Harvard career expert: Job openings are ‘tightening’—3 strategies to land a new role now

Manny Contomanolis heads Harvard University’s Mignone Center for Career Success, which advises the college’s roughly 12,000 undergraduate, graduate and PhD students on various career paths and how to land a job after graduation. Over the course of his 45-year career, he has helped thousands of students find work, all while watching the job landscape perpetually evolve.

Today, as the economy misses benchmarks and layoffs surge across industries, Contomanolis and his team of Harvard career advisors are paying attention.

“We’re starting to see some indicators that organizations are tightening up their hiring,” Contomanolis tells CNBC Make It. “For example, not converting as many interns into full time hires, delaying start dates for graduates and some little dip in recruiting activity.”

Manny Contomanolis is the director of Harvard University’s Mignone Center for Career Success.

Courtesy of Manny Contomanolis

Job seekers need to adapt accordingly, says Contomanolis. Here’s his advice on how:

Have plan A, plan B and plan C

Harvard’s career center is pushing students to proceed with caution as they go after their dream jobs.

“Any savvy job seeker is going to have backup plans to backup plans,” says Contomanolis.

Pandemic-era trends like the “Great Resignation” coupled with a boom in job openings gave many applicants an advantage while job hunting. But job openings hit a two-year low in March and economists say that the job market is seeing an “unambiguous cooldown.”

That means job seekers may not enjoy the same odds as they did two years ago. To up their chances of landing the best possible position even as the market tightens, Contomanolis recommends casting “a wide net.”

Of course, he says, apply to the jobs at your dream organizations or in your dream locations. But also apply to jobs elsewhere so that you have backup options if plan A “doesn’t necessarily work out in the near term.”

Leverage technology, even AI

Successful job hunters view technology as a tool, not a threat, says Contomanolis.

Even as daily headlines detail the various ways that artificial intelligence might replace your job, Contomanolis says that if used correctly, technology can save a job hunter time and energy.

For example, the more advanced recommendation algorithms of today’s job board websites provide more tailored job suggestions and also make it easier for a recruiter to find you, says Contomanolis.

Generative AI tools can also help the job hunter get their application materials together more quickly. Contomanolis says more students use platforms like ChatGPT to write a first draft of a cover letter or provide a resume template.

He does not recommend submitting an AI-generated cover letter. But it might help kickstart the application process by giving you a baseline to perhaps bring to a career advisor or another set of eyes.

“That first draft of a resume or a cover letter is is usually not as important as the final fine tuning of it,” says Contomanolis. He also recommends experimenting with some AI interview practice tools: they provide practice interview questions, which you record and submit an answer to and then get AI-generated feedback.

Prioritize skills and networks over GPAs and majors

Test scores, grade point averages and the field of your degree don’t hold the weight that they used to, according to Contomanolis.

Some colleges have made standardized testing optional; most employers don’t care about your GPA unless it’s 3.5 or above; and hiring managers are getting more comfortable moving beyond the requirement of a four-year degree.

“It’s really more about the skills and the strengths that you have, rather than the schools you attended. And your competencies or capabilities are more important than the curricula you pursued,” Contomanolis says.

He still stands by the value of a college degree — statistically, there is a strong correlation between earning potential and having a college education. Plus, college alumni networks often offer a major competitive advantage when your application is in a pile of thousands of others.

But collecting degrees just for the sake of it won’t serve you in the job search: “Why go back and get a master’s degree when you could get certification or specialized training and still be able to move forward in your career?”

Having skills and knowing people is half the battle though. According to Contomanolis, it’s equally important to be able to effectively communicate those skills, to tell a story about your professional self.

Contomanolis says, “Frankly, more important than what your GPA was or what your major is, can you tell a compelling story that’s based on your skills, your competencies, your experiences, and that relates to what the listener wants to hear?”

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