Landing a job during a pandemic is no easy task. Although 2020 initially was on track to follow 2019’s trend toward low unemployment and solid job gains, COVID-19 turn the job market on its head.
Even though the employment outlook is improving, dipping your toe into the job search pool can be intimidating, especially if you haven’t done it in a while or if you’re hoping to make a career shift. Fortunately, there are steps you can take now to make sure you’re the best candidate possible. GOBankingRates spoke to career and recruiting experts to get their tips for jump-starting your job search so you’re ready when you’re applying for employment.
Last updated: Nov. 13, 2020
Clean Up Your Resume
If it’s been some time since you updated your resume, it’s time for a refresh.
“Make sure it’s updated with your current employment, and look it over to see if there are ways you can better emphasize skills and experience relevant to the work you’re applying for,” said Jon Hill, chairman of the recruiting firm The Energists.
If you were laid off due to COVID-19, make sure to note you lost your job as a direct result of the pandemic, recommended the Gee Group, a staffing agency located in Columbus, Ohio.
Highlight Recent Achievements on Your Resume
When it comes to crafting your resume, it’s not enough to just list your job responsibilities. Recruiters are more interested in your results.
“Make sure at least three of your most recent achievements and accomplishments are included,” said Tom McGee, division president at executive recruiting firm Lucas Group. “This is what hiring managers look for when they read a resume.”
Prepare Multiple Versions of Your Resume
“To get a jump on your job search, you should prepare not [just] one, but a few versions of your resume,” said Janou Pakter, founder and CEO of JANOU LLC, an executive search firm. “The different variations of your resume would emphasize the key experiences and traits that specific roles and industries would focus on. You can then use tailor-made base templates depending on the roles you are pursuing.”
Clean Up Your Social Media Presence
“Tidy up social media accounts to best portray yourself in a flattering light,” said Dana Case, director of operations at MyCorporation.com.
If there’s something on your Instagram, Facebook or Twitter that you wouldn’t want your future boss to see, now is the time to delete it. For example, jokes about the pandemic meant to add levity to a very trying time could be misconstrued as a failure to take COVID-19 seriously, advised Ladders. The same goes for posts suggesting you might’ve been lax in following social distancing and masking rules.
Update Your LinkedIn Profile
“It’s a good idea to make sure your LinkedIn profile and job history on other social sites are up-to-date,” Hill said. “Inconsistencies between your resume and online information can seem like dishonesty to potential employers.”
In addition to your job history, you also should have a recent photo and a robust summary on your LinkedIn, said Roger Maftean, a career expert at ResumeLab.
Add Keywords to Your LinkedIn Profile
In addition to making sure your LinkedIn is up to date, work on improving its appeal to recruiters and potential employers.
“I recommend you pepper your LinkedIn profile with relevant keywords … to ensure maximum visibility,” said Michael Tomaszewski, career and workplace expert at Zety. “You might also consider getting LinkedIn Premium for the duration of your job search to send your hirability chances to the moon. The premium subscription will let you enjoy the crème de la crème visibility in search as well as the ability to reach out to any recruiters, no connection necessary.”
Actively Use LinkedIn
Another way to grab the attention of prospective employers is to actively engage with others on LinkedIn. You never know whose attention you’ll get — that could end up being the person who hires you.
“We all know the person who seems to land great jobs without ever searching, but the truth is they’re always looking,” said Michelle Merritt, CEO of Merrfeld Career Management. “Their LinkedIn profiles are both up-to-date and active. They share meaningful content about their industry while engaging in respectful, career-focused discussions with others.”
Create an Online Portfolio
Recruiters likely will ask to see a portfolio of your work, especially if you work in a creative field.
“If you don’t already have an online portfolio and know you’ll need a space to highlight your work, reserve the proper or relevant domain name as your own, and begin adding your work to the website,” Case said.
Determine Who Your References Will Be
Many employers will ask for references, so you should have a sense of who these people will be before you formally begin applying for jobs.
“Decide who your references will be and how you will approach them about being your references,” Hill said. “This is especially important if you’re hesitant to use references from your current job. It’s a good idea to come up with more references than you think you’ll need, in case one of them falls through.”
Research the Industry You Want To Be In
“Get a feel for the way the industry and respective companies function in the world, the services they provide to others and the types of jobs in that industry that could pose as a potential new career,” said Matthew Warzel, president of MJW Careers. “I love using Google News, Google alerts, Salary.com, Glassdoor, Indeed and LinkedIn to uncover industry and job research.”
What you find during your research also can further improve your resume.
“Using this research can be a good way to spot industry and job keywords for the core competencies and summary sections, role responsibilities for the experience section and important transferable contributions for the accomplishments section,” Warzel said.
Reach Out to People in Your Network
“The best possible thing a job seeker can do now to pave their way to a new job in 2020 is to network,” said Krystal Yates, HR expert and founder of EBR Consulting, LLC. “While many people get nervous when they hear that, it doesn’t have to be difficult. Renew your connections and start having conversations about where these people are working and what they are doing. Ask them what you can do for them and do it. When the time comes, you will have a much better idea of who in your network can help and how.”
Ask Friends or Family To Refer You to People They Know, Too
The bigger your network, the better your chances will be of finding a job. Expand your network now so you’ll have more access to job opportunities throughout the year.
“Ask your friends and family if they know anyone who is hiring,” said Ellen Mullarkey, VP of business development for Messina Group, a staffing and recruiting firm. “Personal connections are one of the top ways that people find out about opportunities, so start reaching out to people.”
Use Meetup and Eventbrite To Meet More People in Your Desired Field
Search Eventbrite and Meetup for professional networking events or events where you can socialize informally with people in your ideal industry. Both platforms have been supporting online events since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, so chances are you’ll find get-togethers you can attend virtually.
“[Attending these events is] the most organic and down-to-earth way to network and schmooze,” said Maftean. “It’s imperative that you’re not desperate but rather come off as open to new opportunities.”
Reach Out Personally to People at the Company You Want To Work For
Yaniv Masjedi, chief marketing officer at Nextiva, said he appreciates it when job seekers make an effort to connect with him personally.
“If you find something you want to apply to, spend a few minutes to see if you can figure out who posted the listing or who might be the manager of the department with the opening,” he said. “Then, look for any way you can to get connected to that person. Use LinkedIn to see if you know anyone who’s connected to them and ask for an introduction. If they are active on social media, ‘like,’ comment and share their posts. These are small things, but they will signal to the person that you really are interested in working with them.”
When it comes time to apply, you’ll already have a personal connection with someone at the company.
Set Up Indeed Job Alerts
Setting up alerts on Indeed for jobs you potentially could be interested in is a great way to see what’s out there, and when you’re ready to apply, getting these email alerts can give you a leg up on the competition.
“Once a role is posted that you’re targeting, you will receive an email and ability to apply sooner than other candidates,” Warzel said. “It’s key to get in as early as possible before you fall to the bottom of the pile of resumes.”
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Apply For Jobs You Aren't Qualified For
You shouldn’t apply for every job opening, but if you see an opening at a company you want to work for but your skills aren’t a perfect fit, you should apply for it anyway.
“Don’t limit yourself to only jobs that you feel completely qualified for,” Mullarkey said. “Sometimes, applying for jobs that you aren’t qualified for can help you get your foot in the door. Maybe you aren’t a good fit for that position, but you are a good fit for another position that just opened up. Just by applying, you’ll put your name out there and let the hiring manager know who you are.”
Contact Recruiting Agencies
Recruiters can be an invaluable resource for your upcoming job search.
“Expand your early search strategy by tapping into the wisdom of the crowds and specialists,” said Maftean. “Let them review your resume, give you the latest and greatest from the battle lines, and see what the hiring outlook is for the next three to six months.”
Find Continuing Education Opportunities
“Seek out academic programs that can help train and prepare you for your new role,” Warzel said. “Find job openings and the minimum qualifications in each, identify the possible credentials you may need to better position yourself in this new role and find online institutions [where] you can acquire these credentials.”
Make sure to list any new credentials on your resume once you earn them.
Know What Thought Leaders in the Field Are Talking About
“Look for past or upcoming conferences, and which of the thought leaders or influencers in your space are regularly asked to speak,” said Sarah Doughty, director of recruitment for TalentLab, an IT recruitment company. “If possible, follow them on social media or read their blogs to find out what those at the top of the field are concerned about.”
Live conferences might be off the table for now, but companies and industry groups are still holding virtual events. Adobe, Microsoft and IBM are just a few of the companies that moved their 2020 conferences online.
You can also seek out podcasts about the industry you want to be in, and listen to interviews with thought leaders in the field.
“Top insiders often hear about trends and disruptive changes earlier, and you might be able to use this intel to catch the newest trendy role or hit an interview answer out of the ballpark,” Doughty said.
Talk With Ex-Employees
Reach out to people on LinkedIn who are in your network and have worked at your dream company. They’ll be able to give you invaluable insights that you wouldn’t learn elsewhere.
“No one will give you a more honest review of the company’s culture than a past employee,” Doughty said.
They also might be able to connect you to people who currently work there and might be in a position to pass your resume along.
Come up with a checklist of all the things you need to do to prepare for your job search, and set target dates for achieving each one. This will ensure you’re ready to go when it’s time to apply.
Style Your Video Interview
Many companies are interviewing remotely because of COVID-19. The upside of that is interviewing on your home turf. The challenge is getting yourself and your workspace ready for prime time.
Position your computer in a brightly lit area of your home where the interviewer will see a neat, uncluttered background. Checking your technology well in advance of the interview will give you time to iron out any glitches.
On interview day, dress the part — top and bottom, to be safe. Also, turn off your phone, and remove any other distractions from your work area.
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Daria Uhlig contributed to the reporting for this article.