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From Unemployment to Insights: Tinkering with Job Seeker Whiplash

The job search journey has always been a real-world problem that often leaves job seekers feeling like crash test dummies. Mostly, it is a turbulent experience, and that is said without the landscape the 2024 job market has presented us. The challenges of the labor market have definitely intensified in the past 6-18 months in the United States - creating a rollercoaster of emotions for job seekers - me included. As I've navigated through a post-pandemic world generally - we all have, the labor market continues to evolve at an almost light-speed pace, driven by technological advancements on full throttle that are shifting work paradigms, and don't even get me going on all the economic uncertainties we've faced all around the globe. This ever-changing "new norm" (please don't let me say "new norm" again - nothing is "normal" anymore - for good and for the bad) has created a sense of whiplash for many job seekers, who find themselves constantly adjusting their strategies and expectations to keep up with the often fickle and nonsensical demands of employers - and I am just talking about employer job advertisements.

A recruiter friend (and fellow job seeker), Jeff Shapiro made a satirical post on LinkedIn regarding employer job posts last week - as funny as it sounds, it hits way too close to the reality job seekers face today while job searching.

In each post in this series leading up to today's, I've shared some of my experiences from my own job seeker journey mashed with experiences other job seekers in my community have faced. I haven't shared with certainty what really is working or isn't working for me. There are many folks on the internet and LinkedIn mostly peddling quick-fix type services to job seekers. As promised in my last post, I am digging in deeper and sharing more going forward. Even if it is something no one likely wants to hear but should. In an effort to ensure each reader gets just as much detail as they seek, last week I launched a new series, recruitingSHEro Unmasked.

I am going to do my best in this post to provide actionable strategies for navigating this challenging terrain, from upgrading one's skill set to leveraging the power of networking and job search platforms - while sharing the realities of what this advice really yields. I can provide an understanding of the current landscape of the labor market and what theoretically adopting these approaches can result in - but if I am not talking about actually doing all the things and showing you I am doing the things to - why would anyone want to listen to advice from an unemployed job seeker? The point of this post and honestly most of my posts in and outside of this series is to help job seekers better position themselves to succeed in competitive labor markets and now this 2024 market.

If I had to describe the 2024 labor market by its ingredients, it would be a blend of rapid technological advancements, continuously evolving workplace norms, and massive economic uncertainties. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for job seekers looking to navigate this complex environment effectively. I wish there was a magic quick fix or approach. There is not. I've broken down what I know, what I think I know, and a little more below.

We know there is a high demand for tech skills. In 2024, the demand for tech skills has reached unprecedented levels across various industries. With the proliferation of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and data analytics, companies are seeking professionals who can harness these technologies to drive innovation and efficiency. Roles such as data scientists, software developers, and cybersecurity experts are in high demand. Even non-tech industries are increasingly integrating technological solutions into their operations, further broadening the scope for tech-savvy professionals.

This surge in demand for tech skills has created a competitive landscape where job seekers with advanced technical expertise are at a distinct advantage. However, it also poses a challenge for those whose skills may not align perfectly with the industry's current needs. As a result, continuous learning and skill enhancement have become imperative for staying relevant in the job market.

What the above does not break down or consider is this demand's tendency to create bias in hiring and candidate selection. Imagine a labor market demanding highly skilled experts and then rejecting candidates for being "overqualified" over and over. Is it that employers do not want to pay for the skill set? Is it because employers have the wrong people screening and sourcing for potential candidates? Or is "overqualified" a bias used as an attempt to let older job seekers down easily because the assumption is that the longer an applicant or potential candidate has been a part of the labor market, the more likely they are not able to adapt, learn, or do not possess the technical skills employers need?

Whether job seekers or anyone part of the 2024 labor market has worked remotely or not, no one in the United States can escape at a minimum witnessing the debate of remote work from others - most of us have debated personally. The fact that remote work is still being looked at as a trend, after gaining significant momentum during the COVID-19 pandemic, blows my mind. Remote work continues to shape the job market in 2024 and beyond. Many companies have adopted hybrid work models, allowing employees to work from home part-time while maintaining some degree of in-office presence. This shift has broadened the talent pool, enabling organizations to tap into a global workforce.

For job seekers, the abundance of remote work offers both opportunities and challenges. On one hand, it provides greater flexibility and the ability to apply for positions irrespective of geographical constraints (pending work authorizations, etc.). On the other hand, remote work requires a different set of skills, including self-discipline, effective virtual communication, and proficiency with digital collaboration tools. Job seekers must demonstrate their capability to thrive in a remote or hybrid work environment to appeal to prospective employers.

Employers are also requiring remote workers to come back into the office or move from remote to hybrid. Many employers are admittedly doing so knowing they will have non-regrettable turnover (people will quit and employers will not have to provide an exit package they may normally provide). The interesting thing to watch over the next few years is whether these organizations end up letting their staff go fully remote again once the dust settles from their remote to hybrid fiascos.

In the United States, economic uncertainty seems to be here to stay. It can feel like a demolition derby at times and at others like a stalled vehicle on the interstate. The economic terrain in the United States in 2024 remains traffic-jammed with uncertainties. Factors such as inflation, geopolitical tension, and the outrage that accompanies it, and we must not forget that fluctuating market conditions have created an unpredictable environment for businesses and job seekers alike. Job seekers are taking the biggest brunt of the market. Companies may exhibit caution in their hiring practices, leading to sporadic recruitment drives and varied job security across sectors. We are seeing this "sporadic" behavior now as job seekers encounter vague job advertisements without reasonable salary ranges in the United States.

Economic paranoia during an election year in the United States has always impacted the types of roles being offered during election years, with some industries experiencing growth while others face contraction and even extinction. For instance, sectors like healthcare, renewable energy, and e-commerce will likely continue to expand, offering numerous job opportunities. Conversely, traditional retail and certain manufacturing industries may experience slower growth or downsizing. We are also seeing a significant impact on the tech market with the effects of large technological advancements that have come into play within the past 12-24 months in the United States and beyond.

Moreso than ever, job seekers must stay informed about economic trends and be prepared to adapt their strategies accordingly. Flexibility, resilience, and an understanding of market dynamics are key to navigating the job market successfully during these uncertain times. It can feel like a losing battle when the target is always moving, even for the most seasoned and informed job seekers, as organizations attempt to harness the power of current-day advancements in technology to decrease headcount without truly understanding the long-term impacts it will have on a company's brand, morale, and overall success.

Navigating the 2024 labor market is akin to riding a roller coaster for many job seekers. A rollercoaster that is 10 years past maintenance and operated by a toddler on the ground. The journey is filled with highs and lows, sudden turns, and unexpected drops. Some of the most pressing challenges that job seekers encounter in today's labor market aren't one-offs. They are patterned, and most job seekers have been impacted by these challenges way more than once.

I experienced something interesting this past week that other job seekers may find interesting as well. Maybe I am not the only one who's experienced this kind of whiplash. It might be TMI (if it is, this blog is not for you to be following - and that is okay). I heard my phone ring as I was headed in the direction of the restroom at home. Bad timing on the caller's part. I was not going to answer the phone while using the bathroom. Fast forward a few minutes, I saw I had a missed call from an unknown number but no voicemail. Sometimes voicemails take a minute or two to leave and then a minute or two to show up in my voicemail box, so I set my phone down and unloaded my dishwasher. After that, I went back to my phone. No voicemail. So I called the number back. Why not? I am a job seeker, and I do not want to miss out on an opportunity. It turned out to be a recruiter who was, in fact, trying to reach me. I got their voicemail and left a message. Fast forward to 28 hours later, I emailed the recruiter because I didn't hear back, letting them know I am available all day to talk. I just got off the phone with that recruiter this morning.

They told me this verbatim:

"I wish you would have answered when I called. I moved on to the next applicant when you didn't pick up. The hiring manager only wants to meet my "top 3" candidates. If you'd have picked up the phone, it could have been you. The hiring manager is going to choose between the three I presented yesterday. Better luck next time. You have some great experience; you'll find something quick."

I was not going to pee myself to take a call, let alone pee while on the phone with anyone like that. The selection process for this organization is clearly not about experience (unless every candidate had similar experience - maybe 🤷‍♀️). I called the recruiter back within 10-15 minutes of their missed call. Had they left a voicemail, I'd have called back sooner likely. But here's the thing - I do not do conveyor belt recruiting. People aren't numbers. They are people. I am not sharing this story because I do not believe there could have been three qualified applicants already. The labor market is flooded right now with unemployed and underemployed recruiters. The part that is infuriating to me is the process itself. The lack of candidate experience. The rush to find perfection in someone to slam someone's butt in a seat fast will never truly identify exceptional talent. You will probably find "good enough" or "for now" though.

Everything happens for a reason. I just wonder if the client of the recruiter presenting their "top 3" knows they are selecting candidates to present this way. Not how I'd want to spend my money with an agency. I'd rather be pushed back a day for exceptional talent.

One of the most perplexing issues job seekers face is the inconsistency in job requirements across different companies, and sometimes even within the same organization. As the demand for specialized skills, particularly in technology, skyrockets, employers often update their job descriptions to reflect the latest industry trends and tools. This constant shift can leave job seekers feeling disoriented, as they struggle to match their qualifications to a moving target. For instance, a software developer might find that a position initially requiring proficiency in Python suddenly demands expertise in a niche framework that has only recently gained popularity.

Can't forget there are the job posts listing qualifications that just cannot be measured without bias. How does someone measure my eagerness to perform with high proficiency? How does someone measure enthusiasm? Is it like being at an NFL or NBA game? Which side of the court or field yells the loudest? Is this requirement for people who are the loudest? Does it outweigh the actual expertise of the role, or is it somehow magically going to dawn on the hiring team who is the most enthusiastic? Let me tell you, I am super enthusiastic about playing old school video games and pinball. I mean, I really get excited - even just at the idea of playing. I am, however, likely the worst player I know. But I am enthusiastic! Make it make sense!

It would be a huge miss if I didn't mention that the constantly expanding list of "preferred qualifications" often blurs the line between mandatory and desirable skills, making it difficult for applicants to ascertain whether they are genuinely a good fit for the role. Admittedly, I've posted way too many roles as a recruiter with preferred qualifications. Recruiters cannot always make the call on whether a qualification is preferred or an actual requirement. Often, it is out of their hands. This ambiguity can result in wasted time and effort on applications for roles that may not align with applicants' actual expertise, contributing to a sense of frustration and uncertainty. I work with what I can as a recruiter, and when sourcing candidates for the role(s) or talking to applicants, I keep it 100% real with them - the best I can. Communication is key in providing excellent candidate experiences. Job seekers understand they are not going to be considered for every role they apply for. It would just be nice if all hiring teams and recruiters kept it real or worked for organizations that allowed them to do so.

Job posts without salary ranges are a red flag - if you ask me. In 2024, there is zero reason why any organization that values employees and pay equity should not do so.

Just post the range. Post a realistic range. The likelihood that a recruiter is going to make $500k in their first year in a labor market like 2024 is slim - not impossible, no - but slim AF!! Landing the recruiter who has the contacts and expertise to get close is also a slim chance for a base under $100K. But what do I know? I am just a recruiter. I do know that recruiters deserve better than this. All job seekers deserve fair and equitable pay. I understand bonus and commission structures. They can be great for recruiters, but remember, misleading job seekers will only bite you in the end. Want to stop your turnover issues? Be upfront. Be real. Be honest ffs!

Another horrendous challenge is the increasingly lengthy and convoluted interview processes that have become the norm in many industries. Worse, the employers who make it up as they go candidate by candidate. What once might have been a straightforward series of interviews has morphed into a multi-stage gauntlet involving initial screenings, assessments, multiple rounds of interviews, and sometimes even case studies or presentations that take candidates sometimes days to create in order to just be considered in a final interview round.

Job seekers are often required to produce work for free in the hopes of showcasing that they are the best fit for the role and should be chosen, only to experience employers asking interview questions like "how many soccer balls will fill up this office" (for a job having nothing to do with space planning or soccer) or "why should we hire you?" In reality, employers would be better off positioning themselves as employers to work for, rather than treating their candidates as inferior due to ego and lack of awareness of the changes in behavior that the 2024 job seeker has made. Employers who aim to hire the best and most diverse talent on the market will need to set aside their egos and outdated hiring practices and adapt to the evolving world of work and demands of the current labor market, or they will likely face fierce competition from those who lead with humanity and a people-first focused leadership style.

The extended timelines that many employers are incorporating into their 2024 interview processes also add to the uncertainty and stress for job seekers. Candidates are often left in limbo, with little to no communication about their status. The longer the interview process drags on, the more likely it is that candidates may accept offers elsewhere, making the entire process feel futile to job seekers and, at best, a financial and efficiency loss for employers. I have never understood why employers and hiring teams fail to grasp this concept.

Perhaps one of the most disheartening trends that has continued strongly in the 2024 labor market is the prevalence of "ghosting" by employers. This phenomenon, where companies abruptly cease communication with candidates after initial interactions, requesting to screen, or even after multiple interview rounds, has become increasingly common. For job seekers, this lack of closure can be particularly demoralizing and feel like a complete hit and run.

I ran a poll LinkedIn a week or so ago. Here are the results:

Ghosting not only wastes the candidate’s time but also erodes trust in potential employers and the employment brand and reputation of that employer over time. It leaves job seekers in a state of uncertainty, unsure whether to continue waiting or move on. The emotional toll of being left without feedback or acknowledgment can be significant, leading to diminished morale and confidence. It's incredibly dehumanizing and flat out disrespectful to candidates who've interviewed or been through a screening process.

In a market that highly values technological proficiency, continuously upgrading your skills coupled with networking is paramount. The demand for expertise in areas such as artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, data analytics, and blockchain is skyrocketing. Job seekers should invest in relevant courses, certifications, and training programs to stay competitive. Learning sites like LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, and Udemy offer a variety of options to enhance your skill set and are sometimes inexpensive or even free.

Staying informed of industry trends and emerging technologies is equally important. Regular participation in webinars, conferences, and industry forums can provide valuable insights and help you stay ahead of the curve (not to mention provide opportunities to network with industry professionals). By demonstrating a proactive approach to learning and professional development, you position yourself as a candidate who is not only capable but also forward-thinking and adaptable. However, it is not a be-all-end-all, sure way to fix-a-flat job search scenario. That doesn't exist. We must be adaptable.

In 2024, building and maintaining professional relationships is more critical than ever. Leverage both online and offline networks to expand your reach and uncover job opportunities that may not be advertised in the places you've looked.

Utilize platforms like LinkedIn, GitHub, Slack, and other platforms to connect with industry professionals, join relevant groups, and participate in discussions. Attend virtual and in-person networking events, industry meetups, and conferences to meet potential employers and peers. Oftentimes event teams need volunteers, and job seekers can offer to volunteer in lieu of purchasing an event ticket. Informational interviews can also be a powerful tool; reaching out to individuals in your desired field to learn about their experiences and gather advice can provide valuable insights and potentially open doors to job opportunities.

Remember, effective networking is not just about asking for favors but also about offering value. Share your knowledge, assist others in their job search, and contribute to discussions. Building genuine, mutually beneficial relationships can lead to long-term career growth and opportunities. All that said, maintaining healthy boundaries is imperative for job seekers.

Along with traditional job boards, consider exploring niche job platforms, networking groups, and platforms that cater to specific industries or roles. Websites like AngelList for startups, GitHub for developers, social media groups, Slack groups, and community boards like Behance for creative professionals can provide targeted opportunities that align with your expertise. Job seekers need to remember that just applying or just networking isn't likely to land a role. Job seekers will be smart to think about the 2024 labor market like a car or Iron Man's suit when he crashed in Iron Man 3; it's going to take the outlook of a mechanic working on something otherworldly and new with a whole lot of tinkering.

Finally, take advantage of the career services offered by professional associations and alumni networks. These organizations often provide job boards, resume reviews, and career counseling, which can be invaluable resources during the job search. Job seekers shouldn't be afraid to ask other job seekers and professionals in their field what they recommend as well (but remember - EVERYONE is tinkering in 2024!).

Navigating the labor market in 2024 is worse than a Rubik's Cube most days. The rapid evolution of technology, remote work trends, and economic uncertainties have created a dynamic environment that both employers and job seekers must adapt to. While the high demand for tech skills opens up numerous opportunities, it also requires job seekers to continually upgrade their skill sets to remain competitive. Employers are implementing technology at the same rapid pace, often leaving a trail of uncertainty and unstable processes in the wake of adopting technology that is not completely understood by their users or organization as a whole. This leaves room for inconsistency and what can feel like chaos in the workplace. This chaos shows up in the hiring, interview, and candidate selection process often like: Inconsistent job requirements and lengthy interview processes with late or inconsistent added layers of complexity, often leaving candidates with a sense of whiplash from the clunky and many times biased interview processes.

Ultimately, while the 2024 labor market may seem like a car out of gas in a world that does not offer fuel, it also offers ample opportunities for those prepared to navigate its complexities while continuing to redirect and tinker. By understanding the dynamics at play and employing strategic approaches, job seekers can enhance their chances of securing fulfilling and stable employment - it will likely take longer than the average job seeker is comfortable with or even financially prepared for this year. Reality is, the whiplash of job search and interviewing may not be easy for any job seeker in the United States to navigate, even with perseverance, continuous learning, and a robust support network. IT ABSOLUTELY IS NOT GOING TO BE EASY. Tinkering, a whole lot of resilience, and creativity seem to be what successful job seekers will need to thrive in today's ever-changing labor market speedway, along with the basics of job search.

Woah. That was a lot of words. Glad you're still with me. I am trying to explain that there is no quick fix or magical answer to job search in today's labor market. It's going to take time, showing ourselves a whole lot of grace as we race for the next role of interest, and a lot of adaptability or, as I'd rather repeat again, tinkering.

Whether it is day one of your job search or day 393, let's buckle up and go on this job-seeking journey together! I am here when and if you need an ear or someone to brainstorm and tinker with.


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3 days ago
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Keep leading with love and your light will show the way. Proud of you, kid.


5 days ago
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

This too shall pass

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