COLUMBIA, Mo. – It’s a worker’s market, with 10 openings for every six unemployed workers in Missouri. But there are important caveats to keep in mind for a successful search in 2024, said Rob Russell, University of Missouri Extension senior program director for business and community development.

Employers continue to highlight soft skills, including work habits and industry knowledge, as significant shortcomings among applicants. According to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center’s 2023 Employer Survey, four out of every six job applicants have shortcomings in areas such as work habits, problem-solving and communication. Improving those skills and highlighting the skills they have are essential first steps for applicants.

Related story: With key caveats, it's a job hunter's market for years to come

So, what do workers need to know for a successful 2024 job search? Russell shares these tips to get you started.

1. Start with a self-assessment.

Think creatively and critically about what you bring to the table: what you’ve been doing, your education, work history and skills, and how those are applicable in a variety of roles.

“We often struggle with understanding how our skills transfer from one type of job to another and how to convey those transferable skills to an employer,” Russell said. “Employers struggle with being able to read what resumes are telling them about which applicant skills are essential, which are transferable and which can be trained up for. An applicant who can help show that in their resume will be ahead.”

  • Missouri Job Centers through the state’s Office of Workforce Development are a great resource to help with that kind of assessment.
  • Have people who are not familiar with what you do on a day-to-day basis look at your resume and cover letters and give feedback on whether you’re communicating what you can bring to the table. For students and new graduates, their institutions’ career office can offer that kind of insight.
  • Career coaches and counselors will work with you on resumes and transferrable skills.

2. Once you’ve completed this assessment, identify the holes in your resume and determine next steps to fill them.

To stand out, workers need to have or develop skills that combine hard technical knowledge with strong soft skills such as teamwork and communications.

“For instance, if you are an IT specialist who also knows how to communicate with clients and other populations, you are gold,” Russell said. “If you are an administrative professional who has data analysis or finance skills, you’ll have a competitive advantage. If it’s certain technical skills that you lack, find out who provides training opportunities. Are there short-term certificate or badging programs? Apprenticeships? Two- or four-year or advanced degree requirements?”

3. When you’re ready to apply, tailor your resume to fit jobs advertised in your fields of interest.

With AI and other screening systems now in place in many companies, hiring managers often will not even see resumes that don’t check certain boxes. Make sure you tailor your resume for each application to include key words and components that fit the specific jobs being advertised. Tell the story of what you do in a way that connects with what each employer is searching for. Don’t fudge your experience or knowledge, but be sure to share it in a way that meets the desires of the organization.

Also, be realistic about what kinds of jobs you apply for: If you don’t meet certain basic requirements – a specific degree requirement, for example – your resume will not make it to the review pile.

4. How to find the jobs that really are available

Research shows that the majority of jobs – as many as 60%-80% – are not advertised to the general public. Most people are finding jobs through internal postings with current employers, personal connections and their broader networks.

“It’s the ‘hidden job market,’ as some people call it,” Russell said. “More and more employers are looking to their own networks, connections and referrals to fill their talent gaps, even in entry-level and nonprofessional careers. This is happening in part because the pool of candidates that employers are finding through publicly posted job boards are not meeting their needs.”

So, a key part of any active job search is to grow and use your own networks to get a better picture of the jobs that are out there and get your foot in the door. That includes cultivating a robust professional network through sites such as LinkedIn, letting people know that you are interested in opportunities and finding ways to tap into those connections and ultimately the available jobs.

5. Final thoughts

Hybrid options: While the future of remote work is in flux, right now there continue to be opportunities for remote and hybrid work, an area of the job market that has continued to expand throughout the last decade, a trend that predates COVID.

New “old” openings: Baby Boomers continue to leave the workforce through retirements, with thousands more poised to leave every day. This “silver tsunami” is creating new opportunities for workers in industries that have had incredibly stable employment trends, such as insurance or banking.

Internships/apprenticeships/credentials: Explore ways to develop relevant experience and training through internships, apprenticeships, credential programs and mentorships. Employers are not necessarily requiring the same level of education as they did 10 years ago for some positions. This is especially true for jobs that require a lot of internal skill development and procedural training.

More than just the traditional trades are offering apprenticeship models now — including some positions within health care professions — so explore growth opportunities there.


  • Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry Intern Connect & Apprentice Connect
  • MU Career Accelerator. Both individuals and employers may enroll in Accelerator’s offerings. In addition to customized training for employers, there are some general enrollment bootcamps, certificates and training programs to help employees gain skills.

Become your own employer

Sometimes looking for new jobs or careers sparks thoughts of becoming your own employer. The Missouri SBDC can help. As part of a cooperative agreement between MU Extension, partner institutions and the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Missouri SBDC provides free resources and confidential counseling to current and potential entrepreneurs. Services are available through 12 centers and five satellite centers across the state.

Sidebar 1: Skill shortcomings by the numbers

A 2023 Missouri Economic Research and Information Center employer survey shows the percent of employers who cited applicant deficiencies in these areas:

  • 64% – poor work habits.
  • 55% – lack of general business or industry knowledge.
  • 54% – lack of critical thinking/problem-solving skills.
  • 48% – lack of communication or interpersonal skills.
  • 41% – unwillingness or inability to learn.
  • 39% – lack of technical skills specific to the job.

Sidebar 2: How to shape up those soft skills

Soft skills tend to be those we learn through experiences and practice. These key skills include communication, collaboration, timeliness, conscientiousness, critical thinking and problem-solving. Typically shaped through key developmental periods such as our school years, these skills are harder to teach. But here are some pointers to help you stand out from the crowd:

  • Understand the importance of these skills for employers and how to demonstrate your strengths in these areas.
  • Seek honest feedback on what’s lacking from friends, colleagues and even your current supervisor.
  • Find mentors and role-models who can provide guidance as you develop these key skills.
  • Explore job center and career counseling/coaching resources that address “soft skills.”