Vice President & GM North America RPO, Senior Client Partner
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The Frenzy to Find Work
There's been a surge in new jobs created. Wages are rising, even after accounting for inflation. The number of job openings is once again increasing. Unemployment is near a record low. It all sounds like the ultimate job seeker’s market.
Yet amid these conditions, an increasing number of job candidates are voicing their frustrations about the difficulty of finding a role. Indeed, a recent survey from the staffing agency Insight Global found that half of those looking were “completely burned out” by the process. “It is an interesting dichotomy,” says Juliana Barela, Korn Ferry’s senior vice president of its North America RPO business.
Experts say that even as US non-government employers added 353,000 jobs in January (on top of the 2.7 million jobs they added in 2023), a confluence of events, perceptions, and expectations is stymieing candidates. For one thing, employers are hiring, but they’re not as desperate to bring in new recruits as they were during the Great Resignation of 2021 and 2022. For instance, they’re less willing to offer big salary bumps or remote-work arrangements.
Many candidates are also finding that they lack the skills necessary for the multitude of jobs companies have advertised. “There are so many jobs now that didn’t exist five years ago,” says Shanda Mints, a VP for Korn Ferry’s Americas RPO Implementation business. That’s forcing many candidates to reskill themselves, which can take time and money.
Technological advancements have made applying for multiple roles remarkably easy compared to just a few years ago, but they can also bring a level of exasperation to the process, says Val Olson, a career coach for Korn Ferry Advance. Software that facilitates applications has caused some job listings to be inundated with candidates, which can mean hundreds or thousands of rejections.
Alternately, an applicant may not hear back for days, weeks, or ever if they don’t meet qualifications. Recently, unemployed full-time workers applied to an average of 30 jobs, only to receive an average of four callbacks or responses, according to Insight Global. “Some job seekers refer to it as ‘the black hole,’” Olson says.
Even when there is communication between company and candidate, the process can be drawn out. One of Korn Ferry career coach Tiffinee Swanson’s clients had to create presentations or case studies for seven separate interviews. The client was eventually turned down, then had to go through similar processes with other prospective employers. “It’s really become a test of resilience,” Swanson says.
On the other hand, even with unemployment near record lows and wages growing, employers are pretty satisfied with the current conditions, experts say. Part of that is a sense of normalcy returning after four years of pandemic-driven layoffs, hiring and retention battles over wages and perks, and a wave of inflation. “For a time, there was no formula to identify who was needed or when or where,” says David Napeloni, vice president in Korn Ferry’s Life Sciences business. Now, he says, companies are thinking about the economy a little more normally, which gives them more confidence with their hiring plans.
Firms are worried about overhiring to compensate for not finding enough skilled candidates, Barela says. A similar scenario, in which businesses binged on hiring only to subsequently lay off thousands of workers, happened in many industries during 2022 and 2023.
But that fear isn’t stopping employers from bringing in new recruits. The difference now, Barela says, is that instead of—for instance—asking to hire as many software developers as possible, clients have a set number in mind. For the past several months, they’ve been front-loading a lot of their hiring, she says, bringing in a bunch of new people at the start of the company’s fiscal year. Those firms have since paused and will wait weeks or months to see if business conditions merit another hiring push.
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