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Finding a Job During the Pandemic

Career experts weigh in on how to navigate this challenging new market

spinner image Mature men at home during pandemic isolation looking for job
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With strict social distancing mandates in place, skyrocketing unemployment figures and a looming recession, finding a new job during the COVID-19 pandemic may seem daunting. But it's not impossible.

"Overall, more companies have slowed their hiring than have ramped up hiring,” says Jed Kolko, chief economist at job site Indeed. “We've seen a decline in job postings pretty much across the board."

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But securing employment isn't impossible. And the work you put in now may position you better for future success. Career coaches, human resources officers and recruiters share their insights and top tips to help you navigate the turmoil.

Search smartly

Many professional opportunities now will be in positions in which people are working from home, so focus your search on companies with a track record of remote work, says Brie Weiler Reynolds, career development manager at job site FlexJobs. “Right now, so many companies who were previously operating with traditional offices are working to move everything online. They might be a bit slower to hire or be doing a freeze because they're trying to find their footing in this new remote environment. But for companies that have long had remote opportunities – whole remote teams or a whole remote company — they're better suited to hire at a reasonable pace right now.”

Also, consider industries that are directly serving the pandemic or the stay-at-home economy, suggests John Philbin, founder of career coaching firm Happy Spectacular. “There may be funny parts of that marketplace that weren't attractive to you in the past but have become really important right now,” he says. Companies in health care, information technology, education and training, delivery and online customer service are more likely to be hiring than other industries, experts say.

Workplace exchanges are another emerging trend, says Alex Alonso, chief knowledge officer of the Society for Human Resource Management. “What they are doing is porting people who are being laid off directly to other employers in their localities,” he explains. “If you've been out of work for a little longer, they'll give you priority because they're trying to stave off the impact of long-term unemployment,” he adds. To find these exchanges, visit your state's Department of Labor website or contact the office.

Get techy

"Everything is online — everything,” says Lora Cheatum, senior vice president of human resources for the Kansas City Southern Railway Co. And that includes job interviews, mostly through videoconferencing and platforms like Hire Vue and Rocket Hire, which HR departments are increasingly adopting. Both facilitate virtual candidate assessments and video interviews. Those services also help job hunters by providing them with coaching resources and lists of companies who are hiring.

And it's not just the hiring process undergoing this shift; the whole workforce is. “The tether to the office, which had started to fray, is now fully broken,” explains Kathy Robinson, founder of Boston-based career platform TurningPoint. “People have to be willing to use technology, not just for internal communications, but to serve customers too. How to create a customer experience virtually is something that customers are going to come to expect from now on.”

Experts recommend that job-seekers learn to use remote communication and collaboration programs like Slack, Zoom, Skype, the G-Suite and Dropbox. These can be picked up quickly, says Weiler Reynolds.

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Alonso says one clever way to get techy in the application process is to develop a video résumé, which is a short video clip of you (and some of your past work, if visual) that summarizes your key skills and experience, plus why you're suited to the role. “Putting one together shows you are tech savvy and thinking outside the box,” he says. It also allows you to show off your personality, which is often hard to do in writing. “We're seeing that individuals who have one can actually circumvent or jump to the head of the line when trying to make themselves stand out."

Tailor your applications

In addition to tailoring your application to the role, Weiler Reynolds also encourages tailoring your applications to the conditions of the pandemic. To address remote working conditions, “have a section on your résumé that actually details your comfort with technology; include the remote collaboration and communication programs you already know.”

Also include any previous work-from-home experience you have in your cover letters, she adds. “And it can be casual; it doesn't have to be a formalized policy of three days per week at your manager's approval. It can be those temporary times where the weather was bad or you had a child home sick from school. Just as long as you can talk about how you were able to be productive in those times.”

But don't just focus on COVID-19, particularly for permanent roles. “Making a case that you can add some near-term value in addition to being the right candidate that they would have been looking for pre-coronavirus, is really valuable,” says Philbin. “Show both the short-term and the long-term value you can bring.”

Continue to network, but virtually

Create a LinkedIn profile, or update your current one. “It's a really helpful resource right now in terms of reconnecting with old or current contacts, and also making new connections,” says Weiler Reynolds.

Also, you'll have to switch from traditional in-person catch-ups to FaceTime coffee dates or virtual meet-and-greets hosted on Zoom. It may seem unnatural or awkward at first, she says, but “rest assured, networking is already happening this way.”

And this may be a particularly opportune moment for networking, says Philbin. “Most people have a little extra to a lot of extra time on their hands,” he says. “They're also more open to more personal questions like, How are your loved ones? How is working from home? Are you having to manage kids?” That can help develop stronger connections.

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Address age biases

It is important to dispel employers’ doubts about your age from the outset. “Think about the assumption they may be making based on your age,” says Weiler Reynolds, “then address them before they even become a concern.” For example, add a technical skills section to your résumé and discuss current industry trends in your cover letter.

You should also tout your experience and wisdom as an asset in a time of crisis. Cheatum says age may serve you well right now. “Having been through the economic downturn in ‘08 and ‘09, or 9/11, those are experiences that others don't have,” she says. “When you have to rapidly ramp up or change direction, those folks that have been there before – who can stay calm and provide solutions – are what companies want.”

Be flexible

"When recessions come in like this, even though full-time employment opportunities decrease, freelancing or project-based work can increase,” says Weiler Reynolds. For employers, less of an investment is required for contracts like these because they don't have to pay benefits or provide ongoing employment, she notes. If you are looking for permanent full-time work, Weiler Reynolds suggests settling for some freelance or project-based work while you continue to look for your ideal position.

Art Koff, author and founder of the website, goes as far to suggest that in this climate you “offer to be hired on a temporary basis, for a specific length of time, after which your work can be evaluated and converted to full time if you merit it.” He says this approach is “likely to give you a leg up over the other candidates who would not consider it.”

Another strategy is to use this time at home to learn new skills so you'll be in a better job-seeking position when the economy rebounds. Find online course or even free YouTube tutorials that could help you learn more in areas where your skills could be sharpened. “Go find the corners of your industry that are emerging, then learn everything you possibly can about the cutting edge of your industry,” Robinson suggests. “That's what candidates have to bring to interviews. Because if you're going into interviews solving yesterday's problems and not adjusting to all of this, you're not going to stand out.”

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