Is Your Job Market Competitive? 6 Ways to Find Out

In one of my recent posts, I came up with a silly scheme to determine how long someone’s job search would last.  One of the factors in this four-factor formula relates to how competitive your job market is.  This data would pretty useful to have before launching a career transition or new graduate study program, or even just starting a job search. But how do you  find out?

Of course, you could look online to see how many job postings you can find that are of interest to you. But this tells you nothing about the other end of the equation: how many high-quality candidates are applying for those jobs you are excited about? There are certain job markets, like those for career counselors or actuaries, where there are relatively few openings, but also relatively few qualified candidates. This means if you in such a job market, you might have to wait a little while to find positions, but the competition might not be too fierce. On the flip side, there are markets with many well-qualified candidates and few openings, like the job market for tenure-track professorships in philosophy or folksingers (the only other job I would want to have besides my current one), equalling tough competition; and those with many openings and few qualified candidates (like for people with very unique computer programming skills combined with great supervisory skills).

So, how can you find out how competitive your job market is? Here are six ways:

1. Ask several people who recently got a job in your field. Be sure your sample size is bigger than one person, just in case you talk to the world’s luckiest job seeker, who only had to send one resume in order to get hired. Look for people who are similarly qualified as you are. Did it take them a short while to get hired? How many applications did they have to make before landing interviews? How rigorous was the interview process and how long did it take?

2. Ask the HR people. If you see a job you’re interested in, consider calling the hiring manager to ask them how many people have applied to the job. Especially if you are not actually applying, but just thinking about it, they might not mind telling you.

3. Look at industry job boards. You’ll be able to tell right away if a job market is highly competitive because it will ask job-seekers to pay a fee in order to subscribe to see the job listings. This is a sure sign that it’s a tough market. In my time as a career counselor, I have found job boards with fees for job seekers in exactly four fields: the fashion industry, the entertainment industry, the sports industry, and international development. Of course, these are four of the most competitive fields out there. In addition, you will probably notice that for more competitive fields, there are very few paid internships. For instance, the Late Show with David Letterman and MTV almost never posted paid internships during the time I was an internship coordinator; but accounting firms seeking students with specific accounting skills always paid their interns. Goes to show that most people probably think it would be a lot more fun to work for David Letterman than to keep his books.

4. Talk to career services professionals in programs that prepare people for these careers. If you graduated from a university or college, or are currently in school, ask your career services staff if they have any statistics on how long it took for people to get jobs in your particular field, and what their salaries were. Ask for their honest opinion of what your chances are.

5. Read a lot of job descriptions. If you notice that they ask for many years of experiences or specific skills, and you don’t have those yet, know that the job market will be tough for you until such time as you build up the skills or experience that will get you to your goal.

6. Ask the government. The US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics published the Occupational Outlook Handbook, which is one of bibles for career counselors. It describes numerous fields and industries and highlights whether certain professions are in decline or are rapidly expanding and how competitive the market is. It also tracks fun  things like data on mass layoffs and the unemployment rate. You can also find employment data compiled by labor economists in state agencies. For example, the Washington State Employment Security Department tracks data here.

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