The Executive's Guide to Job Searching During a Pandemic

Executive carrying briefcase

From Dubai, Singapore, Houston, to Halifax, the number-one question I’m asked during executive coaching calls is, “Is it the right time to change jobs?” The answer to is complicated—there so many variables to consider. So, I put together this guide to searching for a job during a pandemic for you. If you’re interested in receiving my Artificial Intelligence Start-up List (company name, sub-industry, and investor), see the end of this blog for more information.

If you’ve never had to look for a position before (perhaps you were recruited directly from college), the process of changing jobs or industries during a global pandemic can feel daunting. From my experience as an executive career coach with recruiting experience and more than 25 years in the corporate world, my recommendation is to remain in your current role in the short-term. But now is an excellent time to plan for the future.

I am currently working with a sales executive who is frustrated by the lack of upward mobility in his current organization. Before he joined our Career Navigator Program, (during our discovery call), he asked me if he should resign from his current role so he can focus 100% on a job search. While every person needs to make their own decision, this is not a course of action I would recommend. Career transitions for unemployed executives are far longer than transitions for currently engaged executives. There are many reasons for this reality, including a (mostly unfounded) perception that an unemployed executive may not be an effective leader. In the absence of a well-developed network, the transition can take even longer. There are other reasons as well.

Navigating the Unkown

Unemployment numbers are expected to continue to fluctuate through the end of 2020 and into 2021. While the pandemic is new, looking for work in a challenging job market is not. You can supplement some of the “tried and true” job search techniques with special strategies that are necessary because of COVID-19. But there are no hard and fast rules for a job search in a pandemic, so be flexible!

Even if you are currently employed, some companies have announced further layoffs and furloughs as the pandemic stretches into late 2020. It’s important to be prepared for what’s next. This means updating your résumé and LinkedIn profile and taking the time to track and document your accomplishments. If you are considering a job or industry change, but you don’t want to start over, why not consider redesigning your existing job? In addition, it may be useful to take some time to analyze your transferable skills and experience, particularly if you are in an industry that has been negatively affected by the pandemic.

Some things about the job search are the same:

However, some things are different in a job search during the pandemic:

  • Interviews for job opportunities are more likely to be virtual (rather than in person)
  • Human resources staffers are likely to be working remotely, and coordinating the hiring process can take more time than it did before the pandemic
  • Opportunities for remote work are increasing, and if you are able to do your job remotely, there are even more opportunities, especially outside your current geographic area
  • Temporary and short-term positions may be more plentiful. Companies may be wary of taking on permanent, full-time employees when their future is uncertain, but they still have needs to fulfill

One important thing to remember:

Don’t automatically discard the things that worked for you before in your job search. If you have had success previously with a specific tactic — for example, working with recruiters, or tapping into the hidden job market, don’t write them off just because there is a pandemic. 

Many businesses are also thriving and may need your help. Here are a handful of industries that are currently booming:

  • Healthcare
  • Biotech
  • *AI (see the end of this blog article if you’re interested to receive my brand-new list of 489 artificial intelligence companies in growth mode)
  • *Information technology (including remote technology, cybersecurity, education technology, automation, fintech, consumer/retail, cloud computing)
  • Supply chain and logistics
  • Ecommerce
  • Facilities management
  • Banking and financial services
executive wearing mask

"No One Is Hiring"

Your mindset is especially important when searching for a job during a pandemic. Companies are still hiring. Want proof? Search for openings on job aggregator sites like Indeed.com, SimplyHired, or Monster. Check out LinkedIn Jobs (https://www.linkedin.com/jobs/). You’ll see hundreds of open opportunities.

As mentioned above, companies in the shipping/delivery field are hiring, as are grocery stores and many healthcare facilities, including pharmacies. Information technology and technical support positions are also in high demand, as employees need more assistance with their computers and other devices when working from home.

Look for companies that are meeting pandemic-specific needs. These companies are now hiring for temporary, part-time, and short-term opportunities.

However, as you know, some industries are struggling. For example, hospitality companies — restaurants, airlines, resorts, hotels, and conference centers. Almost everything related to the entertainment industry has been affected. Colleges and universities are facing budget cuts as students defer returning to campus until the pandemic ends. Government organizations — often some of the steadiest employers — are also facing shortfalls affecting employment and hiring.

Even in companies that are hiring, there may still be uncertainty. The hiring timeline has grown longer in some cases. If the company is conducting multi-person interviews, it may take time to coordinate schedules, so all the panelists are available at the same time. Some jobs openings may be put on hold temporarily as situations change in the business. You may even have a job offer rescinded if a company’s fortunes suddenly change.

If you’re currently unemployed, your next job may not be a full-time or permanent position. But a short-term or temporary position may make it easier for you to weather the pandemic and be in a position to get a new role in the future. It’s often easier to get a job when you already have one. And some temporary and short-term roles may turn into permanent positions once the economy ramps back up again.

You may also find yourself temporarily changing fields during the pandemic. Is there a way you can use your existing skills in a new industry in the short term? If you were a CFO for a hotel/conference center, could you use your capabilities to manage financing for a hospital?

If You're Furloughed 

The pandemic caused a number of companies to furlough employees. Many of these companies continue to pay employee benefits (such as health insurance) but the furlough allows workers to apply for unemployment.

If you’re still on furlough, develop a job search strategy in case your position is permanently eliminated. Start working now on updating your job search documents (résumé, cover letters, LinkedIn profile, etc.) so you can immediately start looking for opportunities if you find yourself without a job.

With the end of the enhanced unemployment benefits, if you are still furloughed, you may be considering short-term or part-time work. Research unemployment benefit requirements to determine how this work may affect your benefits.

stress free executive

Five Keys to Success for a Job Search During a Pandemic

These tips will help you as you conduct your job search:

Focus on Your Strengths

Companies hire employees who can solve problems for them. Sales people create revenue. Accountants ensure compliance with regulations and provide financial data that can be used for decision-making. Customer service staff help answer questions, keeping customers happy. Beyond what you do for a company, what is the impact that you have on the organization?

It’s even more important to highlight accomplishments on your résumé, LinkedIn profile, and career documents in a competitive job market.

Shift your skills, if necessary, to a new field. Assess your work history and identify older skills and/or experience you can leverage. Seek out opportunities for additional training and learning.

Be Clear on What You Need

The more specific you can be about the opportunity that you’re seeking, the more likely you will find it. Take some time to define what you’re looking for in your next job. Are you looking for a position that allows you to work remotely? Do you have a specific schedule you need — for example, because your children are engaging in remote schooling? Having a list of criteria like this can help you identify whether a position will be a good fit — or not.

Look For Companies That are Hiring or In Need

Be aware of which industries are holding steady or growing during the pandemic, and which ones are struggling. Focus on essential companies that are not affected by government shutdowns. Create a target list of companies. Researching your prospective employer is even more critical — be aware of changes affecting the company due to the pandemic. Set up Google Alerts to get informed about news affecting your ideal employers. Follow your target companies on LinkedIn. Subscribe to the company’s emails, blog, and social media channels.

Nurture Your Network

Networking is even more important for a job search during times of high unemployment. Meeting face-to-face or for coffee may not be an option right now, but you can connect virtually. Stay in touch through social media, phone calls, Zoom or FaceTime, email, text, and LinkedIn messages. Take the sting out of asking for the help from others by offering to help them.

Adapt to the New Needs of the Job Search

Prepare for an online job interview. Set up a specific space for the interview. Make sure it’s someplace quiet with no distractions. Conduct a practice session with a friend on Zoom. When it’s time for the actual interview, dress like you’re going to an in-person interview (head to toe!).

Interviewing virtually can feel unnatural. Prepare psychologically and physiologically for the interview by taking a brisk walk (oxygen fuels the brain) and ensuring you’re well hydrated and have had nourishment (the brain needs glucose to operate optimally). 

Don’t forget to smile!

Don’t be surprised if you don’t hear back from the interviewer right away. Be patient. The hiring process will likely take even longer than normal. That’s true even if the company initially seemed in a hurry to hire. Do follow up, but don’t be a pest. Ask permission to follow up with them. If they agree, follow up weekly. Follow up until you hear back from the employer. The recruiter will appreciate the follow-up if it is done respectfully and appropriately.

If you do have a job offer that is put on hold, consider asking if you could work in a contract or temporary role in the meantime. For example, one national furniture rental company is currently in a hiring freeze, but they are staffing with contract/temporary workers in the meantime.

One advantage of job searching during a pandemic is that it may be easier to interview because remote interviews can be done at any time. You don’t have to drive a long distance and wait in an office for the interviewer. You can have your notes in front of you that you can reference easily.

Companies that are hiring are pivoting to meet jobseekers where they are. Most job fairs have gone online, allowing you to participate remotely. Some companies are doing Zoom “meet and greets,” allowing prospective employees to interact with company representatives virtually.

Should you be searching for a new job now? If you’re in an industry affected by the pandemic, the answer is likely yes. If you’re in an industry that is currently in a hiring freeze, lay the groundwork so you’re prepared to make a change once the pandemic ends.

I believe that as the CEO of your own career, you need to work on your career (marketing) as well as working in it (serving others). In this digital revolution, the labor market is no longer a static linear journey. With mergers/acquisition and the rise of and elimination of entire industries, being proactive and nimble will protect your career thereby putting you in charge.

Even if you’re not interested in changing jobs right now, create a plan for the future. Some things about the job search — for example, virtual job interviews — are likely to endure long after COVID-19 is gone.

*For Technology Executives: If you’re interested in receiving my current list of 489 artificial intelligence companies in growth mode, send an email to maureen@westgatecareercoaching.com. It lists the company name, sub-industry (fintech, cybersecurity, etc.) and the private equity firm backing the company.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Career Navigator Program, contact us today at maureen@westgatecareercoaching.com. We offer a complimentary 30-minute consultation to address your current needs and perceived barriers to an effective career transition.

Maureen Farmer is an executive branding strategist and career coach serving clients globally since 2011.

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