If you’ve been searching for a job for any serious amount of time, then you understand how difficult it can be to find a job these days. You might even wonder if you’re perhaps not as employable as you thought you were. Believe us when we tell you: you’re not alone. Millions of other job seekers are experiencing those same frustrations--just check out the comments on this post.
Sadly, many job seekers expect that finding a job this year will likely be just as difficult. Once you understand why jobs are so hard to find right now, you can take steps to improve your odds of success.
Why is it so hard to find a job?
It can be frustrating to look at job boards and see all those open positions, especially when your cover letter and resume are being ignored. And it’s hard to ignore all those ‘Help Wanted’ signs you see whenever you’re driving through any town’s business district. After all, if there are that many companies in need of employees, why can’t you land those interviews you need? How is it that your resume is being passed over time after time? Why is it so hard to find a job?
First, recognize one thing: many companies and hiring managers have no intention of filling all those job positions. Many promote from within. Others simply solicit resumes on a regular basis to build up a reservoir of potential candidates they can turn to when positions do come open.
As a result, the job market may not be as wide-open as it appears at first glance. In short, don’t assume that your job search is any more difficult than any other job seeker. The fact is that you’re all competing for a finite pool of available jobs.
Finding a job has gotten even harder since the USA was hit was the COVID-19 pandemic. Read our experts' advice on the US job market and COVID-19, including the industries still hiring and the jobs hit the hardest.
Why many candidates can't find a job
As you see from the graphic above: a typical job opening receives nearly 250 resumes. Out of those candidates looking for a job, 4 to 6 will be called for an interview. Only one person will be given an offer.
Here are some other reasons why it's so difficult to find a job.
1. Companies are overly selective
Companies are looking for a mythical “perfect candidate.” A quick review of many job descriptions will paint a picture of an experienced, highly educated expert with a wide variety of skills and experience in a broad range of categories. If these candidates exist, there aren’t enough to fill all these positions. Instead, employers need to find candidates who check the most boxes on the perfect list of qualifications.
It’s also important to recognize that the job market has changed. Decades ago, employers would hire candidates with the intention of employing them for life. They viewed those hires as long-term investments. That meant that they could take a chance on a new hire, train that person, and get a return on their investment over time.
These days, that dynamic has changed dramatically. Most employees move from job to job throughout their careers. Companies are no longer as loyal to their employees as they once were. Because of that changed relationship, employers need to get an immediate return from their hiring investment.
That’s led them to become ever more selective about who they hire. They need to know that you can provide immediate value to the firm.
2. Enter the Applicant Tracking Systems
An applicant tracking system, or ATS, is a tool used by over 90% of employers to parse and sort resume submissions. As we detail in our post on how to format your resume for an ATS, "ATS resume scanning software is designed to scan a resume for work experience, skills, education, and other relevant information."
For many workers, the ATS may be a real obstacle to finding a job in the digital age. These applicant tracking systems are used to screen resumes based on keyword usage. Yes, it is a questionable way for humans to hire other humans--but it’s also an unfortunate reality.
Job seekers who are not sufficiently aware of how an ATS screens a resume may find it difficult to overcome that obstacle. Later in this piece, we’ll offer some ATS-related advice that can help you with this challenge, and introduce you to a tool to check your resume for ATS compatibility.
3. A reliance on outdated resumes
For many struggling job seekers, the problem is as simple as their resumes. Employers are looking for resumes that stand out from the crowd, so those old, outdated resumes are not the best option these days.
When it comes to finding a job, successful candidates will have resumes that effectively showcase their value as employees. Unfortunately, many of today’s job seekers have no idea how to craft that type of resume!
For example, does your resume still rely on the objective statement to capture a hiring manager’s attention? If so, that could be a major mistake. Objective statements focus on what you want from your career, rather than how you can meet the employer’s needs.
Think about that for a second. If you were in that employer’s shoes, would that approach appeal to you? Chances are that you’d want to hear more about how that candidate can add value to your team, right?
Finding a job: How to improve your odds
The good news is that the job search process doesn’t have to be an excruciating experience. There are, in fact, many things that you can do to improve your odds of landing a job. Most of them are focused on just a few key areas of concern, though.
1. Focus on your resume!
There’s no way around it: if you want to maximize your odds, you need a stellar resume. Sure, there was a time when resumes were all but a formality, but they carry a lot of weight these days. If your resume is mediocre at best, you won't have much luck landing your dream job.
Your application is likely to be passed over time and again during the job search for other candidates with better resumes–even if you’re just as qualified.
You can get a head start on improving your resume by checking out this post: ATS Resume Test: Free ATS Checker and Formatting Examples.
2. Use keywords wisely
Remember those ATS screeners we mentioned earlier? Do yourself a favor and learn how to use keywords in your cover letter and resume. That will help to ensure that yours gets past the machine and onto the desk of a hiring manager.
Read our complete guide on exactly how to use keywords on your resume.
3. Write your resume for an ATS scan
Now that you know what your resume is up against, you can adjust your resume to have a better chance of performing well on the ATS test.
Once you've made some changes to your resume, Zipjob has a free resume review tool that will give you the results of an ATS scan and an expert's opinion of your resume.
4. Apply for the right jobs
Are you applying for the right positions? Too often, many people fail to choose positions that best match their skill sets. Other times, they fail to properly showcase the right skills in their resumes. Remember, most hiring managers only spend a few minutes on an initial examination of your resume.
If it doesn’t catch their eye in that time, it gets tossed aside. Make sure that your most relevant skills and experience are the ones required for the job opening–and make sure to highlight them in your summary statement.
Similarly, you should focus your search on jobs that are looking for people with your skills. Read more tips on How To Find A Job Fast.
5. Network, network, network!
Don’t forget about your network. You’ve spent years building a network of associates and contacts in your industry. Leverage those relationships to get your foot in the door and in front of employers. Ask them for referrals. Proactively request news about new job openings that match your qualifications.
In other words, don’t just wait for a job to appear--use every tool available to you to land that interview you need.
Applying to jobs online is not as effective as reaching out to the company or hiring manager directly. Read our guide to sending a cold email (with examples).
Finding a job doesn’t have to be an excruciating experience--seriously! While the job search experience is seldom easy, finding a job in 2021 doesn’t need to be a painful ordeal. The key is to recognize the challenges that you face, and take proactive steps to counter those obstacles.
With the right resume and job search strategy, you can find that job you deserve--and do it without much of the frustration you’d otherwise experience.
Caitlin Proctor, CPRW, Certified Professional Résumé Writer
Caitlin joined the ZipJob team in 2019 as a professional resume writer and career advisor. She specializes in strategic advice for executives, career pivots, and remote workers. Read more resume advice from Caitlin on ZipJob’s blog.