What the Unemployment Number Means for Your Job Search

by Vault Consulting Editors | April 09, 2012

"It's getting worse. It's his fault. Vote for me."

"No, it's getting better. It's my doing, and it would get worse if you voted for him. Vote for me."

With the amount of noise over the unemployment number likely to get more intense the closer the election gets, it's probably time for yet another reality check. So here goes:

The unemployment number doesn't matter.

Well, it does, but only in the macro sense. But for you, reading this—maybe worried about entering the job market for the first time, or re-entering it after a period of inactivity, or weighing up whether to risk switching jobs—it doesn't matter one bit.

Really.

There are a number of reasons why it doesn't matter. Here just one: it's a national snapshot of all potential employees in all locations around the country. So it's not specific to you. The headline number (which is pretty much all you ever hear about) can't tell the difference between a temporarily-indisposed programmer whose skills are in high demand, and an out-of-work lamplighter who hasn't been able to find a job since the dawn of electricity. It treats them all the same: as a minute fraction of a percentage point.

Among the things it doesn't measure: potential. No-one from the BLS is calling to find out how many informational interviews you've conducted in the past month. It's not comparing your skills and qualifications with open positions, or assessing the strength of your network. And it's definitely not taking your ability to research and prepare for that one perfect opening into account.

Keep the following in mind: the unemployment report is a mere snapshot in time. Sure, it indicates what the general job market may have been like a month ago. But it doesn't represent the truth on the ground right now. Now for you, me or any other individual it represents. So getting hung up or discouraged by any kind of setback or slowing of job growth is pointless. Because when you only need one job, whether the nation as a whole created 120,000 or 250,000 last month is immaterial.

So, instead of worrying about the number, here are a few more productive things you can worry about (and which should stop you from being in the wrong column when they're adding up the numbers):

Your Résumé

Is it up to date? Does it describe your professional history in a way that emphasizes the value you bring to an organization? Do you have a couple of different versions, tailored for different kinds of opportunities, showcasing different attributes?

Your Interview Skills

Have you been doing enough research on the companies you've been applying to? Have you worked out answers to the more common interview questions that you can reel off without seeming like they're rehearsed?

Your Network

Have you made any new contacts in your industry of choice recently? Have you been checking in with your contacts to see how they're doing? Have you gone on any informational interviews to expand your network and industry knowledge.

The bottom line: of the many things you can control in the job search process, the number of jobs available is not one of them. Instead of worrying about it, direct your energies to things that you can control.

--Phil Stott, Vault.com

Filed Under: Job Search


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