Job Market: Still a Mess

Open roles have fallen an eye-popping 30% since peaking two years ago, but HR professionals still face massive workloads to find the right candidates.

A salesperson might expect a little more free time in their schedule if they had 30% fewer products to sell. A mechanic might think the same if they had 30% fewer cars to fix.

But nothing is as it seems when it comes to the US job market. Even as the number of open job roles has fallen to its lowest level in three years, experts say talent professionals haven’t gotten much of a break in workload, suggesting that corporate hiring processes remain chaotic—for both job seekers and HR staff.  “Overworked recruiters are looking through four thousand job-post responses,” says Dan Kaplan, a Korn Ferry senior client partner in the firm’s Chief Human Resources Officers practice.

According to the latest US government data, there were 8.5 million open roles across the country in March. That’s down 11% over the past year and a massive 30% decline from the March 2022 peak of 12.2 million open roles. Indeed, the last time the number of open roles was 8.5 million was March 2021. The impact for job candidates, of course, is clear: They will have fewer opportunities. But in a frustrating wrinkle, the reduction in job openings isn’t likely to ease the problem many people are facing as they apply to firms and wait to hear from them—or from companies trying to find the right talent in a sea of applicants.

Experts say that’s because the usual reduction in HR workload that happens when the job market stalls isn’t occurring. Over the last year, many organizations have laid off recruiters in an effort to rein in costs, and shorthanded HR staffs are still trying to catch up. At the same time, technology tools, including AI, have made it easy for job seekers to apply to dozens of jobs quickly.

While Kaplan might be exaggerating slightly in estimating four thousand responses per job posting, data from multiple third-party job sites indicates that open positions do frequently get hundreds of applications. The latest AI tools for job recruiters can help review and rank potential candidates, but after that, experts say, it’s up to humans to find the best fit via interviews, assessments, and job references. “Ask AI to determine whether someone works well with others, and it’s terrible,” says Shanda Mints, Korn Ferry’s vice president of recruitment process outsourcing analytics and implementation.

Still, experts say that companies should see the latest job news as an opportunity for some strategic retooling, either around the jobs the organization needs or the hiring process itself. “It’s a good opportunity to think about what’s next,” says David Ellis, Korn Ferry’s vice president of global talent acquisition transformation. Indeed, company leaders should be thinking about whether future open roles should be filled internally by retrained employees, or externally by new full-time recruits, interim or part-time employees, or automated processes. Hiring professionals often capture this strategic planning with the phrase “Build, Buy, Borrow, or Bot.”

Experts say companies also can use the hiring slowdown as an opportunity to repair various flaws that may have popped up in their hiring processes during the job boom. Some firms, having realized that arranging hundreds—or thousands—of interviews can be a logistical nightmare for human recruiters, are now implementing scheduling tools. Other firms, frustrated at the makeup of the candidates they’re getting, are trying to expand their talent pools by recruiting at different universities or changing job requirements.


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