How To Tailor Your Job Applications To The COVID-19 Economy

Photographed by Franey Miller.
Whether you’re looking to make a career move or need new employment due to a recent layoff or furlough, navigating the current job search landscape can be intimidating, to say the least. Many major companies, including Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, and Slack, have switched to long-term remote work, which means their interview and onboarding process is now done virtually as well. Networking also isn’t what it used to be; coffee dates are now Zoom conversations, and career conferences nationwide have similarly opted to meet through a digital screen. As millions of people remain unemployed, learning how to stand out online can be crucial in many professions.
Michelle Tavares, a media recruiter with 7+ years of experience, says your resumé should give employers a clear look into your current reality: where you’re located, whether you’re able to work remotely, and when you’ll be available to start a new role. If you’ve been laid off or furloughed, that’s understandable and not something to be ashamed of, Tavares tells Refinery29. “You don’t need to provide the specifics on your resumé, but if you’re working under a temporary contract or part-time, it’s worth including that information so the recruiter can have a better understanding of your current status,” she adds. 
Gaps on a resumé are expected during the pandemic, but employers are looking to see what you’ve done with that extra time in your hands. “If you took courses, learned a new skill, got a new certificate, related or not to the job, is definitely beneficial to see,” Tavares says. 
As with any other relationship, starting a conversation with a new employer should be led by transparency. Tavares says she looks for authenticity in cover letters: “I want to read about something that’s not already highlighted in your resumé, something that makes you unique and that is specific to the experience the employer is looking for. You’ll really catch my attention if you include how your current role and skills have transformed in the type of work you’re doing due to the pandemic, how you’ve been able to manage the change.” 
But not everyone looks to cover letters. “They are very old-school, at least in my industry. Your introduction email should be your cover letter,” Danielle Alvarez, founder of PR and influencer marketing agency The Bonita Project, tells Refinery29. “Putting together a presentation that you can share with me mid-virtual interview with the ‘share screen’ button is a major plus.”
Recruiters say they are expecting candidates to use technology to express their creativity and to be ready to show off any new skills they’ve gained while at home. “All those tasks that were once ignored are now so valuable,” Alvarez says. “With all the virtual panels, conferences, and events that are happening right now, I need someone who’s tech-savvy, someone who really knows how to use platforms like Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Microsoft Meetings.” 
Take advantage of the slowing job market to identify the skills you may be lacking and start learning those. For video and TV producers, for example, a relevant skill today is virtual production. For a teacher, knowing how to keep a class engaged online for a prolonged period of time could be a tiebreaker if you’re applying for a school with remote learning. For others, like those working in HR departments, if a candidate has previous experience with remote onboarding or can quickly bulk up on some of those skills, that could be a huge plus. When crafting your new resumé, make sure you place all digital skills, like programming, tech certifications and graphic design work, at the top of your one-page document. By doing this, you help the employer envision you in a role that fits our current virtual reality. 
Companies are also taking a deeper look into your soft skills. Without the possibility of meeting your team at a physical location sometime soon, Tavares says you really have to “come as you are” while interviewing via webcam. “With everything going on, everyone is a lot more considerate and compassionate,” she notes. “People are now more flexible and understanding. If you’re late for a Zoom call, I understand your internet connection or audio may have not been working properly. Before, being late to an in-person interview would have disqualified you.”

But that comes at a price. Tavares says recruiters may expect you to do better in the virtual interview since you’re in the comfort of your home, possibly with Post-Its on your laptop with a few key talking points you want to touch on. You are also expected to be more prepared because you didn't have to commute, so you should’ve had more time to review your resume and think about the story you want to tell.
It's worth noting that, while some companies may currently have hiring freezes set in place, that doesn't mean you can't reach out to hiring managers and introduce yourself now. Once the roles are open, you’ll have a better chance of being fresh in their minds. Laying the groundwork and developing new skills during the economic slowdown is what may ultimately put you at the top of the recruiter's candidate list of applicants. 
Once you do get a new job, be prepared for the fact that the onboarding experience is often much more challenging to do online. Before, you could train someone with a few in-person meetings and workshops but now, technology has presented a roadblock in clear communication amongst the already established company culture and the new hire. But even that can also be a boom. For example, Alvarez says that she’s recently opened her company’s internship program to applicants outside of the five boroughs, with one caveat: she’s now looking to hire more experienced interns because her bandwidth doesn’t allow her to train interns as intensely online as she used to IRL. 
Indeed, the virtual aspect that comes as a result from the pandemic means the job market — and recruiters —are now much open to hiring employees nationwide, and doing so remotely. Before, most big companies in New York looked for NY-based candidates. That’s finally changing. 
“The future of hiring might be a mixture of both, in person and remote,” Alvarez explains. “With all the technology we have available today, this is how things will be moving forward. People are gonna be more flexible having different ways of hiring, and employees from all around.”