The coronavirus pandemic began as a potential health crisis and has now become an economic force majeure, bringing on a tidal wave of job losses unlike anything we’ve seen in modern history.
One in five Americans are unemployed and one out of every four workers in Canada are now jobless. Those numbers don’t even include people whose hours and income have been reduced.
Millennials who graduated into or after the recession of 2007-2009 found a job market that was particularly tough on the youngest workers, but the situation right now might actually be much worse.
That doesn’t mean you should stop looking though—quite the opposite in fact. But your approach to landing your next gig or position needs to be different than it was pre-pandemic. Here’s the expert advice you need to stand out when literally millions of others are job hunting too.
What’s it like searching for a job right now?
The bad news is that it’s a tough market right now, with a lot of competition for less roles than were available right before the pandemic hit. According to Dorianne St Fleur, a San Francisco-based career coach, your job search may take a lot longer.
“The hiring process has slowed down. Companies are extending start dates. You may get an offer but won't start for another two or three months. A lot of companies have stopped hiring altogether or frozen their processes,” she said. “Acknowledge and understand that this is a unique time. Lags or delays in your job search or career aren’t your fault.”
St Fleur says there’s “collective stress and trauma during this crisis” affecting everyone, from job seekers to people doing the hiring and a little patience goes a long way.
With most everything in some state of lockdown or in the early stages of re-opening, there are some advantages. If you’re working from home with less oversight, it’s easier to spruce up your resume, hunt for job openings, and attend interviews.
St Fleur says recruiters, hiring managers, and other people you’d like to talk to are more available. “This Tuesday, I reached out to someone on LinkedIn and within five minutes, she responded and we set up a meeting for Thursday. I don't think that would have been the case if things were normal,” she said.
Another phenomenon that St Fleur has seen is that companies are more open than ever to remote workers so your options aren’t as limited by where you live.
If you have burning questions about budgeting, debt, or bills, send them to email@example.com.
What should I do if I’m employed but looking for my next job?
Unless the environment you work in is toxic, you need to prioritize keeping your current job and source of income, with time left over to dedicate to searching for your next one.
“Be good at your job. You don’t have to be a rock star and overachieve but at least do enough to avoid getting fired,” said St Fleur. “And then be deliberate and strategic about carving out time to search.” If you’re not in the office take advantage of breaks and downtime to look for openings, improve your resume, and set up informal interviews like a coffee chat over Zoom instead of in person.
According to Dan Schawbel, the managing partner of Workplace Intelligence, a Boston-based HR advisory firm, candidates who are employed have an edge over ones that are jobless because hiring managers view them as more valuable. Schawbel suggests examining your current job and writing down what you like and what you can’t stand about it.
“Reflect on what you really want and narrow down your job search as you focus on getting those benefits, those offerings, that leader, that you’re looking for. It’s a good thing because you’re still making an income but you have insight on what you want for your next job,” he said.
I think I’m about to be laid off. Help!
The first step is figuring out whether a layoff really is imminent, or if you’re just scared because things are so different and the future is a big question mark.
St Fleur suggests having a conversation with your manager about your concerns, but take what they tell you with a grain of salt.
“Keep in mind that your manager may or may not tell you the truth or the whole story. But once you have that conversation and assess the probability of being laid off, act accordingly. If you feel unsettled with the answer that was given, then get going on your search. Tap into your network so that at a moment’s notice you’re able to jump ship,” she said.
Look for other clues, such as what’s happening to others in your industry. If you’re in a field that hasn’t been impacted much, or is growing because of the pandemic, then try not to worry. St Fleur acknowledges that it’s hard to be at your best if you’re stressed and worried about the unknown though.
Schawbel suggests communicating a lot more with your managers and making sure that even if you’re out of sight because you’re not in the same physical location as they are, that you’re not out of mind. He also says to be prepared to be let go even if you are a model employee.
“Some of this is out of your control and if your department is getting nixed, recognize that you could be laid off no matter what else you do for that employer,” he said.
How do I approach the job search if I’ve been laid off?
You need to go all in on your search if you’re currently unemployed. St Fleur says that grieving for your past job, and life, is important, but if you can’t let go it could hinder your ability to hunt and get hired. “Get your mindset in check even though it’s tempting to wallow. Take the time you need to process and then move on,” she said.
Competition is stiff right now, but understanding for your current situation is also at an all-time high according to Schawbel. “There is more empathy right now than there was before the recession—it’s almost like you don’t have to tell the story of why you’re unemployed—there’s an understanding that we’re all enduring something unprecedented,” he said.
One effective and relatively new approach that he’s seeing more of is announcing your layoff, along with a description of your skillset and what you’re looking for, on social media.
“It’s not necessarily your first degree network that will hire you. You’ll post and in the comments someone will tag a few friends in their network and you’ll be connected and start talking. The stigma is pretty much gone right now with so many people unemployed so it should give you the confidence to put yourself out there,” he said.
St Fleur recommends using social media during your job hunt by joining industry Facebook groups, attending and meeting people at virtual events. Being active on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn to showcase your skills and experience helps too.
She suggests doing a test run of what recruiters or your next boss might learn about you by having other people search for your name on other devices. If nothing comes up, she suggests beefing up your online presence by creating a strong LinkedIn profile as well as a personal website. If pictures from a rowdy bachelorette party come up, or anything that casts you in a less than professional light, adjust your privacy settings accordingly.
Your job search should focus on positions that are right for you as opposed to applying for everything in sight because that will lead to frustration. St Fleur suggests going through postings and looking for keywords that match your interests, abilities, and experience. She also says to keep transferable skills in mind.
“A stage actor is comfortable with public speaking and capturing attention, and in-person speaking engagements are done for now, but speaking at virtual events is on the rise,” she said. “Maybe a writer can be a tutor. If someone can help me with homeschooling, I would love that. And I had a massage therapist who pivoted to teaching other massage therapists how to build contactless business like yoga through Zoom.”
Schawbel suggests lowering your expectations, your standards, and maybe even your hourly wage. Under normal circumstances, working for free can lead to the most vulnerable getting taken advantage of by employers, and that’s something to be on guard against. But because of the state of the current job market, unpaid work should be considered if it gives you experience and leads to employment.
A few gigs or small projects can help you get by for the next little while and look good on your resume. Schawbel suggests freelance sites such as Upwork.
St Fleur also recommends using this time to learn new skills or upgrade your existing ones. She says that sites like Udemy and Coursera offer free or low-cost options.
Should I settle for any job right now?
A job that you don’t hate, that gives you a somewhat steady paycheque or income stream to get you through what may be one of the harshest job markets of your lifetime, is enough for now.
“There should be one or two non negotiables for you, whether it’s around pay or scope of work, or culture,” says St Fleur. That may mean working for a company that you wouldn’t have joined pre-pandemic, or taking a big pay cut. “But also have an exit strategy for when things open up and how you’re going to get yourself back to where you need to be.”
Schawbel says to reframe “settling” as an opportunity to try things out. “My best piece of career advice overall is do the most you can, the earliest in your life as possible. Figure out what you like and don’t like. Do you want to be an entrepreneur, freelancer, what industry do you like?” he said. “I spent my 20s figuring out all of that and that’s why people should be optimistic. Experimentation and trying new things leads to self-discovery and focus.”
Follow Anne Gaviola on Twitter.