Leveraging the talent shortage to better your career

If your last job search happened years ago, when there were dozens of qualified applicants for every position, your approach may be dated. Today, there's a talent shortage, and experienced and qualified professionals are in high demand.
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Greater demand leads to greater opportunities.

How high is the demand? The U.S. professional and business services industries added well over 600,000 employees to the workforce in 2015 (BLS). Unemployment is close to 5.2%—the lowest figure the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has reported since May 2008. And it's particularly low among professionals, meaning there are not many skilled candidates just sitting and waiting for new jobs to come along.

The talent shortage means that candidates can weigh options and explore every avenue before committing to a new position, unlike a few years ago, when candidates were simply trying to get back into the workforce. Today, a new opportunity often means leaving behind a job almost as desirable.

Companies are thinking differently about the hiring process, and they want to find the right long-term hire, just as much as candidates want to find the best match for their skills. Aggressive employers are trying to send the message that they are more than just "a place to work." They want to be seen as having a truly great culture where employees can grow their skills, move up the ranks and strike a work-life balance.

Whether you are actively looking, or a so-called "passive candidate" who wouldn't say no to the right offer, this paper provides you a better understanding of the current, candidate-driven job market and outlines some ways to make sure you're finding new opportunities—one of which could be your dream job.

Which professionals are in highest demand?

The BLS projects the following professional positions to realize the most growth in the U.S., by number of jobs, through the year 2022:

Growth in the U.S. by number of jobs, through the year 2022

Furthermore, the BLS identifies these positions as some of the fastest growing, by percentage of new jobs, through the year 2022:

Fastest growing new jobs.

It's also worth mentioning that highly educated professionals are also poised to cash in during the talent shortage. BLS data shows that positions that require a master's degree will grow 18.4% through 2022. So perhaps more than ever, higher education—especially MBAs— will pay off for job candidates.

Navigating the Job Search During the Talent Shortage

The talent shortage means employers have to work harder to stand out and earn the attention of skilled professionals. Don't be surprised to see some changes compared to your last search, and don't be afraid to hold recruiters and hiring managers to a higher standard. Here are three specific changes that you may notice:

1. Employers are becoming more conscious of the time it takes to fill positions.

For some companies, that will translate into a hurried process. For others, it may mean that a job posting you browsed a month ago is dramatically different today. It doesn't mean a bait-and-switch is on; it probably just means the company is experimenting with a new approach to attract better talent more quickly.

2. Speaking of postings, you shouldn't have to dig too deep for relevant information.

Does the job description focus more on the day-to-day duties or the big-picture responsibilities of the position? Does it delve into specifics about the company's goals and mission, or is it vague and mysterious? Companies trying to attract talent from small talent pools often utilize unique job postings. If a description is far too detailed and implies you'll need to be a superhero, keep scrolling. And if a description is so vague that you don't even understand the role, keep scrolling again. You'll eventually find postings that resonate.

3. You might be interviewed again and again and… you get the point.

If you're being interviewed more times than you were told, but you don't feel any closer to an offer, make it a priority to pursue other opportunities. Every decision maker may not be supporting the potential hire, they may be questioning your cultural fit, they may be using the interview for their own interviewing practice, and they might even be mining for competitive information. Expect two interviews, and maybe a third in certain instances, but beyond that can be questionable—questionable enough to continue your job search.

Soft Skills

Put an emphasis on soft skills and accomplishments.

Even though employers' job postings and interview processes might be all over the map, and oftentimes not that effective, many hiring managers and leaders still know what they're seeking. And while hard skills are important, employers usually lean to candidates with soft skills such as communication, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, problem solving, professionalism and more. Emphasize these skills on your resume—and more importantly—in your interviews. The good thing about soft skills is that they're often on display in natural conversations and situations, such as interviews.

In addition to soft skills, focus on your career accomplishments, as opposed to hard skills. There are a million hard skills, many of which can be learned—and need to be learned with changing conditions and technologies. Focusing on your accomplishments (awards, contribution to the bottom line, process improvements, quality of work, quantity of work, etc.) makes you more appealing to prospective employers. They assume that if you're capable of said accomplishments, then you obviously have or can acquire the necessary hard skills.

Think beyond the interview; your next job audition could be anywhere.

Look at your calendar for the week. Chances are, you're going to be auditioning for your next job somewhere in there and you don't even know it.

In a talent shortage, companies get more creative about hiring and they rely heavily on word-of-mouth and referrals. Not everyone looking to hire you will be wearing a big, bright sticker that reads "HIRING MANAGER" or "RECRUITER." That means your peers, casual business partners, networking professionals and LinkedIn connections are just as likely to be on the lookout for the best, brightest talent to bring into the fold. You should never be surprised to hear a contact ask you if you're happy in your current position.

Our advice? Be prepared to handle these conversations with confidence and a clear sense of what you're looking for and what would convince you to make a move. A conversation with a trusted friend or colleague, or a recruiter, can help you put these goals and desires in perspective—think of it as a practice run. This way, you will be ready to meet those probing questions with self-assured answers.

Speaking of recruiters, they are stepping out from behind the job fair booths and event sponsorship tables to mix and mingle. They're looking for you, and they're not afraid to block off time on their calendar to find you. You never know when you might become their top target. This is a great thing—especially if you expect it and are ready to impress.

Make yourself available

Here's where to start:

Professional associations

These are an excellent starting point, and it's barely an exaggeration to say that nearly every title and role you can imagine has some sort of national organization or community of interest, usually with local chapters and networking events.

Neighborhood professional groups

These are increasingly common, particularly in dense urban areas where trained professionals live and work. Here, you will find a more diverse group of skilled workers that probably share one thing with you—an interest and love for where you live.

Alumni organizations

Universities are always delighted to help their graduates move up in the world. Check in with them, let them know how you're doing, and see what they know about fellow alumni in your area.

Alternative networks

There's a whole new generation of events that have completely changed the networking model. Search for local TEDx events, "Nerd Nights," and other quirky networking opportunities.

Digital Networking

LinkedIn is your primary friend here, along with Facebook and Meetup. LinkedIn is a terrific way to brand yourself and make countless professional connections.

Thinking about a new start with an old company?

Networking with new contacts isn't the only way to discover career opportunities. Who hasn't left a job and secretly (or not so secretly) wished for the day when your former company would be sorry they let you get away? In a talent shortage, that fantasy is often a reality—and you have the leverage.

Even if you parted on less than happy terms, organizations that know you well may be pining for your return. If you do decide to strike up a conversation with a former employer or answer a lunch invitation from an old boss, be sure to carefully vet that the issues that led to your departure in the first place. There's no point in walking back into a negative situation, but there is a point in exploring new options at your old stomping grounds—especially if things have changed.

Consider the non-financial incentives of making a move.

Moving on to new opportunities—even if they're in old, familiar places—isn't always about getting more money, but about finding a job that is better suited to your skills, your interests and your life. While your salary is obviously important, money is not the only key to workplace happiness.

Here are some other things to consider in your hunt:

Find superior opportunities that have a tangible impact on the company's direction.

This could mean new process and product development, or simply a place that will listen to and respond to your feedback and ideas. You will undoubtedly feel a sense of accomplishment.

Consider your position on the corporate ladder.

The internal organizational chart isn't the only hierarchy that matters. A new, higher-profile position with a more respected organization can lend more stature and influence among your peers and professional contacts.

Look for a company that actually delivers on the perks, benefits and cultural advantages it advertises.

The Society for Human Resource Management's 2014 Strategic Benefits Survey revealed that although 52% of organizations report providing flexible work arrangements, not all of them apply such benefits throughout the business. In fact, just 33% of respondents allow the majority of their employees flexible work arrangements.

Learning culture

Find a true, mutually beneficial learning culture.

The only thing better than finding an employer who makes the best use of your talents—and rewards you with both financial and non-financial incentives—is finding one that will help you expand those talents. Increasingly, employers are focusing on creating a culture of learning and growing with their employees. This is an advantage for you, in that you become even more valuable. It's also an advantage for them, because they don't need you to know everything the day you arrive for orientation.

There's no single way to spot a learning culture, but a good indicator is the workplace's ability to get new hires up to speed quickly. If the company promotes hitting the ground running, offers open access to experts and mentors, sends employees to conferences and seminars and welcomes new ideas, it's the right environment for learning.

There's no guarantee, but you should like your chances.

Today's shortage of experienced and qualified specialty professionals does not necessarily ensure you will advance your career. However, the more proactive you are—from expanding your hard skills to focusing on your soft skills to networking to considering factors beyond salary—the faster you will find the ideal job opportunity. Keep in mind that you are the prize that happens to be in high demand, and confidently pursue the position you deserve.

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