Is Now the Time for Discouraged Workers to Get Back in the Job Market?

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With U.S. headline unemployment down to 3.7%, the 5 million workers who have left the labor force and are not counted among the unemployed have a significant opportunity to begin new job searches with a better level of confidence that they could find one.

There are 96 million Americans who were not in the labor market as of the most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the number, 91 million do not want a job. Among the remaining 5 million who want a job, more than 4.5 million are available for work right now but nearly 3 million of these discouraged workers have not looked for a job in the past 12 months.

Andrew Challenger, vice-president of global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, commented:

We are experiencing an incredibly tight labor market. Companies are in a war for talent, as skills shortages threaten to keep companies from operating at maximum capacity. Already, we have tracked over 700,000 holiday hiring announcements, the most since we began tracking in 2012.

U.S. businesses currently have more job openings — about 7.1 million — than there are discouraged workers.

Challenger noted further:

People who want to work would be wise to jump start their searches right now. While it’s true that we tend to see the highest number of job cuts in the fourth quarter, companies are also getting ready to staff up not just for the holiday season, but also the New Year. This year in particular, we are seeing companies in dire need of workers. It really is a job seeker’s market.

How good is the job market? Challenger again:

In fact, companies are reporting that candidates are ‘ghosting’ them – a term coined to describe what happens when you date someone and that person suddenly disappears. The job market is so good, job seekers are receiving offers and not only not accepting them, but also never responding to the potential employer.

Challenger also offered a few tips for workers who have not been in the job market for a while. First, reconnect with your network. Online communities like LinkedIn are a good place to start.

Second, stay positive. Don’t spend a lot of time on your unemployed period. Acknowledge it and move on to what you’ve been doing to sharpen or broaden your skills.

Third, ditch the résumé-centric job-search strategy. Pumping out résumés after searching the want ads is not going to get you that job. Even poring over online ads, tossing your résumé into a pile that may include hundreds or thousands of others is unlikely to get you into the 10 or so résumés a hiring manager is going to review. This is where your network can really help.

Fourth, uncover the hidden job market. Even though online and newspaper want ads are abundant, they represent only about 20% of the available jobs, according to Challenger. The rest will be filled by employee referrals, personal connections and other backdoor channels.

Fifth, reset your expectations. This means taking a lower salary, changing industries or accepting a different title.

Sixth, step outside your comfort zone. This might include re-energizing your network, cold-calling employers to ask about job openings, asking friends and former colleagues for names of people who might be able to help with your job search and attending networking events.

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