The rules for finding a new job during the coronavirus pandemic are completely different from what they were a year ago, when the share of opportunities outnumbered the share of people looking for work, and going through a completely virtual hiring process was far from the norm.
But if landing a new gig in 2021 is on your priority list, career coaches offer their best tips to narrow your focus, make the right connections and ace your interview. Here's how to readjust your plan to find work in the recovering job market.
The best thing a job seeker can do is consider the new ways of networking, applying and interviewing for a job as opportunities rather than barriers, says Akhila Satish, CEO of the leadership training program Meseekna.
"The world has changed, and all the paradigms we thought we knew about the hiring process have been tossed up in the air," she tells CNBC Make It. "Instead of letting that overwhelm you, use it to your advantage."
For example, with more companies supporting remote work and finding talent with non-traditional backgrounds, you may be able to apply for positions you previously weren't able to due to location or education.
Sarah Sheehan, co-founder of the career coaching app Bravely, recommends women and people from marginalized groups not underestimate their qualifications or work history. Research has shown women are less likely to apply to jobs unless they feel 100% qualified for the role, whereas men are more likely to go for the role even if they feel they're not entirely qualified. As a former recruiter, Sheehan recalls, "A lot of times, the most successful people you hire are ones who haven't done exactly what you've hired them to do.
"So often, skills are transferrable and may be a stronger match for the job than someone who's done the job directly," Sheehan adds.
Form a narrative around your accomplishments that relate to whatever job you're seeking, Sheehan adds. Create a few different versions of a resume for different industries or types of roles you're applying to, with each one highlighting the skills you've practiced in your past work and how they align with what you'll bring to a new job.
If you have some time to think about where you want to take your career next, start by coming up with a list of companies you'd like to work for, rather than searching for new opportunities by job title.
Think: Whose work in your field do you admire? What employers are known for being a good place to grow in your career? Then, says Randstad RiseSmart career coach Wendy Braitman, connect with people in the organization. Check LinkedIn to see if you have any mutual contacts within the company, if recruiters are available to field informational questions or if former colleagues who have an in can make an introduction on your behalf.
Your goal should be to build relationships within the company and understand why people enjoy working there, Braitman says, even if there may not be an open job at the moment. By building this relationship, you may be able to get on the radar of a hiring manager or recruiter when an opportunity does arise. In any case, Braitman says, new jobs are often circulated internally for referrals before they're posted publicly, so having an inside connection could get you in the running that much faster.
Another tip, she adds, is to set weekly networking goals that are firmly within your control, like reaching out to two new people every week. As someone who used to work in the entertainment business, Braitman says, "I'm a huge believer that it's not just who you know, but also who you can know. Then build that network one person at a time."
Jackie Mitchell, founder of Jackie Mitchell Career Consulting, is more blunt in her job-search advice: "You cannot be desperate in going after what you want," she advises job seekers. "Hiring managers can smell that a mile away, and that puts you at a disadvantage," such as a low-ball offer.
Instead, Mitchell says to turn the process on its head and empower yourself as a candidate: "Position yourself to be a problem-solver and solutions-provider as opposed to a job seeker."
The distinction is subtle but powerful, Mitchell says. A job seeker goes into an interview simply looking to fill an open role, she explains, whereas a solutions-provider goes in on a fact-finding mission to determine how their skills align with the problem the employer is trying to solve. What is the main objective of the job? What new ideas can you bring to the table that will improve the role itself? And most importantly, how can you solve the employer's biggest challenge at hand: Hiring the right person in a timely and cost-effective manner?
"It's a different dynamic. That interview, when you're coming from a problem-solving point of view, that's more of a conversation," Mitchell says.
Even if the role is outside your usual wheelhouse, focus on the tasks of the job that you find most purposeful, says Alexi Robichaux, CEO and co-founder of the professional coaching platform BetterUp.
"Managers are looking for people whose personal mission aligns with the company mission," he says. In today's labor market, that could be as simple as seeing a service job as a means to provide personal connection and compassion to customers. Speaking to these values, especially if they align with the employer's mission, can "tip the scales" in your favor in a sea of qualified candidates, Robichaux adds.