MIAMI — Headhunters and CEOs have a message for today's workforce: You need to be a tech-savvy problem solver, be flexible about taking on new tasks and seek out training that will keep you fresh in your field. Same advice that's been preached since the '90s, right? Not quite. In today's economy, it takes a different tone: If you haven't used the latest software and express comfort with new workplace tools and communication methods, there's someone else in the towering mound of applicants who will fit that need.
In this employers' market, firms are taking twice as long to fill jobs, waiting for the perfect employee who doesn't need costly training. And when there are fewer positions to fill, employers prefer candidates with wide-ranging skill sets who are willing to take on multiple tasks and learn new ones, too.
Gone are the days where being proficient in one position held weight. Gone, too, is the time when employers took a risk on an enthusiastic attitude, willing to spend the money to train new hires.
Now, companies expect workers to invest in themselves.
That can be a handicap for weary employees fielding 12-hour work days and stretched would-be workers fighting a daunting unemployment scenario. Nonetheless, companies are demanding up-to-date skills in both new hires and internal candidates looking to move up.
"It's amazing how clients are being so particular now," said Jon Leeds, Miami practice director at Spherion Staffing Services. Companies, he said, are "dragging their feet" to fill positions, asking for an employee that has that extra technical skill or stands out in some way.
Recruiters say companies give preference to candidates who have learned the latest version of software used in their field and those who show interest in taking on new skill sets. Sometimes that means helping out in other departments and learning their equipment, sometimes that means learning how to use social media to network more effectively.
Formal education and bilingual abilities help, too.
Don't try to weasel out of filling out an online application form, recruiters warn. While the "who you know" game still is true for recommendations, prospective employees shouldn't simply send the resume to the person you know in the building. Human resource departments track applications digitally, and some say avoiding the digital forms can hurt your chances.
At Baptist Health South Florida, often applicants don't write enough detail in the online forms. Perhaps it's an influence of social media and texting culture, where thoughts are dispensed in few words, said Adriene McCoy, assistant vice president of human resources at Baptist.
Whatever the reason, employers still expect workers to write well, communicate effectively in face-to-face conversations and speak in public.
"They have to be able to get the message out, and they have to be able to influence people," said Tom Shea, chief executive for the Florida and Caribbean region of talent search firm Right Management.
Interview skills are especially critical for those who haven't hunted for a job in decades.
"You really have to know your talking points," said professional coach and organizational psychologist Michael "Dr. Woody" Woodward. Whether you're in an interview, at a networking function or quickly posting online in a Twitter chat, Woodward said you need to be ready with talking points on who you are and what you have to offer.
Highlight what makes you unique, he advises. "If you're a jack of all trades, you're not going to stand out," Woodward said.
Whether you're looking for a job or looking to move ahead in your current company, be prepared to dish out personal time and money to stay at the head of the pack.
"Today the individual employee has to keep investing in their own employment," such as paying for that new training convention or for language lessons, Shea said.
But the most critical skills don't come with a certificate. You can't major in team problem-solving or creativity.
"You have to have people who are totally flexible, people who are quick learners," Shea said. "Companies have to continually re-invent themselves … and employees have to morph on along with that and bring new ideas to the game."
Some savvy workers are using networks like LinkedIn to find people that can help make things happen. Others gather data on Google to come up with their own solutions. The bottom line: Companies want practical results that appear quickly — even if you have to spend your personal hours to make it happen.
In a world where jobs are scarce, phrases like "That's not my job" or a focus on leaving every day at the strike of 5 often doesn't cut it.
"Everyone wants the best," said Palm Beach-based Randy McDermott, metro market manager for Robert Half staffing services. "People are having to multitask, juggle, show they are dedicated in their career. (Employers) want more productivity out of less people. They want people in it until the job gets done."