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New Norms of Job Search Game

While headlines in the financial media suggest a broad hiring binge is under way, many individual job-seekers are finding the task just as arduous and frustrating as it was a year ago. That's no contradiction. Although hiring in financial services has picked up and layoffs are far less common, the difficulty of obtaining an offer hasn't diminished unless you're blessed with a readily transferable book of business whose number contains multiple commas.

A recent post on sets out five basic points that define the job-search game's "new normal." The observations hold true for the financial landscape even though they aren't framed in terms of financial jobs and the financial job market is recovering earlier than the overall U.S. labor market.

In finance as elsewhere, today's job-seekers can only dream about conditions that were common three years ago: overflowing job boards, interviewing with several employers in any given week, and receiving offers within days of an interview. Today it takes more than twice as long on average for an unemployed person in the U.S. to land a new job as it did in 2001 - 30.2 weeks (that's seven months) versus 12.7 weeks. Conditions facing most financial job-seekers probably have deteriorated to a comparable degree, if not worse.

The New Rules

Here are Recessionwire's five points:

- Fewer jobs are out there.

- Competition for work is stiff.

A widely cited government statistic says each available job attracts an average of 6.4 applications. That sounds easy: imagine applying to JPMorgan or BlackRock and finding only six other people even bothered to submit a resume. Even outside of finance, though, the number of applicants zooms for prestigious employers. Nike, for instance, reportedly gets close to 500 applications for every available position, according to Recessionwire. (Then again, most jobs at Nike probably don't require an engineering background or an MBA. Application volumes at Google or Goldman Sachs might be less than Nike's, but the typical applicant's qualifications might be materially higher.)

- Interviews are more intense.

- Instead of making offers within days, companies now often take months before pulling the trigger.

- Far more jobless pros are willing to work for less than they earned in their last job.

Recessionwire uses the handy phrase, "take a pay cut." That particular wording has never sat well with me. The way I see it, barring income from part-time contracts, a jobless job-seeker is earning zero. So whether in good economic times or bad, the only job offer that could possibly represent a "pay cut" would be a Huffington Post internship. Any other job offer would amount to a pay increase by definition.

Rebuild Your Savings Once You Land

Recessionwire concludes with two widely heard but eminently sensible tips. First, "Job seekers need to step up their game." Second, don't expend all your time searching for openings, interviewing and networking. Make sure you're also doing things to freshen and strengthen your resume, like freelancing and/or volunteering.

But their final piece of advice is perhaps the most useful in the entire post, precisely because it's rarely seen elsewhere: "It might be worthwhile to build back up an emergency fund once you've found work and gotten back on your feet."

AUTHORJon Jacobs Insider Comment
  • Jo
    Joshua Norman
    18 February 2010

    "today's job-seekers can only dream about conditions that were common three years ago: overflowing job boards, interviewing with several employers in any given week, and receiving offers within days of an interview?" Maybe if you have years of specific experience in a particular area and if you were applying for a position similar to your most recent one. If you didn't have a specific background back then, you got to look forward to intense interviews for staff level positions, companies taking forever to hire, and assistant vice presidents from corporate & institutional banking groups applying for research associate opportunities. I've also seen people on LinkedIn offering to work for free in order to gain experience & to close the gaps in their resumes.

  • Do
    Don't believe the hype
    18 February 2010

    I really wish the pay cut propaganda would come to an end. I really wish this whole idea of "There are TEN MILLION IVY LEAGUE PHDS WILLING TO DO YOUR JOB FOR NOTHING!" BS would stop. The labor market is highly, highly segmented. For many jobs there just aren't that many qualified people. Yes Goldman can get 500 applicants for a job but really, would they ever really meet any of them that didn't have top 10 degrees and stellar credentials? This idea of everyone working for no money really is the mirror image of the housing bubble...people making bad decisions based on propaganda, fear mongering, but also ultimately unsustainable market conditions.

    I wonder what the correlation is for people who are now saying that we're all going to work for nothing is to people who 3 years ago were saying real estate could never decline in value. Probably the same exact people 90% of the time.

    And if employers don't want to hire full time employees to capture opportunity or meet regulatory requirements then they just might find they are hiring the same bodies as consultants - at a far higher rate than if they just hired them in the first place.

  • gu
    17 February 2010

    Newsflash - job hunting is a s****y numbers game. Having just accepted a J-O-B, I know.

    Long story, short - I networked. Networked on LinkedIn,, with my old B-School friends, and colleagues.

    Then it'd be bourbon time.

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