Finding a job when times are tough

Get tips on navigating the job market in uncertain times from two of the Slalom leaders who've helped grow our St. Louis office.

by Sophie Notorangelo and Dan Kieffer

Looking for a job is daunting in even the best of circumstances.

Enter COVID-19. The market is flooded with laid off and furloughed talent, and many companies have slowed or halted hiring all together. Making connections is even harder with completely virtual interactions.

Some are having their first experience of unemployment, which carries even more stress. The good news: with uncertainty comes opportunity. We’ve put together some ideas and strategies to help ground you and orient you for success in the current moment.

Mindset matters

Most of us have jobs to pay the bills. But beyond that, why do you work? What motivates you? Businesses have their own “why,” and hire (or don’t) for specific reasons. In the current crisis, priorities have shifted. Some initiatives are still moving forward while others are tabled. Remember that, and think beyond the immediate moment. Even if a company can’t hire you today, make a good impression and stay in touch. Things will change and they will remember impressive people.

  • Hustle and don’t take it personally
    Play a numbers game. It’s not the time to put all of your eggs in one basket. Apply to any and all jobs that interest you (within reason, more below). Prepare yourself to not hear back from every company. Persistence pays, so keep at it. Courage!
  • Creator vs. victim mindset
    You may not be in the best mental state right now. That’s understandable. Unemployment can undermine your identity and sense of worth. But try to project a positive attitude. People will remember your vibe more than the specifics of your skills and history. Try to be someone they want to talk to again. Talk about how you can create opportunities for yourself and your new prospective employer. Be open minded and explore areas you wouldn’t normally give a second look.

What to look for in a prospective job

Spruce up your resume

  • Make it more you
    Creating or updating your resume can be daunting when you haven’t touched it in years. Instead of cranking out bullet after bullet of what you’ve done in the last 10 years, think in terms of what sets you apart. Do you have a unique cultural background? Extensive education in a particular subject area? What initiatives have you championed? Start with your value proposition and make your resume reflect it.
  • Use plain language
    Whether you know it or not, you’ve picked up jargon from the places you’ve worked. This can be a barrier. Be aware of your language and what acronyms may no longer be current in your industry. Make sure you’re using words to communicate clearly, not just to credentialize yourself with insider words.
  • But make it discoverable
    Good recruiters hunt for resumes via keywords. Make sure you use the words relevant to what you do, and what you want to do. And list it widely. Job boards and LinkedIn are where recruiters search for resumes (we’ll cover LinkedIn in the next section). CareerBuilder, Monster, and Indeed are all also used widely across industries. Check for more job boards specific to your industry.
  • Make it a conversation starter
    A good resume is an invitation to talk more. Include enough to convince people you know what you’re talking about, but don’t try to be exhaustive. Use the interview to provide the deeper level of detail your prospective employer wants to hear.
  • Keep it to two pages max
    Gone are the days of being required to keep your resume to the length of one single-sided page. But you’re not doing yourself any favors by turning your resume into a five-page deep dive into your entire professional career.
  • Talk about the big things
    A resume should be the highlights reel of your career. List things that you were proud of on your annual review or that earned you a promotion.
  • Clarify your role
    Were you an individual contributor? Did you manage people or budgets? Did you help implement a company-wide initiative? Make clear to your future employer what level of responsibility you’ve taken on.
  • Show how you made a difference
    Make sure to include things that brought value to your team, department, and company. When possible, quantify these outcomes in dollars, number of hours saved, etc.
  • Watch your verb tenses
    An obvious but important point: Anything that you did in the past—for a job you’re no longer in—should be described in past tense. For a current position, use present tense.
  • Proofread
    A simple spelling error can make you look amateurish and even disqualify you as a candidate. Proofread, then set your resume aside for a day and proofread it again. Ask a friend to provide a fresh set of eyes. Ask them to not only check spellings and make sure everything is grammatically correct, but also clear and easy to understand. And don’t forget to check that your contact info is up to date!
  • Formatting matters
    You don’t need to be a visual designer, but your resume should present your information cleanly. Make sure your sizing and spacing is consistent. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel—there are plenty of free resume templates out there.
  • Customize your resume for specific jobs
    If you’re applying to the same type of job across the board, you might be able to get away with a single resume. However, if you’re applying to a leadership role at one company and an individual contributor role at another company, highlight the skills and accomplishments applicable to each role.

LinkedIn tip

Make sure your picture conveys the level of professionalism appropriate for the industry that you're searching in.

finding a job

Make your LinkedIn profile shine

  • Use a good photo
    Statistics tell us that recruiters are more drawn to a profile with a picture than one without. Make sure your picture conveys the level of professionalism appropriate for the industry that you’re in. Some industries are more tolerant of the casual and the humorous than others.
  • Complete your profile
    When you have a profile that LinkedIn deems to be “complete,” you show up higher on search results to recruiters. So make sure to include all the major aspects of a LinkedIn profile to increase your search ranking.
  • Raise your flag
    LinkedIn has a “flag” that indicates to recruiters that you’re open to new opportunities. Go to the upper right-hand corner of your LinkedIn homepage, click on your picture, go to Settings & Privacy > Job Seeking Preferences, then choose “Let recruiters know you’re open to opportunities.” If you’re currently employed, LinkedIn takes steps to make this flag private from your current employer. Note that these privacy steps are only effective if your profile includes your current employment information.
  • Expand on your “why”
    LinkedIn differs from your resume in that it provides the space to get more personal. So talk a bit about your “why”—your values, motivations, what’s important to you, and why you love what you do.

Who you should talk to

Recruiters are often seen as gatekeepers of organizations and a necessary evil. That can be true. But recruiters can also be vital stewards of the needs of a business and its culture. They also have a unique window into the job market, typically through the eyes of both companies and job seekers, and they’re generally happy to tell you everything they can to be helpful. Learning to work with recruiters can help provide valuable insight into an organization’s short- and long-term plans and what trends affecting in the overall job market.

It’s also important to be aware of the different types of recruiters and their motivations:

  • Agency/Staffing/3rd party recruiters
    These are the people hired by corporations to send them qualified candidates. They usually deal with contracts/contracts-to-hire as opposed to direct hire/permanent placement. A common misconception is that you have to pay them. This is not the case! They’re paid by the companies that hire them, only after you get hired. This means they’re incentivized to push harder for you to get a job, but it might not be the best job for you.
  • Internal/Corporate recruiters
    Generally paid a salary, these recruiters are internal employees like anyone else at the company. They’re more focused on fit and quality as opposed to volume and are more tuned into the business’ needs than yours.

Your network

Do you have a great former boss? Amazing coworker you really enjoyed? Reach out to people you’ve crossed paths with and find out what trends they’re seeing, and if they have an inside track to any opportunities. A personal connection at a company can take you a lot further in the process than a cold call.

The search itself

  • Widen your use of keywords
    You already know to search for jobs using keywords and job titles, so we won’t belabor the point. But also, if you use a specific tool in your line of work, try searching that. And what one company calls an “engineer,” another calls a “developer,” so be creative and widen your search.
  • The back-door approach
    If you find a promising job listing, check your personal network to see if anyone on the inside can vouch for you. See if your contact is willing to pass your resume along directly to the hiring manager and follow up with the recruiter. But even if you’re back-dooring it, you should also submit your application through the official process to make sure it gets in the system.  
  • Location, location … location?
    Don’t apply for something unless the commute is one you can live with. Many organizations are increasingly fine with full-time remote workers, so your job search could potentially span the entire country. But do a little research on full-time remote working to make sure it’s really for you. Some people need direct contact with their team to really thrive.

Sure, many others are out there also looking for a job, but none of them is you, with your unique background and skills.

Applying

  • Check all the boxes (even when it’s frustrating)
    Do you hate application processes that make you submit your resume and also manually enter your complete job and education history? Ugh, who doesn’t? But applying for a job is your job now, so give yourself space and time to do it. If you find yourself cutting corners because you’re tired and frustrated, take a break and come back to it.
  • Many eggs, many baskets
    You just applied for the perfect job and feel great about the carefully tailored resume and cover letter you submitted. The natural tendency now is to wait. Don’t. Keep hustling. Keep applying. You want to get as many (appropriate) irons in the fire as possible. If you end up with multiple opportunities, you’ll have leverage and the opportunity to choose.
  • Know your worth
    Become familiar with the standard salary ranges for the jobs that you’re interested in so that you don’t undercut yourself (or price yourself out) in the negotiation. If you’ve been with an employer for a while, you might have been underpaid in comparison to peers that switched employers more often, negotiating a higher salary each time. Now is the time to get paid what you deserve. Industry-specific salary information can be found on Indeed.com, Glassdoor.com, and in The Robert Half Salary Guide.

Building skills

If you’re waiting for a job with the exact skills you have today, it’s might be a long wait. Learn new skills relevant to your industry. Take time to study and pursue the thing you didn’t have time to pursue before. And develop this as a long-term habit. The future of work will favor the adaptable.

Certifications are a great way to round out your skillset, demonstrate what you’re learning—and have that verified by a third party. But remember certifications don’t necessarily qualify you for any job and don’t trump experience.

Make sure any certifications you pursue are also relevant to you, and complement your current experience and training.

Certifications that Slalom encourages its employees to consider when looking to expand their professional skills:

This is tough. Hang in there!

These are difficult and unprecedented times, but there are still opportunities. Think about today and prepare for tomorrow. Sure, many others are out there also looking for a job, but none of them is you, with your unique background and skills. Somewhere out there is a match with a company that will consider itself lucky to have you.

Look within. Use this time to recognize what made you passionate about your old job, and to also reflect on what you were missing. Let your conclusions drive your job search. You may be struggling to see the positive in this moment, but approaching this setback as a growing experience will ultimately position you for success. Brush up your resume, update your LinkedIn, talk to recruiters, take a deep breath, and hang in there. This too shall pass. Courage!

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