Work & Money

How to make your job search more successful — even during a recession

It's a tough time to be sure, but here's where two experts think you should start.

It's a tough time to be sure, but here's where two experts think you should start

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

According to the latest data from Statistics Canada, more than 3 million Canadians have lost their jobs since the COVID-19 economic shutdown started in mid-March, and Canada's unemployment rate is now 13 per cent. 

Job searching during this recession — whether you're entering the workforce for the first time, looking for a new opportunity, or are one of the estimated 5.5 million Canadians who have recently either been laid off or had work hours significantly reduced — can feel like a daunting prospect, especially when many businesses remain closed and there are noticeably fewer job openings available. On the job site Indeed Canada, the total number of employment postings is down 49 per cent from the same period last year, says Brendon Bernard, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab. However, as social-distancing restrictions ease and businesses start to reopen, some of these numbers may improve. "We have seen total postings start to stabilize over the past two weeks or so," says Bernard. "Really, the future of the labour market is going to depend on getting the pandemic under control. But at least in terms of near-term developments, it does seem like we're in a bit of a holding point for now, and we'll see how conditions evolve as provinces gradually start opening up."

To help jobseekers who are looking for how to proceed in this challenging time, we reached out to two Canadian recruiting pros — Rowan O'Grady, Hays Canada President, and Kaitlyn Jiang, a career coach and Randstad RiseSmart corporate recruiter — for their real-time insights and advice.

Think clearly, stay open-minded

"This is a temporary situation; whatever the scenario is at this present moment, it will change over time, it's not going to be like this forever," says O'Grady. Being unemployed right now might feel very scary, especially if you have financial responsibilities. But there's no benefit to panicking. "Don't go into [a] mode where you're just applying for everything and anything in your area," O'Grady says. "Don't undersell yourself, don't reduce your salary expectations too dramatically. Rather, O'Grady advises that job seekers be reasonable and accepting. "Be open-minded [about] what you will accept." 

Jiang also advises job seekers to remain open. "Don't just think, 'I have to do this, and, this is my only choice,'" says Jiang. "Dedication is important, but it's also important, especially, during this time to be flexible [about potential jobs]."

Use this time for serious preparation

O'Grady recommends carefully reviewing and updating your resume and online professional profiles. Make sure you are portraying yourself in the best light, have included recent projects that you've worked on, and are documenting any progress that you've made professionally; even if your job title hasn't changed in years, your responsibilities may have evolved since the last time your resume was edited. Adding things like recommendations from people about the kind of work that you've done and mentions of the professional associations that you're in can help improve your online visibility to companies that are hiring, says O'Grady.   

"This is the best time for you to really reinvent or reverse-engineer your job search strategy," says Jiang. She suggests that job-seekers take the time now to review their own strengths, key qualifications, and hard and soft skills ahead of executing a job-search plan. Professional supports such as career coaching and resume preparation can also help at this stage — check with your former employer to see if they are offering or funding any career transition services. Reviewing the overall job market and relevant industry trends (Jiang recommends the government's Job Bank for its trend analysis) can help you discover new work opportunities as well as identify any gaps between your qualifications and your ideal job.

If you're a new or recent graduate, Jiang recommends focusing on what you can do to improve your candidacy for employment, like taking advantage of the career centre at your alma mater, trying to network as much as possible, joining any relevant professional groups, and looking into volunteer or internship opportunities that could be completed remotely. "Try to get those [projects] to boost your resume," says Jiang, adding that a hiring manager recently asked one of her clients in an interview how they have spent their time during this crisis. "You want to demonstrate [that you've been] preparing for the market to come back."

Be aware of changes in your industry

While the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic can be felt in every area of the economy, it's also clear that certain industries have been harder hit than others. If you are currently working in an area like hospitality, travel or events, for example, you may be at least exploring how you could pivot or transition your career if necessary. "For someone working in those areas... figure out, 'How can I take the experience that I have and apply it to a different industry and maybe make a change?'" says O'Grady. 

Of course, making a career or job change at any time should include careful analysis and consideration. "Think about what you really want to do and why, what your strengths are, and what really makes you happy," says Jiang. "You want to make sure you do a very thorough evaluation, based on your interests, strengths and financial situation." There might be a financial cost to making a transition, or an experience gap to overcome. Jiang recommends taking advantage of free online training courses provided by provincial governments and universities like Harvard, for example, if they might help you close any knowledge gaps. Ultimately, the key to a successful career pivot is demonstrating to potential employers via a resume, online profile, and networking efforts, that you have skills that are transferable and in-demand. 

Spend time expanding your network and making connections … but avoid going for the hard sell

With fewer job postings available, and in-person recruiting and professional events off the table for at least the next little while, it's more important than ever to gain access to the hidden job market through strategic online networking. Online events like webinars are one starting point, which O'Grady points out are usually free. As an attendee, you are often able to see the list of participants, at which point you can see who you might want to talk to or connect with, and send them a note during or after the event. 

O'Grady also suggests spending some time to research the companies you can potentially work for, finding out who the hiring manager is at each company, and perhaps connecting with them via email or on LinkedIn.

Just be careful not to come across as pushy or overly keen. "Our advice for experienced people is just try and expand your network, make connections, play it cool, don't be desperate, go for the soft sell and that will pay off when things turn around," says O'Grady. 

"I would go with the approach of 'I know you aren't hiring right now, but I wanted to reach out and connect with you for future reference; maybe it could be beneficial to both of us,'" says O'Grady. "A mutually-beneficial soft sell on building a connection generally works better as a tactic." 

Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.

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