How to succeed in your January job hunt

January 22, 2020, 5:00 PM UTC
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Kicking off the new year by looking for a new job? Good for you, but beware: You’re facing more competition this month than at any other time of year.

New research from career site Glassdoor says more people apply for posted openings in January than in any other month. In 2020, the “January spike” is a hefty 22% in the U.S., and even higher in some other countries—29% in France, for instance. At the same time, though, the report says employers, having just closed the books on the old year, post fewer jobs than in other months. So far in January, U.S. help-wanted ads are running at about 4% below average.

So how can you improve your odds of winning the new gig you want? It might help to focus your search on companies whose workforces number from 50 to 500 employees. ADP’s latest payroll report notes that, while U.S. businesses added 202,000 jobs in December, about 88,000 of those new openings were created at “medium-sized” enterprises. That’s almost twice the number (45,000) of new jobs at “large” businesses with 500 to 1,000 or more employees.

No matter what size company you’d like to work for, here are two ways you can stand out from your fellow job hunters—both now and for the rest of 2020.

1. Take a fresh look at whether you’re doing the right things.

Michael Steinitz, executive director at staffing firm Accountemps, says it might be time to take a fresh look at whether you’re doing the right stuff, especially if you haven’t put yourself on the market for a while. “A strategic job search now requires much more than putting together a polished resume,” he says. “Employers are looking for people with a strong online presence and a passion for their work.”

A new Accountemps survey of 2,400 hiring managers in 28 U.S. states found that they’re most impressed with candidates who “network on social media with employees at the company of interest” (49%) and “provide access to an online portfolio or personal website” (47%).

What should your site look like? An infographic, or clear charts and graphs that quantify your achievements and show them in visual form, can tip the scales in your favor and get you chosen for an interview, while cartoon images and Bitmojis tend to turn employers off, the survey says. Suggests Steinitz, “Steer clear of anything that could be considered distracting or unprofessional, like flashy fonts and images.” None of that means an old-school resume doesn’t count anymore, but what employers want to see on it has undergone a shift.

2. Highlight your soft skills instead of your technical ones.

“Companies now are looking to hire candidates with strong ‘people’ skills, with the idea of training them in any necessary technical skills on the job,” says Michelle Armer, who works as Chief People Officer at CareerBuilder. “About 80% of employers have told us they value ‘soft’ skills more than the ‘hard’ kind, especially in three main areas: critical thinking, teamwork, and customer service.”

It’s not hard to see why “soft” skills (also known by other names, like human skills, power skills, and E.Q.) are in demand. For one thing, more and more jobs in every industry have been transformed by technology. With A.I. and machine learning taking over the routine, repetitive parts of work, what’s left for human employees to do usually calls for traits like empathy, creative problem-solving, and even humor—beyond the ken (so far) of algorithms. And unlike tech skills, which now obsolesce at an average rate of every 18 months, soft skills will grow even more essential as technology keeps racing onward.

Also, remember that collaboration is crucial. So many jobs these days require effective teamwork, Armer points out, that your resume will fall short unless it highlights specific examples of situations where you achieved notable goals by playing well with others. Even, or especially, if your technical savvy is stellar, she says, “don’t downplay your soft skills. Emphasize them.” Noted.

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