From remote working becoming the norm to being a part of Zoom interviews, it's an underestimate to say that coronavirus (COVID-19) has totally transformed how we work and job search. However, these changes are not felt equally between everyone. Women, for instance, have borne the brunt of the pandemic's economic impact by losing all 140,000 jobs that were cut in December 2020. In fact, while 2008's financial crash was dubbed a "mancession" (because so many men lost their jobs in its wake), 2020 and 2021 have already earned the title of "femcession."
A simple call out for stories for this piece led to an inundated inbox: tales of women in their early 20s losing out on their hard-earned grad jobs, older women making scary career pivots as they adapted to suit the new job industry requirements, and women who saw their entire industries crumble before them. In one extreme case, marketing consultant Karina Scott applied to over 200 jobs from March to June 2020 and only heard back from two.
According to writer Jen Kaarlo, pandemic unemployment has been like being a contestant on a reality dating show. "I spent the better part of 2020 on the job hunt and not only were roles limited, but my industry was flooded with applicants," she tells me. "I would go through rounds of interviews and copy tests, only to be ghosted by both internal and external recruiters alike. Given the nature of how many ready and willing applicants are looking for work, it felt like if you said one wrong word, hiring managers would move on to the next bright young thing. It felt a bit like The Bachelor and I wasn't getting any roses."
However, with every story of job-hunting struggles comes a flood of positive anecdotes: women using this time to develop new skills, try new hobbies that they've always wanted to (yoga is a clear favorite), and reflect fully on their aspirations. Some have even made daring and exciting career changes to great success, while others have found a greater sense of self-worth divorced from their employment status.
As each woman describes the struggle of looking for a job—a trial in the best of times, let alone during lockdown—it's clear that efforts need to evolve with our changing job market. To get a deeper insight, we talked to career experts for their advice on how to boost your professional career while being unemployed.
Job search tips:
1. Give yourself a break.
For those who have never experienced sustained unemployment, giving yourself a break may seem like a strange piece of advice. But for those of us familiar with the high emotions, stress, and amount of time generated from constant job applications (aka job-seeker burnout), it's perhaps the most important tip of all.
According to Isabel Sachs, founder of creative career platform I Like Networking, taking the pressure off yourself is vital for the process. "First, know you're not alone, and second, take a break," she says. "If you are constantly applying to lots of jobs and not getting anywhere, it's a sign that your strategy is wrong. It's best to select a few jobs to apply to and really work on them. It takes time and it's painful, but you won't be able to succeed if you're totally run down."
Sachs suggests to those who are unemployed to start their job hunt with a total reset day. "Don't apply to anything for a day, go for a walk if possible and ask yourself, What do I do well? What do I enjoy doing? How would I like my workday to be?" she explains. "The next day, when looking for jobs, make sure they fit at least 60 percent of all of that [criteria]." For Sachs, it was this time-off approach after she lost her own job—spending "a few weeks of [watching] Netflix and crying"—that led to her realizing her own career dreams and setting up her new company.
2. Give your résumé a total overhaul.
A changing pandemic-era workforce calls for a totally new approach to résumé writing. Amanda Augustine, the resident career expert for TopCV, TopResume, and TopInterview knows a thing or two about wowing hiring managers. She refers to a 2018 study by TopResume, which shows that the most impressive résumés do three things: presents a compelling career narrative, strikes a visual balance, and illustrates a candidate's value, each with your specific career goal in mind.
"Employers want to see more than a timeline of your education and experience," she explains. "They want your résumé to read like a story, explaining why you're qualified for the job you want. Instead of listing everything you've ever done or learned, emphasize the details that support your current job goals and downplay or omit those that don't."
Augustine also suggests offering proof of your qualifications by including "specific examples, figures, or case studies that illustrate your abilities. Wherever possible, quantify your contributions and achievements to show the value you've created for your past employers." However, if your roles don't do this for some reason, Augustine says to focus on showing the person who is reading your résumé that you're good at what you do. "For example, if you were a waitress, did you get the busiest section, or were you asked to train new employees? What wouldn't get done if you didn't show up to work for a few days? What balls would get dropped?" she says.
It's not only the content you need to think about, but also how your résumé looks is equally as important. "When it comes to the design of your résumé, less is truly more," Augustine notes. "Avoid custom formats and elaborate designs that make it harder for employers to find the information they care about. Stick to a clean, consistent layout that makes it easy for readers to quickly skim your résumé and understand your career story." This is also the case for creative jobs, for which Augustine suggests saving your design skills for your online portfolio, which should always be linked at the top of your résumé.
Both experts and job seekers say that networking is invaluable, especially in lockdown and with an overcrowded job market. After all, it's that all-important human connection that helps you stand out. LinkedIn is your best friend here: Make sure that it's completely filled out, up to date and matches your résumé. Set yourself as "open to work," engage with others whose careers you admire, and post updates. You never know who you'll connect with or the opportunities it could lead to.
4. Find a job hunt buddy.
The experts also suggest finding a job hunt buddy. "The job search can be incredibly lonely," Augustine notes. "Partnering with someone in a similar position can make the journey more manageable. By checking in with one another on a weekly basis and sharing information, you're automatically doubling your job-search efforts and resources." This can also keep you on track when motivation is low, especially when you make those weekly chats fun with drinks and snacks.
5. Think outside of work.
As much as improving yourself professionally is important, what makes us most attractive as employees is our personal interests and skills, aka what makes us unique. For recent graduate Issy Aldridge, unemployment has led to a totally new voluntary project and skill set, working as a web and social editor for That Fangirl Life podcast. "Everything I'm doing with the podcast in terms of community management, marketing, and social media is directly related to the field I'm hoping to move into," she explains. "I'm creating content for our Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn channels as well as working on the website, which we hope to launch around May of 2021. At the moment, this is all unpaid work, but the subject of fandom is something I'm so passionate about."
Aside from professional improvement, personal projects can also do wonders for our self-esteem and motivation levels. Kaarlo tells me that her "passion project"—setting up a website and writing to creatively express herself—helped her get up and out of bed on days when the job hunt forced her down. "Producing content that was meaningful to me gave me a sense of purpose and pride, and I think it's ultimately what led me to have more confidence and land my new job," she says.
6. Structure your time.
Structuring your time is key, especially without the familiar order of a normal workday to keep you in check. Charli Kabe, who has been unemployed since March 2019, finds that sticking to a "normal" workweek helps. "I 'work' Monday to Friday. No applications or job hunt-related stuff on the weekends. This helps to monitor the passing of time," she tells me. "I also set small goals to structure my time; three job applications a week [can] build up. No matter how desperately you want to get back into work, setting unrealistic goals will hinder you in the long run."
Alternatively, Scott suggests breaking up your day into smaller slots. "I 'chunked' my day down into two-hour slots, which helped me to not feel too overwhelmed. This routine—mixed in with regular breaks to meet friends for a walk or an online workout—gave me a purpose each day, especially after a few weeks into lockdown," she says.
7. Most importantly, be kind to yourself.
All practical advice aside, the most important message from experts and job seekers alike is to not to be too hard on yourself. You are, after all, looking for work during an extraordinary time—it just might mean you have to change your career plans for the moment, think outside the box to set yourself apart or learn to deal with excessive questioning from friends and family.
"My advice would be simply to remember that at the moment, everything is just pretty shit," Alridge says. "There are so many people out of work and looking for jobs that it's important to remember that rejection isn't necessarily a reflection of your personal skills. You might be amazing in your field, but just might not be what that company, in particular, is looking for and that's okay. The phrase 'rejection is redirection' is one I am loving right now!"