The casualty numbers associated with the COVID-19 pandemic continue to climb in a tragic upward trajectory. So, too, do the job casualties as workers in vast numbers of affected sectors find themselves laid off. During the final weeks of March, nearly 10 million American workers filed for unemployment benefits — an unprecedented economic collapse. And the layoffs continue to mount daily as public health officials plead with Americans to shelter in place to slow the pandemic.
Losing one’s job as a result of the pandemic, at a time when whole industries have been shuttered makes a difficult time even more trying. Now what do you do?
Foremost, abide by the social distancing requirements in place to try to stave off this insidious pandemic. Your health and safety, and that of your household and community, must be the primary focus so that we can get out of this alive. Yet, as you’re isolated in your home, devote your former working hours to your new occupation — finding a way to move forward in this new reality.
Concentrate on accomplishing these important next steps:
1. Find out your unemployment benefits. File a claim through your state’s unemployment office. Yes, they’re swamped, but be persistent. Some states have imposed designated sign-up days alphabetically by name to try to handle the volume. The emergency funding provided by Congress is meant to get the newly unemployed through the next few months, with the hope that the economy will then begin to recover. They may, however, be extended if the pandemic hasn’t been curtailed by summer. These relief funds don’t come with the usual job-hunt strings attached since the government doesn’t expect people to be out interviewing for jobs with the current situation.
2. Design a budget. Because times are uncertain, plan a budget that takes this into account. It could be another month or two — or even longer depending on what part of the country you live in — before you can snag an in-person interview. Design your austerity budget accordingly. Food, utilities and housing are your priorities. Look at letting luxuries go. This is definitely the time to curb your online shopping habit or give up memberships that you can’t currently use anyway.
3. Re-do your LinkedIn profile. How long has it been since you freshened your profile on LinkedIn? Before you apply for jobs, meticulously polish your profile. Reconsider your photo selection so that it reflects the professional you have, or intend to, become. Create a standout headline and overview. Rephrase all jargon. Update your job experience to include your most recent position and, instead of listing a litany of abilities, provide the results you achieved. Reach out to contacts to ask for testimonials. Also, use LinkedIn to search for jobs by entering key words, locations, or company names in the search jobs field. Use the “job alert” setting to receive its curated postings.
4. Buff up your resume. Research shows that hiring managers and artificial intelligence “bots” spend just six to seven seconds perusing job candidates’ resumes. With this in mind, make yours attention-grabbing. Use action verbs (“led,” “surpassed,” “boosted”) when describing the results amassed throughout your career journey. You’ll want to customize your resume for each job application, making sure to include some of the actual key words from the job posting.
Employers prefer candidates with skills that show leadership and problem-solving abilities, as well as perseverance. Whenever possible, quantify your achievements (“Boosted sales 200 percent by developing new online platform.”). If you’ve been in your field for 10 years or more, replace the Objective with an Executive Summary — a one-sentence take-away about who you are and the value you can add. (“Award-winning creative director with over ten years experience managing teams on three continents.”)
5. Retro-network your way to a new job. Having a mutual connection has long been one of the best strategies for getting a job interview. This means plugging into the networks or your family, friends and acquaintances the old-fashioned way. Call your contacts and tell them you’re looking for work. Ask them for any possible leads. Before following up, spend some time on the front end imagining your most desirable position at your most sought-after employers. Develop some talking points about what you’re after and why you’re a strong candidate.
Next, you’ll need to rouse your charismatic self to reach out to the people whose names you’ve gathered, asking them for 20 minutes of their time. For now, face-to-face networking is out. However, people are easier to reach because they’re home. Set up a time through email to chat by phone. On the phone, be genuine and don’t take up too much of their time. Let them know that, even if they don’t have any openings, you’re looking for any leads, contacts or suggestions they might have. Afterwards, take the time to write and send a snail-mail thank you card. They’ll appreciate the gesture.
6. Get your online interviewing Zoom-ready. Because it’s unlikely that anyone can snag an in-person interview during this pandemic, many companies are using Zoom to interview candidates. If you haven’t used it before, Zoom offers an online demo — and you can download an account for free to use for virtual conferences up to 40 minutes. Download it and send an invitation to a friend with whom you can practice. Investigate the camera and mic functions, see how you look on screen and make sure the backdrop that the interviewer will see is pleasing. A practice session will help ensure all goes smoothly for your interview.
7. Realize thousands of people are in the same situation. There is no shame in having lost your job during this perilous time. Employers are sympathetic to those forced into unemployment through no fault of their own. But, if you do land a new job, make sure that that it’s a safe environment in which to work before you accept it. Beware of any employer trying to jump back into business as usual before the pandemic is under control. This is not someone to sign on with. Your earning power is only as good as your health.
The reason that the economy came to a screeching halt in the first place was to suppress the spread of the virus. If anxious employers decide to forego this strategy, the virus could come soaring back and make all the current hardship fruitless.