Whether you’re actively on the hunt for a new gig or just casually keeping your options open, there’s good news for job seekers this year.
“This year represents the biggest change in the job landscape that I have seen in 25 years of recruiting,” says Sandra Lee of Dubin & Lee, an accounting and finance executive recruiting firm in Boston.
“With the economy in ‘turnaround mode,’ not only are more jobs becoming available, but salaries are on the rise, and perks like flexible work arrangements and unlimited vacation days are also becoming increasingly common,” she adds.
The only snag?
According to a recent report by DeVry University’s Career Advisory Board (CAB), job seekers aren’t fully prepared to take advantage of these new opportunities.
A mere 7% of hiring managers said that “nearly all” or “most” candidates have the right mix of skills and traits that companies desire in a new hire.
“But my prediction is that the skills are there–candidates just aren’t conveying them effectively,” says Madeleine Slutsky, chair of the CAB and vice president of career and student services at DeVry University.
To help better position you for career success this year, we asked the pros to give us the scoop on what workers can expect from the job market, what recruiters are looking for in 2015–and the best ways to take advantage of all this stellar insight.
According to human resources consulting firm ManpowerGroup Inc., nearly 20% of U.S. employers expect to increase the number of new hires this year.
And the wealth is pretty equally spread: Every region in the country projected increases in hiring compared to last year–at least marginally. Employers in the Midwest and West project “moderate” increases in hiring, and employers in the Northeast and South expect hiring to “slightly” increase.
When it comes to industries with the highest growth potential, the ManpowerGroup report found that leisure and hospitality came out on top, with a projected 28% increase in jobs. Professional and business services, the financial sector, and education and health services will also perform well, growing between 10%–20%.
Slutsky says this has positive implications for job seekers with experience both in these fields and outside them.
“The key is to present yourself as a versatile employee,” she says. “You want to be that person who can take your skills and integrate them into any of these booming industries.”
For example, experience in marketing, information technologies, sales or project management in one industry can be tailored to work in another—and you might be able to position yourself as an even greater asset because of that varied experience.
“If you’re smart, you can grow your skill set along with these growing industries,” Slutsky says.
Erik Episcopo, a career adviser and hiring manager at Resume Genius, says there’s another trend job seekers should be aware of in 2015: Many companies are moving toward hiring consultants and freelancers instead of the traditional 9-to-5-er.
“Hiring freelancers has become a cheaper alternative to full-time employees that often yields the same quality of work,” Episcopo explains. “With the advances we’ve seen in communication software, companies no longer need to have all of their employees in one building. Knowing this can help flexible job seekers tailor their searches toward non-staff and part-time positions.”
When it comes to pay, Slutsky says that salaries have largely stabilized, compared to the pay cuts many employees experienced in the past few years—and they are on the uptick for industries where competition is high.
According to Jim Giammatteo, a 30-year headhunting veteran in Houston and author of “No Mistakes Resumes,” those competitive–and, therefore, lucrative–careers are project management, software engineering, systems analytics and web development.
While preliminary results from the WorldatWork 2014–2015 Salary Budget Survey found that U.S. workers can expect a median base salary increase of 3% in 2015, it’s likely these fields will offer a bit more.
“Plus, in addition to stronger salaries, more companies are offering flex hours and even work-from-home options,” says Giammatteo, adding that’s especially true in the tech and financial services fields.
In other industries where pay and flexibility haven’t changed much–such as marketing and media–other, more unusual perks are gaining popularity, says Garry Spinks, cofounder of Bug Insights, a human capital and marketing analytics firm.
“For the past few years, base compensation has increased modestly, challenging organizations to look for differentiation in their total rewards programs in order to attract and retain good talent,” Spinks says, adding that these can range from on-site wellness centers to free parking and even pet-sitting services.
“The more attractive the package, the more employees will feel engaged with the organization for which they work,” Spinks says. “The result is a more productive workforce and a positive boost to the organization’s bottom line.”
Positioning yourself as a star candidate in 2015 comes down to pinpointing exactly what particular hiring managers need—and presenting yourself as exactly what they are seeking out through these four moves.
1. Customize Your Résumé And Cover Letter
Rasheen Carbin, cofounder of job-matching app nspHire, says the biggest mistake he sees candidates make is failing to personalize a résumé and cover letter for each and every company.
“As a hiring manager, I see this as evidence that you’re applying for jobs en masse without any consideration as to your qualifications or fit,” he says.
So, as more available positions are advertised on your go-to job boards this year, don’t simply blast every company with form materials. Instead, make sure you highlight different key accomplishments and responsibilities–or simply rearrange the order of the bullet points on your résumé–in order to satisfy unique requirements.
2. Prep, Prep, Prep
Slutsky says that she sees too many people show up for a job interview overconfident–and underprepared. “Even seemingly obvious to-dos, such as rereading the job description thoroughly and doing as much Internet research on the company as possible, are steps that many job seekers skip,” she says.
This is especially true when you’re applying to multiple jobs simultaneously, or you’re too busy in your current position to carve out enough prep time for an interview.
Carbin agrees. “Many candidates aren’t well-versed in what the company does, what their product line is or what the position will entail–all information that can be found out through a basic Google search,” he says. “When I see this in an interview, I think that the candidate doesn’t really want the job.”
Another crucial part of prepping for an interview is practicing how to present your skill set so it’s tailored to what the recruiter or hiring manager is looking for, says Slutsky. “You should find out enough about a company to demonstrate your knowledge of their needs—and connect the skills you have to offer with those needs,” she says.
3. Get Mobile Savvy
As millennials continue to enter the workforce, mobile recruiting has become ever more prominent—so being conversant with mobile technology is more crucial than ever before, says Carbin.
Employers are starting to realize that mobile recruiting apps are a real-time, relevant way to reach young workers. As a result, the major job boards, like Monster and CareerBuilder, are investing more resources in their apps, and more companies are tweeting jobs or posting them on Facebook pages.
“Job seekers need to realize that employers will begin contacting them via social media, which means they need to be responsive,” Carbin says. “And their social media presences need to be presentable.”
So keep your social media profiles professional. That means no party pictures or risqué selfies on sites like Facebook and Instagram, and always keep your LinkedIn profile up-to-date.
4. Pay Attention To Culture Fit
Many hiring managers used to focus almost exclusively on candidates’ hard skills. But much more attention is paid to the culture fit today, says Giammatteo. “Most skills—even technical ones—can be learned quickly,” he says. “It’s much more difficult to change a person’s attitude or personality.”
Companies have figured out that incorporating cultural fit into the hiring process is good for business, notes Carbin. “Creating a positive culture means less employee turnover,” he says. “High turnover creates high hiring and training costs.”
And don’t forget that finding a company with a culture you appreciate–meaning you like their management and communication style, plus they way they encourage employees to interact with one another–is better for you too.
In fact, a TinyHR report found that “peers and camaraderie” is the #1 employee motivator when it comes to going the extra mile at work–not cash.
There are a number of online tools you can use to find out more about a company’s culture. Start with your LinkedIn network and reach out to people who can introduce you to someone at the company you’re considering, suggests Carbin.
Sites like Glassdoor and Branchout also do a good job of uncovering information, enabling you to find out who among your Facebook friends has connections at a given company.
A little sleuthing can mean the difference between landing your next great gig—and heading back to the job search drawing board.
This article originally appeared in LearnVest and is reprinted with permission.