Aside from the enormous number of victims that COVID-19 has unfortunately produced over the past months, we are witnessing a significant impact on people’s careers all around the globe. In almost all imaginable sectors, employees have been furloughed or laid off, and companies have put hiring on hold. The “survivors” are anxious about keeping the jobs they still have.
Before the disruption, perhaps many people had believed, consciously or unconsciously, that their jobs were safe and stable. Nobody had imagined that things will change so drastically in a matter of weeks. Nevertheless, it’s not the time to give up, as new job ads are appearing every day and hiring activities have increased in certain industries.
First things first…
In times like this, the initial reaction may be of panic. It’s okay to feel that way, but take some time to cope with the stress and assess your situation before starting your job search.
- Use this Stress Management Resource to ground yourself. The World Health Organization has this great publication and short audio clips with exercises for stress management: access them here.
- Identify your fears clearly. Take a piece of paper and make a chart with two columns: write down your specific fears in one column and the actions you’ll take to address each of them in the other column. Use open-ended questions to find the actions: What can I do about this with what I have now? What else can I consider? Who can I talk to about this issue?
- Assess your full financial situation. This must be one of your biggest fears, but again, it’s best to see where you stand by seeing the actual numbers before making rushed decisions. You can check details like: How much cash do I have? What’s my credit card balance? Which payments do I have coming up? What expenses can I cut back? What government assistance is available?
Get yourself ready
Once you’ve done the above, you can put some structure to your days and work on the tools that will help you find your next role.
- Make a schedule for your job search. Having a structure for your day will help you maintain your sanity. Allocate time to search job postings, research companies, network online, and also set aside breaks to rest your mind and body. Tell your plans to those living with you, whether it’s family members, your partner, or room mates. Communicate proactively that you need quiet time for video calls or to take online courses.
- Polish your resume and LinkedIn profile. I cannot stress this enough. If you are in North America, your resume and LinkedIn profile should differentiate you. They are not just a summary of your previous responsibilities and not a copy-paste of job descriptions either. They are tools that show to potential employers what’s in it for them if they hire you. Can you create more value than other job seekers with a similar set of skills and experiences?
- Be prepared to have virtual interviews and coffee chats. Make sure to have update all the required technology and be able to use it without issues when you have opportunities. While Zoom and SkyPe are the most widely used video conferencing tools, are you comfortable using WebEx, MS Teams, JoinIt, GoToMeeting, Zoho and RemoteHQ (just to name a few)?
- Reach out to everyone in your network. Tell everyone you trust that you’re looking for opportunities. There’s no shame in asking for help! Your friends, relatives, past co-workers, etc. may know of opportunities or may be able to refer you to other people.
Approach the job search differently
In a market with less job postings and more candidates, the chances seem lower but it’s important to put your time and energy into opportunities that have the best probabilities of producing results.
Quality instead of quantity
Resist the desperation to apply to anything and everything. Please do not send the same resume to 100 job postings. From my own experience, that’s a waste of time and will lead to more frustration.
If you are finding interesting roles on job boards, take the necessary time to do the following:
- Read the job description in depth and understand the specific value you could add to that specific role and company. Visualize yourself doing that job.
- Apply to the job with a very targeted resume and cover letter. Some career coaches advise against cover letters, but they’re still useful as a differentiator. I’ve been invited to interviews because of what I wrote on the cover letters.
- Find people working at that company and ask for an information interview. I’d recommend reaching out to at least five people on LinkedIn to increase the chances of getting a response. When they are a second-level connection, ask your common contacts to get referred.
If, on the contrary, you can’t find many jobs posted for your specialty or profession, my next advice is…
Research the industries you’re interested in
Find and analyze this information about specific industries:
- How is this industry being impacted by the COVID-19 situation?
- Is the impact only for the short-term or will it continue in the long run too?
- What are the key players in this industry doing to address the crisis?
- What are the changes that these companies are making in order to survive and thrive?
- What are the typical required skills to be successful in the industry?
If the impact on the industry is big, or the current changes imply a lot of upgrades to your skills in order to be considered, you may shift your focus to other industries and carry out the same analysis.
Research specific companies
Once you’ve identified companies with growth potential in your preferred industries, pick 10 or 15 of them and research them thoroughly, whether they have current openings or not.
Here are a few pointers for your research:
- Don’t limit the research to the company website
- Use Google News to get alerts about the companies
- Check the business section of online newspapers
- Ask people who have worked or are working at these companies
Indeed published a great article in February 2020 with more tips to research companies.
I know this is a lot of work, but a thorough research of industries and companies will help you get a realistic picture of what to expect. You will also be able to establish an organized strategy and get focused on your priorities.
While researching, you may find trends and unique opportunities where you can apply your skills and experience.
- What are the customers of these companies saying online?
- Where are the recurring “pain points”?
- Could they possibly deliver products and services in a new way?
- How can you align your skills with these needs?
Use this information to differentiate yourself in your cover letter.
Those who possess the ability to see beyond the status quo could be the unique innovators and creative thinkers that will be invited for interviews.
Know your Story
Even in crisis, the core skills of knowing yourself and communicating your value remain essential.
Keep believing that you are worthy and you’ll provide a lot of value to your future employer.
Take time to review your own attributes and find stories where you demonstrated them.
- Personal values: What are my values? How did they align with my previous jobs or professional activities? How have I exhibited them with my team or my clients?
- Motivations: What do I most enjoy in a job? In what types of work do I excel at?
- Strengths: What are my top 3 strengths? How have I used them in my past jobs?
- Improvement areas: What are my areas for further improvement and development? What feedback have I received in the past?
- Career achievements: What are the top career achievements I am most proud of? Can I convey them clearly in 2–3 minutes?
- Learning moments: What choices have I made in the past that have led me to where I am today?
Should I go back to school?
Many people have asked me this lately. I always reply with, “How are you going to apply that education in your target roles?”
Don’t just enroll in courses because you cannot find anything else to do. While education is important and companies value it, it will not protect you from recessions. You have to find out how you’ll apply the knowledge to create unique value for a potential employer.
If an additional certificate, diploma or degree will enhance your abilities to create value, go ahead and do it, keeping in mind that you’ll be investing money as well as time. But education by itself does not guarantee getting employment.
Free online courses
As an alternative, you can seek to upgrade yourself through free courses offered by prestigious universities such as Harvard and MIT.
As a result of the crisis, these skills and traits have become more important than ever: written and verbal communication, time management, change management, leading remote teams, customer focus, flexibility, adaptability, resilience, etc. Assess how you have demonstrated these skills in the past, and be ready to answer related questions.
Hiring managers want to bring in people who can make a difference to their bottom line.
You differentiate yourself by demonstrating that everything you possess (education, skills, experience and personality) is relevant to the job, team, department, and the whole company.
If the hiring manager sees clearly what you can potentially achieve results with what you have, you’ll get hired in a tough market.
Rally your Cheerleaders
Lastly, keep your motivation up! We can be our harshest critics, and during difficult times, we go through a huge roller coaster where anxiety and fear come back frequently.
Get out of your own head and call a trusted friend or loved one. Message them and hop on a call or video chat to tell them your lows. They will likely be able to cheer you on and provide you with the support you need.
I sincerely hope that everyone reading this gets back on their feet soon. This too shall pass and we’re in it together!