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Navigating the Job Market During COVID-19

May 15, 2020 5 min read Ira Hellman

Key Takeaways

  • Companies are hiring out there.
  • Finding (and landing) work is a full-time job.
  • Three keys to success: network, network, network!



Shuttered businesses, struggling hospitals and sheltered living make it hard to find silver linings in today’s economy. If you’re among the millions who’ve been laid off or furloughed in the wake of COVID-19, things are even cloudier.

So first, look for ways to rebuild your confidence Opens in new window. (Mantra #1: It’s not your fault.) If your finances are suddenly in trouble, that might mean getting creative about income (maybe you have U.S. savings bonds stashed away in a drawer?) and cutting back on spending wherever you can (look for leaks in your budget, like subscriptions you don’t need).

Next, understand that some industries remain healthy, and thousands of companies are still hiring Opens in new window. In fact, the health crisis has created a need for new workers with new training. (Who knew “contact tracing” was a thing?) And even if you’re older and more at risk, there are a variety of jobs you can do from home Opens in new window.

Here’s some guidance for getting back in the game.


Don’t mind your gap

Normally, significant time between jobs can raise a red flag with potential employers. Activities like volunteering, continuing education and caregiving can help ease such concerns. But these days, “Because…COVID-19” also seems like a valid answer to the “Why the gap in your résumé?” question.

Even so, if this is your first time entering the job market, you’re facing even stronger headwinds than usual. So if you can, consider pursuing a graduate degree, earning a professional designation or temporarily taking a lower-level job than you’d planned.


Finding work is a full-time job

If you’ve been unemployed in the past, you probably know that the road back to work can take as much work as a job itself. And today’s situation doesn’t make it any easier.

The good news is, there are more resources than ever to help you find your way. From résumé advice to video interviewing tips, chances are you’ll find your career lifeline online.

Get to know websites like The Balance Careers Opens in new window, The Muse Opens in new window and The Job Network Opens in new window. Look for local support (for example, New Jersey-based interviewing specialist Alex Freund provides a searchable list of networking groups Opens in new window mainly in the Garden State and Pennsylvania) and national resources like “Career Wake Up Calls Opens in new window” with ”Absolutely Abby” Kohut and job search blogs Opens in new windowfrom “Career Sherpa” Hannah Morgan.

Even so, avoiding job-search overload demands a disciplined approach and a daily routine: Set aside time each morning to research the industries, companies and type of job you want. Update your résumé (and your website if you have one) and post it on sites like Indeed.com Opens in new window and CareerBuilder Opens in new window and LinkedIn Opens in new window. Schedule time to answer ads on those and other sites. Practice your interviewing skills. If you need to build work-related skills, set aside time for that. And devote the biggest chunk of your day to three things: networking, networking and networking.


Get out there (while staying inside)

Yes, you should research and answer ads for positions on sites like Indeed Opens in new window, CareerBuilder Opens in new window and Dice Opens in new window, not to mention on employers’ own job boards. But employers’ HR systems (especially large ones) have long been known as “black holes” where even great résumés go to die. So while you should be in their systems — if only to follow up — you shouldn’t depend on them.

Instead, getting in the (virtual) door is mostly a matter of who you know. (You don’t have to know them well — just well enough to enable you to get your résumé on the hiring manager’s screen when an appropriate position opens up.) And that means networking.

Make no mistake: Most people, especially introverts, aren’t “natural” networkers. The thought of asking for help from a former coworker — let alone a complete stranger — can keep you in your protective shell. But the COVID-19 crisis gives you an automatic conversation starter — we’re all in this together, right now.

Once you break the ice, you’ll find that people who’ve been in your shoes (or are in them now) are more than willing to help.


The “two-step”: Find the job, then an insider

The point of networking is not to get a job offer (at least not initially). Rather, it’s to build relationships with people who can potentially lead you to insiders: hiring managers where you want to work. They’re who’ll know about (and can decide on) positions as they open. You’ll want your name to be top-of-mind when they do.

All of it takes time, research and some reverse engineering: Determine the company where you want to work. Use LinkedIn Opens in new window or other sources to find people who work there (insiders) and are connected to your connections. Ask your connections to introduce you to those insiders. Then ask the insiders if they have time to chat about their industry or company — you want advice, not a job.

Once you’re on the phone (or text or email if you have to), talk about things you have in common (research first!), from alma maters to professional groups to sports you miss watching. Ask about trends in the field or the culture of the company. Then ask for names of other insiders they can refer or, better, introduce you to. Maybe they’ll even offer to forward your résumé to the right people. Including hiring managers.


Toughen up your “soft” skills

The qualifications on your résumé might get you an interview, but when it comes to landing (and succeeding in) a job, culture Opens in new window is currency.

These days employers first want to make sure you’re the right “fit” for their organizations — how, and how well, you’ll work with your potential teammates. Are they goal focused? Collaboration crazed? Buttoned up or casual? Find out beforehand: Research companies’ cultures at sites like Glassdoor Opens in new window, Comparably Opens in new window and The Muse Opens in new window or, if you can, get the scoop from an insider.

In many cases, you may need to focus on (or beef up) your communication, interpersonal, emotional and other “soft” skills.



What you can do next

Make a schedule of the daily tasks you’ll need to perform to get back to work sooner than later, from researching to networking. Then follow through. Every. Single. Day. (OK, you can sleep in on weekends.) Not only can this give your life structure while you’re out of work. It can also motivate you with a sense of purpose, progress and accomplishment, even if you don’t see the physical rewards right away.



Ira Hellman is a senior writer at Prudential.


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