Job Seeking Through COVID-19: The Rules of Engagement

| by Staci Barfield

The job search and hiring process has changed. Whereas in-person interviews were once the norm, the pandemic moved us to Brady Bunch-style conversations on platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, and Google Meet. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

If you read the Armstrong McGuire blog regularly, you know that we often offer advice for job seekers. Last week, while reviewing candidate resumes and cover letters with a client we are assisting in a search, I ended up taking an entire page of notes for job seekers to improve their chances of landing that perfect position while the “new normal” is being defined, and I share some of those here.

Your cover letter and resume are more important than ever.

Competition is fierce – there are more job seekers than jobs – and you need to bring your A-game. Typos, grammatical errors, poor formatting, and unnecessary wordiness all point to lack of attention to detail. No matter how qualified you are for the job, you are going to first be judged on the quality of your resume and cover letter, so make them good. Need help? Check out Job Market Solutions for professional resume critiques and assistance and Grammarly for spelling and syntax checking. (And, by all means, avoid the fancy graphics. They don’t impress us.)

Show and tell your story.

What is your personal brand? A Northeastern University career blog states, “In today’s increasingly digital world, a personal brand is no longer a nice-to-have; it’s expected.” Your cover letter is your chance to tell who you are and explain why you are the best fit for the position. Your resume is the place to quantify your accomplishments. This is definitely a situation where one-size-does-NOT-fit-all! That is, you should customize your cover letter and resume for each position, showing and telling your story.

Are you a change agent, a storyteller, a connector, a brand guru, a relationship builder? Share your personal brand in your cover letter, making sure to TELL how your experience relates to the position for which you are applying. Back this up with data in your resume; SHOW results. If you are applying for a fundraising role, share specifics about dollars raised, number of donors, and percentage increases. If you are interested in a financial position, be sure to include budget size and transaction volume of your previous organizations. If you are a communications professional, outline the results of marketing campaigns and quantify social media wins.

Put your best self forward.

Given social distancing guidelines, it is entirely possible that a candidate will never meet with the hiring team in person before being offered a position. This means you must put forth your best effort in a virtual interview situation. To start, ensure your technology is up to the task. Find the name of the meeting software and download the associated app well in advance of the interview. Test your camera, microphone, and speakers. If you have issues with sound, use the phone audio option that is usually offered. Make sure you are in a room that has a good internet connection and limited background distractions. Some video conference platforms allow you to set up a free account, which will make using their software much easier.

Dress for the interview, at least the part the camera sees, as if you were meeting in person. Join the virtual meeting no more than 5 minutes before the interview is to start. Many companies are using the same account for multiple back-to-back meetings, so joining too early can be intrusive. During the interview, make eye contact with the camera, keep your responses on topic and not too lengthy, and don’t move around much. Keep background activity and noise to a minimum but, should your dog or child wander in, do not stress about it. We all recognize that these are unusual times, so acknowledge the disturbance and get back to the interview when able.

The pandemic has changed things like interview formats, but the best practices of job seeking still apply. In fact, the shift in the job market makes them more important than ever. Many organizations are still hiring, but if you want to be considered, you will have to put in the effort. Best of luck to you!

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