Dear Matt: What are some trends, topics or issues job seekers should be aware of in 2016?

Matt says: The adage that it’s not what you know but who you know will continue to hold true in 2016.

“Personal networking will be critical,” says Bob LaBombard, CEO of GradStaff (gradstaff.com), a Twin Cities-based firm specializing in helping companies recruit and hire college graduates for entry-level professional positions.

LaBombard says that 75 percent of jobs are created by employers with 500 or fewer employees. “Since these companies typically don’t interview on campus, new grads often overlook this important segment of the job market,” says LaBombard. “Most of these employers rely heavily on referrals from employees, clients, vendors and other partners to identify candidates. All entry-level job seekers should seize opportunities to ask parents, teachers, friends, clergy and even former employers for connections in industries of interest, and they should continue engaging with professional associations, alumni groups and others for face-to-face networking opportunities.”

John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, says the pace of downsizing should slow in 2016, while hiring and wages should continue to make gains. But job seekers will need to be patient; employers are being selective and the hiring process is taking longer than usual.

“(Employers) will have to rely more heavily on referrals from current employees,” says Challenger. “They will have to be more open to considering candidates who might have longer-than-desired gaps on their résumés or whose skills and experience do not perfectly align with the job opening. We could see starting salaries increase, as well as the salaries of existing workers, as employers try to attract and retain the best talent.”

And even though employers are looking to hire referrals, job seekers still need to present a package to an employer that helps them stand out from the rest of the competition. That means a current and updated résumé, a strong online presence with an updated LinkedIn profile, and an online reputation that doesn’t reflect poorly on the job seeker. Don’t think just because you have that referral you are “in”. You may be “in” for the interview, but you still have to prove you are the best candidate, no matter how much your friend or contact at the company brags about you.

“Job seekers will still be required to do the hard leg work: Cold calling, networking, meeting with people on a daily basis, and all of the other activities necessary to uncover the hidden job market and find the best opportunities,” says Challenger. “Job seekers should not expect to send out a bunch of résumés and [think that] job offers will simply come pouring in.” □