Unemployment is at an all-time high and right now, it’s harder to get hired than years and decades past. But all hope is not lost. There are ways to get noticed and separate yourself, and to get the job, even when job openings are scarce.
First, consider these encouraging statistics: According to a recent study by SHRM (the Society for Human resource Management), among 2,278 members, 17% of employers were expanding their businesses and 13% were hiring. In addition, according to its annual global CEO survey, PwC found 74% of CEOs are concerned about the availability of skills in their respective workforces.
The bottom line: Companies need great employees with strong skills to grow their businesses. Particularly those who are unafraid to take an unconventional and bold approach.
So how can you get hired when it seems no one is hiring? Establishing a strong start to your process is key, along with finding the best ways to leverage your network, your creativity, and your distinctive skill sets.
Here are six ways to get hired during an economic downturn.
Set the bar high (and keep it there)
The fact is during tough times, you have to be among the best in your area, keep your skills fresh, and maintain the strength of your capabilities. As the job market has contracted, employers have more choices, so they can select the cream-of-the-crop candidates. There will still be a range of entry points for positions: entry-level, midterm, or senior. However, wherever you are in your career progression, stay on top of your area of expertise. Read within your field. Learn the latest software that will keep you relevant. Develop the newest skills critical to the type of role you want to land.
Ensuring your knowledge is cutting edge will set you apart in terms of what you can immediately offer to a company. It will also demonstrate your determination and thirst for learning—two characteristics which are always attractive to employers.
Commit real energy into your network
Networking is one of the nonnegotiable’s if you’re going to get hired. It’s critical to tap into the hidden job market and nurture connections that will introduce you to hiring managers. Reach out to people who you know well, but also focus on building links with people who are new acquaintances. Known as “weak ties,” people you know less well can inform you about a new opening simply because they have exposure outside of you and your typical, more condensed network.
And finally, be intentional about deepening and expanding the relationships within your network.
Take on that inventive mindset
The number of traditional roles may have declined, but your capacity of invention should now. Consider recommending a new role, a contribution, or a skill set you believe the company needs but may not have thought of themselves. A manufacturing company may need an expert in plant layout to reduce virus transmission, or a retail store may need someone who can innovate creative ways to welcome customers while social distancing.
Another way to get in the door may be to offer the company the opportunity to give you a test run. A friend of mine offered to work for free for eight weeks so the company could test her skills and her fit. Another friend offered to do a salaried job on a commission-only basis for three months to prove herself to the company. While these strategies will generally work better with smaller, less formal companies, they may be worth a try at even larger firms. In each of my friends’ cases, they were ultimately hired by companies who were enthusiastic about their skills and their futures with each organization.
Articulate your fit
When you talk to a potential employer, tell your story in a compelling way. Resist the temptation to just go through a list of your previous roles. According to Angela Burke, president of Palladian West, an executive recruiting firm, it is especially effective to pull out themes from your experience.
Perhaps you’re a skilled problem-solver or someone who is especially organized or the one person who can energize a team. Highlight these kinds of strengths across your experiences. Burke also coaches clients on solution-thinking: “You are a solution, [so] consider the problems which need solutions, and how you can set yourself apart as the best solution.”
To make the strongest impression on hirers, make sure to stay consistent. You may want to step beyond your current skill set and seek a job that you will grow into, but resist this temptation. In a tight job market, it is best to play to your existing strengths. Deborah Rousseau, lead talent acquisition partner for Poly a telecommunications company, says “You’ll be competing with people who already have skills in the area where you may be trying to grow, so this isn’t the time to try and stretch to a job beyond your current skill set. Instead, emphasize your existing core competencies.”
Attract recruiters with an exacting résumé
In every role, you’ll be a member of a team and how you play will matter. Burke says, “Think about the team you’ll join and market yourself based on what you bring to the team and how you will add something unique and valuable.” In addition to being specific about the team, also be specific about the role. Rousseau says, “Customize your résumé for each role by highlighting your relevant experience in a summary or as the top bullets in your work history. You can also identify the specific position to which you’re applying at the top. Recruiters are moving quickly, so make it easy for them to see the match between your résumé and the job they’re seeking to fill.”
Demonstrate you can roll with the punches
The pandemic has forced a reset in the market overall and for many businesses. The study by SHRM found 10% of employers are in the process of beginning new initiatives; however, the study by PwC found 55% of CEOs believe they can’t innovate successfully and 44% cannot pursue new business opportunities because their people lack the skills. This creates the need for entrepreneurial and problem-solving skills among candidates. In addition, because no one has been through a pandemic before, many companies report they especially need innovation and creative skills. Be sure you highlight these in your experience.
On your résumé and in conversation with your contacts, give examples of how you’ve solved a thorny problem or found an unexpected solution in a difficult circumstance. Show how you’ve learned throughout your career and continuously contributed in fresh ways to your previous roles.
There’s no doubt about it, this is a rough time to find a new job. But companies are hiring, and jobs exist for those who are able to explore and chase after them effectively. Be excellent at what you do and invent opportunities to contribute while highlighting the skills that matter most right now. Stay connected and network brilliantly; stay visible and keep to the course.
Your determination and grit will be important once you’re hired for a new job, so express these characteristics in your search and success will follow.
Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.