The pandemic turned a job market one of the tightest labor markets in history on its head. At its peak in April, unemployment reached 14.7% according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and may have been even higher. So people who still had jobs hung on to them. The so-called “quits rate”—people who voluntarily leave their jobs—fell to 1.4%—the lowest level since 2011 during the Great Recession recovery.
But there’s some good news on the horizon: Employers are looking to hire again. Monster’s Future of Work 2021 Global Outlook Special Report found that 82% of employers plan to hire in 2021, including 37% who plan to fill positions left open after layoffs and more than one-third (35%) that are hiring for new jobs.
So, if you’ve been holding off on looking for a new, more fulfilling gig or are perhaps uncertain about the best steps to take in this “new normal” for job-hunting, now might be the time to act. And here are some ways you can focus and streamline your job search to be most effective:
KNOW WHAT YOU WANT
“Stop being so open-minded [about your search],” says executive search consultant and media executive Rob Barnett, author of Next Job, Best Job: A Headhunter’s 11 Strategies to Get Hired Now. Barnett says he counsels people to figure out their “North Star”—the true career goal they have. Then, focus your effort on the path to getting there.
BUILD YOUR CASE
You need to create a rock-solid case for why you’re the best person to fill the role you want. That requires three key elements, Barnett says:
“What is the job in your heart?” asks Barnett. What do you love the most and what do you want to be doing?
Be brutally honest with yourself and determine whether the job you want intersects with what you’re best at. Where are your strengths? Where have you had your biggest career wins?
Prove it. Barnett says that thinking about “transferable skills” alone can be dangerous, because hiring managers want to see that you have some experience doing what needs to be done. Make a case for why you’re the best person for the job that includes some relevant experience. And if you don’t have that, start building it.
INVEST IN YOURSELF
The pandemic has led to a wave of skill-building and training. As some had more time on their hands, they invested in courses, classes, and other programs to help them learn new things or strengthen areas of weakness. “There’s so much free development online now or at minimal cost that you can continue to develop your skills, your competencies, your capabilities,” says cognitive behavioral researcher CK Bray, founder of change management research firm The Adaptation Institute and author of Best Job Ever!: Rethink Your Career, Redefine Rich, Revolutionize Your Life. Prioritizing your own professional development shows initiative and can help you get closer to a meaningful career.
Barnett says that, sometimes, investing in yourself requires taking a more junior role in your new chosen field or role to help you build the skills you need to advance. This should be considered on a case-by-case basis, in light of your overall career goals and level of experience.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Spend some time researching the company and role you’re targeting, says career coach Angelina Darrisaw. Use LinkedIn to find out who had the position before you and look at their background. That may help you identify your own strengths and career parallels, she says. “I’d even go as far as considering using a LinkedIn message to reach out to that person and seeing if they will spend time with you,” she says. “[Take] those extra steps to show that you’re really interested in the position that you’re also going to make sure that you are a good fit.” Of course, use your network to determine if you have contacts who can either give you information or help with an introduction, she adds.
DITCH THE TIME-WASTERS
Barnett says that uploading your résumé to job-search sites isn’t worth your time. Neither is interviewing with companies where you really don’t want to work, Darrisaw days. Bray advises people to not go overboard when updating their résumés. Too many people spend far too much time laboring over each word and how big the margins should be, when the key is to update it and get it out there.
SPEND SOME TIME ON YOUR ONLINE FOOTPRINT
There are some important areas on which to focus. It’s important that the job history, including dates, titles, and companies, on your LinkedIn profile aligns with those on your résumé, Bray says. And Darrisaw recommends reviewing the company’s job ads and incorporating some of the specific, descriptive words the company uses, so those words will show up in applicant tracking services (ATS). In addition, Darrisaw recommends reviewing your public social media profiles to ensure that they reflect you as you wish to be perceived.
FOCUS MOST ON YOUR NETWORK
Each of the experts recommended tapping into your network now. Touch base with contacts from your past and review the LinkedIn contacts of people in your network to see if there are opportunities for informational interviews or introductions. (It may actually be easier to do so now that so many people are still mostly working from home.)
Also, if you’re actively interviewing at a company where you really want to work, Bray recommends staying in touch with the team, even if you don’t get the job. “Ask questions about what they think you can work on [to be a stronger candidate],” he suggests. Then, take the advice to heart. Companies are becoming more aware of keeping “runners-up” in mind for future positions.
Gwen Moran is a writer, editor, and creator of Bloom Anywhere, a website for people who want to move up or move on. She writes about business, leadership, money, and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites