Pop quiz: How many companies were looking for people with a background in cloud computing in 2014? So few that it didn’t even make LinkedIn’s list of the most sought-after job skills by U.S. employers. Just two years later, cloud computing tops that exact same list.
So how can you possibly prepare to stay ahead of changes you don't even know are coming—changes not just in the skills you need to be competitive but also in the way we work, search for jobs, and get ourselves hired? For everything else that's shifting unpredictably, a few things are staying pretty consistent, and some of that may surprise you.
Not too long ago, I started a company that focused on using data to help people get hired, and I'm now head of product here at LinkedIn Talent Solutions. I’ve had a front-row seat to some of the latest shifts we've seen in the job market and a few others that are on their way. Here's what you need to know in order to stay ahead of the competition in 2016 and into the next few years.
Our latest research shows that the number of professionals actively looking for jobs has increased steadily during the past three years, from 25% in 2014 to 36% this year. At the same time, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 5.5 million jobs remained open in May 2016.
That suggests many companies are holding out for "A" players with all the right skills at the same time that more and more professionals are looking to change employers. But they don't seem to be finding each other—which means we may need smarter ways to get connected.
As ever, companies love hiring people who were referred through someone they trust. Even if you don't know someone directly at a company, chances are you know someone who knows someone. We’ve learned it’s not necessarily your best friend who’s going to help you land that next job. It's more likely to be your best friend’s former coworker, or even that coworker’s neighbor.
When we surveyed more than 500 people in North America who changed employers between February and March this year, 40% said they were referred by one of the company’s employees. But only a little more than one-tenth (11.7%) of respondents had one or more first-degree connections on LinkedIn at the company six months before they started working there.
That means most of these professionals scored that referral from second- and third-degree connections, not from people they were connected with directly. As our economist Guy Berger puts it, "It looks like it’s not who you know, it’s who you know knows."
So while I wouldn’t downplay the value of a first-degree connection as a valuable "in," it's important to pay close attention to that second layer if you're in the market for a new opportunity: Who you know who may be linked to a company that interests you—albeit by a matter of several degrees. A former colleague from a big accounting firm might not be able to offer you a direct path to the tech company of your dreams, but they may know someone who knows someone on the inside who’d be willing to make an introduction.
The top two hottest skills in 2016—cloud computing and data mining—didn't even exist a few short years ago. The world is simply changing too quickly for even young professionals to rely on the hard-won skills from their college years. You may choose a well-researched major or what looks to be a stable career path, but there’s no guarantee those skills will be in demand in 10 years’ time—sorry!
But there's an upside to that. Today, a number of once-steady careers face the threat of automation, from well-documented declines in manufacturing and certain facets of health care (a growth field overall) to retail and education. Still, many of the same forces that are automating some jobs out of existence are creating new fields and industries out of nothing—like artificial intelligence, the Internet of things, self-driving cars, and virtual reality to name just a few.
In such a world, it’s difficult to predict which industries and jobs will face decline and which will be the next wave. How many companies employed a chief data scientist or an economist in 2011? Now some companies (LinkedIn included) have both.
For employees, that means everyone should be thinking about developing new skills right now in order to keep up, or how they could adapt their existing skills to a new specialty. Job seekers who will come out on top will be those who stay curious and are lifelong learners. For companies, it'll mean arming existing workforces with new knowledge, getting creative with job requirements, and keeping an eye out for skills that could transfer well into newly imagined roles.
We're about to see more power shift away from companies and into job seekers' hands as technology makes it easier than ever to find or change jobs. The rise of gig-economy players like Uber, Lyft, and Upwork is just the latest evidence of a trend that's set to continue, with technology empowering people to take more direct control over their careers and livelihoods—even if the world that ultimately creates isn't something we'll still call the "gig economy," as though it's something distinct from the job market overall. Because increasingly, it won't be.
In the process, job seekers will not only enjoy more connectedness and company transparency than ever before, they'll also become savvier about promoting their professional brands online. We’re already seeing these trends today, so if you're in the market for a new gig, it's worth polishing up your online profile right around now. And as the gig economy and remote work options expand, professionals are finding more and more opportunities available to them. Traditional 9-to-5 work is no longer the norm; it’s just another option.
Finally, the most powerful job seekers in the market will also usher in a new era of reduced complexity, as technology continues to advance and employers, hard-pressed to find great people, leverage those advancements to simplify their hiring processes. Soon, job seekers will have new ways to signal their interest in a job, sending companies to them rather than the other way around. What will be more important is that those employers can readily find you online and see an accurate snapshot of what you offer, making it easy for them to knock on your door.
Beyond that, professionals need to keep doing what they've always had to do: Work your connections. Keep learning. Stay flexible. And always keep an eye on the market, because new, never-before-seen opportunities will be waiting around every corner.
Eddie Vivas is Head of Product at LinkedIn's Talent Solutions.