If the Great Resignation Is Real, Why Is It So Hard to Find a Job?

Everywhere you look, there’s another “help wanted” or “now hiring” sign. 

The current economic trend known as the ‘Great Resignation’ has led to a significant shift in our workforce. Because many people are leaving their jobs searching for something better, there are more job openings than people looking for work. 

This imbalance should benefit job seekers and make it easier to land a new job than ever before. So why is it so hard to find a job for some people?

The “no one wants to work” narrative is misleading. People want to work. They just have different priorities now, and many companies are not adapting to this shift. 

From gaps with your resume skills to the increased demand for remote work, many factors make finding a job during the Great Resignation challenging. Thankfully, there are also things you can do to improve your chances.

1. The Pandemic is Still Happening

As much as we’d like to think it’s over, we are still in the midst of the pandemic. There is still a lot of uncertainty, as no one knows the long-term economic impact or if another lock-down is right around the corner.

Roughly 200,000 U.S. businesses permanently shut down within the first year of the pandemic, which eliminated a lot of positions. Many other companies are struggling to recover or stay afloat and therefore are hiring less, if at all.

Safety is also a much bigger concern. Employees hesitate to return to roles that put themselves and their families at risk of contracting the virus. A lack of childcare prevents some from returning to jobs that don’t provide flexibility or work-from-home options. 

2. Few Good Jobs Available Means More Competition

It’s not hard to find a job right now if you don’t care where you work, how you are treated, or how much money you make. Finding a good job that pays well and isn’t soul-crushing, on the other hand, is a challenge. 

The Great Resignation isn’t about people just quitting for the sake of quitting. They left these jobs for valid reasons, such as poor working conditions, toxic cultures, low pay, and bad management. Job seekers aren’t interested in applying for these roles.

The lack of good jobs and the increase of remote work have led to much more competition for the roles that offer generous perks and compensation and work-from-home options. 

“Online work has enabled employers to employ people from all around the world – not just within their area. This means more competition, diverse perspectives, and expertise are easily at the employers’ disposal,” says Sharon Terer, Founder and CEO of AfroLovely.

Regardless of the number of applicants, companies only need one person to fill the position. If you struggle to find work, reconsider what criteria are most important to you and where you can be flexible.

3. Increased Demand for Remote Work 

The pandemic showed us that working from home is more feasible than corporations previously led us to believe. We don’t necessarily have to spend our time commuting to an office to do our jobs. 

“In the last couple of years, most of my clients are seeking remote work, and they are not the exception,” says Sara Hutchison, CEO of Get Your Best Resume. “This means the remote positions they are finding on the traditional job boards are extremely competitive.”

Job seekers now have more choices because geography is no longer a limitation; however, this is both a pro and a con. 

4. Employees Want Higher Salaries

In November 2021, the “quit rate” in the U.S. reached a 20-year high. According to a new survey by the Pew Research Center, low pay was the top reason for quitting, along with a lack of opportunities to advance and feeling disrespected. 

“When the media discusses the ostensibly COVID-induced phenomenon of employees quitting en masse, they insert a full stop. But a semicolon would be a better punctuation choice because after quitting their jobs, most people immediately seek higher-paying jobs,” adds Aaron Case, Career Counselor at Resume Genius.

For this reason, the Great Resignation has also been called the Great Reshuffle. People aren’t quitting the workforce; they are moving to better roles. For approximately 500,000 Americans, this meant becoming self-employed, which is a path worth considering.  

While companies such as Walmart, Starbucks, Amazon, and Costco have raised their starting wages, many others are avoiding paying higher salaries by just not hiring. Worse yet, some are using a bait-and-switch approach where they advertise jobs at higher wages than they actually pay.  

Yes, the salary is important, but don’t overlook the job’s other benefits like health insurance and paid time off.

5. It Depends on the Industry

“One thing to keep in mind is that the ‘great resignation’ is not evenly balanced across industries,” says Jon Hill, Chairman & CEO of The Energists. “Those most impacted are ones with traditionally lower pay rates, such as food service, hospitality, and retail—and many of the employees quitting from those sectors have shifted into more white-collar positions.” 

However, executive-level workers are also struggling, especially in a competitive industry like entertainment or publishing. “Once you hit the Director level, or above, there are fewer jobs and more qualified applicants,” adds Wendy Braitman, PCC Career Development Coach of Love Your Next Career.

The size of the company is also a factor. According to a study by ManpowerGroup, large companies (250+ employees) are having a harder time recruiting and retaining staff than smaller companies (10 employees or less). Therefore, applying to smaller organizations is a smart tactic for finding a job.

It’s also wise to apply where the jobs are. “Recent reports show that resignations are highest across tech and healthcare, so if you’re looking for a job in either industry, you’re in luck because there’s a very intense demand,” says Kathryn Minshew, CEO at The Muse.

6. A Lack of Skills

Another reason it’s difficult for some people to find a job is because their skills don’t match the job requirements.

“There is a legitimate mismatch between the expertise for many jobs and the available labor pool,” says Stan Kimer, President of Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer. “There are shortages in certain types of job roles with lots of openings, and meanwhile there are many people who are available to work, but not qualified to fill those roles.”

When businesses moved online, interpersonal skills like showing initiative, reliability, problem-solving, collaboration, and compassion became critical to keep businesses running and keep employees engaged. It also increased the demand for more digital skills, such as social media management, online communication, and email and content marketing. Because this transformation happened so quickly, workers didn’t have enough time to develop these qualifications.

“Many of the actual resignations tend to be at the lower career level (with most in the retail/hospitality fields),” adds John Pohl, MBA Career Consulting. “These candidates have a very large skills gap when trying to slide into a new job.” 

However, people are also struggling to get entry-level jobs because some employers have unrealistic expectations. They only want to hire highly qualified people, even when the job doesn’t require that level of skill or experience.

If a lack of skills is holding you back, there are many ways you can learn new job skills for free. For example, you can take an online course, attend workshops, or work with a mentor.

7. Companies Are Being Overly Selective (or Discriminatory)

Companies can be more selective when they have an abundance of applicants. Although some say they are desperate for workers, many employers are extremely picky (and in some cases biased) about the type of person they hire.

Age discrimination is a contributing factor. “Older people are having a difficult time landing jobs during the Great Resignation because employers seem to prefer younger candidates when hiring,” says Brian Snedvig, CEO and founder of Jofibo. “Employers are likely to view younger applicants as more adaptable, and cheaper when compared to older, more experienced job seekers.” 

However, that doesn’t mean that young people are having an easy time getting hired either. “Many people who opted to leave their jobs during the Great Resignation were among the older age group,” Andrew Fennell, Director at StandOut CV, added. “This means that employers have limited the pool of available jobs to those with a good deal of experience, which younger people typically do not have. This can make it incredibly hard for younger candidates, or those switching careers, to find a job despite many people leaving.”

In addition to age discrimination, “there is extreme unemployment among people with disabilities who have the skills to work, and formerly incarcerated people looking for a second chance,” according to Stan Kimer. “Many companies complaining of labor shortages are simply not looking at a more diverse universe of available talent.”

Companies are not always being picky for the wrong reason, though. Hiring someone new is a lengthy and expensive process. The more applications an HR department receives, the more time and effort it takes. They want to avoid hiring the wrong person, even if it means re-posting the position.

Investing the time and money into training an under-qualified candidate is also risky. Because employees switch jobs every four years on average, many employers reject promising candidates instead of taking the chance and teaching them.

Unfortunately, proving discrimination is nearly impossible, but you don’t want to work for these companies anyway.  

8. Employers Are Hiring Less and Are Focusing on Retention

Some companies have learned that they can survive with less staff because working online has meant specific roles and tasks can be outsourced or automated.

Others are simply stretching their employees to their limits instead of hiring enough people.

“Many companies have responded to the Great Resignation by investing more in retention as opposed to hiring to fill vacant roles,” adds Mike Gardon, Executive Editor and Host of the acclaimed Careercloud Radio podcast. “They’ve done this by reskilling and promoting within or giving people more money and responsibility. For some companies, doing it this way is cheaper than paying more to fill a role in the labor market.”

Accepting a position that is slightly below where you want to be might work to your advantage if there are opportunities to be promoted quickly. 

9. Job Seekers Are Making (Easily Avoidable) Mistakes 

Job seekers may be making their job search harder for themselves than it needs to be. It’s easy to make mistakes when applying for a job, and unfortunately, that could be why you’re not getting any offers. Thankfully, these common job searching mistakes are avoidable.

No Human Connection or Networking

“The human element seems to be disappearing from the job application process more and more,” says Sara Hutchison. “Making genuine connections and reaching out to your professional network is more important than ever.”

Super Julie Braun (SJ), Founder & CEO of Super Purposes agrees. “Most people spend 100% of their time filling out online applications, resulting in 1% of the jobs being filled. Instead, spend at least 90% of your time developing relationships where you want to work and prove to them that you are the right person for the job.” 

Inadequate Resumes and ATS

Your resume or application is your first impression with potential employers. That is, assuming it makes it into their hands in the first place. With more companies using applicant tracking systems (ATS) and screening software, a resume that doesn’t include the right keywords, is full of typos, or is improperly formatted won’t be seen by a person.

A good resume is more than just that, though. “A common resume writing mistake is documenting your typical tasks and responsibilities in a way that positions you for the jobs that you’ve had rather than the job that you want,” says Steph Cartwright, CPRW, Founder of Off The Clock Resumes. “If you want to land more interviews, shift your resume’s focus to the goals of the role you’re applying for and trim the details that don’t relate.”

“Job seekers also need to ask: is my resume showing my relevance?” adds Chris Villanueva, CPRW, CEO and Founder of Let’s Eat, Grandma Resume Services. “Most job seekers don’t target their resume to the job they’re applying to and that hurts them. A recruiter needs to immediately be able to see proof that you have the relevant skills to do this job, not just any job. If your resume doesn’t clearly show relevant accomplishments with metrics to provide that proof, it will get passed over and you’ll stay stuck.”

The Job Qualifications

When it comes to job qualifications, there are two common mistakes you might be making: you are a serial applicant who applies for just about everything, or you talk yourself out of applying for roles that are a good fit. 

It’s wise to keep an open mind during your job search, but there are some jobs that you’re just not qualified for. You are wasting your time applying if you don’t meet the minimum qualifications.

On the other hand, you don’t have to meet every qualification either. You shouldn’t hesitate to apply if you meet most qualifications, especially the top ones listed. 

What Can You Do to Get Hired?

Now that you know why it is so hard to find a job, what can you do to improve your chances of being hired?

“In a market like this, do your research and tailor your resume and cover letter to the position you’re applying to, to increase your odds of being noticed,” advises Kathryn Minshew. “Scan your network and make a list of any first- or even second-degree connections you may have at the company where you want to apply. It will always help your application stand out if a mutual connection can vouch for you.”

“Now is the time to stand out and not blend in with everyone else resigning from their jobs,” suggests Marietta Gentles Crawford, Founder of MGC Ink. “If you’re still using the same approach as far as sending resumes and hoping to get interviews, your search will be longer. Instead, lean into your personal brand. Show both your expertise and personality when you’re networking. Don’t be afraid to genuinely reach out to people about potential opportunities instead of hoping the right one will find you.”

Stop sending out hundreds of resumes and applications only to hear nothing back. Recognize that the job market has changed, and you need to re-think your strategy. With patience, flexibility, and preparation, you will find a great new job.

More Resources for Job Seekers

Amanda Kay, the founder of My Life, I Guess, provides valuable career advice and support for anyone striving to make a living and, more importantly, make a life. Whether it's navigating job searches, learning new skills, overcoming unemployment, or dealing with debt, My Life, I Guess has been a go-to resource for career guidance and financial stability since 2013. Amanda's expertise and relatable approach have been featured in trusted publications such as MSN, Credit.com, Yahoo! Finance, the Ladders and Fairygodboss.

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