If you’re currently in the midst of a job search during the pandemic, you are likely facing much uncertainty. Should you wait out the storm before transitioning? If you have been laid off, are companies even hiring right now? And if they are, how do you set yourself apart from the thousands of other job seekers currently saturating the market?
With all the uncertainty swirling around, there are some definitive truths about the job search process. Read on to learn how to give yourself a competitive advantage in a job search during a pandemic.
Tip #1: Develop a Timeline
How urgently do you need a job? If you’re already employed but miserable, you’ve got to weigh the pros and cons of making a career change. The nice thing about searching when you’re already employed is that it’s likely not as urgent. Are you currently employed? Before you jump ship, my advice is to take some time to really figure out what you want in the next phase of your career.
If you have been laid off and your economic situation is more urgent, you might not have the luxury to soul-search. You might need money like, yesterday. If this is the case, then you might consider not searching for that “perfect job” right away. Instead you can find a “good enough for now” job. Or you might also consider taking a position outside your field. When I was juggling caring for kids and job searching, I decided at one point in my career to take a position outside my field. It was flexible and the hours were perfect, so I made a compromise on the nature of the work.
Another great option is to do temp, contract, or freelance work until you get something more permanent. This option keeps money flowing in while allowing you to network, sharpen your skills and avoid large resume gaps.
Tip #2: Network Like Your Job Depends on It
The job market is over-saturated right now. Thousands of people are competing for the same jobs. I am not writing this to discourage you.
These statistics demonstrate that you need to set yourself apart from those thousands of other job seekers. And you do this by networking and tapping into the hidden job market, i.e., jobs that never even get posted.
LinkedIn is an incredible professional networking platform. If you’re not already on it, it’s free and only takes a few minutes to create a profile. From there you can add personal and professional contacts and join industry-specific groups to build your network.
I’ll give you an example. Let’s say you are targeting public relations positions. LinkedIn has groups like “Public Relations & Communications Professionals” and “Public Relations Specialists,” to name just two out of hundreds of groups related to PR. Once you join groups, be sure to share relevant articles and comment on and like others’ posts.
When you get more comfortable on LinkedIn you can reach out to professionals working at your targeted companies and ask for informational interviews. Informational interviews are short 15-20 minute conversations where you ask questions like: How did you get started in your field? What do you like (and not like) about your job? What are the biggest challenges facing XYZ industry?
Remember to always be gracious when networking. Make the conversation about your contact, not about what they can do for you. Send a nice thank you note after the interview and follow up every couple months or so. It also never hurts to offer to help out your contacts. For example, in a thank you note you could write something like:
“Thanks so much for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me about XYZ Company. Your job sounds really interesting. You mentioned the challenges you are facing with growing your social media presence. I have experience with Facebook marketing if you want me to give a short presentation to your team.”
Tip #3: Stay Current & Connected
To help with your job search during the pandemic, set up a Google alert on your targeted companies. This will give you valuable insights regarding what the companies are focusing on as well as demonstrating you are informed during the interview. In addition, follow employers of interest on social media platforms like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram. If your targeted organization has a merger or unveils a new product, you want to be aware. You can use this information to send a prospecting letter to a company of interest. A prospecting letter is where you contact an employer about a job that doesn’t exist (yet).
When writing a prospecting letter, you are basically introducing yourself and how you can be of value to an employer. Specifically, you want to highlight your relevant skills, experience, and potential value-add. If you have learned about a new contract a company has received, for example, you can also mention this in your letter. Here is an example of an opening paragraph of a prospecting letter:
“I follow XYZ company on LinkedIn and was excited to learn about the acquisition of XYZ contract. With my background in ______ and ______, I feel I could make a significant contribution to this new program by applying my knowledge of _________________.“
You can also impress the hiring manager in an interview by demonstrating you’re up to date on industry and company-specific trends.
Tip #4: Sharpen Your Skills
The description of your dream job lists UX design as a necessary skill. You could simply lie about not being familiar or not even applying for the job. Or you could jump on YouTube where there are literally thousands of free tutorials on every subject you can think of.
Need some more formal training or certification? Local community colleges offer low-cost, high quality certification and training programs online. Online learning platforms like Skillshare, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning are other low-cost, flexible ways to develop skills and expertise!
Try volunteering to get some experience in your targeted field. Catchafire and VolunteerMatch are both organizations that offer virtual volunteer jobs.
Tip #5: Target Your Resume
Once you figure out what your current career goal is, you want to tailor your resume to every single position you apply for. You might be thinking: why do I have to tailor a different resume to every job? What if I am applying for many jobs within the same industry?
Even if you are applying for similar jobs, every job has a very specific list of skills and qualifications, including keywords.
Print out the job description and highlight all the keywords and qualifications the employer is seeking. Next, do a “background check” of all of your related skills, qualifications, and accomplishments and be sure to include these items throughout your resume.
If you don’t have a specific skill that’s listed in the job description, brainstorm similar transferable skills. For example, let’s say the position calls for human resources experience. You haven’t worked in HR specifically, but you can browse human resources job postings to see related transferable skills. For example, written and oral communication, attention to detail, and efficiency are all important skills for HR professionals to possess.
On your resume don’t just list the skills, but give specific examples of how you have acquired them. For example: “Edited over 200 technical manuscripts in a six month period.” This demonstrates your strong editing and written communication skills, as well as attention to detail.
Once you get one well-written draft of your resume, updating and targeting it will become easier and less time-consuming!
Although stressful, doing a job search during a pandemic can be successful with the right tools and information. Take things one step at a time! Give yourself daily, weekly, and monthly goals and corresponding action items. Checking items off your list daily will give you a sense of accomplishment and help you celebrate the small victories and progress.
You might find yourself taking a pay cut to enter into a new field. Or you might decide to wait out the storm in your current job. Whichever route you take, remember that it’s just a step in your career journey. If you keep the right mindset, you can take advantage and gain valuable skills and experience that you can add to your resume. You can then leverage this experience to take the next step in your career when you’re ready.