As if hurricanes and earthquakes weren't enough, employers stayed skittish amidst a deluge of bad economic news in August as the economy added no non-farm jobs and the unemployment rate remained at 9.1%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was less than economists expected.
The private sector added only 17,000 jobs. Economists had forecast a 68,000 increase in non-farm jobs and no change in the unemployment rate.
"Jobs are not that easily available and it's probably extremely competitive to take those positions," said Adolfo L. Laurenti, deputy chief economist and managing director at Chicago-based financial services firm Mesirow Financial.
Some sectors, like manufacturing, healthcare and technology are doing relatively well -- and hiring -- said Laurenti. Those sectors also pay relatively well.
"I think it's important to explain to job seekers that this is not a job market equally in the doldrums," said Laurenti. "For a job seeker, the trick is not to focus on the headline number but to really explore what the opportunities in this job market may be."
While no new jobs were added in August, roughly four million jobs turn over every month. That's where job seekers need to focus their efforts. "It's crucial for job seekers to recognize that even though we're in the job doldrums, that doesn't mean there isn't dynamism in the economy and there aren't jobs out there," said John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
"As a single job seeker, what you want to do is focus on the churn and not on the BLS statistics," said New York-based career coach Jeff Neil. Job seekers should target companies where they want to work and network with colleagues to get on their radar. "Figure out what value you can add to a company" and let them know you exist, Neil said.
Even if a company isn't hiring, job seekers should make contact with decision makers at the company and talk with them in person about their job prospects. They may not be hiring this month -- next month could be a different story.
Challenger recommends tracking how many times every week you meet a potential employer and how many of those meetings are with people who would potentially be your boss.
"Companies know in this kind of labor market that there are a lot of good people out there and it's crucial to keep your search in gear and not fall into the summer doldrums," he said.
Those who are already employed and are looking to either maintain or improve their situation should make an extra effort, according to Mike Ryan, senior vice president of the Madison Performance Group, a New York-based human resources consultancy.
"What makes you a valuable employee is that discretionary effort," he said. "The things you do above and beyond your core responsibilities."
Ryan also advises those who are not working in core parts of the organization or on important, strategic projects should try to change departments or get involved in those projects.
Despite today's news, job seekers and employees should remain positive. There was a silver lining. When the 45,000 striking Verizon workers come back in September, the employment numbers will reflect that, said economist Laurenti.
Write to Jeremy Greenfield