When job hunting isn't working

It's an employees' market, but not everyone is landing a job. Katherine Spencer Lee outlines some common job-searching mistakes

The US Department of Labour’s Bureau of Labour Statistics reported a jump of more than 11% in IT employment from April to May. Also, research conducted by Robert Half Technology supports the notion that job growth will remain fairly robust. Our most recent IT Hiring Index and Skills Report indicates that 13% of US CIOs plan to add technology staff over the next three months, while only 3% anticipate cutbacks. The net 10% increase is up two percentage points from the previous forecast. It seems all signs point to brisk hiring in the IT field. However, some candidates are still having trouble finding a job.

I recently received an email from a job seeker with nearly a decade of database administration experience who had been successful in a number of roles with various companies. Based on this brief description, he seemed like a desirable candidate. However, he had been on the hunt for months and had yet to receive any significant inquiries from prospective employers. He wanted to know why finding a job was so challenging for him, especially given the signs of a healthy employment market.

If you’re in the same situation, consider the following reasons why you might be having trouble finding a new position, as well as the simple fixes that could put you back on the right track.

1. Over-estimating your marketability. While the demand for IT talent is strong, companies are not adding staffers at the same frenetic pace they were a few years ago, when people with little experience and few demonstrated skills could command multiple employment offers. Today’s hiring managers have learned their lesson and are seeking only the most talented individuals — those with strong soft skills and knowledge of business fundamentals, familiarity with the latest developments, on-the-job experience, track records of successful projects and the ability to make immediate contributions to an employer’s bottom line.

Unfortunately, the job seeker I mentioned previously was seeking a position as a database administrator but had no hands-on experience with the latest version of Oracle, which most of the hiring managers he met with considered essential.

My advice to him: take a look at your qualifications and determine whether they are truly marketable in the current environment.

2. Placing too much faith in the internet. It’s obvious that the net has made it easier for those on a job hunt to identify open positions, but it hasn’t necessarily made it easier for candidates to actually land jobs. Because of their familiarity with the technology, many IT professionals tend to rely heavily on the web when searching for employment. But according to an article in The New York Times, only 3-5% of job seekers locate a new position through online sites. While the internet can certainly come in handy — as a way to research potential employers, determine which companies are hiring and locate positions specific to your area, for example — it should be just one of the many strategies employed during a job hunt.

Remember to supplement your efforts by contacting members of your professional network for leads and advice, sharing your search with those you meet at industry events and professional association meetings, signing on with a staffing firm, and scanning print publications for additional vacancies.

3. Fixing too many “problems”. The average job seeker who has been on the hunt for a while usually responds to periods of little success by taking a cold, hard look at his CV, cover letter, sources of leads and interview techniques. That’s the wrong approach. Evaluating all aspects of your job search and revamping each is a lot like taking 15 medications for a minor head cold: it’s a lot of extra effort and could cause more harm than good.

A better approach is to diagnose your specific job-search ill and focus on strengthening just that one part. Say you’ve gone on several interviews and have even been called back for additional meetings with some companies, but you still haven’t received any offers. The problem probably lies solely with your interviewing — after all, your resume and cover letter are drawing heavy interest from employers. Making significant tweaks to your application materials could cause other companies to overlook you. Instead, reviewing questions you’ve been asked by potential employers so far and practicing your responses with a friend could be all you need to land the next job.

4. Not following up. One easy way to stand out from the crowd of applicants: follow up with the hiring manager after submitting your CV. It sounds simple, but it’s extremely effective. According to a survey by Robert Half Technology, 86% of executives say job seekers should contact a hiring manager within two weeks of sending a resume and cover letter. Yet few candidates do. Often, a brief phone call or email reasserting your interest in the position and strong qualifications is enough to prompt a potential employer to revisit your CV.

There’s no doubt that significant opportunities exist for IT professionals in the current employment market. But companies are still being highly selective when it comes to bringing aboard additional workers, and competition among candidates is fierce. Individuals who hope to land a new position must be smart about their approach and avoid common job-search pitfalls.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of recruitment specialist Robert Half Technology.

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