How to get a job during COVID-19: 9 smart tips

How to get a job during COVID-19: 9 smart tips

If you're job hunting during the COVID-19 pandemic, you need practical strategies. Consider this expert advice from recruiters and hiring managers

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Hunting for a job during the COVID-19 pandemic may feel like your own special version of "Groundhog Day:" Check in with your contacts, send cover letters, scour LinkedIn…Go to sleep. Wake up. Repeat. (And no, Bill Murray does not show up at any point here.) On the bright side, IT professionals have some reason for optimism compared to some other lines of work.

According to analysis by CompTIA, the unemployment rate for IT occupations is 4.4 percent, well below the overall national unemployment rate of 10.2 percent as of July, based on the latest Employment Situation report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. IT occupations declined by an estimated 134,000 jobs in July. However, overall, since the outbreak of the pandemic, net IT employment rose by more than 203,000 positions, Comp TIA says.

[ Which IT jobs will position you well for the future? Read also: 5 flourishing and 5 fading IT careers and 8 IT jobs in flux. ]

What can you do to bring this story to the happy ending part, faster? We’ve been sharing IT job search advice with a special eye to the pandemic situation for the past several months. Here we round up the best tips for putting your best foot forward, nailing the virtual interview, touting your soft skills, dealing with resume gaps, and more. Let’s delve into expert advice from recruiters and IT hiring managers:

9 job-hunting tips during COVID-19

1. Get comfortable with the remote interview reality

For the foreseeable future, many job interviews will be online. That means you need to ensure that you look professional and engaging on the video call. You also need to strive to create an emotional connection with the interviewer - not as easy to do on video as in person.

As we recently reported, “The virtual presentation part is the biggest change, and a lot of people are not comfortable with that – details like how to position the camera, how to talk to the camera,” says Marianne Grady, a career coach based in New Jersey. In a recent panel discussion on the topic, she showed the audience a photo of the laptop in her office propped up on a box to put it on eye level. She has had to rearrange the lighting in her office because the light from the window illuminates one half of her face and not the other. She suggests watching for details like reflections on your eyeglasses.

Other items to watch:

  • Look directly into the webcam to make eye contact
  • Dress professionally head to toe in case you need to stand up
  • Pick a clean, uncluttered background and avoid virtual backgrounds like baseball parks
  • Nod and smile more often than you think you need to
  • Using your hands can also help establish a connection

2. Polish your resume for the bots

What’s working on resumes now? First of all, you must get through the initial screen: the bots.

Notes Arran James Stewart, co-founder and CVO of recruitment platform Job.com, “Monster, Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and most other leading job boards use AI-powered applicant tracking systems like iCIMS and Taleo to shortlist potential candidates. Understanding how these systems work is just as important as understanding what employers are looking for.

“The machines that ‘read’ resumes are targeting keywords that are relevant to the job to be filled,” Stewart continues. “For the best chance of moving forward and getting your resume in front of a human, use wording from the job description in your resume – without making it a carbon copy of the job requirements, of course.

“For example, if you’re applying for a front-end developer position, words and phrases like rendering, SEO, web development/front-end development, and JavaScript/Bootstrap or other programming languages featured in the job description will help keep your resume on the shortlist. Using synonyms or jargon may cause machines to overlook potentially relevant information in your resume.”

Other resume tips from Stewart:

  • Customize the resume for the particular job 
  • Focus on the last ten years of your career
  • Use two pages if you need them
  • No pictures, please

3. Don't read too much into job titles

IT job titles can be cryptic and vary widely from organization to organization. For every DevOps engineer job posting, there is someone passionately arguing that a title itself is contrary to the break-down-the-walls spirit of DevOps. Some companies think “DevOps engineer” and “site reliability engineer (SRE)” are synonymous titles; some don’t. (Are you ready to be a site reliability engineer (SRE)? Maybe more so than you think.) Recruiters and career coaches will tell you to look past the title and think about the organization and desired skills.

“The titles don’t mean much anymore,” Mark Boeder of Warhorse Executive Search and Recruitment in Milwaukee recently told us. Even to have a productive conversation with a hiring manager, he says, he has to do some detective work on what they really need.

Remember: You don’t need 100 percent of what’s listed in the job description to qualify. You need to start by getting past the first screen and having a conversation with a human being to find out what the job really entails. IT, unfortunately, is still famous for job descriptions that ask for “purple squirrels” - creatures that don’t exist. 

4. Look at the IT roles with a future

You want to pick a career path with some longevity, right? Consider what recruiters say about fading and flourishing IT careers. Here are five with a promising lifespan:

  • Product managers for digital transformation work
  • Cybersecurity
  • Analytics professionals
  • Data scientists and data engineers
  • Full-stack engineers, especially developers prepared to work with the open source MERN stack – MongoDB, Express, React, and Node

Within the security realm, demand for these three roles is growing, notes Mike O’Malley, VP of strategy at Radware.

  • Cloud security engineer/managed service security manager
  • Cybersecurity manager of machine learning and AI/Cyber AI architect
  • Data scientist for machine learning

For more detail, see 5 flourishing and 5 fading IT careers and Security jobs: What's hot and what's cooling.

5. Fill that digital transformation pain point

Digital transformation remains at the top of the IT leader’s priority list. As a potential job candidate, how can you help fill the pain points in the organization’s digital transformation plan? This will require a bit of networking (with someone inside the organization who will chat) and analysis on your part.

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

Consider these typical pain points and how your past job experience could fit:

  • People who have experience leading cross-functional teams or doing successful cross-functional team projects
  • Change leaders
  • Technical engineers who define the IT architecture required
  • Data architects
  • UX/CX experts

For more, see Digital transformation dream teams: 8 people you need.

6. Pump up your LinkedIn profile

Love or hate LinkedIn, it often provides a recruiter’s or hiring manager’s first impression of you. Consider these steps to make your profile stand out - and avoid gaffes.

  • Craft a compelling summary. “Be sure to include recent, relevant, measurable achievements in your summary to stand out from the crowd of people who do what you do,” says Lisa Rangel, founder and managing director of Chameleon Resumes.
  • Add projects and metrics to your experience section. “Include a short summary of your job responsibilities, but also include major accomplishments, metrics, or relevant projects you are proud of,” says Jenna Spathis, team lead of technology recruiting at the staffing and recruiting firm LaSalle Network. “If you’ve received promotions, be sure to include all titles under the company and list out different job responsibilities per title.”
  • Populate your skills section. “Include technologies, software, and systems you have experience with,” advises Spathis. Even if your role as an IT leader is naturally less technical in nature, it remains important to stay technologically relevant.
  • Include links to personal projects. Have a portfolio? A GitHub account? A link to a project or case study PDF? Publish those. “This is a great way to demonstrate accomplishments or experience,” Spathis points out.
  • Establish yourself as a thought leader.  “Share articles you’ve been quoted in or links to conferences you’ve spoken at to showcase you’re a thought leader in your industry,” Spathis says.
  • Go 360 with your recommendations.  Include a recommendation not only from your boss, but also from a former colleague, vendor, or business partner. “Switching up the perspective of the recommendations shows different sides of you as a working professional,” Spathis notes, “like how it is to manage you and what it’s like to work with you.”

7.  Tout your soft skills and remote work experience

As consultant and CIO advisor Dan Roberts has passionately argued, “There’s nothing soft about soft skills. Every CIO I know is emphasizing the essential value of leadership, communication, agility, and the other non-technical competencies. CIOs tell me we must put more emphasis on them because these are the skills that drive IT success.”

Roberts argues we should call them core skills, because IT organizations can’t succeed without them.

Amid the stress and remote reality of the pandemic, soft skills such as flexibility, listening, and empathy have never been more important. Leaders who don’t like managing change are having a worse year than others.

Showing demonstrable soft skills, which you can bring up in the course of discussing challenging projects and/or working relationships, can put you at the top of the candidate list.

Here are some examples to consider for your next interview – what story can you tell to show these skills?

  • Communications
  • Empathy
  • Critical thinking/problem solving
  • Adaptability
  • Social/interpersonal skills

Additionally, if you already have significant experience working on teams remotely, that’s a big plus right now since many people are doing it for the first time during the pandemic. Get ready to tell this story early in your interview, describing the challenges you faced and how you addressed them.

[ Read also: IT careers: 5 essential soft skills to strengthen and Top soft skills for IT leaders and how to master them. ]

8. Mind the gap

While job seekers have traditionally dreaded explaining gap time on their resumes, the reality is many people will have gaps in 2020 - whether due to a layoff, needing to care for family needs, or other challenges. “Due to today’s current environment, employers will be more mindful and understanding of resume gaps over the next two years,” notes Amy Warner, director of talent acquisition at iCIMS.

When you’re asked about the gap time, be ready to discuss how you filled it, Warner advises.

Here are some examples that show you continued learning and improving:

  • Contributing to open source projects
  • Pursuing a personal passion project
  • Online courses
  • New certifications
  • Publishing articles or speaking at virtual conferences

Community volunteer work can also be a plus on several levels: “In times of crisis, nonprofits and grassroots groups are also hit hard because their communities need more from them when they’re working on a shoestring budget,” Warner notes. “Pro bono project work adds to your resume, builds your network, and shows employers more about your personality.”

Read the full article by Amy Warner: IT careers: How to persist as job searching gets tough.

9. Consider new certifications and prepare for competency tests

Speaking of certifications, would a particular certification boost your chances of landing your next role? Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is an example of a specialty where a new certification could help you land a role; many QA professionals are doing just that, as QA roles decrease and RPA roles increase. Read 8 Robotic Process Automation (RPA) training and certification courses for some choices.

DevOps certifications prove a bit more controversial: Are DevOps certifications valuable? 10 pros and cons. Cloud certifications, on the other hand, are unlikely to lose their ROI anytime soon: 10 valuable cloud computing certifications.

[ Learn the do’s and don’ts of cloud migration: Get the free eBook, Hybrid Cloud for Dummies. ]

Competency tests (on a particular skill or programming language, for example) are common for technical roles, especially at larger organizations, to make sure the information on your resume matches your actual knowledge, notes Ian Clark, head of Americas at Frank Recruitment Group.

“In lieu of a face-to-face interview, they may be the only factor considered when it comes to identifying which candidates move to the next stage and which are discounted,” he notes. Do your online research to check out a few sample evaluations around the particular skill set.

While you're at it, research typical interview questions for the role. Here are some interview question suggestions for particular IT roles:

How to answer 7 top DevOps interview questions

7 top DevOps engineer interview questions for 2020

14 Kubernetes interview questions: For hiring managers and job seekers

How to get a job as a site reliability engineer (SRE)

IT careers: How to get a job as a solution delivery architect

How to get a full stack developer job

Want more job hunt inspiration? Watch the experts: 7 TED Talks for job hunters

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Laurianne McLaughlin is Content Director for The Enterprisers Project, delivering analysis and advice for the IT leadership community. Previously, she served as Editor-in-Chief at InformationWeek.com and Managing Editor at CIO.com. 

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