New Norms of Job Search Game

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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 Recessionwire.com 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."

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