Job Searching During the Pandemic

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The word “unprecedented” has pretty much run its course. I feel like everything in the last year has been without precedent, and people are using the term so much it’s starting to lose its luster. We need a new way to describe how the world has flipped upside down and we’re all experiencing life in ways we never would have expected. Maybe “inconceivable.” Could you have conceived of the 2020 plotline back in 2019?

It’s certainly inconceivable that anyone would be looking for a job right now and feeling super optimistic about their chances. The unemployment rate is in the teens, and even as some jobs have come back, many were lost as quickly as they returned. Lots of businesses never got the chance to reopen and surging virus numbers have places shuddering their doors again. COVID-19 has not gone away as we all would have liked, extending our doubts about how the economic recovery will go.

So where does that leave the average American who’s looking for work? Every job searching tip you got six months ago doesn’t really apply anymore. Go door to door dropping resumes? Not if all those doors are locked and there’s no one inside. Head to the job fair? Not if the job fair has been canceled due to health concerns.

It’s easy to feel a little despondent during these times. Our best-laid plans have been thrown out the window and now we have to figure out our next steps when the future looks vague at best and bleak at worst.

Without ignoring the hardships anyone is experiencing, I still try to keep a positive outlook. It’s the hard times that test our grit and make us stronger. If you lost your job or are a recent college grad looking to start your career, you have no choice but to shake things up and reconsider how you hunt for a job. If you get creative and stay determined, there’s no reason why you can’t make lemonade out of all these 2020 lemons.

1. Determine the Urgency of the Situation

We’re experiencing different levels of strife on different ends of the economy. Some people have their needs met by unemployment checks and might be okay waiting until the fall to get back into the workplace. Some hospitality workers might need the money but shouldn’t risk the exposure. Others might use this time to consider a career change.

Earning a living is always an urgent matter, but you have to weigh all the variables to determine what’s most pressing. If your bank account is headed toward zero and unemployment checks are about to end, you can’t afford to push off the search. However, if you have a lot of health issues already, it’s not worth the risk. If you can comfortably buy time, you might benefit from waiting for the new positions that will undoubtedly open up as industries adjust to these evolving times.

Let’s break it into three potential categories with different levels of urgency.

1. Need work ASAP

2. Need work by the fall

3. Need a job to get out of mom and dad’s basement

In the first case, you have no priority above employment. Bills are due, food is needed, and putting everything on a credit card just makes the future that much harder. If you feel like you’re in category number one, jump on down to the next section. Start the application process and don’t let up until you’re employed.

For a seasonal worker or someone with a good security net, there’s a little time to consider the best route. Businesses are reorganizing from the top down. The skillset you’ve used inside an office building could soon be needed for a remote position, or an entirely new department in an industry you’d never considered could end up being a perfect fit. When summer ends and schools resume - in whatever capacity that may be - you could find an unexpected opportunity. Don’t get complacent and waste time or money, but don’t let panic drive your decision making.

Lastly, the recent college or high school graduate whose plans of making a big splash have been put on hold, don’t get discouraged. You’re not back in your childhood bedroom because of any sort of failure, and your generation will lead America into the future beyond COVID-19. Do your best not to be a burden on your parents, but take your time to assess and figure out the next best step. Goals always change and adapt over time; you’re just getting a headstart on reworking your aspirations.

Everyone has the right to feel overwhelmed and underwater right now. I looked back at a post I wrote six months ago about 20 things to be excited for in 2020 and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. If you’re racked with fear every hour of the day, try to take a step back and think of the small, practical moves you can make to get things back on track. Looking at the big picture might be too much to handle. Understand your level of urgency and then try to take things day by day.

2. Use the “Good” Internet

There are two ways to be online. One way is looking for jobs, networking with people, learning and preparing yourself for a rapidly changing work environment.

The other is reading about all the bad news, fighting with strangers about divisive topics, and wasting time while you feel worse and worse about yourself.

Only one of those options will help you find a job.

More and more workers are starting careers at home, being forced to manage their own time while sitting in the same chair they use for weekend Zoom calls with family. It can be a big mental leap to try and work efficiently when all the comforts of your home are within reach. It’s also much easier to get distracted by the “bad” internet. If you’re searching for a job but not yet on the clock, it’s even more likely you’ll end up on the wrong websites.

What’s the secret for using the right internet? It’s tricky, because there’s no switch to flip. You have to put productivity over procrastination and serve as your own oversight manager. In my experience, it’s useful to get really detailed with your schedule, blocking out 10-15 minute chunks within every hour to get up from the computer, get some water or a snack, send some texts, and then dive back into serious work. If you just have a general plan to work from nine to noon, you might find it’s eleven and you still haven’t done anything.

Once you commit to productivity, you need to know what sites will help you actually make headway in your job search. Instead of your usual go-to social media sites, head to LinkedIn where you’re more likely to see job postings. If you get discouraged in your job search, see what free educational videos or live conferences are available. One of the very few silver linings of the pandemic has been the amount of free information and material made available online. Brilliant people are handing out their ideas and secrets just because they’ve got nothing else to keep them busy.

Try posting on Facebook to see if any friends or family members have had success finding work. Sometimes all it takes is a well-phrased question and someone will come back at you with a useful resource or, better still, a specific job you should apply for.

The usual job boards are always a good place to start, but those might be overwhelmed with other hopeful applicants. Make sure to mix it up by networking with personal contacts. You always have a leg up when someone you know is looking to hire, so take advantage of that whenever possible.

All of these options live in the good internet, which is just a few steps away from the bad internet. If you find yourself lost in a rabbit hole of Amazon shopping and excessive news consumption, you’ve gone too far and you need to get back to the good part of town. It’s easy to lie to yourself and claim you were looking for jobs while you mostly just scrolled through Instagram, but that dishonesty gets you no closer to finding work.

3. Contact the Old Contacts

You know who might have a job for you? That place you used to work in high school that you haven’t thought about in years. Or the office where you applied but never got an interview. Or your old roommate’s startup that’s been steadily growing and now needs someone to manage the e-store.

Our natural aversion to regression sometimes keeps us from taking smart steps, as though it’s bad to return to an old employer. As long as you didn’t burn the bridge, you should have every confidence that your previous company - assuming it’s still up and running - might welcome you back in a new position. If there isn’t anything available, perhaps your old boss will make a referral to help you find work somewhere else.

No one will question why you’re out of work in today’s climate. You can reach out to anyone and everyone with complete confidence that they’ll be understanding of your situation and want to help if possible. Are there jobs around every corner waiting to be filled? Sadly, there aren’t. However, that can’t keep you from reaching out and asking. Opportunity often strikes when and where we least expect it, but you have to be willing to look.

Ask your friends, your parents’ friends, the mothers and fathers of your children’s friends. Sometimes when I need something and I’m not sure where or how to get it, I just start scrolling through my phone, looking at all the names of the contacts I’ve built over the years. More often than not, I find someone who didn’t come to mind right away but ends up being the perfect person to call.

When we need a job, everyone tells us to network. We hear time and time again that networking is the most important thing any professional can do. There’s a whole lot of truth to that, but you need to remember that you’ve been networking for a long time already. Every name in your phone, every past employer, every client whose email address still lives in your computer - those people are in your network. It’s great to keep making new contacts, but don’t forget to check in with the old ones to see who might be able to help.

4. School Yourself

While you look for a job, businesses across the globe are looking for ways to stay competitive. Small business owners are trying to decide whether or not to make massive changes and studying other companies that have had success. Industries are adapting before our eyes, and it’s your job to keep up.

This is the bridge between the bad internet and the good one. A lot of the news might drag you down, but the stories of people and companies finding success should educate and motivate you. See who’s moving their platforms entirely to the digital space, which restaurants are moving from dine-in to catering, which big companies are switching up their PR games.

Study the markets and the industries that seem more resilient in these times. Maybe now is the chance for you to learn more about 3D printing or solar power installation or web design. Or you can take a look at your everyday passions. Are you a big coffee drinker? Do some research on small and medium-sized roasting companies to see how and where they sell their beans and land a sweet job in coffee sales and distribution. If there’s one thing that’s for certain, this pandemic has not stopped caffeine consumption.

There’s also the very real opportunity to further your qualifications. It might not be the best time to go back to college, but you definitely have more options for remote education than you did before. If you have the means to float yourself for a few more months, this could be the forced opportunity to improve your professional appeal.

5. Practice the Pitch

Millions of Americans have lost jobs and are looking for new gigs. The competition might feel very daunting, and while time is of the essence when it comes to getting an application in to fill a vacancy, a rushed, desperate inquiry won’t do you any favors.

During your downtime, when you aren’t refreshing job boards or reworking your resume, sit in front of the mirror and talk about yourself. Write down a list of your best accomplishments that will impress prospective hiring agents. Pick out an interview outfit that will be ready to go when the time comes.

Here’s the thing about interviews that I think a lot of people lose sight of when nerves settle in. Yes, you want to be the perfect applicant, but you don’t achieve that by imitating what you think a great applicant sounds like. You have to be the best version of yourself, even if that means fessing up to not being a Quickbooks whiz or an SEO savant.

Employers will almost always choose the person over the product. If you know every program under the sun but seem bored to death during the interview, I’m probably going to opt for someone I have to train but who seems more engaged and personable.

As you prepare to wow your future boss, don’t just try to come up with good answers. Think about what makes you special, and how you can get to the talking points that demonstrate your skills and work ethic, but also your passion and character. It might feel a bit like a performance, but that’s exactly why you should try it in the mirror a couple times to make it all a little more comfortable.

I feel so much sympathy for anyone who’s lost their job during this time. To be afraid of getting sick while also wondering how you can put food on the table is such a brutal one-two punch. We’ve got a long way to go before things are back to normal, so I can’t help everyone as much as I wish I could, but I do hope you can all find the ability to believe in yourselves and your resilience.

Reach out to people, be proactive and get creative. We’re going through extraordinary times, but that’s exactly when you can accomplish extraordinary things.

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