Job search in 2024: A candid look at the US job market

Jan 22, 2024

3 mins

Job search in 2024: A candid look at the US job market
Michele O'Brien

Freelance writer and podcast producer

Being on the job market isn’t what you’d call “fun” even when the market looks great for job seekers. Lately, it’s felt even worse. In November 2023, the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Survey showed respondents agreeing that “jobs were hard to get” at the highest rate since March 2021. And according to a study from staffing company Aerotek, last year “53.8% of job seekers stated they [viewed] the economy and/or job market to be the most significant barrier or challenge in their current job search.”

With the “Great Resignation” (or the “Great Reshuffle”) quieting down and the labor market cooling, competition in some industries is higher than it has been in years. Through the stories of two recently-on-the-market job seekers and some economic insights, we explore what that means for those looking for work, today.

Fewer open positions

The US had three consecutive years of job growth beginning in 2021—and has added back all the jobs lost during the initial months of the pandemic. However, data shows that the vacant job percentage was 6.4% in December, down from a post-pandemic high of 7.2% in March of 2022.

From a top-line perspective, this means that the jobs picture in the United States looks excellent—unless you’re one of the unlucky few still looking for a job right now. There are already fewer open positions than there were a year or two ago and add to that the fact that, after a year where companies across industries aimed to cut costs by conducting layoffs, companies are holding on to the talent they already have and not looking to add to their headcount.

Not all jobs are created equal

Of course, large-scale indicators like the JOLTS (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey) report can obscure the particulars; just because there are a lot of open jobs out there doesn’t mean there are a lot of open jobs that are the right fit for a particular person. Remote-only job postings are down, and wage growth is stagnating, making it potentially more difficult for highly paid job seekers to find a next move that feels right to them.

Alex, a program manager in the tech industry, lost her job as part of a reduction in force in March 2023. As she hunted for jobs, she found that compensation for positions “varied an insane amount from $50k a year for a senior position to $200k a year for some giant companies”—and since the lower end of the pay scale didn’t work for her family’s financial needs, she had to limit her scope further. Additionally, she found that the majority of what she was being cold-offered on LinkedIn were contract positions, many times without benefits. And that wasn’t going to work, either.

Post-layoff competition

After layoffs across tech and media in the last year, many capable white-collar workers were on the job market, upskilling and pivoting: sales reps decided to try their hand at software, recruiters took Learning & Development training, and marketers leaped from one industry to another. But for people who wanted to remain in their field, competition sometimes increased.

Another millennial we spoke to, who works in marketing for media companies, spent 8 months on the job market before landing her current position. Her job was eliminated due to a merger in 2022. The same year, there were layoffs across the tech industry, from Apple to Amazon to Microsoft, so she was up against some of the newly-on-the-market talent from the tech field for the few media jobs she found. But although she saw some roles pop up in industries like finance, “I don’t know that industry. I don’t know that world. I don’t have connections in that world. So I was really finding myself throwing darts in a lot of different directions and the only ones that stuck were mostly media companies, which again, were few and far between.”

The case for optimism

While industries like media, IT, and software contracted (or “right-sized,” depending on your perspective), hiring rose in industries like health and social assistance, leisure and hospitality, and government. So if you’re a job seeker with some flexibility on what to do next, consider switching fields or upskilling in order to take on a role in a growing industry.

Advice from those who’ve been there before

If you find yourself mired in the job-search blues, says Alex, make sure you’re tapping your network. “Reach out to people in your network. Even if you see on LinkedIn that an alumnus from your alma mater, or from a previous company that you worked at, works at the company that you’re applying to, reach out to them before you apply.” People want to help, and most of the time are happy to pass along a resume or a referral, so put any pride to the side and let your network give you a boost. It’s the best way to find that next position.

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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