It started with a quick survey of 80 customers. We wanted to understand the biggest challenges they faced when looking for a new job. The greatest difficulty they told us about, one faced by more than 1 in 4 respondents, was matching their skills to what companies are looking for.
In a way, this wasn’t surprising. Articles lamenting the ever-growing skills gap are a dime a dozen. Employers cry from the rooftops that they can’t find the skilled workers they need while educators and policymakers scramble to figure out what to do about it.
We had the two components: job applicants complaining about how difficult it was to match the skills employers are asking for and employers complaining about not finding the right skilled applicants.
This called for an investigation.
Where We Found ~114,000 Resume Examples and Job Offers
Our search began at Indeed.com, the biggest job search site in the US, to see just how big this gap was. We crawled job offers and resumes for the 102 most common jobs in the US according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The script looked for the top 10 most commonly mentioned skills in both resumes and job descriptions and then compared how often they were mentioned in the resume examples and job offers.
Considering all the talk of a skills gap alongside the historically low unemployment rate, we expected to see a major difference between the skills applicants had and what employers wanted.
That’s not what we found.
We Found a Skill Gap, but It’s Just -0.5%
Some resumes had more skills than employers wanted, some job offers asked for skills resumes didn’t have. But if you average them out, the result is pretty close to 0. Does that mean there’s no skills gap? No, it just means there are many small gaps spread throughout various jobs and industries. More on that later.
But let’s understand what this percentage actually means. Take Accountants as an example. Looking at 624 accountant resumes we found the 4th most common skill listed was tax preparation. We then looked at 621 job offers for accountants to see how often they asked for tax preparation. This was the result:
So 33.28% more resumes offered the skill of tax preparation than employers asked for it. If more employers want the skill than resumes offered it, the percentage will be negative. So positive numbers indicate “overqualified applicants”* while negative numbers indicate under-qualified candidates.
*note: we’re using “overqualified” as shorthand. Some of these applicants may be overqualified while others might have the wrong kind of skills. If you’re curious about details I recommend looking at the complete data for individual jobs.
While looking at the distribution of over and under-qualified jobs, the next question is which jobs are on one extreme or the other? We examined this by looking at four industries: tech, healthcare, architects and engineers, and “low skilled workers”.
There’s No Single Skills Gap for Tech Workers
19 of the 102 most common jobs in the US are tech jobs. If we look at how their skills compare to what employers want, where do these tech jobs end up?
Remember, the bars that go below the central line show when resumes tended not to have the skills employers want while bars above the line show where resumes had more skills than the employer want. The blue bars reflect the months of experience in resumes and in job offers.
If you were expecting most tech workers to be under-qualified because of the tech skills gap we’ve all heard so much about, you’re probably quite surprised. In fact, the two most overqualified and under-qualified positions are tech workers.
On one extreme, there are jobs with skills far below what most companies are asking for. One example is blockchain developers with a -20.5% gap (we know how hard it is to hire blockchain developers). Another is junior software developers with a startling -30.2% gap (it would seem companies and applicants define “junior” differently). With both of these professions, the average applicant has far fewer skills than employers want.
On the other extreme, Java and .Net developers offer more skills than required by 33.6% and 33.9% respectively. So a typical Java developer resume has more than a third more skills than required for a Java developer position. Somehow there’s a more than 60% difference between the most over and under-qualified tech jobs. Blockchain developers don’t have anywhere near as many skills as employers want while Java developers have plenty of skills employers aren’t interested in. These two jobs aren’t just both within tech, they’re both software developers.
The bigger picture is that while in our minds tech jobs are in demand and there aren’t enough skilled workers to fill them, that doesn’t hold true for all tech jobs. But what about another industry famously facing similar hiring difficulties to tech?
The Healthcare Industry Skills Gap Is Similar to Tech
A major US Chamber of Commerce study found the greatest employment gap to be among healthcare workers, with 1.44 jobs for every applicant. Yet, in spite of this, we actually found the average healthcare worker to have slightly more skills than asked for in the average job opening. Still, the bigger picture is that there’s a lot of variance within healthcare. Some jobs are hungry for candidates with the missing skills while others aren’t
Once again, the data simply did not meet our expectations based on all the writing about the healthcare skill gap. We expected to see under-qualified applicants, reflecting the difficulty healthcare employers say they are experiencing when finding the right applicants. But that’s not what we see. For example, you can see in the chart above that there’s an enormous skill gap for biophysicists.
The big picture for healthcare is more or less the same as that for tech. The skills gap which employers and media discuss at length simply doesn’t show up in these data. What gap there is comes mostly from a few very specific skills like patient care, therapy, mental health, and counseling. On the other hand, there are no skills which stand out as being far too common in resumes.
There are, however, two industries where skills gaps are undeniably clear.
Architects and Engineers Are Actually Under-Qualified
The two job categories where the skill and experience gaps were clear was architects and engineers. With only two small exceptions (visible below) the experience and skills for every job came in at an average of 5.8% below employer expectations. This actually matches the media narrative about the greater need for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) training (unlike the tech industry). The US Chamber of Commerce report mentioned earlier finds 15% more openings than available workers, so this data certainly matches what we’d expect from those numbers.
Still, there are important differences between individual jobs here (most dramatically between chemical and electrical engineers). For example, someone choosing between studying in one of those fields, assuming that they both qualify as engineering jobs and engineering jobs are in demand, would be a mistake. That 15% employment gap doesn’t apply to all engineering jobs equally.
On the opposite extreme, the “industry” (more like a category) which saw a consistent pattern where workers had more skills than employers were asking for was “low-skilled workers”.
No Surprise, Low-Skilled Applicants Are Overqualified
Here we see a confirmation of a media narrative. Decreasing demand for low-skilled jobs like cashiers and customer service representatives without a corresponding decrease in the supply of people willing to work these jobs has led to the average candidate being very overqualified. Every single one of these jobs shows a higher than required skill and experience level, usually by margins of over 15%. No other industry shows anything close to this level of consistency.
Experience Isn’t as Important as You Might Think
We also looked at how many months of experience applicants had relative to what employers were asking for. Surprisingly, the average employer wanted only about 1.5 months more experience than the average resume writer had. This further reinforces the conclusion that by taking a top-down view reveals that there isn’t such a big gap between what employers want and what applicants have.
One interesting takeaway was that there’s actually little correlation between the skills and experience gap, meaning building your skill set can be effective even if you don’t have that much experience. For anyone interested in changing careers or starting their first one, this is welcome news. Of course, there’s also plenty of data showing which skills are most valuable in various jobs.
If you’re thinking about what to study, whether to go back to school, or even where to focus your career development, you may be asking what this means for you.
Be Wary of the Big Picture
The skills gap isn’t simply that the average worker doesn’t have the skills needed for the average job. It’s rather that the workers have too many skills that aren’t wanted by employers and not enough of skills that are. As that US Chamber of Commerce report put it, we’re not dealing with a single “gap” so much as many “potholes”. The takeaway for average workers is that they cannot simply look at a skill gap affecting a single industry and conclude that it makes sense to move to that industry. People need to be far more precise in the skills they develop and the jobs they pursue.
Furthermore, most research on the skills gap (or on job availability) focuses on entire industries. You’ve got the tech skills gap, the healthcare skills gap, and so on. What we’ve shown here is that looking at entire industries very often masks the stark differences within them. If you read an article about the tech skills gap and decide you want to move into the tech industry, you might end up becoming a .Net developer. Problem is, .Net developers are massively overqualified, indicating heavy competition for those positions.
US workers should take this to heart. Developing the right skills and changing your job should be focused on the job and not the industry. In addition, thinking about the skills needed, base these on what employers ask for. Often, there’s a substantial gap between the skills employers want and what applicants have. Developing and emphasizing these skills, therefore, can put you at a substantial advantage.
You can check out our resume examples page where we’ll be adding more job-specific advice based on these data in the coming weeks.