Adjust your strategy and get hired—here's how.

By Lindsay Tigar
June 26, 2020
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With a staggering unemployment rate—around 21 million were jobless by the end of May—finding a job right now may feel like an impossible feat. After all, if many companies had to lay off or furlough their employees, how can they onboard new hires? And if a business is in a favorable position to grow its team, how can you stand out from the mile-high stack of applicants?

First things first: Take a breath.

Though it’s undoubtedly a difficult time to change gigs, there are still job opportunities out there. While it may feel like an unusual time to seek a new job, companies are hiring for full- and part-time positions, as well as looking for other ways to expand their offerings, says Kristen Keats, entrepreneur, career expert, and CEO and founder of Breakaway Bookkeeping + Advising.

To help clarify some of the biggest quarantine career questions, we spoke with several experts and career coaches for the 101 guide to continuing (or beginning) your career in the middle of a pandemic.

What Impresses Hiring Managers?

Tasked with the responsibility of bringing in new talent, hiring managers look through everyone who throws their hat into the ring, and decide who moves on to the next stage. As a job-seeker, it’s your goal to wow them with your resume and cover letter. To grab the attention of hiring managers and recruiters right now, it’s important to strategize your resume, experience, and overall approach to job searching. Here’s what recruiters are really looking for.

Those who are self-motivated.

As a job-seeker, you should be keeping an eye out for more freelance gigs or remote-work openings right now. But regardless of what type of role you’re after, Keats says hiring managers pay attention to candidates who appear to be self-starters. Why?

Since there’s no exact timeline for when headquarters will formally open, companies have to bring in professionals who are not only comfortable working from home, but excel in the practice. “They need reliable employees on staff who don’t need to be in an office to get their work done,” Keats says. “They need to be able to trust that a new hire is self-sufficient and disciplined enough to work from home or the office.”

Those who demonstrate flexibility.

It’s actually in your best interest to convey how you’ve reacted during the crisis, says industrial-organizational psychology practitioner and workplace expert Amy Cooper Hakim, PhD. More than ever, employees who can roll with the punches and remain positive are valued by companies.

“Hiring managers want to hire someone agreeable and comfortable making last-minute changes. Resiliency is incredibly important since recruits need to push hard even when things don’t go as promised or as planned,” Hakim explains.

Those who are tech-savvy.

Consider this your reminder to study up on Zoom fundamentals—and ensure you have the best possible internet connection at home. And if you haven’t tested Slack? Get to it. While Keats says you don’t need to know every tech tool under the sun, you will stand out if you're familiar and comfortable with the big players.

“Being tech-savvy is critical here as people are remote and more applications and tools are being moved online or to the cloud,” she says. The last mistake you want to make is dialing into an interview, and the hiring manager can’t understand what you’re saying, causing them to lose interest instantly.

Those who communicate effectively.

These days, there’s no such thing as over-communication. With distance separating many executives from their teams, recruiters pay attention to how potential employees speak, deal with virtual discussions, and how they adjust to changing circumstances. To demonstrate this, Keats says to verbalize everything: your hobbies and interests, your qualifications with specific examples, your at-home office set up, and so on. 

How You Can Stand Out Virtually?

When you’ve moved on to the interview round, prepare for part two of impressing hiring managers. Since you can’t meet-and-greet in person, you’ll need to take a few steps to set yourself apart virtually. (Hint: Time to sit up straight).

Address the interviewer by name.

Seems simple enough, right? Surprisingly, it’s not a common practice, so it stands out, says Heather Livingston, MA, NCC, a career counselor for the University of Phoenix. Not only will they remember you said their name before speaking to them, but it’ll also help you memorize their name. “Be a good listener and pay attention to the conversation so you can respond effectively and mirror the conversation with those to whom you’re speaking and engaging with,” she recommends.

It also helps to share relatable experiences. Show genuine interest in what the other person is saying since it adds value to the conversation and builds trust. This means you should always thoroughly research your interviewer before you dial in.

Set up the scene. 

Though we are all navigating unprecedented times, it’s probably not a stellar idea to have your dirty laundry within view in a Zoom interview. And as much as you can, try to remove any potential interruptions for the duration of your session. As Keats puts it, the small details show your professionalism, and they are a reflection of your interest in the company. “Choose a neutral background and make sure your space is well-lit with natural light. Test with a family member or friend to make sure nothing is distracting in your view,” she recommends. “Avoid wearing blue light reducing glasses while on a video call, as the glare can distract and obscure your face.”

Ask good questions.

With remote interviewing, you’ll likely never see the inside of the company’s office before accepting the job, says Samantha Friedman, the senior vice president of people strategy at Vettery. This means asking something like, “What is the company culture like?” as an end-of-interview question can fall flat. Instead, she recommends posing more pointed questions that showcase your prior research and interest to make informed decisions about the opportunity.

What to Avoid

When a marketplace is inundated with ambitious professionals, a seemingly minor mishap can make or break your chances of receiving an offer letter. That’s why it’s vital to tread carefully and watch your language, actions, and habits.

Don’t forget to send a thank-you.

Just because you’re meeting virtually, doesn’t mean that anyone’s time is less valuable, Keat says. (It could actually be viewed as more precious, since many professionals now balance work and life under the same roof.) Keats recommends sending a thank-you email, which, given the circumstances, is sufficient and conveys your sentiment. “Reach out to all those you interviewed with, not just the top-level or the recruiter,” she adds.

Don’t be a nag.

While, yes, it’s OK to follow up when you’re excited about an opportunity, there’s a fine line between eager and irritating. Livingston suggests waiting at least one week until sending a ‘touching base’ email. And if you do, ensure your message is both professional and respectful. Many companies’ budgets, processes, and current staff responsibilities have been shifting over the last few months. So, while of course you’re ready to get hired, be patient and adjust your expectations accordingly.

Don’t set unrealistic goals.

While it’s essential only to seek jobs that would challenge and ignite you, Hakim recommends being more practical with your goals right now. “While you may wish to land a job immediately, this will likely not happen. You may find the ideal position right away, but don’t expect it. Rather, plan to spend more time sending out resumes and interviewing before landing your big break,” she says.

How to Figure Out Who’s Hiring

Let’s say, after applying for several openings, going through the interview process, and following up on the status, you’re left with crickets. Unfortunately, ghosting is as much a part of career advancement as it is of dating. Rather than feeling like your searches always come up fruitless, try these tactics to find more gigs.

Go straight to the company’s website.

Rather than endlessly searching online job postings, make a list of every company you’ve dreamt of joining. You can go to their ‘careers’ section and scout out directly any open positions that fit your experience. Hakim also suggests seeking out professional organizations in your industry that share openings. As an example, she says the Society for Human Resource Management has a popular job board with HR-related opportunities. 

Turn to social media.

And this means every channel you can think of, Keats says. Many companies will post about available positions on social platforms before paying to add it to job feeds. There are also tons of social media guided newsletters that scour hashtags and collect openings. Subscribe to appropriate ones for your industry, like those found in this list

Tap into your LinkedIn network, too. “Send messages to your connections, asking if their companies are hiring. One note can go a long way,” Keats says. “Reach out to family, friends, and former colleagues for informational interviews. This allows you to explore new positions you might not know exist, plus form a connection to tap if you’re interested in pursuing.”

Leverage the nationwide support for the class of 2020.

If you’re a recent graduate, keep your momentum going strong this summer by participating in any activities you can—whether it’s a paid position, volunteer work, or an internship, says Nicholas Wyman, the CEO of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation. “These things will help you build useful skills to assist you during your job search,” he says. “Consider modern apprenticeships, which are a great way to combine work and study, and can present great opportunities for further useful and applicable education that you can take into the workforce full-time.”

Finally, a huge resource for recent grads—always, but especially right now—will be to leverage their alumni networks, college and/or high school. Contact your school’s career center and ask them to make connections for you, if that's more comfortable for you. If you find an alum doing something that fascinates you, reach out. Send an email or LinkedIn message (don’t forget to mention your school connection!) and politely ask if you can take 15 of their time for an informational phone call. The worst they could say is no. Even if their company isn’t hiring at the moment, they’ll have friends, colleagues, friends of friends they can point you to for more help.