Unemployed During Full Employment

Have you heard? The U.S. economy is in great shape. Unemployment is low, and there are more jobs than workers. Employers bemoan the critical shortage of qualified applicants. Look around you. Do you know anyone who is currently unemployed? If you listen to the news, you may be tempted to conclude that there is a job available for everyone who desires to work. Where are the unemployed?

They are right in front of you. Unemployed. Desperately trying to enter, or reenter, the workforce. Clogging your inbox and applicant tracking system. Overwhelming your overworked and understaffed recruiting team.

Earlier this week, I read the unemployment and jobs reports for June 2019. Good news, as usual. Nearly full employment, some new jobs added to the economy, but the U.S. continues to face an enviable problem: a labor shortage. Look a little deeper and talk to various economists, of course, and you’ll learn that some fields face a more critical shortage than others. There are regional differences, wages and benefits are a factor, and nothing is as simple as it seems. However, the picture looks rosy: get off the sidelines and into the workforce. There’s a job waiting for you.

Not exactly.

I remember back to 2008, during the Great Recession, when there was a job shortage and a labor surplus. I was among the fortunate to have an excellent, stable, well-paying job at that time, while many of my friends struggled with unemployment and foreclosures. Today, in 2019, we face an economy with a labor shortage and job surplus. But to the jobless, it feels somewhat like 2008 again.

Each day I speak with dozens of individuals who have been unable to secure a permanent, full-time position after 5, 10, 15 months or even two years of unemployment. How can that be? Many were laid off. Some left the workforce and are now seeking employment. Some individuals fled an unhealthy organizational culture believing they would immediately find an abundance of excellent, lucrative jobs. Labor shortage and job surplice. However, that’s not necessarily the case.

Each day I hear from a recruiter or hiring manager, “It’s so difficult to fill positions. We just can’t find candidates.” And though there ARE candidates, there is a disconnect between applicants and hiring managers.

The recruiting and hiring landscape have transformed seemingly overnight. With the arrival of Applicant Tracking Systems, expanded role of recruiters, the involvement of hiring managers in new fields, such as higher education; the advent of career coaches, life coaches, and resume writers; new interview modalities, listicles, and of course, LinkedIn, searching for a job is an intensive, often emotional, project. Gone are the days of merely searching for a position on a job board. Today you build a brand. Your goal is to not only “push out” your skills and availability to anyone who will listen, but also to “pull” decision-makers at targeted companies towards you. Today you compete with hundreds of other talented job seekers, some employed, some unemployed, who take advantage of this market to advance their careers or leave a job they dislike. You must convince an organization that you understand it’s struggles and the solutions you will contribute from day one. Ideally, you will circumvent the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and send your materials directly to the recruiter before the position is posted. Or created.

If you have spent any amount of time on LinkedIn, you will read about the brutal inhumanity of the applicant tracking systems. The ATS have been used for years to collect required data for government reports. The ATS also collects data from your resume and searches for “keywords” that also appear in the job descriptions. Remember, the ATS is programmed, by a person, to search for words and phrases; it’s not rogue software determine to disqualify all candidates. Some systems are better than others at “parsing” the data from your resume and searching for terms. Applicant tracking systems make mistakes and may reject otherwise qualified applicants. Some social media influencers advocate for “ATS-compliant” resumes. Not every system is the same, though, and trying to create an “ATS-compliant” resume for each system can take away from the more important piece: your content. Whichever side of the debate you choose, ATS systems are not the only obstacle preventing recruiters from connecting to candidates.

Another popular complaint is that all recruiters are awful and immediately throw your resume in the trash upon receipt. Does this happen? Yes. Always? No. A well-written resume addresses the requirements of the job and clearly demonstrates how your skills and experience will resolve the organization’s “pain points.” Most recruiters review hundreds of resumes each week. If yours doesn’t stand out from the other qualified applicants, you will not receive an invitation to interview. If you are unfamiliar with how to write an effective resume, ask for guidance from an expert.

Finally, some have concluded that age bias of those 40 and over will prevent these populations from ever securing employment. Does age discrimination happen? Yes, it does, as revealed by recent rulings on cases brought on behalf of the EEOC. Harassment in every form, bullying, racism, workplace violence, discrimination against hiring minorities and pregnant women; that happens too. Rather than throw our collective hands in the air, I would like to participate in dialogue with leaders and employees at institutions that have implemented workable, successful solutions to these problems.

Employers, we are a diverse group that spans four generations, from Baby Boomers to Gen-Z. The composition of the workforce will change significantly over the next ten years, as workers enter and exit the job market. Even now, employees no longer remain in jobs for 30 years. Side gigs frequently supplement below-market wages. Reviewing resumes takes time, many recruiters are overworked, hiring managers need training to develop job descriptions and interview candidates, candidates need up-to-date information on how to apply for jobs, as well as training on new tools such as video interviews; and truly, ATS systems do need improvement. But there are candidates available for work, and we share these traits: we want to work, we work hard, we want to develop professionally, and we bring value, vision, experience, and innovative and creative solutions to organizations.

Let us help you grow.

I write about everyday observations, and my dog.

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