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The Job Market Is Turning into a Seller’s Market. But Do You Know How to Sell Yourself?

By: Chuck Pappalardo, Managing Director, Trilogy Search Non+Profit

It’s been a long time coming, but the economic recovery is finally here. The U.S. unemployment rate was just 5.5% in February, with employers adding 295,000 new fulltime jobs. And most economists believe that trend is going to continue through this year and beyond. That means the 2015 job market is healthier than it’s been in more than a decade — healthier, in fact, than most workers under 40 can even remember. As I’ve previously mentioned, by the end of this year, just about everyone who wants a job will have one. And even more importantly, just about everyone who wants a better job will have a very good shot at getting one.

For the first since the dot-com bubble burst in late 2000, the job market is turning into a seller’s market. That’s especially true for well-educated, highly skilled workers. Most of them already have jobs — even during the depths of the recession, the unemployment rate for the college-educated never got much higher than 4% — but many of them are deeply unsatisfied with those jobs. They want more challenging responsibilities, they want more opportunities for career advancement — and of course they want more money.

So in what I’m calling the “new new normal” — where employers have to actively compete for talent, or risk falling behind their competitors — what should people considering a job change do? Here are a few important factors to keep in mind:

Be patient. The long economic downturn we’ve just gone through didn’t happen overnight, and the turnaround won’t, either. Over the next few months, job openings and calls from recruiters are going to increase dramatically, but that doesn’t mean the perfect position, with the right employer, the right opportunity and the right compensation, is going to open up right away. Remember, you’re not just looking for a job, you’re building a career — and that takes time.

Be ready. It may have been a while since you looked seriously for a new position. Have you updated your résumé, with all the new skills and experience you’ve acquired since your last job search? Does your online and social media presence — especially on LinkedIn — reflect your abilities, your seriousness and your professionalism? Are your personal and professional references up-to-date, with current contact information? And have you discreetly let the right people know you might be ready for a change? Now’s the time to prepare yourself for the opportunities that are going to open up.

Be aware. Just because we’re moving into a seller’s market, that doesn’t mean you can ignore the buyer’s side. Take a hard look at potential employers in your field and in your area. Search for information online, and consult your friends and professional acquaintances. Forget the gimmicks — the cappuccino machines, the foosball tables, the massages at your workstation — and focus on what really matters. Does a prospective employer have a reputation for offering appropriate compensation, in terms of salaries, performance bonuses and stock options? Does it treat all its employees — including women and minorities — fairly? Does it understand and respect the need for work/life balance? And is it prepared to help you grow professionally? These are all questions that should influence your decisions about what employer and what job is right for you.

Be selective. In a seller’s market, you don’t have to take the first job offer that comes along. For the first time in years — and probably for the first time in your career — you get to be as choosy as employers have always been. One of the best indicators of how an employer will treat you on the job is how the organization treats you in the recruitment and hiring process. You can tell what’s important to a company by what it spend its time, its energy and its money on. In today’s fast-changing market, if it isn’t spending it on attracting and retaining great people, that speaks volumes about what it values. You can also tell a lot about a company by how long it takes to make a decision regarding a new employee. If the hiring process takes more than, say, two months, without a reasonable explanation — organizational changes, perhaps, or some sort of personal crisis for one of the people involved — something is wrong, and you likely won’t find out what it is until it’s too late. One of the best things about the changes in the job market is that you can expect a prospective employer to show you the respect you deserve, from the first contact — and you shouldn’t accept anything less.

Now, these are all pretty basic job search skills, or at least they used to be, but you may not have used them for a while. (If you’re looking for your first serious job, you’ve never used them at all — but everything I’ve written here still applies to you.) The bottom line is, there’s a truly transformational change coming in the job market, especially for people with the right skills — but only if they know how to sell themselves.