Remember when the U.S. economy had record low levels of unemployment? Companies were competing for top talent, and job seekers could be more selective when considering their options. Those days may feel like a distant memory, but in fact, they were in reality just nine months ago. Of course, we all know what’s happened since: the COVID-19 pandemic, a massive shift to work from home, millions of lost jobs, and record high unemployment.
Given these dramatic changes, how should job seekers adapt? What do you need to do to set yourself apart in the new competitive job market? Let’s explore how you can leverage your skills to stand out from the crowd and land a great opportunity despite the changing job market.
1.) Update Your Cover Letter
Let’s say you’re a hiring manager with a stack of applications on your desk. Most candidates have the same general experience and meet the job requirements, so there are no big surprises on the resumes you flip through. But you also want to be sure that the candidates fit in well with your company culture, are passionate about the work, and are excited about this specific job opportunity. So, what do you look at next to get a better feel for the candidates? You guessed it… the cover letters.
Putting together a great cover letter has always been an important step in the job application process, but in a tight labor market where competition is fierce, a stand-out cover letter is crucial. How do you set yourself apart with your cover letter? The trick is to say something interesting – quickly. Instead of just repeating your generic opening statement (I would like to be considered for the role of [insert job title] because [insert reason]), try opening with something specific about the company and why you want to work for them. This type of opening shows you’ve done your research and put real effort into your application, helping you stand out from those more standard cover letters.
After your bold opening, move on to highlight what you’d bring to the company as an employee while avoiding spending too much time telling the hiring manager what you’ve done. Your resume is the place to explain your qualifications, skills, and related experience, not your cover letter. Instead, show your interest in the job opportunity and keep your cover letter future focused. This allows you to demonstrate your value to the hiring manager and stand out from the pile of applications they’re sifting through.
2.) Perfect Your Video Interview Skills
Pre-COVID, getting a job interview was an exciting step because it signaled the shift to the in-person phase of the application process. The interview was your chance to show up and impress the hiring manger with your skills, communication, personality, etc. Since that’s no longer possible, you’ll need to ace the digital interview instead.
While you might not get to wow your potential employer at the company’s offices, the upside is that you get to control the interview environment and use it to your advantage. Set the stage for your interview with a great background (or at least a professional looking fake background) and test all your technology and equipment ahead of time so you don’t run into surprises. It’s also still a good idea to follow the dress-for-success rule and present yourself in a way that best reflects who you are and what you’d be like as an employee.
A digital interview is also not a reason to slack off on your usual interview prep. Don’t assume you’ll be able to check your notes or Google the answer to a difficult question while the interview is ongoing. Rehearse the answers to the questions you expect to be asked or maybe even practice over video chat with a friend to run through likely scenarios. Whatever practice method you choose, remember that the goal of every interview is to portray your professionalism and personality. Companies want to get to know you, even if it’s over video instead of in person, so show them you’re a great fit for the role.
3.) Build Your Reference List
To start, let’s clarify what we’re talking about here. References aren’t just the two or three people you list as contacts for a potential employer to call, assuming you make it that far in the hiring process. References are your LinkedIn connections, former co-workers, and industry colleagues, and they can play a surprisingly big role in whether or not your application is successful. That’s why, in addition to updating your resume and writing a killer cover letter, building up your reference list and connections is an important step to take before you apply for a job.
Why does your professional network matter? A hiring manager reviewing your application might check your network to see if you’re connected with former colleagues and still on good terms with previous employers. They might also want to see how engaged with the industry you really are. Did you express a passion for coding or involvement in local tech meetups? Then those interests and activities should be reflected in your LinkedIn network and professional involvements. Finally, do you have connections at the company you are applying to? These references can be a huge help and might even be able to speak to your qualifications and skills for the job.
Don’t have a great reference list? It’s never too late to start networking and build up your connections. In fact, data has continued to show that anywhere from 50 to 80 percent of jobs are filled through networking and professional contacts. Especially in a tough job market, a strong network can help you set yourself apart from other candidates and might just be the difference you need to land that perfect job.
Are you searching for new opportunities? Ethan Allen can help you stand out from the crowd of candidates. Reach out to learn more and get started today!