It’s A Hard Time To Be Job Hunting, But Here’s How You Can Still Stand Out

Photographed by Anna Jay.
Since the middle of March, as coronavirus lockdowns began, the unemployment rate has remained high. It surged to over 14% in April, as more and more industries faced mass layoffs. As of August, the unemployment rate has gone down to around 8.4% — but that’s still over double what it was in January 2020.
Which means that it’s still an awful time to be job hunting. It’s hard in the best of times — ever notice how it’s a full-time job to look for a job? — but the protracted process of sending out your first résumés and then waiting for a reply and then scheduling a first-round interview and then setting up a second-round interview and then waiting for HR to give you a formal offer might be nothing short of soul-crushing right now.
So how do you find a job in the middle of a pandemic? We spoke to Richard Wahlquist, president and CEO of the American Staffing Association, and Alison Sullivan, an Economic Research Communications Manager at Glassdoor, to find out how to navigate finding new employment right now.

Emphasize your soft skills

While tech jobs are faring better than many industries right now, that doesn’t mean you need to suddenly learn to code. It’s a good time to lean harder on your soft skills, especially when the whole job search process may be virtual and can easily feel less personal than in the past. It can add a human touch that grabs a recruiter's attention.
“These days, résumés are often scanned and screened by software programs that look for relevant keywords and terms,” says Wahlquist. “With tens of millions out of work, job seekers need to stand out from the competition—and ‘soft skills’ like leadership, communication, team collaboration, time management, adaptability, and beyond can be those differentiators.”
The pandemic has caused many of us to realize the sheer value of empathy and the importance of connecting with others. Persevering through a challenge or maintaining resilience through adversity could be described as a strength and asset for the position you’re applying to. Soft skills are a great way to showcase your personality and get creative about what makes you a strong candidate, as well as a way to share a glimpse of your worldview.

Should your job search strategy change?

According to Sullivan, the general answer is that your job searching strategy doesn’t necessarily need to change.. “I know right now feels like uncharted territory,” she says. “You can still go back to job search 101 if you find yourself in need of finding a new job.” That means doing the things you’d normally do at the start of looking for new employment — like making sure your résumé is up to date and polished, and having a great cover letter that shows off your personality and desire for the role. “All of those things still fall into play now.”
Other than brushing up your résumé and crafting snappy cover letters, you can also use this opportunity to make sure your social media presence looks professional, too, especially in a time when we’re spending more time communicating online than is usual.
She says it’s important to remember — if only for your mental health — that there are still hiring opportunities out there. “There are still companies in need of workers. Take that optimism and make sure to still head out into the job market.”

Should you be looking outside of your usual field?

If you’ve been working in an industry that’s been hit hard by the pandemic, it’s reasonable that you’d want to open up your search to positions outside of your typical experience. “In an overarching sense, now is the time where you can think outside the box, especially when it comes to soft skills like project management.” says Sullivan. Hard skills like knowing a certain programming language could now be applied to a different sector, like health care.
“I'm sure there are definitely people that are looking at ways that they can cross industries, especially where there are certain industries in high demand right now,” she says. “Definitely look at that and see where your current skill set can apply or where you can easily build new skills to kind of plug in to those opportunities.”
Earlier in March, Glassdoor found that certain positions were seeing a coronavirus-related surge in openings, including registered nurses as well as communications associates, project managers, social workers, and technicians. More recent data shows that while tourism and consumer service job openings have seen dramatic downturns, healthcare and tech industries are seeing a slight increase, and e-commerce and delivery services may also be seeing a notable surge.
As we continue to monitor which industries are still hiring, Sullivan gives insight into why certain skills are particularly valuable right now. “Many industries, companies, and jobs, the playbook that we rely on day-to-day has completely been thrown out the window,” she says. “So when I see things like communications associate, project manager, technician, these are certain roles where skills help bridge those gaps, whether it's communicating with other people, making sure messages and updates on the latest at a company are getting across.” 

Networking is more important than ever

Research has shown that most people find jobs through networking rather than applying through job boards. Reaching out to people you know for opportunities will be even more crucial now. “Just start the conversation,” says Sullivan. Even if there isn’t an opening now, you’ve planted the seed of showing interest if an opportunity does arise.
“I think also because many of us are stuck in our homes right now, there's a lot of opportunity to reconnect with people that maybe you haven't, because a lot of us may have a little bit more free time in the evenings or at lunch than maybe in a regular day,” she says. “So it's a great opportunity just to reach out to someone, check in, see how they're doing and maybe get a virtual Zoom coffee.”

Be extra responsive

Being extra prompt and responsive if a recruiter or employer reaches out to you will be especially helpful in finding a job right now, says Sullivan. Because many of us have moved to entirely virtual spaces when it comes to work or looking for work right now, in some ways, there’s a new layer of distance. Because of this, Sullivan says that really emphasizing your interest is key. You won’t be able to grab a coffee together at a physical café or meet for an in-person interview where you can both get a really good sense of one another, which is why being prompt and specific in your communication and using video calls when possible are important to lean on right now.

Prep for your virtual interview

“I would say there's a couple best practices I would keep in mind for a virtual job interview,” Sullivan says. “One would be to be familiar with the technology that they provide. I know Zoom is a very popular word these days. So if you're not familiar with Zoom or maybe there's another virtual video conferencing platform, make sure you have it downloaded, it’s on your computer, you're very aware of just the basics of logging in, logging out, the conference ID information. Make sure to test the technology beforehand.” Ask a friend or family member to test out a video call for five minutes so you can check your audio, your mic level, whether your internet connection is good. You should dress professionally, as you would for any other job interview, but also keep in mind how your attire looks against your video call background.
“One other thing I would say for a video interview process is to just be mindful of social cues, because you are distant, you're not in the room with someone,” says Sullivan. “Just be aware of your natural social cues. It's okay to be a little bit over-dynamic just to make sure that your emotion and enthusiasm comes across on video."

Remember to go easy on yourself and others

There’s no downplaying how the coronavirus is putting people in dire straits financially. But even if you’re in urgent need of a job, Sullivan says that it’s important to remain empathetic throughout the process.
“Maybe you've submitted your application or you're in talks with a couple companies, you're doing all these things and you haven't heard back — I would say on that front, just to be human,” she says. “I think it's completely fine to reach out to any recruiters that you've been talking with. But just be aware that things might be operating differently, and just let them know that you're okay and you're open to being flexible or adjusting whatever needs to happen to continue the process.”
She also emphasizes that you should “go easy on yourself” and strive not to adopt the grimmest outlook on your future — for your own sake. Job searching right now isn’t just a question of best practices and strategies, but an emotional dilemma of how to muster the energy to send out applications and reach out to your connections. 
“The current coronavirus outbreak is a new challenge for everyone, no matter what your daily life is like where you live,” says Sullivan. “So I think if you need to pause for a day, if you need to reach out for help, if you need to look at local or corporate mental health resources, I think you should do what's best for you and be okay with that.”

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