5 Tactics for the Recovering Job Market

The job market is heating up faster than anticipated, but experts say candidates need to make these adjustments for the pre- and post-pandemic job search.

At the start of the year, many organizations were still anticipating hiring freezes and job cuts for most of 2021. Now, some organizations are scrambling to hire as many people as possible. Weekly initial jobless claims have fallen below 700,000 for the first time since March 2020. Even better, continuing unemployment claims are at their lowest level since last April.

That’s all good news for job seekers. Indeed, career coaches at Korn Ferry Advance report that some people who haven’t been able to get interviews for months are now schedulihng multiple chats with different talent managers each week. It’s time, they say, for candidates to jump-start their searches now. “Organizations aren’t waiting until after the pandemic is over to figure out what’s next,” says Deborah Brown, a managing principal in Korn Ferry’s Leadership Acceleration practice.

But given many workers’ remote-work status and many firms trying to reinvent themselves, job hunting in this environment requires a host of new tactical adjustments to go along with many of the same elements as before. Here are a few:

Aggressively connect with strangers.

In the early days of a job search, candidates should try to maximize their exposure to people who can help them, so experts recommend sharing articles and insights on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. Those insights often will convince others to take a peek at your profile. Often the person won’t send a message, but that shouldn’t stop a job seeker from reaching out, says Stacey Perkins, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance. “They saw something that was of interest,” she says.

Take a look at who the person works for or what role they have and use that information as a way to start a conversation. Ask your interested stranger about how they have succeeded in their line of work, compare notes about industries, and importantly, ask how you can help them in their careers. Just don’t immediately ask them for a job.

Aggressively reconnect, too.

“Reactivate your network,” says Val Olson, a career coach for Korn Ferry Advance. Hopefully you’ve maintained a good database of contacts and have kept records of people’s email addresses, phone numbers, and preferred methods of contact. But if you haven’t, start now, and this time get people’s personal emails and mobile phone numbers. Ask the people in your network about the changes in their organizations and fields, how they are adapting, and whether they need assistance with anything.

Good networking hasn’t changed; it’s still about strengthening relationships. Even a small thing, such as sharing research or offering to connect one person in your network to someone else, if it is done sincerely and is genuinely meaningful to the other person, can jump-start your networking. Eventually, people in your network will tell you of open roles they’ve heard about or act as a referral or reference for jobs you want to apply for.

Just remember that while you weren’t talking to the people in your network, the whole world changed. Candidates shouldn’t just blandly ask, “How are you?” because no one is really “fine” after this. Acknowledging how difficult things have been will still be appreciated, and that message can be sent to nearly anyone in a network.

Respond correctly if a recruiter reaches out.

It can be tough to get on a recruiter’s radar, but as the job market continues to open, recruiters will be spending their day contacting candidates who might be a potential fit. “If they contacted you, they saw something interesting,” Perkins says. However, recruiters aren’t going to wait around several days for you to get back to them. Your first response doesn’t have to be a treatise on why you are the perfect person for the opportunity. A short, concise email or phone call (however the recruiter reached out in the first place) expressing interest and asking for more information is sufficient to get the ball rolling. The job the recruiter is looking to fill may not be a perfect fit, but experts say have a conversation anyway. Learn about the opportunity and refer the recruiter to other potential candidates if any come to mind. A good conversation can keep you at the top of a recruiter’s mind, which is important for when they have another role to fill.

Get your interview “stories” straight.

There are certain things that talent professionals want to hear from candidates during interviews. For example, explaining how you were a good team player at a previous workplace is almost always on a company’s required list. But after the trying year many businesses have been through, companies want more employees who are levelheaded and agile under pressure. Experts say candidates should use the job interview to showcase situations during the pandemic when you showed resiliency, found new ways to solve a problem, or showed empathy.

You can apply this approach to resumes and cover letters as well, just in a much more concise form. Recruiters want to see how you operated remotely or helped an organization or people pivot to deal with a hard problem during the pandemic. Jacob Zabkowicz, vice president and general manager for Korn Ferry’s Global Recruitment Process Outsourcing business, advises highlighting specific team achievements or activities that improved productivity and engagement, two areas organizations are still struggling with in a remote environment. If you didn’t have a job for parts of the pandemic, then showcase volunteer experiences or training courses you took to improve your skills.

Prepare to talk with people in person again.

Good news: with millions of vaccines being administered each day, we’re getting closer to the day when we can have work conversations in an office again, and that includes job interviews. But it turns out a lot of people are anxious about this.

When the American Psychological Association recently did a survey on pandemic stress, half the respondents said they were nervous about having to be around people again. Many feel they’ve lost the ability to relate to one another face-to-face, says Andy De Marco, Korn Ferry’s vice president of human resources for the Americas. The anxiety is not surprising, but it’s something job candidates will have to manage.

While it might be several months before companies ask candidates to come to the office for an interview, candidates even now have been asked to meet up with potential bosses for a socially distanced coffee that doubles as an informal job interview. Experts suggest practicing job interviews. Sit down with a friend or family member who can give you feedback on how authentic you sound. There are also apps from Korn Ferry Advance or others that can help evaluate a candidate’s responses, eye contact, and other essential metrics and give feedback for a candidate to improve.