6 Tips to Stand Out and Land a New Role in a Post-Pandemic Job Market
This post was originally published by The Muse, and was written by Erica Sweeney.
The pandemic changed so much about how we work that it probably inspired you to rethink your work-life priorities. Maybe you realized that you’re burnt out, that working from home is your ideal setup, or that you just dislike your job. So as you’re figuring out what your new normal will look like in the wake of the pandemic, you might want a fresh start with a new job.
So many people are job hunting these days that HR experts are referring to the anticipated post-pandemic job shuffle as the “talent tsunami.” More than a quarter of workers were planning to look for a new job post-pandemic, according to a March 2021 survey by Prudential. Other research suggests that more than half of the workforce is considering changing jobs in 2021. And it appears to be playing out in practice—the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 3.6 million workers quit their jobs in May 2021.
If your company seemed to put profits before people during the pandemic or the crisis made you question its mission and values, you might be ready to leave that toxic environment and find more meaningful work. You might also be looking for a flexible work schedule, higher pay, remote work opportunities, or more growth opportunities.
More jobs are available now than before the pandemic, according to BLS, but that doesn’t mean getting hired is easy. Companies are still selective, and it may take time to find—and land—a job that better aligns with your wants and needs. Here are some tips for how to stand out in your job search amidst the great reshuffle.
(If you’re searching for job openings to apply for, you can find them right on The Muse—and you can filter your search to remote roles or to companies that offer flexible hours, promotions from within, mentor programs, or other benefits and perks you value.)
1. Get Ready to Explain Why You’re Looking for a New Job
“Why are you looking for a new job?” is a question you’ve probably heard in past job interviews. It’s especially likely to come up as employers seek new hires that will be the best fit post-pandemic. Thinking through your reasoning for changing jobs will not only prepare you to answer, but it will also help you feel secure that you’re making a mindful move and not simply jumping on the great resignation bandwagon, says Kimberly Cummings, founder of professional development company Manifest Yourself and author of Next Move, Best Move.
If you’ve been laid off or furloughed, simply say so, says Cummings, who’s been helping her clients navigate the job search as the pandemic ebbs. (You can find more detailed advice for talking about your COVID layoff or employment gap here.)
Be honest, but positive, about other reasons. Explain how you need a more flexible schedule, how you realized you work best at home, how you’re eager to use skills you’ve been honing in service of a vision you believe in, or how you’re looking for more joy and passion in your work—just make sure you can tie your reasoning to the role and organization you’re interviewing for.
Answering this question is an opportunity to show off how well you’ve researched the organization, too. Explain why a company’s mission aligns with the passions you rediscovered during the pandemic, for example, or that their policies for working parents would be a great fit for your family. Cummings says it’s vital to find out as much as you can about a potential new employer as early as you can to make sure they’ll be a good fit for your needs. And showing your interviewers you’ve put in the time and effort to learn about the company and been thoughtful about where you’re applying can help you stand out among the competition.
2. Tap Into Your Network for Insider Information
Tapping into your existing network of family, friends, and past coworkers can help you stand out in the increasingly competitive landscape. Any referrals, insights, or insider information you can gather will guide you in knowing what questions to ask during interviews and which skills to emphasize throughout the hiring process. Informal conversations can also offer intel about what it will be like to work at a company and whether it’s a good fit for you, Cummings says. The more you know, the more you can show how excited you are about joining the company—which will leave a lasting impression.
Use your network to expand your contacts, too. “I like for my clients to ask their contacts at the end of any conversation, ‘Is there anyone else in your network who you believe would be great for me to speak to? And would you be willing to facilitate an introduction?’” Cummings says. Then ask new connections for 15-minute meetings so you can introduce yourself and ask questions. After so many months in isolation, people might be especially excited to chat and may be even more willing than usual to help with your job transition.
Keep up your networking game even if you’re not quite ready to make a move or after you find your next job; you never know where it might lead, says Susan Ascher, president and CEO of The Ascher Group, a career consulting firm, and the author of two books on communication in the workplace. Sign up for virtual networking events or join in-person gatherings, if you feel safe doing so. Connect and engage with people on LinkedIn who are in your field.
3. Tailor Your Resume and Application to the Moment
You probably already know that submitting the same generic resume for every job isn’t a good move. Swapping out or reframing the skills, accomplishments, and past jobs that you include on your resume depending on the job you’re applying for shows what you know about the role and company and will help get your application noticed. These days, you need to tailor everything to the moment, too.
Did you pick up a new skill during the pandemic, take a class, or take on new responsibilities due to a company restructuring or strategy pivot? Did you help your team meet or exceed goals during the crisis? If so, add these things to your resume and LinkedIn profile.
And briefly explaining in your cover letter or elsewhere in your application how the pandemic influenced your career goals or led you to seek a role that better aligns with your passions—and why this is that role—will humanize your application and make it memorable. Including these details shows that you can be independent, are a lifelong learner, and have the ability to self-assess, pivot your work, and reflect, Ascher says, all qualities employers are looking for now.
4. Prepare to Answer Pandemic-Related Interview Questions
Employers want to get a sense of how you held up during the pandemic and how you adapted to change. So recruiters and hiring managers will likely ask about your pandemic experience. Don’t let it intimidate you.
Be prepared to talk about what you learned about yourself and how you work, how you adapted to all the changes, how you quickly adjust to new situations, and how you cope with work-related stress. With many companies continuing to work remotely or taking a hybrid approach, you’ll likely be asked questions about your remote-work style and experiences, including how you figure things out as you go, how you communicate and collaborate from afar, and how you stay organized and motivated.
To stand out, when discussing your pandemic experience, double down on any point that’s related to the job and connect it back to the company where you’re interviewing, Cummings says. In other words, how will you use what you learned to help you succeed in this next role? And remember you can voluntarily bring any of this up when they ask you, “Tell me about yourself,” and similar questions. Just try to keep your responses positive, even though the past year has been tough in many ways.
5. Emphasize the Skills Employers Are Looking for Now
Interviewers are looking for flexibility, agility, and an ability to strategize, Cummings says. Coming out of the pandemic, organizations need people who can learn and adapt quickly when something comes up. Emphasizing how you strengthened these qualities during the pandemic will set you apart from other applicants. “It's definitely a time to talk about any skills that were gained and tell stories about how you had to pivot quickly,” she says.
Focusing on tangible accomplishments also helps you stand out, Ascher says. Discuss details about how you quickly responded to the onset of the pandemic, pivoted your strategy, and still managed to increase sales by 20% at your last job, for example. Or explain how you worked with your team to create a new policy that improved communication during the pandemic or helped your coworkers cope with stress.
Some companies will still allow remote work in some form, so emphasize your comfort with digital technologies, like collaboration and video conferencing tools, as well as your self-starter qualities and remote communication skills. If you’re looking to work remotely or on a flexible schedule in your new role, you’ll need to prove that you have the skills and drive to thrive and contribute to the company’s success while working from home.
6. Always Be Camera-Ready
Many organizations are still conducting video job interviews. If you haven’t gotten used to video calls over the past 18 months or don’t like being on camera, it’s time to reframe that thinking. Zoom likely isn’t going anywhere post-pandemic, so you want to show your interviewers that you’re comfortable hosting and participating in video meetings.
Even if you’ve been hopping on video calls with your coworkers for months, take a few extra steps to prepare for an interview to avoid any snafus. It never hurts to test the video and audio and always declutter your background, minimize disruptions, dress professionally, and look at the camera, not yourself. “These tips seem so simple, but I promise you people mess up on them every single day,” Cummings says. You definitely don’t want to give the impression that you’re still struggling with video calls, especially if you’re hoping to work remotely some or all of the time in this role.
And make sure you still treat a video interview as you would an in-person one, Cummings says. You’re likely competing with many other applicants, so taking a little extra care with your video interview will help you stand out—and on the flip side, underestimating the importance of this conversation could cost you the job. Address everyone on the call, don’t interrupt, and have well-informed, thoughtful responses prepared.
Job hunting in the wake of the pandemic will be a little different than before. But some things haven’t changed: The best way to stand out is to be enthusiastic, show your interest, and do your homework.
And be mindful and intentional in the process, Cummings says—don’t look for a new job just because everyone else seems to be doing so and don’t get so caught up impressing the interviewers that you forget they need to impress you too. “Make sure that whatever job you’re looking for truly aligns with the strategy that you have for yourself,” she says. “If you don't have a strategy, take a minute to pull that together.”