What Skills Should Stand Out In A Competitive Job Market?

The job market has taken a turn in recent months toward a competitive status quo that favors employers. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics and its monthly jobs report, employment expanded across most industry categories in April 2023, with professional services and health/social assistance each adding over 64,000 jobs by themselves.

Look at the reality beneath the statistics and you’ll see how these trends are impacting real people in the market. For job seekers on the lookout for white collar roles, the frustrating truth is that the supply of jobs is down (by 500,000 since 2022) while demand is up and still rising. The last two years of post-pandemic shifting has seen many roles cut, plans halted, and projects scrapped. Layoffs have become less of a temporary placeholder strategy and more of a status quo.

What does this mean for employers looking to gain a competitive edge in the talent department? Well, now that the job search has become more competitive, employers looking to fill slots in their teams have increasing power to choose.

Why is now the time for employers to recruit?

The market is full (to bursting) with experienced, qualified, eager, and creative candidates that are missing out on certain opportunities—not due to any fault on their part but simply because the market is so packed.

This means that employers can scour the marketplace to find the absolute best candidates for their positions, and they can become pickier. They don’t need to choose the next visibly qualified candidate that walks in the door; they can take a little more time and lay out a few more parameters. For example, they can judge workplace and culture fit rather than hoping that their new hire will fit in to the team.

It also means that employers can explore the “hidden” skills and qualifications that signify truly high quality and rare talent. They can discover candidates with interesting perspectives, relevant values and life goals, niche knowledge bases that line up with your company’s next project, and so on.

However, how to look for this next level of skills and talents won’t be immediately obvious, so employers will need to think a bit about how to transform their recruitment drives in order to start looking for these “hidden” qualities.

How can leaders find better candidates in a crowded job market?

In a competitive landscape, urgency is commonplace. As long as the ball is in the employer’s court, leaders have time and space to figure out their hiring strategy and zero in on top talent. Here are a few places to start:

1. Make a list of all your company needs before you begin.

Most hiring mistakes happen because either employers or employees (or both) feel under pressure to accept or award an offer of employment. With time on your side, you can be more discerning and avoid that hirer’s remorse.

Before kickstarting hiring, consider all of your company needs, even those qualities you previously disregarded as “nice to have” or “unlikely to get.” Make sure there aren’t any hidden skills you would want this new hire to have that don’t appear in your job description. If you can afford to be picky, why not ask for exactly what you want? Want a game designer with a penchant for stop motion and a background in talk therapy who speaks Finnish? Ask for it.

2. Embrace the non-traditional career path.

Now that the selecting power is in your hands, you don’t have to content yourself with traditional qualifications and CV builders. Non-traditional careers can be a goldmine for the extra talents and niche skills you’re looking for.

“Frankly, focusing solely on people with a college education is not only bad for candidates—it’s also bad for business,” says Mike Northup, managing director of company relations at LaunchCode, which is a national workforce development nonprofit focused on free and innovative tech training solutions. “When you reject nontraditional applicants up front, you’re arbitrarily excluding qualified candidates from interviews. As a result, you’re likely to miss perfectly qualified, eager candidates with the right skills and experience. It also means your recruiting process may be longer and more costly. What’s more, it can lead to weaker hiring decisions.”

It is frustrating to say the least that many hiring teams quickly dismiss candidates that don’t display a traditional education background. It leads to people being put off from even applying to certain jobs, because they’re under the impression they’ll be belittled or ignored. Luckily, some large companies—Google and Bank of America to name a couple—have been updating their stance on education requirements. Why not join them?

3. Find ways to make the process nicer for candidates.

Just because you get to do the selecting this time around, doesn’t mean you should underestimate the power of the candidate. When you’re ready to hire, consider finding tangible ways to make the hiring process less grueling for candidates. The environment is already tough enough out there without putting them through rounds and rounds of audition-style interviews or refusing to answer additional questions. Let your hiring process be an example of what it will be like to join your team: friendly, warm, and interesting.

The employer-friendly job market doesn’t mean that employers should become ghosters (as has become a rather unsettling trend). Instead, now is the time for employers to set themselves apart in terms of how they approach and deal with candidates and how they build hiring processes that are better suited to their unique businesses.

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