What slowdown? Job seekers juggle multiple offers, snag higher pay

If the sizzling U.S. job market is starting to lose some steam as recession fears mount, as many top economists say, don’t tell the nation’s job seekers.

Americans are applying to fewer jobs but notching more offers than at any time in recent memory, according to surveys by online job sites.

The dynamic is giving candidates more leverage to negotiate for higher pay and benefits and forcing employers to snap them up quickly or lose out to rivals, experts say.

With the labor market projected to slow significantly later this year, there may be no better time for workers to make a move.

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Worker in demand gets three offers

“The job market is so hot right now,” says Sinem Buber, lead economist for ZipRecruiter, a leading job site.

In a monthlong whirlwind in the spring, Charles Campbell, 26, of Dallas, sent out about 30 applications for sales, customer relations and human resources positions, heard back from 12 to 15 employers, had six or seven interviews and got three offers.

“I was very surprised at how high my callback volume was,” says Campbell, who previously worked on a city councilman’s election campaign and is completing his college education online. “I heard back from so many different places that I approached.”

Charles Campbell

He accepted a job as an account executive for Ironside Human Resources, a recruiting firm for the health care industry, where he expects to earn $80,000 to $120,000 in base pay and sales commissions. He rejected sales representative jobs at marketing firms that would have included higher base pay but less in commissions.

Ironside, he says, laid out a more appealing career roadmap. And noting he can find workers for struggling rural health care providers, he adds, “it does really give me the chance to help people.”

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Data shows that job seekers still have the upper hand in today's labor market.

13 applications, five job offers

In the spring, most job candidates who landed positions applied to 11 to 15 jobs and received six to 10 rejections over six months, according to a March survey of 1,001 candidates by Joblist, which provides job postings and search tools. That means that, on average, they contacted 13 employers and snared five offers – a stunning 38% success rate, Joblist says.

Buber says that sounds a bit high, but more recent survey data from ZipRecruiter still shows that workers decidedly have the upper hand. On average, she says, they’re receiving a job offer for every nine job applications they fire off. In June, 48% got at least one offer over the past 30 days, up from 42% in January. Twenty percent got two to three offers, up from 19% early this year; and 5% got four or more offers, up from 3%.

The survey included only current job seekers, meaning those who corralled offers continued to hunt for better options, Buber says. Put another way, many candidates are effectively stockpiling offers and moving on.

“We’re seeing people get pickier,” she says.

By contrast, in 2018, job seekers had to send out 21 to 80 applications for a 31% chance of a job offer, according to a study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. LiveCareer, which provides online job search advice and tools, found that traditionally, one of every 200 applications results in a job offer.

It’s no secret the job market has been scorching. There were 11.4 million job openings in April, down modestly from a record 11.9 million the month before, and 4.4 million people quit jobs, down from a record 4.5 million in November, figures from the labor statistics bureau show.

Those numbers, though, do point to some slowdown. And initial jobless claims – a gauge of layoffs – remain low but have trended higher in recent months. Also, employers have added a robust average of about 400,000 jobs a month the past few months, down from 600,000 the previous three months.

By the end of the year, Moody's Analytics expects monthly payroll growth to slow to about 125,000.

Yet the latest numbers on job offers reveal just how easily many Americans are drawing interest from employers and landing positions.

How companies are coping

Among candidates rejecting offers, 27% cited salary; 27% an inconvenient location; 11% a job description that didn’t match the actual requirements; 10% a desire for remote work; and 8% an inflexible schedule.

“Flexible work arrangements are a big deal right now,” says Kim Garstein, a branch director for Robert Half staffing in the Los Angeles area. The firm says its average candidate is weighing two to three job offers.

For businesses, the multiple offers that candidates are entertaining means positions are staying open longer and the firms are losing revenue, which translate to slower economic growth, Buber says.

Some companies are devising ways to deal with the crunch.

Brilliant Metrics, an Austin, Texas-based digital marketing company, used to take a couple of weeks to methodically whittle down 100 to 200 job applications to three or four candidate interviews, says CEO Steve Robinson. The hiring process took up to six weeks.

Now, he says, hiring managers immediately interview candidates they like and assign them a score based on past hires.

“We have to make this move because we found that if we let them sit for even a couple of days, we were guaranteed to be competing against multiple offers,” Robinson says.

Doug Carter, CEO of Ironside, the recruiting firm, says that of every 10 employees he hires every two months or so, seven won’t show up the first day because they took another offer. As a result, he says, the company keeps a list of backups who can quickly replace them.

“It’s frustrating,” he says, “but we’ve gotten kind of used to it.”