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You had your best-laid plans and then COVID-19 came along and hammered the entire economy. But you’ve got this – if you have the right information. Join Rob Carrick and Roma Luciw on Stress Test, a podcast guiding you through one of the biggest challenges your finances will ever face.

Roma: You’re a new grad, excited to start your career. You see an online job posting that’s perfect for you. You polish up your resume. Send it in. Follow up and wait. And wait and wait.

Rob: And you never hear back. You apply for a slightly different role. Still nothing. And you’re not the only one. Entry-level job seekers and recently unemployed professionals are struggling to land a job as they compete for positions.

Roma: Welcome to Stress Test, a personal finance podcast for Millennials and Gen Z. I’m Roma Luciw, personal finance editor at The Globe and Mail.

Rob: And I’m Rob Carrick, personal finance columnist at The Globe. For the past few years, employees have had the upper hand in the job market. They could negotiate higher salaries, remote work, and benefits.

Roma: But the balance of power has shifted back to employers. They’re getting pickier about who they hire and less generous with what they’re offering. Rob, we did a podcast episode a year ago looking at how employees could negotiate things. Take us back to what was happening then.

Rob: Employers were desperate for workers, and they were offering the sky to people to come and work for them. Do you want to work remotely? No problem. Do you want a bonus? No problem. Do you want enhanced benefits? No problem. They had to fill positions, and they were dealing. But since then, the economy has slowed down. Those high interest rates we’ve seen have done their work and slowed the economy down. And the job market is slowly deteriorating. That round employment rate is rising, and there’s just not that same competition to hire people anymore. Rob, do you think we’re going back to the job world before the pandemic when it was super competitive out there and particularly hard to find a first job in your career?

Roma: I absolutely do. And you and I also know that there have been cycles of this throughout the years in the labor market. But I do think we’re going back to that period. I think people are going to have to work much harder to get their first job. There’s going to be a lot more interviewing. Companies are going to be a lot more hesitant. The job competition is intense right now because there’s so much uncertainty, and employers are hesitating. We’re seeing that from almost everyone we speak to that starting off in the job market. And it is a tough grind out there.

Rob: Our first guest is a recent graduate who applied for over 100 jobs before landing a role. That’s up after the break.

Ayushi: My name is Ayushi. I’m 26 years old and in the GTA.

Roma: Ayushi moved here in 2021 and studied corporate communications and marketing as an international student. She hoped to find a job right after she finished school in April.

Ayushi: My understanding was that I wanted to get on the job market as quickly as possible because living in the GTA is not cheap anymore. So, I definitely wanted a full-time job. I did a call-up in 2022 last summer as well in one of the top Canadian fintech startups, and I thought that I would like to leverage my career. It was not that I started my job search, right? You know, in April itself, I started in January, I was like, I started prepping for it, like from January 2023.

Roma: She landed the co-op pretty easily, so she figured she’d have a similar experience looking for a full-time job. She networked over coffee chats and job hunted on LinkedIn and Indeed, but her three-month search turned into four months, then five months.

Ayushi: I did apply to more than 100 jobs for sure, even when I had exams, even when I was going to school towards the end of the semester, kind of using 2 to 3 hours every day because I was told that every application needs a tailored resumé. It’s a time ticking process to go in for every job I apply to like change my resume and ask for the keywords that’s given a job description or like change it, modify it accordingly. So I did spend three hours on average every day for almost three months. As soon as I graduated, when I was at school, I could only spend an hour or two because I had another job. I was doing a part-time job with my studies to support myself.

Roma: Ayushi applied to every junior role in her field. The salaries range from $40,000 to $50,000. One of her big frustrations was that the jobs described as entry-level often required several years of experience.

Ayushi: But there were a lot of discrepancies in terms of the years of qualification. They wanted, like even effort lists, like an account coordinator role. Sometimes, they would want somebody with 3 to 5 years of experience. Sometimes, they would want somebody with just a co-op experience. So, not having that uniformity across titles definitely made it more time-consuming to tailor my resume and ask for that. So yeah, I was applying to mostly entry-level roles, but then a lot of mid-level or mid-entry-level roles were also being advertised as entry-level. So, I would even apply to that just to shoot my shot. The response rate was pretty low. I would only get a response if I were to somehow reach out to somebody on the team who was hiding and do a coffee chat or like just a LinkedIn DM To tell them that I sent my application. I would get a little notification that somebody viewed my application. But other than that, the response rate was pretty standard. It was just like after a month or like after two months and it was sending me a rejection email.

Roma: In July, she gave up on full-time positions and started applying for internships. She finally landed a role in August. It paid a little more than minimum wage.

Ayushi: There was one good thing about this offer was that you get paid for your overtime work, which I did not see in other offers. And then I had some paid vacations off as well, and also a little bit of flexibility to work from home, which I found was pretty crazy to start out as an intern.

Roma: Her employer promoted her to full-time in November, six months after she graduated.

Ayushi: If somebody had told me that I would be doing an internship after applying for like three months, I would have definitely not believed them because my experience with my first co-op was pretty smooth. But things changed pretty quickly after like 2022 summer. I saw like a thousand applicants even on an internship application on LinkedIn. I am definitely sure there are a lot of people who just send their resumes over email as well. So that kind of was challenging for me. I would not have accepted that that was the reality. But then, in July I was really frustrated and also moneywise. As a student, you are supporting yourself, paying everything out of your own pocket. So I just decided to pivot. But this one thing I was sure of that I would not take. I did get offers for an unpaid internship. I declined because I cannot survive on an unpaid internship in today’s time.

Roma: For those still in school, Ayushi advises starting the job search a year before they graduate so they can start networking. And she doesn’t plan to look for a new job any time soon. She’s happy where she is, and she feels like she got lucky.

Ayushi: It’s kind of about being lucky today that you apply on LinkedIn before anybody else applies, and then they probably download your resume before a thousand applications come in. So yeah, it didn’t feel like it was based on my skills. I actually felt like it was me being there at the right time.

Roma: Our next guest is a 36-year-old who started his career in 2010. He’s part of the second group of applicants crowding the job market, people who’ve recently been laid off.

Dan: My name is Dan, and I live in Toronto.

Roma: Dan has an MBA and spent nearly a decade working at some of the big Canadian banks. In 2021, he moved to the tech industry, taking a position at a well-known startup. At the time, the job market was red hot, and he felt like he was in the driver’s seat.

Dan: I was applying for maybe a month. During that time, I had interviewed final rounds, I think, about eight companies. I received 3 or 4 offers. Even as I took the job, I was actively getting messages from recruiters about other roles. In addition to that, the people I worked with were constantly moving. So, like from my old organization, everyone was leaving to different companies, big and small, but some of them were pretty, pretty impressive brands. Some of them were moving down to Silicon Valley and to San Francisco.

Roma: Dan was earning a base salary of $142,000 with a total compensation of about $170,000. Then, in 2022, the tech industry ran into trouble.

Dan: I had been there for about a year, and I was really enjoying it. Then, some layoffs happened that impacted my team initially, where my boss and some of the more senior people that I collaborated with got let go. So at that point, obviously, how I felt about the job and kind of the psychological safety I had with him, my role changed. And so, for the last three months I was there, it was a constant fear of being impacted by the next round of layoffs just because it had happened a couple of times already in my one year there. So, yeah, I mean, it went from a great place to a not-so-great place of anxiety and whatnot. So, the actual layoff happened. I would say I was surprised and not surprised, if that makes sense. I think you never really think that it’ll kind of come to that in any role. You know, it should kind of be the last resort for most companies. But I think, unfortunately, when a market’s down, you really kind of learn that at the end of the day, the bottom line matters.

Roma: He got a few months of severance and took a bit of time to regroup before really starting to look for a new job.

Dan: I didn’t jump back on the horse right away. I think I was pretty pretty down at the time that I went back to the drawing board of applying to jobs every day. But it took me a month to get to that point. And yeah, money was definitely tight. When you don’t know when you’re going to make your next paycheck, it’s really hard to spend any kind of money. And so you become essentially isolated to your home, right? If I go out for a coffee wall, should I be spending money on that coffee or just sitting at home doing nothing? It became very, you know, like a prison in some ways when you don’t know when the next paycheck is coming in.

Roma: Dan has noticed a huge difference between his recent job search and the one he did in 2021.

Dan: Like, I went from interviewing essentially multiple times a week to multiple interviews at that point. This was last summer. Maybe one time a week towards the end of it, when I ended up landing this role, it was like maybe once every 2 or 3 weeks, I was getting a callback. And I can tell you what I see and what I hear on the market. If I were to be unemployed right now, I don’t even see jobs. I’d be applying for LinkedIn. It’s like back then, I was applying for multiple jobs a day. Now, if I were to be looking for a job, I’m seeing maybe one a week at best that I would actually actively see fit for what I want to do next.

Roma: Being out of work was hard on him.

Dan: I mean, you definitely start to question your worth. Like your mind definitely goes, Am I good at this or as good as I think I am? And then you start to toe this line of, like, it’s either like, am I arrogant, am I realistic? And it’s outside forces. Is it a bit of both? Is it I’m, you know, being hard on myself, like you just sort of question everything, right? And so, inevitably, you’re not really sure what to believe. Like, you see, you’ve seen evidence in the past of yourself excelling at companies that you’re not hearing back from anymore, and yet you’re like from them now, so you can’t help but internalize it. And so, yeah, inevitably, you definitely get down on yourself. You start to question yourself. The places I was getting further with were not places that would have been top of my list. And it felt a little bit like a jump backward from where I was previously. But at the end of the day, bills have to get paid, and it’s a crappy feeling to feel stuck into doing something like that. I know a lot of people do, but it’s a crappy feeling when you think kind of things are going your way, and then all of a sudden it’s one step forward and one step back, you know?

Roma: Eventually, Dan had to lower his expectations.

Dan: Even when I got my current role, and I told them the band, I was talking to other companies about the recruiter, and they laughed at me with just like, we won’t get close to that. And the mindset ends up being like, Am I worth that much? Am I not? You know, I’m sure as people listen to this, they’re going to be like this. Maybe this guy is naive about it. Maybe I am. I don’t know. But at the end of the day, I’ve seen the numbers held above me like a carrot. And all of a sudden, when it’s different, it feels crappy. Right? So you start to try and try and figure out, like, where does that line fall? How much of it is me, how much of it is the market? I think for me, I inevitably pointed towards myself, and not that doesn’t feel great.

Roma: During his six months of unemployment, Dan had interviews with about 25 hiring managers and did take-home assignments for seven companies. He eventually landed a job at a large Canadian company in a different sector that paid close to what he was making at his tech job. But he knows that jobs in tech like his previous one are scarce.

Dan: The reality right now is the market is so flooded, and it’s way worse now than it was last year. But, if you wanted to get someone who worked at Amazon, 70% of the dollars they used to get, they’re on the market right now. There have been layoffs at every major company. So, like, there’s just too much talent to be able to compete. You know, I remember one interview, I was runner up, and they just said, look, someone has more experience in this specific sector. Like, I get it. So it seems that isn’t even about you. It’s just about the market. Right? And that’s the tough part. I work at a big company now that I wouldn’t have thought would have been as sexy as it is, and they have more applications than they know how to work their way through.

Roma: What advice would he give someone who’s recently been laid off?

Dan: I’d given this to a number of friends even recently. When you’re laid off, lick your wounds. Feel the feels. Like you’re mourning, you’re going through severe loss. And it can be scary, especially when you don’t know what you’re looking forward to after that, when it comes to milestones or work or, you know, paying up bills and all that stuff. So I would say like definitely take the time to feel it because you’re almost going to feel a sense of burnout if you don’t. But I think the other thing, too, is to try not to be so hard on yourself, right? For example, in the role I was runner-up for, there was no feedback. It was literally just this guy was better like that. That’s it. Right? So keep in mind that a lot of this isn’t you. It is the market. It’s flooded. There are so many people out there looking for. So if your roles, do your best not to personalize it and then and try and recognize that there are other factors at work here other than yourself not being worthy of, you know, the job you want.

Roma: After the break, we’ll hear from a recruiter on the power shift in the job market and how to cope with the changing dynamics.

Rob: Jermaine L. Murray is a Toronto-based recruiter and career coach. Jermaine, the job market in 2022 was the best that I’ve ever seen in my career. How have things changed since then in the job market?

Jermaine: I would actually argue 2021 for me, and from my perspective, especially in that tech space, 2021 was the absolute peak. And then, at the top of 2022, things started to get a little shaky. That’s when the top of the year or, like, the top of the quarter when you always get new valuations coming in, and the valuations across the board start to go down. And it’s just been one rapid, steep, and depressing decline. Even a year ago, the market was a lot kinder than it is now.

Rob: I’m trying to I’m trying to understand, like, what is causing this, this sudden change. What about the economy? How does the economy play into all of this?

Jermaine: The big part comes in the fact that just like where investors want to see money in terms of their investors coming back to them. And it’s a lot harder to justify certain expenses when the economy is, quote-unquote, on a downturn. Interest rates going up did not help at all. A lot of companies were operating either as efficiently as they could or at a full-blown loss. Or, again, they were just looking for ways to maximize profits. And one of the best ways to do that is always cutting talent.

Rob: So, Jermaine, what does this mean to the job seeker?

Jermaine: So for the job seeker, it means that you have, unfortunately, a much more difficult road ahead of you when it comes to, you know, not only getting a job or even just getting interviews and going through the process but also in terms of like your expectations or like your discussions, your negotiations are going to be a bit harder to pull off because the employers right now have a lot more leverage.

Rob: So it sounds like the pendulum really swung because I remember the narrative in 2021 and 2022 is to ask for everything. Employers will give you whoever you want. You want to work at home. No problem. You want you want a bonus, go get it. What is different today in terms of what employees can get from a new employer?

Jermaine: I still say keep that same energy of asking whatever it is that you want. It’s just that the chances of you taking a strong enough negotiating position to get everything might be a bit ambitious, so you might have to rein in your expectations. But you can only get what you ask for. And it’s still worth taking a shot on before you know. I have a friend specifically, you know, who went last year. Last year, he was just shopping around for a job search, and he got about 15 offers in two months. A year later this year, he was laid off, and it took him close to six months to get an offer. And it was just a much, much less was just out there for someone like him. And with that’s the case, employers know like if they know, they know and they feel like, you know if you take too strong of a negotiating position, you know, there’s someone else that we can go. It’s a long, long line of applicants there. And you see it when you look at LinkedIn, and you see like people have like a lot of jobs have like two, 300 applicants within a 24-hour span. There are a lot of people hurting right now, and that’s how they’re able to take advantage and position themselves.

Rob: So what’s negotiable these days when you’re considering a job offer, and what isn’t?

Jermaine: I would say cash is always negotiable. I live by a general rule of thumb where you always refuse the first offer, even if they give you everything that you want. I’ll tell you this as a recruiter, as somebody who was on the other end of the spectrum: What do you get as an offer from your hiring manager? You get it from the show. You’re like, Yes, I got the offer. When you present the offer to the candidate, there is like a 20-secured hesitation, like everything is slowed down by 20% because you have anxiety and you’re hoping, please God, just say yes and sign this. But they are totally dreading and expecting you to be like, Oh, you know, I got to think about it. Oh, I got to talk to my spouse about it. Oh, you know, there’s always going to be a pushback. We’re expecting it, right? So I always say that you get that one freebie because no one that’s only the most unreasonable of employee employers. The very, very petty would take it personally for someone to offer like a counteroffer. Right? Of course, within reason. But you should be asking for more money. I do think that the conversation around remote, hybrid, or on-site would become pretty clear earlier on in the job process. That’s one of the things employers have done a lot more to. They’ve just taken a stand saying like, hey, if you’re going to join this team, we’re on site. We’re a hybrid. You know, we’re remote. And so, if you are bringing that up at the flip of a contract negotiation, you might not have as much leverage as you did last year.

Rob: Jermaine, one of the things I remember from the job market in the years leading up to the pandemic was the prevalence of gig work and how so many young workers were having trouble finding full-time career work. It was always, Here’s a gig, here’s a 12-month contract. Are we seeing a return to gig work?

Jermaine: I would say gig workers never really left like gone away to me, like gig week. Gig working. Contracting has always been a thing. And they come, like, ebbs and flows. The thing about these layoffs specifically is that it’s especially when you look at like the tech sector, which has gotten some of these huge hits. If I had known ten tech employees, I know nine people that are at least I think I know at least nine people that are burnt out. Right. Just because there’s so much overwhelming work there. And now that these layoffs have happened, it’s not like that work stopped. It’s just been piled on to the people that have been left behind. And at a certain point, companies hit a block. Either they’re not able to produce the same amount of quality as before, or they’re not able to do it in the same amount of time span as before. And that’s when they start bringing in contractors. So, in this type of market, contractors will be in more demand, and opportunities will be a lot more accessible just because it’s easier to grab a contractor. And, you know, in the worst case scenario, kind of contractor without having to worry about paying your benefits or having to deal with, in some cases, unions. So I do think that if someone is job searching and they have a hard time getting a full-time job, opening themselves up to contracting opportunities would be a wise move because there’s just going to be so much out there.

Rob: What does the job market look like for entry-level job seekers, and what advice do you have for them?

Jermaine: It looks like The Hunger Games.

Rob: Does it? I bet it.

Jermaine: It’s absolutely brutal. I feel for I feel entry level like I graduated high school in 2008. I went into the workforce in 2012, and it was in that weird span between the recession just happening and then, like, the bailouts and the bounceback happening. So it was like even there in that in that weird time, it was still hard to get an entry level job. Now, part of what I mentioned is that, and I’ve been telling people is that companies have these expectations now that they can get higher talent for a lower cost. And that means it’s just playing on the desperation of the market. You’re seeing a lot of people that were mid-level careers or, in some cases, senior-level careers willing to take a pay cut just to have some money coming in. They’ll go for entry-level jobs. So, it makes it hard for someone who’s just starting out unless you have connections, networking, internships, and a deep portfolio; you’re not going to stand a chance to get someone who’s more senior and willing to take less money.

Rob: My next question is, what advice do you have for other jobseekers, people who are currently unemployed and are struggling to find their next role? I kind of shudder to even ask you this question after the answer to the previous one, but let’s let’s hear what you have to say.

Jermaine: I would say for anyone that’s unemployed and struggling right now, I would say, you know, look at all your options. You know, this is the time when you have to be the most flexible. And I say this with respect to knowing that some people might not have flexibility in terms of assets, sort of assets liabilities, or having dependents like children or elderly parents. But one of the things that we have to do with this type of situation is to be flexible in terms of the type of jobs that we are willing to do or can do and the type of skills that we have that may be transferable. And then looking at things like potentially like temporarily relocating or opening yourself up to contract opportunities. Like I would say, look like, you know, get an idea of what your comfort zone is, look at the things outside of your comfort zone, and start experimenting. On top of that, I always encourage people to network, network, network, network. Always be networking. ABN doesn’t flow as much as ABCs, but ABN is always networking. If you find you’re having a conversation with somebody that you bumped into at the grocery store, you know, ask them what it is that they do, right? And then keep that in your mind. Maybe schedule a follow-up. You know, I’m a big anime guy. I love talking about anime. You can find me on Twitter; you can find your Reddit talk on my anime. And a lot of times, I’ve actually made some really good career commerce career connections by talking about anime because people who work in senior leadership positions have interests as well, so you just never know. And then, on top of that, while you’re waiting for those job opportunities to get back to you, find ways to keep developing yourself and adding to what you can do, right? Develop new skills. Take a free course, go on YouTube, go on YouTube, and go down the rabbit hole. And then when you learn something, try to. Find ways to apply it in your real life, i.e., if you learn about data analytics and you have a friend who’s an illustrator, be an influencer. Use what you learn in data analytics to do a full breakdown of what your friend is doing successfully and what they’re not doing successfully, and give them a report. Add that to your portfolio. Now you are a data analytics consultant, and your friend is your first client. Rinse and repeat. And that’s how you kind of like re-up yourself. And in some cases, that might even translate to two paid opportunities, which may lead to your own business. And that’s how a lot of entrepreneurs have gotten started.

Rob: Jimi, what do you say to people who are not happy in their current job and with layoffs happening? I’m sure there are a lot of companies where people are feeling overburdened. They’re trying to do the work of people who’ve left the company. They’re unhappy, and they’re wondering, Should I look for a job elsewhere? What do you say to people like that? What is the strategy?

Jermaine: I have two things to say. First and foremost, I always say date your job. Treat your job like a dating partner, right? If somebody was toxic or somebody was bringing you down, you would dump them, wouldn’t you? You dump them and you find someone else to go spend time with. So it’s the same thing that applies to the job. And the second one is the sports analogy that Kawhi Leonard inspired. You play for the name on the front of the jersey, but you’re loyal to the name on the back of the jersey. So be cutthroat. I always tell people to always be interviewing, right? I know I got ABN. ABI, I will always be interviewing because you want to know what you can get on the free market so that if you decide to stay at your current employer, it’s an informed choice, not one that’s born of ignorance. Like you always know what you can get on the free market. And then my second reason for that too, is the best thing to do is to interview for a job that you don’t care about, because that’s when you can ask for the most ridiculous of things and you can see how far you can get away with it. If you know, if you did four interviews at jobs that you didn’t care for and you said, you know what? I’m currently making 50 K, I’m just going to ask them if I can work remotely and get 100 K, and three of those employers give you offers for a 100 K remote job, and you decide to stay at that 50 K job that you’re currently at. That’s an informed decision. So, it is always in your best interest to just know what’s going on in the market and always have your options open.

Rob: Whether you’re just starting your search or you’ve been applying for many months. It’s clear that the power dynamics have shifted in favor of the employer, and that’s not great news for employees. Rob, What are your takeaways for young adults navigating the current market?

Rob: One, let’s face it: the great job market of 2021 and 2022 is fading away with the coming recession. Expect employers to think more about cutting staff and finding creative ways to lure new employees, too. You can still negotiate with the new employer on salary, benefits, and remote work, but don’t push too hard. Remember, your leverage isn’t what it used to be. Three. Some thoughts for people who are stuck and can’t find a position. Consider taking some contract work or relocating. Also, build up your skills to improve your resume and work your network to find out about jobs that might fit.

Rob: Thank you for listening to Stress Test. This show was produced by Kyle Fulton, Anna Stafford, and Emily Jackson. Our executive producer is Alisha Sawhney. Thank you to our Ayushi, Dan, and Jermaine for joining us.

Rob: You can find Stress Test wherever you listen to podcasts. If you like this episode, please give us a five-star rating and share it with your friends.

Rob: Next week on Stress Test. Pet ownership seemed like a great idea during the pandemic, but caring for canines is a long-term commitment, and for some, the bill is getting rough.

Rob: Until then, find us at the Globe and Thanks for listening.

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