By Katy Macek
Two years ago, as childcare centers shut down and people lost a record number of jobs due to the pandemic, women’s careers were more likely than men’s to take a backseat, and data backs this up. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 1.1 million women left the labor force between February 2020 and January 2022, accounting for 63% of all jobs lost. While women gained 188,000 jobs in January 2022, they are still short by more than 1.8 million jobs lost since February 2020.
Sarita Field, a student support advisor at Madison College’s Career and Employment Services, says she’s seeing those effects.
“The pandemic really took a toll and set us back,” Field says.
Fortunately, there’s good news for women looking to return to work: Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development Secretary-designee Amy Pechacek says a current worker shortage across the country means there are roughly two job openings for every person applying.
“All of that means really good news if you’re a job seeker, because you’re sort of in the driver’s seat,” Pechacek says.
And, she expects the trend to stick around. So instead of settling for your next job, take advantage of the current job market to kick- start the career of your dreams.
MARKET YOUR TALENT
If you were unemployed, took time off or are changing careers, that in-between time isn’t useless.
Field says one thing she coaches her students on is how to highlight the strengths of any job, what she calls transferable skills, that are applicable to other careers.
“Even if someone is entering health care, their 10 years managing a Kwik Trip are incredibly valuable and applicable to the work they’re doing,” she says. “That’s important to communicate.”
Not having every single qualification shouldn’t stop you from applying for a job you’re passionate about.
“What I’m seeing, that I think is a challenge women have faced for a long time, is self-selecting out of opportunities,” Field says.
When scrolling through job postings, women are less likely to apply for a job unless they meet most, if not all, of the posted job requirements — while men are more likely to take a chance and apply for positions they may not be fully qualified for.
“Start practicing with how to advocate for yourself and speak to your worth in a confident and truthful way,” she says. “If you’re great at something, don’t say you’re good.”
BRUSH UP ON YOUR TECH SKILLS
Technology is a large part of the job search, starting with your resume.
Pechacek says many companies now use AI (artificial intelligence) to pull applications and resumes that match their job postings, so it’s important to review job descriptions and use keywords that match to ensure your application isn’t eliminated from the get-go.
Zoom interviews have replaced an initial phone call and sometimes the entire interview process, and Field says that requires different preparation.
When setting up your camera, be sure to think about the background and ambient noises that may not get picked up on a phone call. Also, note how your mannerisms change.
“A lot is lost through the screen,” she says.
EMPLOYERS ARE RETHINKING HIRING
An employment gap used to be a red flag for employers, but with an unprecedented amount of layoffs due to the pandemic, it’s not uncommon to see periods of unemployment. Field says employers are less likely to ask interviewees about a gap these days.
The pandemic and the social unrest that followed in summer 2020 also caused employers to take another look at job descriptors and what qualifications are truly “required.”
“The way that we’re writing our job descriptions, who are we writing out?” Field says. “It’s bending certainly much more toward fairness.”
Because employees are in such high demand, employers may adjust what they see as “required” (i.e., years of experience, degree type or specific software knowledge) if training can be provided on the job.
ASK FOR MORE
Always negotiate, even if you get a good job offer, Field says. Additionally, with the increased popularity of remote work, employers are also likely to be more flexible about other policies. Field also encourages people to ask for nontraditional negotiables such as work-from-home days, more PTO or flex hours.
“Salary is not the only thing that is up for negotiation,” Field says. “Different organizations have different policies, but now, more than ever, employers are recognizing their need for flexibility.“
SEEK OUT RESOURCES
The Department of Workforce Development has 54 job centers statewide (wisconsinjobcenter.org/directory/default.htm). People can come in and practice using technology, talk through basic interview skills and do mock interviews.
On-site career counselors can also help with salary negotiation and provide salary information, so you know what to ask for.
“Supporting your salary request with data shows you’ve done your homework,” Pechacek says.
People who don’t have reliable internet can also do virtual interviews at one of the job centers.
DWD’s Jobs Center of Wisconsin (dwd.wisconsin.gov/det/jobseeker.htm) can help with searching for jobs, finding training and apprenticeship programs, providing career exploration counseling, resources and more.
Field also recommends LinkedIn Learning, which allows access to on-demand, expert-led courses in thousands of subjects. It’s provided for free to Madison College students and alum, and available for a fee to anyone.
Field led a salary negotiation workshop last April and is offering that information for free to those interested in learning more. Click the link here to view it.