makes you different. Cover letters have become the number one way to influence a hiring manager which makes it critical that you don’t bore them with the same information that’s on your resume. Use it as an opportunity to tell your story and create a connection with them, showing how you resonate with the company’s goals, mission, and values.
Challenge: Lack of clarity on what you want.
If you want to convince an employer you’re right for the job, you have to be convinced yourself. Many job seekers struggle to get further in the application process because they can’t articulate the value they bring or they’re not clear on what it is they even want to do. Lack of clarity doesn’t inspire confidence in a hiring manager. You’d think showing you can do a number of different jobs should work in your favor but what you’re communicating is you don’t know yourself or your strengths. Employers will see this as an automatic red flag.
Solution: Identify your strengths.
Examine your skills and do some work in discovering more about who you are, what motivates you at your core, and what you’re uniquely good at. This may take some time, but it’s worth it. A key way to identify your strengths is looking back at your career and noticing key accomplishments, successes, and situations in which you thrived. Working with a career coach can be particularly helpful in learning to clearly express your skills, how they’re relevant to different positions, and most importantly, what value they bring to an employer. Articulate this in your resume, your LinkedIn profile, cover letter, personal website, and portfolio. This ensures your professional brand is clear and consistent—two attributes every employer looks for.
Discouragement and setbacks are par for the course in a challenging job search and while it may feel isolating, remember, you’re not alone. Maintain a clear focus, stay confident in yourself and what you bring, and you’ll get noticed.