By Kathy Parks

A few months ago, the economy was going strong and there were tons of job openings.  You may have been contemplating a job or career change or were perfectly happy with what you were doing.  And then everything changed in the blink of an eye. Who could have predicted the scenario we now find ourselves in worldwide, or the fact that millions of people have suddenly lost their jobs?  It is a tough time for everyone having to deal with this pandemic and my heart especially goes out to those who now don’t have a job as well.

But always in crisis there is opportunity and while hard to think of it that way, now could be a time to take a fresh look at your job and career prospects, short and long term. Consider taking a consistent combination of focused actions every day to do this. Think of it as a journey and you’re taking incremental steps each and every day to get to your destination. There will be hurdles and roadblocks, but you will overcome them.

Whether you need a new job just like you had before, or wish to change or pivot to something different, here are 4 steps you can implement now to get going on that journey:

1. This is an opportunity to re-evaluate your life to think about whether your job or career was something you were happy with. A time to dig deep and say “what do I really want to do with my life”?  (a version on the never ending, what do I want to do when I grow up!) Are you living your passions, doing things that bring you joy? Can you look out to the end of your career or even your life and say if you follow this path, you will have no regrets?

Right now, you may need the next job to live, but can you be intentional in what you go after by creating a plan to take you down the path to where you ultimately might want to end up?

There are many different visioning exercises you can do to drill down to find that passion, that best path.  A few more questions to ask yourself are:

  1. Where have you found the most meaning in your work and personal life?
  2. What are the skills that make you unique and that you can offer to the world?
  3. Where & when do you feel most fully on, fully yourself?
  4. What do you regret not having done yet?
  5. Where do you see yourself in 2, 3 or 5 years?

Hopefully this will spark some ideas and thoughts of whether you are on the right path now or it will help you with where you might want to move forward instead. (I have a fairly simple visioning exercise I can send you if you need more work).

Then you will want to write down 5-10 jobs that fit into the scenario you can see yourself working in now and in the future and also 5-10 companies that you would love to work for.  This is your dream list and it can help you focus your job search efforts moving forward.  Do thorough research on those jobs and companies and that will get you ready for the next step.

2. Update your resume so that it will make it through a company’s online application tracking system (ATS) while putting your skills and accomplishments in the best light. Most companies are using these online systems now and unfortunately, they weed out a good percentage of resumes before they ever get to a human, because of the ways the resumes are formatted or the words the applicants use.  So, you will want to use a standard resume format, nothing fancy, with either an Objective or Professional Summary to start, a Skills section, Professional Experience (Work Experience) next, Education and any other Volunteer positions or Affiliations.  Most importantly you want to tailor your resume to each different job description & job you apply for. I know that’s not what you want to hear but it is important and the same thing goes if you need a cover letter.  The ATS’s look for certain keywords (attributes or dimensions that the job requires) in each online resume that they track, and will spit out the ones that don’t have them.  You don’t want to go crazy with these keywords but you will want your resume to reflect skills that they are looking for in the job description (only if you have them of course), especially in the ‘Experience’ section of your resume.  This section should also highlight the successes you have had, money you have either saved the company you worked for, or brought into the company, special problems solved etc.  Use numbers when you can and all the things that make you the best candidate for the job. Give them more than they ask for while being succinct and not too long winded.

It sounds like a lot but worth the effort to get noticed.  Lastly, save the document as a PDF so the format you have chosen will not be changed as it moves through the system.

3. Use LinkedIn for networking and promoting yourself. Having a great resume traveling through multiple online systems is only one way to get noticed.  Some companies will often get hundreds of resumes (especially now) and you want yours to rise to the top and get to the right people. You can use LinkedIn to help your job search in several different ways.  First of all, you will want to make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and reflects the type of job that you are looking for.  Recruiters, HR & hiring managers use this platform a lot to find potential hires but will also take a look if they get a resume through their online system.  So, you want it similar to your resume, but you don’t want to just cut & paste your resume into it.  You can be a little more creative here, but as per the resume, I want to highlight the skills you have developed to make you a great candidate for the industry or specific positions you are looking for.  Be professional and articulate and have a business-like headshot or photo. As well, you will want to be active on LinkedIn, post thoughtful content about your chosen industry, read and like articles, join groups, and make comments when you can.  And most importantly, build your network here.  If you have a list of dream jobs & companies that you want to work for, who in that company should you connect with?  Reach out and ask for informational interviews, even if there isn’t a job yet in the area you want.  Some jobs might not even get posted, so it’s great to have an ‘in’ that can help you navigate the organization, pass your resume around and help you get to the right hiring person.  You’d be surprised at how many people will help you if you approach them correctly, and I would think that’s true now, more than ever.  It’s best to set up contacts in these companies before a job is even posted but if you haven’t already, and you have applied online, it’s still a good idea to try to reach out to someone to try and get your resume noticed.  Use LinkedIn as a resource to see if you know anyone that works at the company or if a friend or a friend of a friend works there.  As well you can use it as a networking tool to proactively build contacts for the future.  Don’t just send a resume in and sit and wait, use your network to reach out to someone who can help you get it moved to the top of the pile.

4.Practice your interview skills. It is never easy to interview even if you are very confident and especially if you haven’t done it for a while. Practice in front of a mirror, with a friend or a coach and get clear and concise on the story you want to tell about yourself. Practice your ‘elevator pitch’ and how to promote yourself in a non-obnoxious way – people are often hesitant about singing their own praises but you can’t expect the interviewer to just assume the best by looking at your resume. Look for things in your job history that might be tricky to clarify and work on a smooth explanation.  Most interviewers use some sort of a behavioral or situational interview where they ask you to “tell them about at time when” …  This is where they will look for you to tell a story that demonstrates the skills that you have talked about in your resume.  Many say the STAR system works best – you talk about the Situation, Task, Action & Results.  Prepare 5-8 stories in advance so you aren’t struggling to come up with something off the top of your head.  Research the company so you know their mission and values and can speak to how that aligns with what you are looking for. Also prepare some thoughtful questions in advance to ask them when it is your turn.  You also might want to think about asking “is there anything you’ve seen in the interview today that might prevent me from moving forward?” They may not tell you but it shows initiative and courage.  For sure ask if you can reach out to them after the fact to see how things are progressing (and get some business cards so you really can!)

Again, we are all in a tough time right now, some have it tougher than others for sure. Whether you need a job right now or were considering a switch, use this time as an opportunity to move forward in the direction of your dreams.  These steps should help.  You can come out on the other side stronger than ever before and will be on your way to living your life with no regrets.