The latest national job numbers announced last Friday produced the predictable cheerleading from the national media on the strength of the recovery in employment (see here and here).

California workforce practitioners know better.  As Fox & Hounds frequently points out, the official unemployment rate and even the payroll numbers less and less describe what is going on in employment. These numbers stand apart from the continuing low and falling labor force participation rate now under 64%, the 8 million workers involuntarily working part-time, the 2.6 million “marginally attached” workers, who are unemployed but not counted in the official rate.

The point should continue to be made as we think of strategies for California seekers in 2013, and recognize the intense job competition that is continuing. In January we heard from Marty Nemko, one of the deans of job coaches in California, on job search strategies for this year. This month, we might focus on one strategy mentioned by Marty: getting in the door by taking a contract position, or part-time position, or lower level position, or volunteering.

“In Hiring, a Friend in Need is a Prospect, Indeed” is the headline of a valuable recent article on the role of recommendations by workers in a company in the hiring decisions of the company. The online job boards and ease of submitting a job application have meant that companies are inundated by resumes. To sort among the hundreds, even thousands of job openings, companies increasingly rely on recommendations by their own employees.

For example,  Ernst & Young reports that  45% of nonentry-level placements are now through employee recommendations, up from 28% a few years ago, and still below the goal of 50 percent. Mr. Larry Nash a director of recruiting at Ernst & Young explains of sorting among job applicants, that “a referral puts them in the express lane”. Enterprise Rent-A-Car hires nearly 40% of its workers through referrals.  Deloitte reports receiving over 400,000 resume a year, and has a special team of recruiters for recommendations by employees.

This trend of relying on employee recommendations will continue, and perhaps even increase, as the job boards continue their growth. For job seekers in California, this puts a premium not only on maintaining a job network, but also on getting in a company, so as to move around or advance.

As the job world continues to move to contingent employment and part-time employment, these are two strategies for getting in the door. Both forms of employment are not optimal for most job seekers, who prefer steady, full-time work. Yet, they offer the opportunity to obtain the referral and work record to advance. Further, taking a lower level  job than initially sought can make a lot of sense, as it also enables the job seeker to get in the door. Screen shot 2013-03-13 at 7.42.16 AM

To take an example from the popular HBO show, Enlightened, two of the main characters, Amy (Laura Dern) and Tyler (Mike White), are in jobs in data entry that they don’t like and consider below their skills.  From an employment point of view they are doing the right thing. Being in the company, Abaddonn, puts them at an advantage for better positions over the thousands of job seekers who are submitting resumes through Monster or other boards.

For younger workers in their twenties and even thirties, volunteering part time or even full-time can be a good way to get a foot in the door in 2013. Volunteering is a further way to get a leg up in paid hiring.

2013 will continue to be a highly competitive job environment, despite what the official unemployment numbers and payroll numbers indicate. It’s the New Normal in employment.