A few years ago, I was laid off and subsequently went a solid year before I went back into the workforce as a full-time employee. I didn’t plan on being out of the workforce that long, but as weeks of searching turned into months, it became quite evident I needed to prepare for a lot of “what ifs” that I never thought I’d have to think about.
I learned a lot during that year and for those of you that find yourself in a similar situation (and that may be a lot of you once the economic effects of this pandemic are more obvious), here are some key points to consider…
1. Learn how to play the game today
I hate to say the job search is a game, but it is a game of strategy to the nth degree. If you’re job searching for the first time in a while, you can save yourself some headaches by learning how the game is played today. If you want to do the research yourself, by all means, do so! There are also plenty of people sharing thoughts and ideas that are willing to help. Just remember to keep an open mind as things have changed in the job search world (and probably even more so once the after-effects of this pandemic settle down).
I fought this myself at the beginning, but after 6 months of believing I could do it on my own, I decided I could use some help. I participated in a program with a job search coach that completely revamped my resume for today’s standards and provided some practical networking strategies. Did it land me a job? Not necessarily, but it was a good step (for me) to ensure I was putting my best self forward and that’s what’s important. You need to make sure you know who your “best self” is.
Feeling deflated or rejected? The sooner you get some objective feedback from people in touch with the hiring methods of today, the sooner you can get past the “it used to be so much easier” tune that may be playing in your head. I’m not saying any of this will be easy. It will certainly take work! However, understanding what has changed can take some of that mental pressure off you.
TIP 1: You can gain a lot of insight into the game by eavesdropping on public recruiter conversations on LinkedIn. These conversations are amusing and somewhat comforting at the same time! A lot of job seekers follow these folks and you’ll be able to find like-minded people as you scroll through the comments. Chances are, you’ll feel a lot less alone when you start following some of these conversations, so why not give it a try?
TIP 2: Resumes have changed over the last few years and it’s a challenge to get them right for today’s job search! A sage piece of advice from many recruiters and hiring managers I spoke to is that you don’t need to highlight that you’ve been working for a much longer time than what’s listed in the job description.
For example, if the job calls for eight years of experience, don’t list 25 years on your resume. Additionally, if you decide to pay someone to write your resume, please be warned there are a lot of providers out there that will take your money but none of them can guarantee you a job. If you choose to work with a resume writer or a career coach, talk to a few people that have worked with the coach/writer to understand their personal objectives (and results) before you plop down any extra cash!
2. Fill the resume gap
If you find yourself headed towards a significant gap in employment, you may want to consider how you’ll explain what you did during that time. In the month after my layoff, I started some freelance work and my own project. This served to show I had other things I was focused on (and to round out some skills I’d never had time to pick up). In retrospect, it made me feel better to be productive during this time, and I had something to speak to, which did wonders for my psyche.
As I was researching and writing for my project, I spoke to a lot of recruiters and hiring managers to get perspectives on resume gaps. Most of the folks I spoke to felt a gap could hinder a candidate’s chances — could being the operative word. If you leave a resume gap, a recruiter or hiring manager won’t know what you were doing during that time, and that could land you in the “no” pile before you even get a chance to talk. Do yourself a favor and spend some time thinking about how you are spending (or spent) your time off someone else’s payroll.
“It is important for candidates to show that they have been active or keeping their skills up during the non-working time,” said one recruiter willing to share advice.
“Candidates can explain the reason for unemployment, the reason for layoff, or the reason for resume gaps in a cover letter or directly on their resume, pretty simply,” advised another recruiter, who also suggested volunteering for nonprofits to fill the gaps.
TIP: Use this opportunity to feature the right keywords into your resume, which can certainly help surface your name in recruiter searches!
3. Own your story
Chances are, once you find yourself interviewing for a new position, someone is going to say, “So, tell me about yourself.” This is the ideal opportunity to let your personality come out and speak from the heart. Speaking sincerely about what’s made you the person you are will naturally resonate with others.
FYI, this is not the time to dwell on your circumstance (“I lost my job due to the global pandemic”, “My company had layoffs due to being acquired”, “I was fired”, “I quit”). One recruiter summed it up well. She said, “Go in and expect to have to tell your story a bunch. Keep it short and sweet and put a positive spin on it. People will feel for you if you went through a rough patch, but they don’t want to hear the sob story, especially not the first phone call.”
TIP 1: The more you talk about your employment situation with someone else (and not just the voices in your head), the easier it will become to talk about it in general. Your story will naturally come together and that’s what you want – to feel natural and unemotional when you discuss it.
Regardless of whether you were just laid off or you’ve been job searching for months, others can help and relate but you must put the effort into sharing your story one way or another. It’s important to get the cobwebs out. Practicing your story with others will help you perfect it!
TIP 2: If you’re at a loss for where to start, reach out to some former colleagues and ask them for their thoughts. What did they like about working with you? Could they always rely on you to get something done? Do you have a knack for details most people can’t deal with? Are you a natural leader? This is also a great way to network and if they’re willing to be a reference (and/or leave you a recommendation on LinkedIn), all the better!
4. Expect nothing and learn from everything
I often hear from job seekers how disappointed they are. Disappointment comes from expecting something from others in a situation, and a job search is full of letdowns for most people.
You may be completely qualified based on the job description, but you don’t hear squat back from the company. You may be reaching out to former colleagues to network, only to hear silence on the other end. The list can go on and on, but the bottom line is you can’t take any of this personally and you can’t solely rely on others to help you move forward. Instead, figure out what you can change about your approach or mindset to make progress.
TIP: Be honest with yourself. A job search takes a lot of time and effort for the majority of people. If you feel like you’re beating your head against a wall and you’re out of work for longer than you would like, ask yourself what is in your control that you can change?
You are in control of what compensation you want vs what you need. Title is somewhat relative from company to company so don’t get too held up on that. Geography is becoming less important as more companies move to remote work. The list can go on and on. There are lots of things under your control, so when you get tired of banging your head against the wall, ask yourself what’s truly important at that juncture, then re-evaluate.
I hope these points can help some of you prepare for what may be coming. It’s certainly not an easy place to be in and by reading this far, you’re obviously open to what may help you during this process. That’s step one. Remember that it’s a process and that you’re definitely not alone. Millions will literally be in the same boat due to this pandemic.
Give these points a shot and see if they help you adjust your mindset moving forward. It’s certainly going to take work and you have to be mentally ready to do it. You may not be ready now and that’s okay. At some point, you’ll rise above these challenges and once that happens, you’ll be able to look back on this time and realize just how strong you are. Good luck!
Dina Louie is marketer by trade and the founder of YeahItSucks.com, a project focused on bringing all perspectives of the layoff together. She believes our identities are too tied up in what we do for work and now asks people, “what makes you happy?” She’s naturally a night owl but finds some of her happiest moments are tied to experiences outside of her normal day to day environment, wherever that may be in the world! You can connect with Dina on LinkedIn.