The last time I was a jobseeker was 20 years ago and the experience has been very different this time around.
Until recently I worked in the newspaper industry, on the production side. We got the advertising copy in the right space and on time, 364 days a year. Much of newspapers’ traditional classified advertising market, including jobs, motors, property and travel, has migrated online. I will write about this in more detail another time, but the point is that, although I was already aware of the systemic changes to the way job vacancies are advertised, it has taken my new-found status as a mature jobseeker to appreciate their impact on the labour market. (I ought to make clear that I use the word ‘mature’ only in the sense of years passed, rather than imply any kind of improvement in character or behaviour.)
Some of the changes are for the better, and some the worse. To appease the experts who have such a low opinion of the typical online reader’s attention span, I will list my observations in bite-sized pieces as follows ….
Changes for the better
Access to job vacancies. Back in 1990, I was obliged to wait for the weekly local paper, which published on a Thursday. The public library was full of cheapskates like me, with our pens and notepads, impatiently waiting our turn with the jobs section. An observer would not have been surprised that this motley flotsam and jetsam was too pressed to buy its own copies. So our expectations had been building all week, sometimes to be dashed in the ten minutes it took to scan the few opportunities then available. There were also national and trade publications, either weekly or monthly, so Thursday was not the only day to look forward to. However, the old-fashioned job hunter would suffer from days when there were no weekly, fortnightly or monthly job-bearing periodicals to encourage his or her emergence from the household. Now you can set up email job-alerts every day, so there is always hope.
Emailed job-alerts can list far more vacancies than newspapers ever carried, so you can be confident that your search is more extensive and thorough than was possible in the past.
If you are prepared to travel, or to relocate, nowadays you will find it just as easy to target your search on remote areas as on local ones. The only way I could have done this twenty years ago would have been to register with an agency in another town, or get a friend or relative to post me a copy of the local paper.
Modern desktop publishing makes it easy to produce a smart CV and email offers an instant and free delivery mechanism. This encourages modern job hunters to tweak their CV for every application, and to update it every time a well-meaning friend or relative points out the omission of that bronze life-saving certificate or the cycling proficiency test.
You can be more proactive today, submitting your CV to as many agencies and websites as you like.
Changes for the worse
You can be overwhelmed with information. If you wanted to, you could set up 50 email alerts, each of which could carry 1,000 vacancies, depending on how precise your search specifications were, and …
Search terms are not precise enough, resulting in dozens of inappropriate mailings. Vacancies that reach my mailbox include some for the healthcare sector, or food manufacturing; some are located in the north of Sweden; others require fluency in German, a recent degree or the independent income that would allow you to survive on the advertised salary. Consequently, you spend most of your time scanning through a lot of time-wasters.
Making the most effective and efficient use of the new online recruitment process depends partly on pigeon-holing every job, but in this dynamic environment there are lots of fuzzy edges. For example, I have been looking for jobs in online content creation and management (they call this making use of your transferable skills). These are sometimes handled by IT recruitment agencies, or marketing, or editorial. I have seen them categorised as production, operations, marketing, communications, e-commerce and technical, depending on the nuances of the job description. Some require a different blend of skills and experience, which is why the detailed job description is so important, but …
Job descriptions are often so poorly written. They can lack critical detail and frequently demonstrate a poor grasp of spelling or grammar, while emphasising the importance of both, along with the obligatory attention to detail, to the jobseeker.
There is a lot of duplication, by which I mean that you will see the same job listed in several of the emails you get each day. Unfortunately, it is sometimes necessary to click through to a website to read the job description before you realise this. You can even see the same job listed repeatedly on the same email, or the same website. A regular offender once listed the same job 64 times in one day. This casts some doubt on the credibility of their claim that there are “1,164 new jobs listed today”.
I am not sure if employers are any more cagey now than in the past, but it is frustrating to see the salary of the vacant position listed as “competitive” or “depending on experience”. There must be a lot of time wasted on both sides, when it only emerges in the course of the application process that there is a dislocation between the applicant’s salary expectations and what the employer has budgeted for.
Some of the job sites specify the date a vacancy was posted. It is not unusual to see them dated as brand new, even though they have been kicking around for a month. This might explain why so many of them do not exist, or have been filled, by the time you visit their website. You will also see jobs listed as fresh postings, despite having appeared previously on the same site.
Because it is now so easy to submit your CV and to apply for jobs, I get the impression that the recruiters are even more overwhelmed by the volume of response. Many of the online agencies’ sites promise that they will contact you within a certain period of time, but in my experience, few do. Most recruiters admit that you will only be contacted if your application merits an interview, so don’t hold your breath. Although jobseekers are repeatedly told how to present and improve their CVs, they would be well-advised to ‘get in quick’ as soon as they spot a vacancy. I would not be at all surprised if recruiters pulled up the drawbridge once they received a certain number of applications. I wonder if you have a realistic hope if yours is not in the first 50, say.
I have found that jobseekers are a target for all sorts of businesses, offering CV review and writing; career guidance; interview coaching; access to headhunters; training; seminars; conferences; webinars; the secret of finding unadvertised vacancies and tempting business opportunities. I am not saying that any of these are anything other than genuine but you would soon be very much the poorer if you took them all up. I don’t remember being such an attractive business prospect years ago.
There are websites where you can bid for freelance work, but I quickly formed the impression that some of the people posting work on them are more than slightly deranged as they have such a low idea of that work’s value and the time it would take, otherwise they are simply seeking to exploit potentially vulnerable individuals.
If you are not looking for work, you might prefer to skip this section and go straight to the conclusion.
As with most other things in life, you have to have a strategy. It is no good just knocking out job applications if you are an unemployed shepherd and you are not getting any interviews. When I realised that my experience in the print world was no longer in great demand, I tweaked my CV to emphasise my ‘transferable skills’ and changed the focus of the jobs that I was applying for. The problem with this is that you are competing with people with more relevant experience. Many of them will be younger, with up-to-date qualifications and lower salary expectations than a mature candidate, so what else could you do?
- Have you tried writing speculative application letters (not emails) to a few, choice, prospective employers? If you do this, make sure you research the company first and address the letter to a named individual;
- Is there any demand for consultants in your speciality?
- Have you considered working as a contractor? If not, do some research into the formalities so you are prepared if the opportunity arises: what is IR35, should I opt out, do I need an umbrella company and if so, which one?
- Is it possible to work as a temp, so you can at least pay the bills and perhaps gain some useful experience in a new field?
- If you can’t convince someone to employ you for your ‘transferable skills’ could you possibly work as a freelance?
- Could you start writing a blog about your professional experiences and put a link to it on your CV?
- Have you considered doing voluntary work? It looks good on your CV, gets you out of the house and gives you a warm glow. You might even pick up some useful experience.
- Are there any opportunities for training or networking, e.g. local business breakfasts?
- Do you attend trade shows and exhibitions to keep up to date with developments?
- Have you checked local libraries and colleges for free seminars?
- Why not establish yourself on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter and use them to raise your profile?
- Perhaps you could deliver a presentation on your speciality and post it on YouTube and put the link on your CV;
- Have you checked out the formalities and practicalities of setting up in business for yourself?
- Whilst you are out of work, make sure you do a bit extra around the house before your partner’s patiences expires. This is called self-preservation.
From a jobseeker’s perspective, things have greatly improved in recent years, giving access to more opportunities than ever before. However, you need to be slick in how you present yourself as the bar has been raised, now that everybody has access to desktop publishing. You also need to do something a bit different, to stand out from the crowd: if we all present our CVs the way we are told and use all the recommended keywords, it will be impossible for recruiters to distinguish one from another. I would also recommend using social media, such as LinkedIn, to raise your profile and, if you can write and have anything to say, start your own blog and make a name for yourself and show off your expertise. These are all free and none of them are complicated.
It is impossible for me to make a direct comparison between my experience as a job seeker today and 20 years ago as there have been so many changes to my CV, my age, technology and the market place, but I am convinced that there is more opportunity now for someone with wit and imagination to make an impression on a potential employer. I wouldn’t want to turn the clock back.
Despite all the positives, I have so far been unsuccessful, after three months. My next step will be to start in business for myself. No doubt I will write about my experiences in due course.
Keywords: job, seeker, CV, resume, application, vacancy, online, recruit, employ, unemployment, unemployed, alert