“WE’RE HIRING.” The sign seems to hang in storefronts everywhere — sometimes coupled with a plea: “We’re short-staffed. Please be patient.”
There were close to 20 million active online job postings in August, according to the site ZipRecruiter. That’s a staggering increase from the approximately 10 million active postings at the start of the year.
It’s no wonder then that there are grumblings about the labor shortage. After so much talk of a “Great Resignation” and young people “lying flat,” the sentiment is now moving toward “just get a job already.” After all, everyone seems to be hiring.
But here’s the thing: It’s not so easy for everyone to land a quality job.
There’s a false narrative that people are refusing to go back to work because their lives remain subsidized by pandemic unemployment benefits. In the U.S., the federal government extended the amount of time people could get unemployment insurance and provided an additional $600 per week, on top of state benefits, early in COVID, before reducing it to $300 per week from January 2021 to September 2021 (though 26 states ended the federal subsidy early).
But these programs expired across the country in September. Typically, unemployment payments vary drastically by state and often do not provide for more than basic necessities. New York, for example, provides a maximum of $504 per week. (The amount is based on factors including your previous position, pay rate and whether you paid into unemployment insurance.) That might not cover rent and utilities in expensive areas like New York City. And benefits aren’t extended to everyone who asks.
So it’s probably not unemployment benefits keeping people from taking on new jobs. Rather, it seems people are having a hard time landing the right jobs.
Jacqie Brooks, a marketing technology coordinator based in West Virginia, received unemployment benefits for six months after losing her job in November 2020. During that time, Brooks applied to more than 450 jobs, including entry-level positions. She was rejected a couple times for “not having enough experience.”
“The problem with taking any job for the sake of working is … if I keep accepting positions that aren’t offering me relevant experience, I’m not helping myself gain more experience for the types of jobs I do want,” says Brooks. “That isn’t productive.”
Careful consideration is happening on both sides. Employees are holding out for quality jobs with benefits, competitive pay and flexibility, because for once it feels like they have the upper hand in a tight labor market; but employers are picky in trying to select the right candidates. It’s expensive to hire someone and a headache to replace them. Employers may need employees, but they don’t want high turnover.
The rise of online job boards should make hiring easier, but it’s created something of an online dating conundrum: There are so many options, you’re going to keep swiping until you find a perfect match. A true perfect match may not exist, but the endless options make it seem possible. What’s more, employers may not even be doing the first round of swiping — companies are increasingly using algorithms to weed through applications and those may be overlooking good candidates.
Dannie Lynn Fountain, a sourcer for software engineers based in Seattle, says the sheer volume of applicants she’s seen has made hiring even more complicated. Lots of people are applying for jobs right now. Fountain was recently one of them: She applied for 146 jobs between January 2020 and May 2021, got 27 follow-ups, did late-stage interviews for 12 positions, and ultimately received two job offers before choosing her current role.
“The adage is one month per $10,000 of salary,” says Fountain. “So a $50,000 job search will likely take five-plus months, a $100,000 job search will take 10-plus months, and so on.”
Even in a job-seeker’s market right now, you shouldn’t underestimate the process. Madeline, a technical recruiter based in Sacramento, California, says that her company often takes three-plus months to hire a candidate and typically interviews five or more people for a single role. Also, many organizations end up hiring from within.
Those using this time to pursue a career pivot are learning that such transitions aren’t simple — even in a labor shortage. “For me personally, ‘selling’ a career transition was truly one of the hardest things I have ever done,” says Fountain. Despite having a masters degree in human resources, her decade of work experience was in marketing and sales. “It’s not enough to rebrand yourself … you have to have demonstrable evidence to validate the rebrand too.”
So yes, there are jobs out there. But it would be wrong to roll one’s eyes at those who haven’t yet signed on the dotted line. Finding the right fit is rarely easy.
Erin Lowry is the author of “Broke Millennial,” “Broke Millennial Takes On Investing” and “Broke Millennial Talks Money: Stories, Scripts and Advice to Navigate Awkward Financial Conversations.”