Searching for a Job During the COVID-19 Crisis

I know this is a stressful time for many people.  Layoffs have begun throughout the corporate world and, unfortunately, we’re going to see several more waves of layoffs over the next 1-3 months. 

Companies are in cash preservation mode and focused on doing everything they can to survive this economic downcycle, which is shaping up to be massive.  Executive teams are evaluating the situation on a week-to-week basis and, while most have already deployed some cost-cutting measures, they’re preparing more drastic contingency plans with bigger cuts that they are ready to make on any given day.

The unfortunate reality we all know is that it’s not an ideal time to be looking for a job.  Sadly, though, many people are forced to face this reality.  I have deep empathy for anyone in that position and I’d like to offer a few thoughts as you consider your job search in this climate.

Don’t panic.  Take a breath.  Focus on your mental state. 

You will bounce back from this.  The economy will rebound.  You need to be mentally strong now more than ever.  You must do that for yourself, for your family, for your career.  Have confidence in your skills, experience, ambition, and everything you can offer a company.  Don’t allow yourself to question yourself.  Millions of people have been laid off not because of their performance, but because of a global pandemic completely out of their control.  Don’t carry the weight of a job loss on your shoulders.

Instead, make a list of 5 things you could do everyday to fortify your mental strength, to push yourself out of your comfort zone.  Then schedule those actions into your daily routine.  It could be as simple as taking a cold shower (push through the pain!), meditating, writing down a list of gratitudes when you wake up, pushing yourself physically, or saying incantations and positive affirmations.

Create a plan. 

Before you start randomly applying for jobs and scattershotting your network, create a plan.  You’ll be much more effective if you’re strategic in how you approach this, meaning prioritizing your effort, brainstorming potential contacts in your network, what you could be asked as you begin your search, how you’re going to talk about your past job, what types of roles you’re willing to take (how you draw the boundaries), and more.

Also, consider creating a daily schedule for your job search.  Allocate considerable time to it, but don’t overdo it or you’ll go crazy.  Have balance and allow yourself to enjoy the full control you currently have over your time. 

In addition, what tools would be helpful during your job search?  Build a spreadsheet or tracking tool for keeping a list of companies you’re interested in, contacts in your network, date of last contact, and any notes. 

Be clear on what you’re looking for.

Can you clearly articulate what you’re looking for?  When you’re having a networking meeting, it’s generally highly ineffective if you aren’t clear on what you’re looking for.  While you might not be 100% certain, or perhaps you’re open to any type of job, it’s really hard for the person you’re networking with to figure out how they can help you if you’re unclear about what you’re looking for.  Consider framing your desire down to one or, at most, two types of roles you’re interested in.

More powerful than that, when in a networking meeting, focus your energy on talking about what skills and experience you gained in your last role, which will give that person a better understanding of the impact you could have on a company and how your skills could be transferable and valuable for other companies.

Expand your geographic considerations. 

This new work-from-home-reality may last for some companies.  Businesses will be cautious for many months to come with protective measures for their employees, and some may want to eliminate office rent and continue working virtually indefinitely. 

For that reason, consider searching for opportunities beyond your current geographic location.  You may find companies in other areas who are hiring remote employees.  You can do this by nurturing your network in other markets and keeping tabs on what companies are hiring via national or industry-specific job boards. 

Invest in yourself to gain new knowledge and skills.

If you’re currently unemployed, or expect to be soon, you may now have the time to learn a new skill or gain knowledge in an area that could set you apart in your job search.

From an employer’s perspective, it’s quite impressive to meet a candidate who took the initiative after being laid off to take a course or teach him/herself a new skill.  It says a lot about that individual and his/her desire to make an impact.  Is there a skill or knowledge you could gain right now, even if just self-taught using online resources, that would set you apart from other candidates?  You can talk about that new skill on your resume and perhaps even list it in your experience section.

Maintain relationships with your former employer.

Many companies are hoping these layoffs won’t be long-term.  It’s hard to say if they will or not, but to put yourself in the best position to benefit if they’re short-term, stay close to your former employer.  That includes your former direct manager, other managers you know, former co-workers at the company, and the HR team.  Keep in touch with as many people there as you can.  If your former employer starts rehiring, you want to be top of mind because hiring someone who already knows their system is way less friction than hiring someone completely new.  This is also a reason why it’s important to depart on good terms. 

In addition, if you were laid off, your former employer probably feels really bad about the situation and may genuinely want to help you.  Upon departing, ask them if they’d be open to being a resource during your job search.  Then circle back with them a few weeks later with a list of potential contacts and companies you’d like to network with to see if they can help you.

Put your talents to work with free consulting.

What unique skills and experience do you have?  Upon clearly articulating what that is, are there companies and manager/executive-level people you could get in front of to see if you can do some free consulting?  The point here is to stay active with your career, to build relationships, to gain additional experience, and to be top of mind as more companies start hiring again. 

Be specific on how you could create value for a company, how you could help, and some projects you could engage in.  Be inquisitive.  Ask them what their biggest challenges are and what their business priorities are over the next 12 months.  Are there projects they’ve had to put on hold as a result of now being short-staffed?  Can you step in to take a project on for free? 

Working for free may not sound attractive, but it’s a heck of a way to build relationships and gain experience while keeping your resume fresh.

Some companies are still hiring.

Despite the challenges that most industries are facing, there are other industries that are doing quite well.  And while hiring freezes are in effect for companies in affected industries, those freezes will be lifted at some point.  The hiring I’m currently seeing right now is for roles requiring specific skills – i.e. controller or accountant opportunities, technical roles, etc.  As we get through the next quarter or two, some companies may realize their cuts were too deep, while others may feel comfortable releasing their hiring freezes, and opportunities will start to appear again.  But if you don’t want to wait, start by brainstorming a list of products and services that aren’t affected, or could be positively affected, by a pandemic like this.  Those are the companies to start prospecting.

Become a video interviewing pro. 

It’s time to get comfortable with video conferences.  In-person interviews will surely resume at some point, but we’ll see an increase in video interviews for the foreseeable future.  Sign up for a free Zoom account and practice logging in so you know how to use it.  That’s the platform that most companies use.  Google Hangouts is another common one to get comfortable with.  Have a clean and orderly atmosphere in the background when you have video interviews.

Maintain Patience. 

I know this is easier said than done and I know this can be a very stressful time.  The economy will rebound and companies will resume hiring.  As you patiently wait for that to happen, put yourself in the best position to be the strongest candidate possible by taking action on suggestions listed above.

Good luck.  Stay healthy.  Stay positive.