With the national unemployment rate hovering at around 6.2 percent – nearly double its pre-pandemic rate – many are discouraged by the increased competition for good jobs, but there are indications that the unemployment rate is (slowly) trending downward. As the vaccine rollout continues to go well and more workplaces are starting to cautiously reopen for in-person work and customer-facing interactions – the unemployment rate should continue to improve. Below are some tips on navigating this complex era in order to find fulfilling work opportunities.
1. Be patient and understand that may take a while. While the economy is opening up, companies are understandably leery about the future horizon. This reticence is likely to cause delays in the hiring process as some organizations weigh input such as COVID case counts, consumer confidence and stock market trends and government regulations as they seek to acquire more employees. The more willing you are to apply for multiple jobs simultaneously, the more likely you are to keep up your spirits and ultimately secure gainful employment. Be selective but set a realistic goal to apply for at least two jobs per week.
2. Pay close attention to your online presence, starting with LinkedIn. Now more than ever, hiring managers are scoping out your online presence, including personal social media accounts like Instagram or Facebook. It may not seem fair, but it’s the world we live in now. Start by polishing your LinkedIn profile, making a point to optimize it to match you with appropriate positions, and then move on from there. Google yourself and put yourself into the headspace of a hiring manager. (Also, read the room – a trendy recording company may be less concerned about the Jägermeister shot-fest you enjoyed at your class reunion last year than a finance corporation.) If you are particular about your privacy, be clear about the privacy options for all of your social media sites (including LinkedIn). Facebook, for instance, allows you to limit the visibility of posts and images to people who are not technically your Facebook “friends.”
3. Pay attention to COVID policies of the companies you are applying to. Not all companies are as COVID-compliant as they should be. Closely review the website of prospective employers to ensure that they are responding to the pandemic precautions responsibly and continuing to update their online presence with relevant COVID-related policies.
4. Be clear about expectations for remote work. As with COVID policies, not all employers are adhering responsibly to mandates and guidelines for keeping employees and customers safe. If you would like the flexibility to continue to work from home until you feel safe enough to return to the workplace, you may need to enquire about their expectations as the world starts to re-open. If you know people who work at a company (or know people who know people), see what you can find out about their remote work sensibilities. (Not all work allows for this potential, I realize, but if it does, try to make your feelings on the matter clear.)
5. Tailor your resume for remote collaboration and independent work expectations. Even if your work is conducted primarily in-person, you will set yourself apart by highlighting the technologies and social skills you’ve acquired to improve your ability to collaborate and contribute remotely. My blog post Augmenting Your Resume for Online Collaboration and Remote Work provides tips on how to do so.
6. Continue to network to find possibilities. Don’t fall back on the lame “no one is hosting events now” excuse for failing to network. You can still use LinkedIn to ask for introductions and informational interviews or simply set up a Zoom meeting with people from whom you can learn or expand your possibilities. Sharpen up your elevator pitch and tell people what you are looking for. You never know who might be connected to your next amazing opportunity. Don’t believe me? Watch this 3.5-minute Ted Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=garadDEgkwU
7. Be clear about your own expectations to returning to an in-person office setting. You may be thinking, “I can hardly wait to work with actual people again in an uncluttered, grownup, dog-not-whining-to-be-taken-on-a-walk, kid-free office,” but once you are fully expected to rejoin the workaday world, it will most likely be a huge adjustment. Be honest with yourself about your own preferences for a work setting. Think deeply about your ideal work setting, asking yourself if you would potentially prefer to continue to work from home a two or three days a week. Ask yourself what you have enjoyed about working from home (assuming you have been) and what you haven’t. If you might like to pursue a hybrid or fully remote work situation, search for a job that will accommodate your work setting ideal.
8. If you find that you enjoy remote work, consider finding job on websites like remote.co and flexjobs.com. There are companies that have hired remote positions since before the pandemic (and others that have decided to shift many positions to remote), expanding your geographic possibilities as well as your intimate workplace. You can find jobs like this on job search websites like remote.co and flexjobs.com. Even LinkedIn and Idealist.org let you filter jobs for remote positions.
9. Realize that phone and Zoom job interviews are a given. While phone interviews are nothing new, they are pretty standard for first-interview screenings these days, and video interviews over Zoom were becoming increasingly common even before COVID catalyzed our reliance on online communication. For tips on how to navigate Zoom interviews, check out 7 Tips for Zoom Job Interviews (and Other Stressful Video Calls). Practice makes perfect – even more than it does with most interviews. You will have to work harder to project your personality, so practice on Zoom with the camera on without creating or joining a meeting first. It will feel a little silly, I agree, but if you gain some confidence with seeing yourself on screen, you will feel less self-conscience in the actual online interview.
10. Ask questions about COVID safety and tech support. It has been over a year since companies have had to scramble and set up their employees for success who work from home, so they really have no excuse for failing to offer sufficient tech support to their remote staff. Reflect on frustrations you have experienced in past or present remote work experiences and speak to colleagues well-versed in remote work to ask for ideas of questions to ask in the interview about their ability and willingness to support remote workers experiencing technical challenges.
These questions need to be asked carefully so that you avoid giving the impression that you are not technologically adept. Resist the urge to blame your age or your own struggles with setting up your DVD player – you don’t want to give them the impression that you will be high maintenance or a drain on the IT department. You are merely on a fact-finding mission to determine their willingness to tech support they offer when technological issues arise. The goal is to still demonstrate a proactive sensibility. A question like, “Are there specific staff members I can contact in case I need to update software for remote conferencing?” sounds better than, “What will I do if I can’t figure out how to connect with Microsoft Teams?” Fill your own knowledge gaps with resources like tech-minded friends and instructional websites like Lynda.com.
11. If you like your company, consider finding another position within the organization. Unless you are completely disenchanted with your work culture, there is a lot to be said for finding a role that is more challenging or engaging with your current company. Network among your colleagues to see if there are upcoming opening in a department in which you have a strong interest. While it’s not impossible to find work, the COVID era makes looking for work more challenging than ever. There are obstacles involving the heavy reliance on Zoom interviews contribute to the added challenge of truly getting a sense of another company’s values and ethos from a remote vantage point. By the same token, if you are really committed to finding work at a new company, think deeply about the environment you hope to find as you prepare to send out resumes. Journal about: a.) your ideal colleagues, b.) your ideal boss, and (as mentioned earlier) c.) your ideal work setting (both as an intimate work area and a collaborative work site). This will clarify your thoughts about what you are seeking and should stimulate ideas about questions to ask about a prospective employer’s ecosystem, so to speak. For instance, if you value highly collaborative workplaces, ask something about the technology tools that the company uses to collaborate or about management strategies commonly employed to facilitate or direct teamwork tactics like brainstorming, project scheduling or strategic planning. By reading body language and deciphering the readiness to answer these types of culture-relevant questions, you will discover clues about psychosocial characteristics of a work environment that will inform whether the company is a place where you will thrive and prosper.
Kristin Schuchman, MSW is a career counselor based in Portland, Oregon who works with creative and mission-driven professionals. She writes resumes and coaches individuals seeking support for career indecision, next steps, work re-entry, advancement, and work-life-balance. She offers a free 30-minute Zoom or phone session and presently works with clients remotely. You can find her books The DIY Website Workbook and Jump Start: How to redirect a career that has stalled, lost direction or reached a crossroads on Amazon.