Job Hunting in 2021

Despite a steady drop in the jobless rate in recent months, these are certainly challenging times for millions of Americans still looking for work. Still, there are rays of hope. A recent survey of 319 U.S. employers by the job site Indeed.com, for example, revealed that as many as 70% plan to increase their workforce in 2021. Job seekers are optimistic too. According to the 2020 Candidate Sentiment Study conducted by the American Staffing Association and its corporate research partner, Clearly Rated, 80% of job candidates believe they will be working for a new company in the next 12 months.

The key to landing gainful employment in the middle of a pandemic, though, is making some major adjustments to your approach. The fact is, today’s candidates have fewer opportunities to make the in-person connections that were once so key to getting in the door. And when they do land an interview, they often face the difficult task of selling themselves on a Zoom session. 

Investopedia connected with several employers and employment experts about what today’s job candidates should be doing to improve their odds.  

Key Takeaways

  • While some industries have floundered during the pandemic, others are prospering. Expanding your search to fields where you may not have previous experience can sometimes help you land your next job.
  • Many candidates have gaps in their résumé after the turbulence in the labor market last year. Experts say being candid about those holes and successfully articulating why you’re a good fit for the open position can help you win over employers.  
  • With more interviews taking place virtually, candidates have to control the image they project onscreen in terms of both physical appearance and messaging.

Rethink Your Search Parameters

Some industries are going to bounce back stronger than others, says Andrew Hunter, cofounder of the job search engine Adzuna, so it may take some adaptability to find a position in which you can utilize your skills. Over the past several months, fields such as logistics, warehousing, and healthcare have seen strong hiring, while sectors such as hospitality, retail, and travel continue to suffer. “Job seekers should adapt to this reshuffle by focusing on growth areas and avoiding pigeonholing themselves to one career path,” says Hunter.

Candidates may also want to widen their search outside of their home town. “An increasing number of roles are now fully ‘work from home,’ effectively opening up the entire U.S. labor market for savvy job seekers,” he says. “Geography is no longer the barrier it once was.”

Take Advantage of Your Network

Yes, many candidates find great positions through popular job boards such as Indeed and Monster. However, those employers often receive a barrage of applicants for each position that they post—particularly in fields where the supply of candidates exceeds demand.

It’s often the personal connection that can make you stand apart from the crowd or find out about positions that aren’t posted publicly yet. “Having someone in the company who can say that they would love to have you on the team takes a lot of the risk out of hiring you,” says John Philbin, CEO of Spectacular at Work, a Chicago-based leadership development firm, “so make friends and don’t burn bridges.”

Sure, there are fewer opportunities to meet new people, or even reconnect with peers, in person during the pandemic. Still, there are plenty of ways to keep in touch, such as sending an occasional email or text message to former colleagues and family members. “As long as people know you’re looking, they can help you,” says Denise Kaigler, a career coach and the founder of Boston-based MDK Brand Management. “Most people don’t find jobs on job platforms solely. It’s connecting those job platforms with people you know.”

Manage Your Online Presence

Chances are that the companies to which you apply aren’t only looking at your cover letter and résumé when figuring out whom they’re going to interview—they’re probably also sifting through your posts on Facebook or Twitter. According to a 2018 survey by CareerBuilder, as many as 70% of employers browse their candidates’ social media profiles as part of the hiring process.

Managing your online presence, including your various social media profiles, is imperative to a successful job search. To prevent any potential damage, you should consider closing your personal profiles to the public, suggests Adriana Herrera, founder of Interview Destiny, an interview preparation platform. “Keeping personal opinions and hobbies private ensures no bias, direct or implicit, is introduced to the hiring manager,” she says.

Herrera also recommends performing an audit of your professional profiles—whether they’re on LinkedIn or job sites such as Indeed—to make sure they’re consistent. Each one should paint the same picture of your skills, experience, and professional goals, she says.

Polishing your online persona isn’t only about playing defense, says Kaigler. You also want to establish a personal brand that employers will find attractive. That could mean uploading videos on topics relevant to your career as well as commenting on or sharing other user’s posts. “Let people know that you’re out there and engaged, that you’re staying up on the news and important trends,” she says. 

“Let people know that you’re out there and engaged, that you’re staying up on the news and important trends.” – Denise Kaigler, career coach

Come Prepared

Companies are acutely aware that many people were laid off after the pandemic, says Talia Friedman, co-founder of Werkzy, a job-search platform for small businesses, so don’t stress about it. Employers typically value authenticity over perfection when it comes to your background. “Be honest about recent gaps in your résumé or why you are looking to take on a position that may not directly align with your experience,” says Friedman.

Preparation is also key when it comes to answering why it is you applied for a particular position. Be ready to answer why the company or position is a great fit, both in your cover later and during the interview, suggests Friedman. Be sure to mention why you have a passion for the company’s mission or the industry it serves, even if that is not implied by your résumé. “Highlight a fact about the company and possibly even the hiring manager that only someone who invested some time would find,” she says.

Make sure to do a dry run before a Zoom job interview to confirm that you have your technical concerns, such as video, microphone, lighting, and background, as you want them.

Master the Virtual Interview

In some ways convincing an employer that you’re the perfect fit for a given role is a tougher sell when you’re doing it through Zoom or Google Meet. Still, that’s the norm right now, and Philbin recommends embracing that dynamic rather than fighting it. “It’s OK to say that you wish you could meet the interviewer in person, which is flattering. But virtual is how we work now and flagging it as a burden sends the wrong message and is probably just a way for you to express your anxiety about the whole process,” he says.

In some ways talking to a hiring manager virtually is a more complex endeavor than meeting face-to-face. In addition to the typical prep work you have to do for an interview, today’s candidates have to worry about technical issues that can quickly make the encounter go sideways. Herrera advises applicants to confirm beforehand that their computer’s microphone works, for example, and that the camera angle and lighting make it easy for interviewers to see you. In addition, make sure there’s nothing in the background you wouldn’t want your employer to notice. 

Once the interview starts, Kaigler says, you usually only have a few minutes to make a positive impression with the folks on the other side of the camera. You’re more likely to do that when you come in prepared with the story that you want to tell about yourself. “The moment you walk into
that room or go in front of that Zoom camera, that employer is sizing you up,” says Kaigler. “Think about how you want your personal brand to show up.”

Philbin suggests hiring a career coach to help with a mock interview, something that’s especially helpful when adjusting to a different format than you’re used to. “Many have a lot of experience as professional interviewers or recruiters, and they can really sharpen your game,” he says.

The Bottom Line

The job market remains challenging, especially for workers in industries that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Nevertheless, experts insist that there are still plenty of opportunities for those willing to be flexible in where they go looking for their next stint. Finding ways to strengthen your personal network, even in the midst of a pandemic, can help give you a big leg up on the competition.

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