Beyond the enormous human toll coronavirus has had over the past few weeks, the pandemic has also had a significant impact on people’s careers. Temporary furloughs, rescinded job offers, hiring freezes, and layoffs have created a tremendous amount of upheaval across all industries and roles.
Many professionals now find themselves having to apply for positions during one of the most challenging times in modern history. “The job market is tougher than it’s been since The Great Depression,” says Eleesha Martin, recruiting process outsourcing manager of G&A Partners, a leading national HR service provider. “As a result of the pandemic, it’s become an Employer’s job market. Candidates will have to get more assertive and creative in finding ways to help them stand out, or they will get lost in the crowd.”
Even though landing a new role in the middle of a pandemic is challenging, companies are still hiring. “While the COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately hit certain industries very hard from an economic standpoint, there are many other industries like e-commerce, delivery, and cybersecurity growing rapidly during this time,” says Mehul Patel, CEO of Hired. “I would encourage candidates to remain optimistic and continue applying for new roles.”
If you do decide to apply for a new job right now, be aware that approaching hiring managers and recruiters requires even more thoughtfulness and effort in order to stand out as a viable candidate.
During the last week, I asked 20 recruitment professionals actively involved with screening and hiring candidates during this pandemic to share their perspectives on the most common mistakes candidates have been making.
1. Using Same Old Outreach Tactics
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The coronavirus has radically changed the world. With social distancing and many companies no longer doing in-person interviews, candidates stuck in their old ways of simply sending a resume and cover letter or making a phone call are not cutting through.
According to Lewis Fawsitt, corporate sales director of Acorn Global Recruitment, you’ll need to find other ways to stand out in an increasingly crowded candidate marketplace. “Successful candidates have proactively thought beyond the usual CV, getting around social distancing factors by producing short videos that allow recruiters and their clients to get a richer snapshot of them as an individual.”
Recruiters used to receiving hundreds of resumes each day are also encouraging candidates to find more engaging ways to reach out. “During normal conditions, a phone call could suffice, but now, candidates need to be more proactive and ask for a video conference call to connect and build rapport,” says Chris Underwood, managing director of Adastrum Consulting.
Tip: record a short, professional video of yourself for introductory or thank you messages. It takes more effort, but if done well, helps you stand out.
2. Videoconferencing Struggles
Social distancing and working from home have recently becoming the norm. According to a March 2020 survey by Handshake, an online career community for college students, 89% of employers are now adopting virtual interviews given the COVID-19 situation. That means you have to be able to bring the same level of enthusiasm, professionalism, and communication that you would to an in-person interview. “Candidates really need to embrace video,” says David Stone, founder of MRL Consulting Group. “Don’t forget that this is a formal interview and your appearance, outfit and surroundings should reflect that.”
Although everyone understands technical issues beyond your control can arise on conference calls, struggling with the tech won’t help your cause. “Candidates who can run video meetings without technical difficulty immediately set themselves apart,” says Kevin Fanning, talent acquisition manager of Notarize. “The candidates we've hired in the past few weeks were great on video. They were very prepared, engaged communicators, and spoke to us from quiet, well-lit spaces in their homes. It was very easy to get a sense of what working with them would actually be like.”
Tip: test out all functionality of your videoconferencing app (e.g., audio settings, camera access, and screensharing) in advance to avoid hiccups.
3. Applying Everywhere
You may be eager to quick get your career back on track after any setback caused by the current pandemic, but beware of applying to every role under the sun. Sarah Doughty, director of recruitment at Talentlab, says too many candidates are currently falling into the trap. “Mass applying to everything they see regardless of true interest is pretty common right now. We have seen a significant increase in candidates admitting that they don't even remember applying to the role, and haven't bothered to prepare for the interview.”
As a candidate in this hiring environment, you have to keep in mind that more competition now exists for each available role. Janou Pakter, CCO of Janou LLC says you need to be more targeted when applying to roles during the pandemic. “You should be even more selective and personal when you approach recruiters and hiring managers.”
You should focus on quality rather than quantity of applications. Barend Raaff, CEO of Harver, a pre-employment assessment platform, says you need to invest time into creating a more customized pitch. “If you are not prepared and have an application that is tailored to the role you’re applying for, you’ll not reach the top of the list. Learn about the company and especially understand the impact that COVID-19 has on the role you want to have.”
Tip: apply to only those jobs where you fully understand the role’s requirements and feel you’re uniquely positioned to stand out as a strong candidate.
4. Unrealistic Salary Expectations
Although there’s nothing wrong with aiming high, pushing for a higher salary or more comprehensive perks in the midst of a global pandemic may not land well with recruiters and hiring managers. “Candidates who are setting rates or salary expectations too high and therefore pricing themselves out of a potential job,” says Shib Matthew, founder and CEO of YunoJuno, a UK marketplace of creative and tech freelancers. He says companies are already under extreme pressure to manage their own costs during this pandemic, so understanding this can benefit you longer-term.
Doughty agrees that now is not the time for candidates to be seeking huge salary bumps, especially during a time when so many people on the front lines of COVID-19 are sacrificing so much. “Candidates attempting to aggressively negotiate or use this crisis to job jump for financial gain only will find that employers' patience will be very thin, and they will ultimately end up burning a bridge.”
Tip: remember that salaries may not be as competitive as they have been in recent years, so tread carefully when approaching compensation discussions.
5. Lack of Empathy
With so many people are struggling with both personal and professional challenges in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, failing to openly acknowledge the difficult time we’re all in can come across as tone deaf and indifferent during a time when emotional intelligence is paramount.
“Every firm you approach will have their own story about how COVID-19 has impacted them,” says David Lewis, CEO of OperationsInc, an HR outsourcing consulting firm. He says you must be mindful of the fact many companies have shifted from on-site to remote working, while others may be going through rounds of layoffs, which can have a huge impact on company culture and employee morale.
Being sensitive to the potential impact the pandemic has had on an organization is also one way you can demonstrate you’re fully cognizant of the exceptional circumstances we’re in. According to John Bush, vice-president of talent acquisition at Zendesk, “One trait hiring managers are looking for are candidates that show an authentic interest in the company and how the company is approaching this difficult time.”
Tip: explicitly verbalize your awareness of the challenging times any organization inevitably finds themselves in at this moment.
In spite of this now being an Employer’s market, many candidates are still refusing to flex on their requirements. “The biggest mistake we’ve witnessed is candidates failing to react appropriately to the changing business landscape caused by the pandemic,” says Tom White, managing director of Paratus People. “Some have refused to be flexible on start dates or on the specific requirements for their role. This is short-sighted.” He goes onto say that adaptability is a critical quality to possess, and candidates who can’t be flexible during this crisis aren’t likely to receive offers.
Flexibility could involve an openness to part time roles, different locations, or levels of compensation according to Pakter. She suggests ideas like starting a job online from home without having a secure starting date to be on premise, starting on a freelance basis, or forgoing some full-time benefits until the official on-premise starting date has been confirmed.
Stuart Hicks, managing director of The City & Capital Group agrees with a flexible approach. “Candidates with unreasonable expectations are unlikely to represent the themselves, or their recruiter, well. Hiring clients and recruitment firms may have had to furlough staff, therefore those remaining may be spread very thin.” He says candidates that fail to apply empathy and understanding are likely to put off recruiters.
Tip: how you approach this job hunt says a lot about your expectations as an employee, so in an environment of uncertainty and upheaval, find a way to convey your adaptability.
Due to the increased urgency in candidates’ searches, Fanning says too many candidates over the past few weeks are coming across as needy and pushy. “I'm seeing a lot of candidates follow up multiple times in rapid succession within a matter of hours after a phone call. Those candidates who can balance their interests with a little patience end up making a better impression and going farther in our process.”
Deborah Roland, vice president of human resources at CareerArc says you need to be aware managers and recruiters are dealing with a lot right now. “They are tamping down fires to their left while new ones are starting on the right. It may take more time for companies to respond to you. Be gracious.” Following up does demonstrate proactivity and interest, but when done too frequently, can come across as bothersome. “Candidates are reaching out to potential employers more frequently than they should in hopes that they will get the job, but it’s causing an adverse effect,” says Martin.
Candidates should also remember that companies are making enormous organizational pivots to remote and virtual processes now. “Companies are adjusting to interviewing and hiring remotely, so the process may not be smooth,” says Donna Kimmel, chief people officer at Citrix. She says a bit of patience and understanding can go a long way.
Tip: With all the struggles people are managing within their organizations not to mention their personal lives in the midst of this pandemic, err on the side of giving others extra time to get back to you.
8. Jumping at Anything
Coming across as desperate will rarely serve you well in any walk of life. The same is true with jobs, especially in the middle of a crisis.
Ineke McMahon, an executive recruiter with 20 years of experience says the biggest mistake is to panic and talk desperately about how much you need a job within the first few minutes of a conversation. “Making comments early in the conversation like ‘I'm prepared to take a huge drop in salary’ really turns hiring managers off.”
Instead, she recommends still focusing on the value you bring to the table. “More than ever, companies are looking for people who can add value over and above their own role and keep calm in a crisis. You need to demonstrate these skills as part of your job application process.”
Doing a sense check with your own genuine interest in an opportunity is also worthwhile, even if you are desperate to land your next role because this could affect your long-term job satisfaction and performance.
Employers also want to know you’re interested in their company for the right reasons. “We are always interested in why people are looking to join our company. Now, more than ever, candidates should be prepared to discuss this point,” says Tony Cicio, chief human resources officer of the Argo Group that shifted their entire workforce of 1500 employees to remote work within 48 hours. They continue to hire, and have onboarded more than 30 new employees during this pandemic.
Tip: Capture the exact type of location, sector, organization, function, role, and salary you would find acceptable before job searching so you can objectively evaluate opportunities against these criteria.
9. Waiting Until Crisis Passes
You may be understandably hesitant to apply for a new role in the middle of the biggest global pandemic we’ve ever witnessed in our lifetimes. “We’ve experienced lots of candidates who, two months ago, told us that they were looking for new opportunities, now deciding to wait things out and resume their search when this pandemic passes,” says Stone.
However, he encourages candidates to still apply based on how he’s seen things transpire with his clients the past few weeks. “Candidates who are optimistic and enthusiastic about the job opportunity are still getting offers. Employers are looking for candidates remaining positive in the face of current pandemic.”
While it may be tempting to wait for things to blow over with the pandemic, the reality is that companies and industries are still hiring. In fact, you may also possess unique skills especially relevant and even more valuable during this time of global uncertainty. For example, White says his clients are “looking for people who can demonstrate success in an organisation which has undergone rapid transformation, or those who have experience in a volatile situation.”
This also represents an opportunity to demonstrate how prepared, focused, and professional you can still remain in spite of everything else going on in the world. “Candidates we’ve placed in senior level roles over the past month have been the ones to go above and beyond to impress,” says Emma Robinson, managing director of Red Diamond Executive Headhunters.
The pandemic also gives you a unique opportunity to demonstrate how you handle adversity, an especially attractive quality in the context of the pandemic. “This pandemic presents a unique opportunity for candidates to proudly showcase their battle scars,” says Siddharth Batra, founder and CTO of ThriveCash. “Being part of company turnarounds or failed ambitious projects are experiences employers, particularly start-ups, hugely value.”
Tip: identify one of your skills or experiences especially valuable during times of crisis, then highlight it across all your job search communications.
Pursue Opportunities Without Being Overly Opportunistic
These are unprecedented times. The coronavirus pandemic has created challenges for us all, not only in our personal lives but also our professional lives. While finding your next role may still be an important and necessary pursuit right now, many organizations and managers are managing their own challenges in the face of this global crisis.
Proactively seeking out your next role without coming across as dismissive of the global health crisis is delicate. Figuring out which compromises you should and should not make, especially during challenging times, is complicated. And knowing exactly how best to reach out to people in the right way when everyone is dealing with upheaval in their own lives is difficult.
However, during times of crisis and uncertainty, all you can do is your very best to approach your career pursuits in a proactive, positive, and patient manner without being overly aggressive, insensitive, or pushy. Managing this fine balance is truly half the battle.
Joseph Liu is dedicated to helping people create strong personal brands during times of career transition, applying principles from his 10 years of international brand management experiences. Based in London, he’s a professional speaker, personal branding consultant and the host of the Career Relaunch podcast, featuring personal stories of career reinvention with listeners in 140 countries.