The Great Job Market Staring Contest

According to Department of Labor statistics, there are roughly around 300,000 people looking for work in Washington State right now.  And as of this exact minute, based on searching just a single website,, there are no fewer than 114,416 published Washington job opportunities out there, just waiting to be filled.

What accounts for this gap?  How can there be so many companies despearately trying to find employees — when there are so many would-be employees out there, just waiting to be found?

Last week, I was interviewed by local reporter Wendy Kaufman on this very subject for a story on NPR’s Morning Edition.  You’ll find a link to the story here, in case you missed it, and both myself and a number of other contributors pointed to the fact that employers today seem incredibly gun-shy about hiring people, in general, and seem to holding out for instant gratification — in the form of candidates who match a laundry list of ridiculously over-specialized qualifications.

Now on one hand, you can’t really blame them.  This same trend has gripped society at large, thanks to the Internet and other contributing factors, and virtually all of us as consumers have become pretty darn spoiled about expecting to get exactly what we want, at the lowest possible cost, with no compromises.  When buying a house, we expect to find one that meets all kinds of wonderful criteria, but then still expect it to be very reasonably priced.  When buying our customary espresso drinks, we go ballistic if they give us 2% milk instead of non-fat or if the caramel macchiato isn’t as “extra hot” as we had specified.  And when getting our car fixed (or hiring any other kind of service provider) we expect instant gratification.  We expect the shop to have the right part in stock and the right personnel on hand to get the car fixed today — not tomorrow, or a week from now, or three weeks from now.  And they’d better have a loaner car for us, in the meantime, if they expect any repeat patronage!

So I don’t think this is an employer vs. employee issue, at heart.  I think we’ve all come to have overblown expectations about certain things and the stance we’re seeing from many employers today is simply just another form of “picky consumerism” at work.

But eventually something’s gotta give.  Right now, it feels like a deadlocked staring contest between a ton of companies who are holding out for perfection and a multitude of job hunters who (pardon this generalization) seem highly unwilling to get serious, acquire some marketable new skills, or settle for less money than they made in their previous job.  So here’s what I’d say to both camps:

Hiring Managers: “Please recognize that you’re going to continue to be working long, grueling hours and rarely see your family until you ease up a bit on the superhuman job requirements bit and recognize that smart people, with successful track records, are capable of learning how to do new things.  Don’t be indiscriminate, but don’t be totally obsessed with ‘checkbox’ credentials, either.  Give people the chance to impress you.  After all, did you know everything there was to know about doing your current job before you got hired?  And would you be able to qualify for your own position today, if it was advertised with 25-30 required qualifications?  It’s time to ease up and give smart, motivated people more of an opportunity to prove themselves and show you that they can meet your needs!”

Job Hunters: “Please recognize that the world doesn’t owe you a living and that in order to compete for most jobs today, you’re going to need to show some hustle and initiative, as well as a willingness to be flexible on your salary requirements.  Are you engaged in an ongoing regimen of self-study and professional development to keep your skills relevant to the needs of today’s employers?  Are you demonstrating your professional strengths, smarts, resourcefulness, and creativity via the manner in which you approach interviews and conduct your job search?  Are you asking for salary parameters in line with today’s norms, versus compensation levels that were more customary a few years ago, at the peak of the market?  It may be time to ‘adapt and survive’ versus hold out for a job opportunity that meets every single one of your hopes, aspirations, and desires.”

Again, my apologies to those of you out there on both sides of the aisle who don’t fit these stereotypes, but I feel they’re pretty accurate in terms of what’s going on in the marketplace at the macro level.  On one hand you hear quite a few job hunters insisting that they couldn’t possibly consider a pay cut, since their cost of living has gone way up, but these same folks don’t always factor in that they have voluntarily raised their standard of living, as well, as you’ll read about in the article here.  And on the flip side, I’m glad we now have TV shows like Undercover Boss where the top executives at various companies try their hand, anonymously, at doing some of the lower-level jobs within their own company — and realize that the people in these positions are worth every penny they’re paid, and more!

We can’t go on like this forever, people.  Who’s gonna blink?



3 Responses to “The Great Job Market Staring Contest”

  1. No question about it, a certain percentage of those jobs on Indeed (or any website) are likely duplicate listings — or of somewhat dubious nature. But even if this percentage was as high as let’s say 20-30%, I’d ask folks to keep in mind that this is only ONE website out of many — and that the vast majority of job openings out there don’t, in fact, ever get published. So regardless of the exact statistics for any one given site, the overall point still holds very true, I think. There’s still a huge number of available jobs that are going unfilled right now, simply because of a skills gap and some reluctance on both sides of the equation to meet in the middle.

  2. I’m interested to know of the 114,416 WA jobs advertised just on, how many of these are duplicate job postings? In my own job search I have noted that many jobs are posted by websites which simply troll other websites and re-post previous postings, often long after the actual job is expired or filled. So the actual number of real jobs is probably far less than stated.

    I now check all listings (if the company is known) on their website and almost 50% of the time there is no job listed on the company’s own website which is disheartening to say the least!

  3. Right now, I think it’s been the job seekers who are blinking, if only because they can’t AFFORD to hold out as long. But you’re right – hiring managers HAVE come to expect ‘perfect’ candidates. And with so many seekers in the market, enough of them are getting it to encourage this trend. But as the job market recovers and there are fewer job seekers for each position, hiring managers will have to make a choice: continue working themselves and their staff like dogs indefinitely, or make some concessions on their new employee wish list.

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