There are clear signs that the United States is experiencing a burgeoning economic recovery, as job creation soared and unemployment tumbled to a rate of just 8.3% at the turn of 2012. With the jobless rate now at its lowest point since February 2009, the economy is growing at a far faster pace than was expected, and creating an increasing number of opportunities for job seekers to forge new career paths. With the job market still extremely competitive however, and a number of well qualified candidates keen to secure work, those seeking employment must consider developing and showcasing their non-academic skills in order to gain a crucial advantage.

SEE: 10 Careers With Great Job Prospects

Show Initiative
While the for-profit sector has endured fluctuating fortunes since the turn of the century, nonprofit organizations and ventures have remained a consistent source of employment opportunities. In fact, in the decade between 2000 and 2010, the nonprofit sector added jobs at a faster and more sustainable rate than commercially driven companies. During this time, nonprofits increased their levels of employment by a healthy 2.1%, while their for-profit counterparts saw a corresponding decrease of 0.6%.

Given that the nonprofit sector has more diverse sources of funding and is therefore less susceptible to the effects of a struggling economy, job seekers are afforded the opportunity to find work while experiencing enforced breaks in their career. Undertaking a voluntary role also adds additional skills and experience to your resume, while giving employers the impression that you are someone who is able to display initiative and seek out less obvious opportunities for advancement. In a competitive job market, this can only have a positive impact on your long-term job search.

Be Flexible
The nature of the employment market has evolved significantly in the last decade, with companies looking to outsource an increasing number of job roles. Last year's figures suggest that this trend is likely to continue into 2012, with numerous technological innovations allowing firms the opportunity to outsource sales, marketing and human resources tasks alongside a range of IT activities. From the development of software as a service to cloud-based customer relationship management systems, businesses are accessing a vast array of tools to connect and interact remotely with a global pool of potential employees.

With the process of outsourcing allowing businesses to both save money and streamline their operations, as a job seeker you must be increasingly flexible in your approach to work. By embracing the idea of working remotely and showing a willingness to adapt to new working methodologies, you will showcase yourself as a candidate who is in touch with the demands of modern business. So, while in between positions of employment, you should consider marketing your skills as an independent contractor as a way of developing your commercial appeal. (To learn more, check out 3 Tips To Boost Your Chances Of Finding Work In 2012.)

Be Self-Aware
As youth unemployment in the U.S. rose significantly, alongside the overall rate of joblessness between 2010 and the formative months of 2011, there was a clear gap between the skills of job seekers and the needs of employers. With just 48.8% of individuals aged between 16 and 24 in employment during the summer of 2011, teaching organizations began to consider tailoring college education to suit the prevailing trends in the labor market. As a consequence, education leaders are now offering students a more diverse range of courses to address any potential skills gap.

The same principle can be applied to older job seekers in the U.S., and individuals who are looking for work should consider undertaking relevant career and educational training while understanding which non-academic qualifications are most useful in the existing labor market. Although courses of this vocational nature have often been disparaged when compared with the financial benefits offered by a college degree, they provide a great opportunity for you to better understand the modern labor market and improve your skill set and resume accordingly.

The Bottom Line
Regardless of your experience or academic credentials, you should always look to develop your skill set and showcase a range of personal attributes. This is especially true in a competitive job market, where any number of employment candidates may boast similar academic qualifications and work related expertise. Your willingness to seek proactive routes towards personal development and self-improvement may be key, and could make the difference in your job search as the economic recovery gathers momentum. (For more on employment, see 6 New Jobs You've Probably Never Heard Of.)

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