There are certain occasions when the competition for jobs favors the job-seeker. But those are not common, and generally involve specific skill sets that are in very high demand by employers. When the skill sets are more common, the market may be flooded with applicants. A survey published on the job and recruiting site Glassdoor reports that, on average, each corporate job posting attracts 250 resumes; four to six of those applicants will get an interview for the position; one will get the job. Even if that number fluctuates when the unemployment rate goes up or down, there is little doubt that candidates need an edge in order land the position they seek.

“There are things everyone should be doing, regardless of their skill set, to make them relevant and competitive,” said Bill Courtney, TDK Technologies Director of Recruiting. “Getting an education, learning a skill, gaining experience and having a solid resume are really the basic points of entry in a competitive job market. Success requires more than that.”

Beyond the Basics

Whether candidates are new college graduates entering the job market without a lot of history or are experienced candidates seeking to advance their careers, applicants need ways to make themselves marketable. Additionally, in this age of mergers and acquisitions, people who have been with the same company for several years may suddenly find themselves in the job market. How do they stand out and become competitive?

“In a competitive job market, hiring managers are looking for reasons to disqualify candidates and narrow the list of potential choices. As a candidate, minimizing the points that quickly remove your application from consideration is important,” Courtney said.

Courtney said candidates generally only take what they are doing now and attempt to turn that into a case for the hiring manager. Instead, candidates should look for trends about where the job market is going and adjust their efforts accordingly. Research is important. For one thing, Courtney said people should research salaries for the positions they are seeking.

“Know your market value. One thing hiring managers can infer if a candidate has too low of a compensation target is that someone is not qualified for the job they are seeking,” Courtney said.

Courtney said potential employers check social media, and that applicants should as well. For example, remove items from your Facebook page that may give hiring managers pause. In a competitive job market, candidates don’t want to leave anything to chance.  

“Clean up your Facebook page, and take the goofy stuff down. Consider whether those things are what you want to advertise to potential employers,” Courtney said. “Whether it pertains to politics, religion or things you are passionate about, remember there’s a time and a place for that.  And that’s not necessarily on Facebook.”

Social media should be viewed as tools that help establish and advance your personal brand on a professional level. That is particularly the case for LinkedIn. Courtney said that in addition to having a complete LinkedIn profile, candidates should highlight their best ‘slay-the-dragon’ project where they were the go-to person on something that was an asset to their organization. It is also advisable to get recommendations from people associated with your work to speak on your behalf on your LinkedIn page. Candidates should also join professional societies, which indicates they are interested in staying current with industry developments while also networking with others in their profession.

Candidates who have completed design work or technical/requirements writing should create a portfolio. This demonstrates credibility that supports statements often seen on resumes such as ‘proven experience writing’ or ‘recognized as an industry leader’. 

“Through the portfolio, you can demonstrate value in an interview, proving you have done what you say and can produce evidence of a quality product,” Courtney said. “Employers will dig a bit deeper. Once someone is not sitting in front of them putting on their best face, they will look for what else is out there.”

Life-long Learning

Employers value people who are hungry to learn new approaches and technologies. In the case of people who have been working with legacy technologies such as mainframe development, new opportunities are few and far between. But they can transition to a new programming language, or move into business analysis or project management. Taking that approach involves continuing education and a commitment to life-long learning.

Taking classes and obtaining certifications can help set candidates apart. But Courtney cautions that certifications don’t trump experience. He also noted that hiring managers apply scrutiny to those items on resumes.

“We’ll see people who have no experience but have listed a certification such as SCRUM Master. Or they have a PMP certification listed but fail to demonstrate the 4,700 hours of project management that is supposed to be a requirement for that certification,” Courtney said. “Beware of creative writing exercises that show certifications but not the experience to back it up.”

People who can speak well and write well are always going to be in high demand. But as industries become more global, Courtney said it’s becoming more necessary for people to learn multiple languages.

“Mastering English should be the primary goal. But people who can communicate in the global market can be an asset. We see clients with branches overseas that post positions looking for people with bilingual capabilities. That can help someone be more competitive,” Courtney said.

Demonstrate Initiative – Find a Mentor

Competitive job markets also exist within organizations. Companies will post open positions on their internal networks, sometimes before they are posted externally. If a candidate is trying to advance within a large organization, try to do things to stand out. Look for opportunities to excel, draw attention to your drive and then deliver results. That is in stark contrast to co-workers who bring a ‘do-the-minimum’ mentality to work and meet only the basic requirements of their role.

“The people who are going to be competitive in the internal market and advance their careers are the people who are going to do more than is expected,” Courtney said. “As a manager, I’ve experienced both of those types of people. The folks who are driven and motivated to excel, you want to cultivate. You want to help them turn that driving passion into something more. That kind of energy almost commands attention. There’s nothing more impressive than someone who takes the bull by the horns and does their best to excel at whatever task they are given.”

Courtney also said finding a mentor is great for people new to an organization. He suggests finding someone who at one point had the job you currently have and ask them to be your mentor to help guide your career. Learn from their pitfalls and what they had to go through to get where they are.

“If you are trying to be competitive in the market, it helps to have someone who has been competitive in the market as your mentor,” Courtney said. “They can also become your advocate, and perhaps be in a position to influence decision-making processes down the line regarding promotions and responsibility roles.”

Courtney also suggests looking in your own crystal ball to see where your career is going, then develop a plan to make it happen. What emerging technologies, market trends and new concepts can help you be competitive? How can you make yourself relevant? Capitalize on experience and demonstrate how the entire package benefits a potential employer.

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