Back in January 2020, unemployment was so low that many recruiters were talking about a “war for talent.” In the marketing industry, that meant agencies and brands had to compete fiercely with each other to hire the people they needed to expand their teams.
That was less than a year ago, but it feels like a decade.
We all know what’s happened since then. The COVID-19 pandemic made #RipUpThePlan the perfect hashtag for nearly every industry in the economy, and the job market flip-flopped. Instead of employers being desperate to find talent, talent suddenly found itself desperate to find employment.
Yet, like so much else about this bizarre year, the job market for marketers has refused to follow a predictable template. We spoke with Alexey Gutin, co-founder and CEO of Web Scribble—a leading provider of career center technology for professional and trade associations—about what he and his team have seen and what the near future might hold.
Nothing gradual about 2020
During a presentation in September, Gutin shared some data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that showed just how atypically the job market has behaved in 2020. Previous recessions displayed gradual rises in unemployment, followed by even more gradual recoveries—but there has been nothing gradual about 2020:
The red line in each of those charts is 2020. Notice how unemployment, after a terrifying spike in the pandemic’s early week, has already dropped well below the peak from the 2008-2009 recession. An improvement that took years in previous downturns took just a few months in 2020.
Changes in payroll show a similar trend, but in reverse. Following a severe drop, payrolls have had an equally sharp recovery—although they are still well below the lowest points of other recessions.
Gutin says, “We’re seeingmarginal improvement fueled by several industries, with some pockets growing rapidly. But there are also industries that have declined and haven’t recovered. We’re still bouncing back from a recruiting standpoint—it’s not a V but it’s not far from that.
“Employers are optimistic—they see a path forward to pre-COVID levels.”
No “war for talent” in the near future
Among the industries where hiring is the strongest, Gutin singles out “Logistics—truck driving jobs, stocking and loading. Retail was also adversely affected but has made a remarkable recovery since May.”
He also speculates that workers in some of the hardest-hit industries, such as hospitality, may have gravitated toward part-time work in retail, though he’s uncertain how permanent those moves may be.
Another chart from his September presentation—this one based on data from enterprise recruiting platform iCIMS—seems to suggest that new hires are growing at a faster rate than applications:
“That’s a crude snapshot of what those two behaviors look like across the U.S.,” he says. “Hiring is up, but the applications reflect job seeker behavior that may have dropped significantly because they were afraid or discouraged. That should go up as they see more jobs opening back up.”
While he’s optimistic, Gutin doesn’t foresee another “war for talent” in the near future. “With the number of businesses out of business or with permanent cuts, it’s not going to happen overnight. Now employers have a larger talent pool, and they’re bringing back furloughed workers. But we can close the gap and get closer.”
On a job hunt? Stand out!
So how should job seekers approach this recovering job market?
Gutin’s first point of advice is “Stand out! We talk to a lot of employers, and 95% of applicants just click ‘apply’ on a bunch of jobs and send a cookie-cutter resume. Enormous numbers don’t even send a follow-up note. Take it one step further—send a custom cover letter and connect with the recruiter, and that’s something 95% are not doing.”
For job seekers starting their career in this environment, Gutin says, “Lean on associations. Courses, seminars, certifications—I’d advise anyone to take advantage of them and highlight them in your profile. They will set you apart.”
Open to more well-rounded applicants
Gutin sees employers in the marketing space looking at a different job market than previous recoveries.
“Employers may be starting to see more people who are looking to change careers, to take a different step,” he says. “They may have had tangential marketing experience while they worked primarily in another field, and there’s a lot of benefit to being open to those applicants. They can be more well-rounded, which is a big asset.”
He says, “Employers are in a good spot right now. There’s a lot of talent looking because they’re out of work or their role has been reduced, so you can pick up a lot of talent if you can present yourself as attractive.”
But are brands and agencies hiring?
“It was an extremely difficult period of time for every business from March to May, but in June we started to see a recovery, and it’s been remarkably strong. The future is bright.”