The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly affected employees and organizations in virtually every industry. In addition to almost unprecedented levels of nationwide unemployment, a wave of individuals and organizations have transitioned to remote work. The exact nature of remote work depends on the company and the position, but recruiters for roles ranging from sales to product management and everything in between are still looking for talented employees who can thrive in the remote landscape.
Despite the circumstances driving the rise of remote work, the hiring outlook for teleworkers remains largely positive. It’s now easier for employers to make mutually beneficial decisions for their employees and organization as a whole, such as hiring more diverse teams and offering greater flexibility with schedules. As such, many companies expect remote work to continue at their organization after the pandemic subsides.
With the widespread expectations and general acceptance of telework, it’s crucial to get comfortable in a remote environment. Even if you plan to do in-person work in the future, you may still encounter online job applications, virtual interviews, and digital networking opportunities. Here’s what you need to know to be fully prepared for a virtual job hunt, during the pandemic and beyond.
Starting Your Search
These significant shifts in the workplace have also led to changes in the process of actually finding a job. Your old assumptions about job hunting may not be true in the post-pandemic world. You may want to adjust your mindset, tweak your approach, and, above all else, be patient to have a successful job search.
Consider Your Goals
Take some time to think about your goals for this new position, as well as your career as a whole. It’s still important to have a professional development plan and a general idea of the trajectory you’d like your career to take. Doing this before you begin your search in earnest can save time and help you find relevant opportunities more quickly.
You may be tempted to jump on any employment opportunity that arises, especially if you’ve been struggling or out of work due to the pandemic, but you certainly don’t have to. It may not be worth compromising your professional development just to secure a position (assuming you’re financially able to do so).
Further, it’s easier to take your career to the next level if you find a job that fits your needs right off the bat. You don’t have to waste time jumping from job to job, continually learning the basics before moving on. Instead, you can invest more time and energy into your development from the get-go.
That being said, do your best to be flexible while looking for a job. The pandemic has led to major changes in work and employment, including different expectations for employees and a new understanding of work-life balance, that you may not have encountered in previous jobs. You may have to try new things or make adjustments while applying and interviewing in this remote environment. This open-mindedness doesn’t just apply to a position or job duties; it should also apply to other areas, such as company culture, location, and compensation and benefits.
It’s most important to know what’s essential for you, and what’s open for negotiation. For instance, you may not want to work for a permanently remote company, but is that worth bypassing an exciting job with great benefits? Try taking a chance on something unexpected, such as a job at a new startup or position outside of your wheelhouse; you may just be surprised at how much you enjoy the challenge or change.
Hone Your Skills
The pandemic has left many people with almost unprecedented amounts of free time. If you’re one of them, consider using that time to educate yourself and polish your skills. From new programs to soft skills, there’s always something new to learn. Depending on what you focus on, that knowledge could open up new opportunities or otherwise help you advance your career.
Look at a variety of job listings in your niche to see what skills are in demand and how you currently stack up. Have you managed to keep your skills up-to-date, or are some outdated or obsolete? Are employers looking for skills, certifications, or credentials that you don’t have at all? Can you build off of your existing knowledge or do you need to branch out into new areas?
Prioritize your education thoughtfully. On one hand, starting with the most in-demand skills will give your resume a bigger boost more quickly than less relevant skills. On the other hand, learning uncommon or unusual skills will help you stand out and make you a more desirable candidate. Both strategies can work well, but the right one for you will depend on your industry, existing knowledge, and desired position.
Take Your Time
Finally, do your best to be patient in your search. It’s better to take your time to find the right job than it is to rush the process and end up in a position that you don’t like. Don’t feel compelled to accept the first offer you receive from a company, as you won’t always receive an offer that’s worth accepting. If you accept a job you don’t want or decide to work for a company you don’t like, you’ll probably have to start your job hunt all over again in the near future.
Additionally, don’t worry if you do have to take a less-than-ideal job to keep yourself or your family afloat. The pandemic has been financially devastating for many people, and it’s important to take care of yourself and stabilize your finances. What’s more, even a seemingly poor opportunity can still be an invaluable learning experience, preparing you for the position you do want.
Updating Your Resume
Some aspects of job hunting have not changed during the pandemic, including resume writing. You need a great resume to catch the eye of hiring managers and move forward in the hiring process. Even the art of resume writing has largely remained the same, as you still need to highlight your skills and describe your previous work experience.
However, there are a few things to keep in mind when preparing your resume for a virtual job search:
Customize Your Resume
It’s one of the most common pieces of resume-writing advice, that you need to customize your resume, cover letter, and application for every job you apply to. Highlight the skills and experiences that are directly related to that position, and don’t worry about including information that isn’t relevant.
With so many people out of work, hiring managers are likely receiving several resumes for each open position at their organization. You can make yours stand out by getting straight to the point and providing concise, pertinent information. Additionally, customizing your resume shows that you’re invested in and serious about this particular opportunity, rather than sending out a generic resume to every open job listing.
Highlight Your Soft Skills
Soft skills are critical for every job, regardless of industry or position, but they’ve become even more important in the wake of COVID-19. Communication, self-management, organization, and the ability to maintain focus and productivity are essential skills if you want to succeed in a remote environment. Because you won’t be able to work in the same room as your manager and coworkers, you have to bring a certain level of emotional intelligence, expertise, and confidence to the table.
The pandemic has changed the way many workplaces operate, so don’t hesitate to emphasize how your experience has prepared you for those changes. For example, if you’ve worked remotely in the past, it’s a good idea to share that experience. It’s a simple way to showcase your experience and make you that much more appealing of an applicant, as you won’t have to learn how to work remotely in addition to learning how to do your job duties.
Write for Robots
Technology often plays a major role in recruitment and hiring by helping to streamline hiring processes. When writing your resume, cover letter, and application, you have to account for this technology.
Many companies, for example, use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to manage and refer back to applications. An ATS can filter out seemingly irrelevant resumes and unqualified candidates. In other words, an ATS can prevent your resume from even making it to a hiring manager if you aren’t careful. You need to use keywords and relevant language to make sure your application gets past the ATS successfully.
That being said, you shouldn’t forget that you’re writing to a human being. You shouldn’t write your resume application for the ATS, especially if that comes at the expense of speaking to a recruiter or hiring manager. You’ll need to find the right balance between optimizing your application to get past the ATS while still catching the eye of the hiring manager.
Explain Pandemic-Related Employment Gaps
As with any other career gap, you should disclose any lapses in your employment that have been caused by the pandemic. It may not be the best part of your resume, but you should be upfront. COVID-19 has been disruptive for many people, and recruiters and hiring managers will likely be sympathetic to any struggles you’ve faced.
Don’t lie on your resume about the gap, even if you think it could hurt your candidacy. Simply state the facts, and then explain your experiences in greater detail in your cover letter. Try to focus on the benefits of the gap, such as how it’s opened up new employment opportunities, allowed you to do freelance work, or given you time to learn new skills. This can help “sell” the gap as a positive experience for your career and professional development.
If you left your previous position on good terms, ask them to provide a reference and explain their side of things — that they were forced to let many good employees go because of government shutdowns, for example. Further, be prepared to provide additional context or elaborate on what you discussed in your cover letter, as hiring managers will probably ask about the gap if you manage to get an interview.
Preparing for Remote Interviews
Companies that have continued to hire during the pandemic have turned to virtual interviews to vet applicants and find new employees while keeping everyone safe and healthy. Some experts believe remote interviews may last well beyond the pandemic, as hiring managers seek out the best talent, regardless of their physical location.
It’s just as important to ace your remote interview as it is to ace an in-person interview. This still is your time to shine, show a hiring manager all that you have to offer, and convince them that you’re the best person for the job — you just have to do it on camera rather than in an office.
Do Your Homework
Do everything you can to prepare for your interview. Virtual interviews are not an excuse to be casual. You should do the same degree of research for a video interview as an in-person one. This includes:
Learning about the position you’re applying for;
Researching the company you’re interviewing with;
Having your answers ready for common interview questions;
Educating yourself about the industry, including recent news and trends;
Writing down questions you want to ask about the position and company.
It’s also worth learning about how the company responded to and has fared during the pandemic. Did they move to a remote environment quickly? Do they plan to continue offering remote work options once the pandemic has subsided? Did they offer additional support to help any struggling employees? As long as you are diplomatic and respectful, these kinds of questions are appropriate to ask your interviewer.
When doing research, you can’t go wrong if you start with the company’s website, but don’t stop there. Look at their social media pages, including previous posts, as well as their profiles on job hunting sites like Glassdoor and Indeed. You can also look for any mentions, features, or discussions of the company in the news or industry blogs.
Getting your information from a diverse pool of sources will give you a better idea of “who” this company is, its values, its performance, and its standing in the community and industry. Not only will this help prepare you for the interview, but it will also prepare you to work for this organization (should you receive and accept an employment offer).
Test Your Technology
Technology is a key part of any successful interview, but it can present challenges when it doesn’t work as intended. Take some time to test out your technology to make sure everything is working properly before your interview. This includes testing your internet connection, making sure you have the necessary programs installed, and making sure your webcam and microphone are set up and ready to go.
Despite your best efforts, you could experience technical difficulties during the interview — so make sure you have a backup plan. For instance, if you lose your internet connection, plan on calling the interviewer back on your phone. You can’t always control these difficulties, but you can control how you respond to them. If you respond quickly and appropriately, you can showcase your ability to work under pressure — especially in a remote environment.
Use Pen and Paper
You may meet virtually, but you can still rely on pen and paper for your interview. It’s better to reference something you’ve written down in a notebook rather than in another tab or program on your computer.
Your interviewer will be able to tell that you aren’t fully focused on the meeting and may assume that you are doing something completely unrelated. You never know what type of interviewer you’re interacting with. If someone is looking for reasons not to hire you, you don’t want to give them any additional reasons to doubt you as a candidate.
If you have any technical difficulties, you may not even be able to access your resume, application, or other documents you need. Further, if you have a lot of programs or browser tabs open, it could interfere with your video call, causing lag or lowering the quality of your sound and video.
Maintain a Professional Environment
You will want to cultivate the right environment for a virtual interview. Make sure your background is clean, uncluttered, and free of any inappropriate or distracting personal items. Not only should this help you come across as professional, but it can also help you get into the right mindset for your meeting.
Do your best to minimize distractions during your interview. Ideally, you will be able to separate yourself from other members of your household, including children and pets, so you have some privacy. You may also want to mute notifications on your computer or phone so you aren’t interrupted.
Of course, you still want to dress professionally, even for an interview with a notoriously casual startup. It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed. If you’re confident that only the top half of your body will be showing, then you can get away with a nice shirt and/or jacket and something more comfortable on the bottom. You’re likely better off dressing professionally from head to toe, just to be cautious.
Be Conscious of Body Language
Be mindful of your body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, and other nonverbal cues during your interview. You don’t have the privilege of an in-person meeting, so you have to make an active effort to come across in a positive light. You should be transparent about yourself and your personality, but you also don’t want to unconsciously or unintentionally hurt your candidacy with off-putting mannerisms.
Maintain “eye contact” by looking directly into the camera as much as possible instead of at yourself or your interviewer on the screen. Avoid fixing your hair, clothing, or face, as this will show that you’re nervous. Smiling can also make you appear more confident and approachable, which goes a long way in making a great first impression. Try to maintain good posture, rather than slouching or leaning too far into the computer.
You also need to pay attention to how and when you speak. There’s always a chance that your sound isn’t as clear to your interviewer as it is to you, so take care to speak as clearly as possible. Pay close attention to the interviewer so you know exactly what they’re saying and don’t accidentally interrupt or cut them off during your call.
Just as with an in-person interview, be sure to follow up with your contact or the hiring manager after your virtual interview. At the end of the interview, ask what the next steps are, when you can expect to hear back from them, and the best way to follow up. Listen closely about when and how to contact them and adhere to their instructions.
Consider sending a thank-you note after your interview; a simple gesture that can go a long way. As always, there’s a fine line between annoying the hiring manager and making sure they don’t forget about you. Aside from your note, another email or phone call may be appropriate if they didn’t get back to you within the previously established timeframe. If you move forward in the hiring process, that’s great! But even if you don’t, you’ve added a new contact to your professional network, which is vital for the remote landscape.
Focusing on Remote Networking
The pandemic has made meeting and connecting with others challenging at times.
Whether you’re trying to meet other professionals in your field or build relationships with new coworkers in a remote environment, it’s difficult to forge meaningful professional connections while staring at someone on a computer screen. However, this isn’t impossible; it’ll just take a bit of creativity and effort on your part.
Virtual internships are functionally similar to in-person internships; the main difference is that they occur exclusively in remote settings. Interns communicate with employers through email, instant messaging services, and video and phone calls. They also often rely on webinars, coworking sessions, presentations, and other online tools to help teach interns about relevant subjects.
Traditionally, internships are rife with networking opportunities, but virtual internships do not offer the same level of social interaction as in-person internships. However, during the pandemic, in-person internships haven’t been available, causing organizations to quickly pivot to virtual ones. An imperfect virtual internship is still more valuable for networking and career development than no internship at all.
As everyone gets more comfortable with virtual internships, they will likely persist beyond the pandemic. You also don’t have to be a college student to benefit from a virtual internship; more experienced members of the workforce may be especially well-suited to them. Since you’re already comfortable in the workplace, you can take full advantage of the networking opportunities offered by a virtual internship.
Virtual Job Fairs
A virtual job or career fair is an online event where job seekers can meet and connect with hiring managers, recruiters, and potential employers. Much like virtual internships, virtual career fairs are modeled on their in-person counterparts and are facilitated by similar kinds of communication technology, such as chat rooms, video calls, and webinars. Traditionally, job fairs have served as an opportunity to recruit younger employees, including recent college grads, but they are open and useful to employees of all levels.
Virtual job fairs open up countless more candidates and employment opportunities since they aren’t tied to a physical location or geographic area. They aren’t as time-intensive, giving both employers and job seekers more time to focus on what they’re interested in. You’ll still need to make sure you have a professional environment to attend a virtual career fair, but it may not be as intimidating or overwhelming as an in-person event.
Even if you don’t find your dream job or secure a position from a virtual job fair, they are still a great networking opportunity. You can meet a variety of people in your industry and establish or develop relationships with different organizations. When you do secure a position, you will already know people at other organizations. This will prove useful if you ever have to work on a project with another company, put together an industry event, or move jobs in the future.
When used appropriately, social media can be a great way to connect with others professionally. Many social media sites are already affecting the hiring process, but as they become more ingrained in the workplace, they are also important for professional development.
Some sites are better for networking than others. LinkedIn is the obvious choice, but Twitter, Facebook, and, depending on your industry, even Instagram can also be useful. Online groups, communities, and forums focused on your industry are a particularly great way to learn about recent news items, the latest developments, and expert opinions about a given subject.
Above all else, you have to maintain a professional personal brand when interacting with others online. Social media profiles can feel personal, but you should be all business if you’re using your page to engage with people from your workplace, another company in your industry, or a professional organization. If you have a personal profile that is connected to your professional one (or that shares any identifying information), be sure to keep it equally clean, or as private as possible.
Virtual Events, Trade Shows, and Webinars
Other virtual events, such as trade shows and industry presentations, can also benefit your professional development, education, and networking efforts. If you would’ve attended these events in person, you should seek out virtual opportunities that excite or interest you.
If you do attend these events, make an effort to participate. Ask questions, join discussion groups, or make a point to continue the conversation with your contacts after the event is over. It may feel awkward, but this is a simple way to make your name and face known to others in your industry, which is crucial to building up your network.
If you’re up for it, consider joining a discussion panel, representing your organization at an event, or hosting a webinar. You can make your name more widely known and encourage others to reach out to you.
Professional Organizations and Industry Networks
Many professional organizations, alumni groups, and industry networks have moved their in-person meetings and events online. If you belong to or are interested in any of these organizations, be sure to follow their online activities so you know when and how to participate in virtual mixers, webinars, mastermind groups, and other events.
These organizations bring together many different people from a single industry. In other words, they already have an established, diverse professional network that you can take advantage of. While you’ll still need to spend some time cultivating your own network, this is a good starting point, especially if you aren’t sure where to begin or want to branch out.
Depending on the organization, some of these events may remain online after the pandemic subsides. This allows you to build a global network of professional contacts that you can take with you throughout your career — regardless of whether you continue to work remotely.
Additional Job Search and Remote Work Resources
Consult the following resources and websites for more help with job hunting during the pandemic and information about remote work:
Centers for Disease Control Workplaces and Businesses Guidelines: This page from the U.S. CDC provides safety information for employees and employers to keep everyone healthy during the pandemic.
COVID-19 Resources from Indeed: This page from Indeed contains everything you need to know about job hunting and working during the pandemic. They also provide information for employers and allow you to start your job search directly on the page.
Glassdoor COVID-19 Articles: This section of the Glassdoor blog provides insight and advice on many different aspects of remote work, including job hunting and burnout.
Graduating in the Age of COVID-19: This guidebook from the Washington Center provides a roadmap to help new college graduates launch their careers during and after the pandemic.
The Remoter Project: The Remoter Project is a growing library of articles, interviews, videos, podcasts, and other resources about working remotely.
SHRM Remote Work Resource Center: This page from the Society for Human Resource Management provides a variety of different resources about remote work for employees, employers, and HR professionals.
We Work Remotely: This page from WWR organizes tools and articles categorically, so you can easily find relevant remote work resources based on your needs.
Who's Freezing Hiring From Coronavirus: This page from Candor contains a live, user-generated feed where people can share the current hiring status of their organization and report any hiring freezes or layoffs.
The ZipRecruiter Skills Index: This study from ZipRecruiter ranks the most valuable soft and hard skills for employees to have in the modern job market.