6 Lessons Learned from the 2020 Job Market

By:   |   Comments   |   Related: More > Professional Development Job Search


Much like the technology world as a whole, the job searching process is constantly changing and evolving. Today's tactics, questions, frustrations, and other pain points are different than those of job seekers years ago. When you add in further significant changes as our world went more virtual in 2020, it was no surprise that job seekers felt more lost, overwhelmed and frustrated than ever. As a job seeker, what do you need to know about the most common challenges you're presented with? And more importantly, how can you overcome those challenges?


We've outlined 6 of the major "job seeker pain points" we saw throughout 2020 and provided our top advice for each!

1 - Working with Recruiters.

At a Job Search workshop we hosted recently, we polled the 65 attendees to determine their current job searching pain points. Over 25% of them mentioned questions and frustrations with Recruiters, such as: "Why don't I hear back from Recruiters after a first conversation? Do Recruiters even look at my resume? Why do I never hear back on my emails? Are positions even open in the first place, or did they have someone identified when posting the position?"

Here are some key points and best practices to keep in mind about Recruiters:

  • The average job posting gets 250+ applications, so your average Recruiter simply doesn't have time to review every submitted resume/application. Therefore, the "apply and wait" strategy will rarely work, and should never be relied on.
  • Recruiting and staffing firms can have high levels of turnover, so when you identify a Recruiter who is tenured, commonly supports your skill set and has strong recommendations, "hold on to them" by building a relationship and trust!
  • With over 10,000 staffing firms, engage in some prospecting and quality assurance to generate a list of 2-3 reputable staffing firms in your area, and then do outreach to open lines of communication with the right person! You don't have to be applying for a specific position to start dialogue with a Recruiter. Rather, ask for an e-Introduction to a quality Recruiter from a trusted person in your network who recently did a job search and has a Recruiter recommendation. Or, don't shy away from making contact via LinkedIn if you come across a seemingly quality Recruiter when engaging in a little bit of LinkedIn prospecting.
  • We've written 5 tips on finding, evaluating, and working effectively with Recruiters.

2 - Self-elimination.

Too often, job seekers aren't taking chances when applying for positions. This was extremely evident in 2020, as technical job seekers who were laid off after years at the company saw job postings with technologies they may have only even heard about in passing or in one article. A common phrase we heard is "Well, I didn't apply to that position because it lists ___ technology, and I don't have that." We can't stress this next statement enough… still apply for or pursue positions even if you do not have every skill, technology, or version of technology the position lists!

As we shared in our last 'Modern Job Search Strategies' workshop, most Managers aren't provided training on how to write a strong job description, and as a result, many often include every skill and technology they can think of as part of the job description, without realizing that a potential negative consequence of that is good candidates will decide not to apply if they're lacking something! As a recent Technology Manager commented "it's not the candidate's job to rule themselves out. As a Manager, I want to see the talent pool that exists, and decide who's the most qualified."

As a job seeker, apply the 80:20 rule during the application process, where you apply for positions where you meet about 80%+ of the definitive requirements (not including preferred qualifications/pluses) and would have an interest in learning and working with the remainder!

3 - Falling prey to the Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

Your professional experience with data and database logic can help you here if you apply that mindset to your job search and specifically, what happens to your resume after you click the 'apply' button. Here are some points to keep in mind about ATS:

  • Over 90% of companies use an ATS to store and prioritize applications.
  • The ATS compares the content/verbiage of your resume to the language used in the job description, including job title, responsibilities, and requirements, and will give your resume a ranking to how closely it aligns. JobScan, a great resume optimization tool, wrote the best article we've seen on ATS' if you want to read and learn more.
  • Using an Online Resume Builder service, such as Live Career's Resume Builder, includes optimization techniques to rank your resume higher for your skill set. A huge benefit of using a resume builder is that it will help ensure you are using the "industry standard terminology" for your role.
  • Don't simply rely on the ATS, take an extra step (i.e. minimize that "apply and wait" strategy). When applying via a website, always attempt a second approach for "making contact" with the right person supporting the opening! For example, doing an Advanced Search on LinkedIn for 'Recruiter or Talent Acquisition' who currently work at that company, and sending them a note expressing your interest. Or if it's a staffing firm, finding their phone number, calling into the office, and just asking to be transferred to the Recruiter supporting that role.
  • If you can't identify anyone in your network, or any Recruiters via advice above, use a resume optimization tool such as JobScan to ensure your resume is well-aligned with that particular job description so your resume is prioritized and at the top of the list of applications!

4 - Low confidence and being derailed by "imposter syndrome."

Concerns with confidence have always plagued job seekers, but we saw a rise in 2020, due to rising mental health issues, the fear in our world's uncertainty, and other factors. We continued to see very strong technology professionals suffer from low confidence and the potentially derailing "imposter syndrome," and an apparent lack of confidence in their own abilities then hurts their chances of getting the next interview or an offer. If you need a confidence boost, try some of these tactics:

  • Engage in self-reflection on why you're a fit for each position you apply for. Get out a pen, and write a list of why you're qualified in the position.
  • Re-visualize a past positive interview, essentially re-living it. Close your eyes and go through the interview again, focusing on the details which contributed to a positive outcome.
  • Practice and repeat. Thorough preparation is great for minimizing anxiety and ensuring you deliver a strong interview! Instead of just jotting down pieces of your elevator pitch, how you'd answer common interview questions, and how you'd ask your questions, practice them! Sit in front of a mirror and do role plays.
  • Mock interview. Identify someone in your network who you could do a 15-30 minute mock interview with.
  • Remember, it's okay if you don't have every skill/technology and the Manager doesn't expect you to know the answer to every question! When you're asked a question you don't know the answer to, don't be gripped by fear that you're not a strong candidate. Rather, recognize that this is normal, and most Managers ask a progressive line of questions until they reach the point where they can gauge skill level! Many Managers also keep going until they get to an "I honestly don't know" response to then be able to gauge your problem-solving skills on how you'd then attempt to find an answer.

5 - Don't leverage your network.

"Who in your network have you reached out to, and what did that look like? What have you done to expand your digital network via LinkedIn? Have you gotten involved in local groups or associations, and have you looked outside your immediate city?" These were common questions we found ourselves asking job seekers. Many job seekers shared frustrations about the limitations on networking as a result of our new virtual world, but we argued that there were silver linings, you just had to expand your scope of thinking around networking.

One of the top resources Managers and Recruiter use to identify candidates continues to be, and will always be, referrals! As Managers ourselves, that's the first place we go….i.e. straight to our current team members to communicate that we have an opening and to ask "Who do you know that might be interested and a fit?" Not only does requesting referrals generate a candidate pool more quickly than other channels and require less time on your part, but it leads to a higher success rate, as referrals have proven to be better long-term performers and typically stay higher (i.e. longer retention). Yet, on the flip side, many job seekers are timid about engaging their network and simply communicating "I'm looking for a new job. Is your company hiring? Or, do you have any suggestions for companies I should look at, Recruiters I should connect with, etc.?"

6 - Always the "runner up."

Another frequent frustration we heard in 2020 was "I keep being told that I was the second place candidate" or "I was beat out slightly by another applicant." There's a lot we can say here, but a lot of it boils down to:

  • Focus on building rapport in every interaction and increasing your memorability! Whether it's conscious or not, Managers are more likely to lean towards candidates who they felt a connection with over candidates they didn't. Engaging in small talk, identifying commonalities, using their name multiple times during interview and establishing connections can be incredibly helpful in increasing your chances in getting selected.
  • Put on your "marketing/branding hat" and take measures to directly influence your brand and engage in "candidate positioning" tactics! For example, how strong is your LinkedIn and/or GitHub profile? Does it communicate credibility and a successful track record? Do you have examples of your work, or glowing recommendations? We focused on 8 tips to really help your overall candidacy via this tip.
  • Send a thank you note. On more than one occasion, when I was really torn between multiple candidates, the candidate I ended up selecting sent the most genuine and compelling thank you note post interview. It can sometimes be the little gestures that can make the biggest difference at the end of the day.
Next Steps

Here are some key points going forward:

  1. Take chances, and apply for positions even if you don't have every requirement listed.
  2. Have a support system, engaging your network to assist you. Identify at least 2 people you can consult with, which could include strong Recruiters who understand your skill set, community leader/s, past co-workers or Managers, individuals in your network who have gone through a job search, Career Coach, etc.
  3. Use tools to help you "beat the system," such as Resume Builders and/or Optimizers to ensure your resume is highly ranked against the job description, and is therefore more likely to get seen.
  4. Use Recruiters to help ensure your resume gets where you want it to go, i.e. in the Inbox of the hiring Manager. If you don't have a strong Recruiter now who supports your skill set, go to LinkedIn and do an advanced search of Recruiters within 30-50 miles of you, do a brief review of their profile to see if they might support your target role/s, and reach out proactively to set up a conversation.
  5. Prepare, practice, evaluate/analyze, and repeat. You should be preparing and then practicing before every interview, where part of preparation is boosting your confidence!
  6. Engage in "positioning" tactics during your job search!
    • In addition to your resume, invest time and energy into having a strong LinkedIn, GitHub, website, or other channel/profile that bleeds competence and credibility! Here's an article we wrote on LinkedIn profile advice specifically.
    • What do you have that you could provide to influence your chances? Do you have strong references or recommendations you can provide? If you need advice on how to approach asking for a reference, read this earlier tip.
  7. After each interview, invest the time and write a follow up thank you note.

sql server categories

sql server webinars

subscribe to mssqltips

sql server tutorials

sql server white papers

next tip

About the author
MSSQLTips author Erica Woods Erica Woods has nearly a decade in the IT staffing world, an MBA, and is a member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

View all my tips

Comments For This Article

get free sql tips
agree to terms