These Are the Employment Numbers That Really Matter to Job Seekers

pile of white envelopes
Tanja Giessler—Getty Images

National employment statistics don’t matter to the individual job seeker.

I was recently asked to comment on what the latest employment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics mean for job seekers. Unless you’re an economist, employment statistics for the country don’t matter to the individual job seeker. If you really want to impact your job search, pay attention to data much closer to home. Here are 10 numbers you want to track closely:

Your employment statistic
Whether the market is at 5%, 10% or 50% unemployment, your number will always be 0% or 100%. You either have a job or you don’t. If you do, focus on whether you like your job, whether you’re fairly compensated, and whether you’re continually growing your skills, network, or expertise. If you don’t have a job and aren’t independently wealthy, prioritize your job search.

Interview invitations
The easiest way to see if you’re on track is to count the number of interviews you are invited to. If you’re not getting interviews, you’re not getting the chance to get hired. Since employers interview multiple people for every one job, you can’t be assured that you’ll be the one. You need to have multiple companies in play at any one time. Aim for five to ten interviews per week. Remember that some roles will not be filled at all or will go to someone internal or will go to another candidate.

Callbacks made
Getting an interview is one thing, but moving forward in the process is a separate issue. Companies don’t normally hire after just one interview, so you also need to track whether you are getting callbacks. If not, you need to work on your interview technique. You want to get called back after every interview. Even if you’re not interested in the job, you want to know that you did well, and you want to be the one that says No, not the employer.

Meetings scheduled
If you aren’t getting callbacks or even interviews, then you’re not putting yourself out there enough. It’s easy to send resumes – too easy in fact, so most of your competition will do that. What’s harder but much more effective is networking – meeting with people to learn more about the companies and roles you are interested in, hopefully get referrals to companies, or even turn that networking meeting into an actual interview. Aim for five to ten meetings per week. If you’re well-researched and meeting with the right people, these five to ten meetings will turn into interviews as your search progresses.

Leads identified
How do you get the networking meetings that lead to interviews? You can cold call a senior, influential decision-maker, absolutely. However, when you get started, unless you’re a trained salesperson, the thought of cold calling might be overwhelming and therefore not so productive. Start with people you know – family, friends, former colleagues, classmates. You know more people than you think. These early leads will enable you to practice your networking skills in a supportive environment, collect information about companies and other people (who then will be warm leads, not cold calls!), and might even become more formal meetings or interviews themselves.

Companies researched
When you exhaust your friendly leads, you may have to cold call to supplement your pipeline. In order to identify the appropriate people in your area of interest, you need to know the companies active in your area of interest. List out all of the companies, organizations, agencies, and trade associations that are of interest so you can research the right people to target. You also want to make sure you’re going after a large enough pool and not being so narrow there aren’t enough jobs. If you want to work as a grant writer for a children’s-related non-profit, how many of these non-profits are there in your market? If you live in a major metro, there are probably enough to sustain a search. But if not, you may want to also look at schools, government agencies that serve children, for-profit daycare and learning centers, etc. Make sure you have enough target companies that there will be enough jobs and people to go after.

Distance to the decision-maker
So you itemize your family and friends and you have your company target list to add even more names. But how powerful are these names? If you’re the aspiring grant writer, do you know senior people in the development department specifically? You want to know and network the people you will ultimately interview with and who will ultimately make the hiring decisions. Sure, it’s also useful to know the IT or finance or other people at a children’s non-profit, but given a choice, you want the shortest distance to the decision-maker.

Time spent on your search
As you can see from all of the people you need to keep up with, the job search takes time. How many hours per week are you spending your search? Many job seekers get in trouble because their search stops and starts. They spend hours one day researching companies or applying to jobs, but then they don’t follow or continue to add more leads. They just wait and do other non-job related things. Aim for 10-20 hours on your search if you’re employed and double that if you’re unemployed. If you see that you’re spending too little time on your job search, fill in those extra hours with rekindling friendly connections, cold calling new connections, identifying more companies, and booking more meetings. There is always more to do!

Money in the bank
Unless you’re independently wealthy, your severance, savings, or whatever is filling your bank account outside of your job is what is funding your job search. If you have six months of expenses covered, your job search pace and strategy should be much different than if you have six weeks left. Be mindful of your cash cushion so you don’t go too slowly and then are pressured as funds run out. If you are employed and have a paycheck for your “money in the bank” then focus on doing well enough on your current job to keep it. You will need your current job for strong references as well.

Time elapsed since you started
Finally, another key number to track is the overall length of your search. If you are one month into your search, your expected results are different then if you’re six months into your search. For example, at one month, you should have itemized your networking list, gathered your marketing documents and started your research. At six months, you should be well into the callback interview stage, if not totally completed with your search. Aim to complete your search in 3-6 months. That represents one to two business quarters. Market conditions change every quarter (in volatile times, it could be more frequently than that). If you run a slow job search that spans over multiple quarters, you have a new market to tackle every few months, rather than building on your efforts within the same market conditions.Given that there is so much to do and so many more important numbers to track, you can now save some time and energy by not tracking the BLS numbers. Focus on your own efforts instead.

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