As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, layoffs and furloughs have hit workers across all industry sectors in all parts of the country. In April 2020, the U.S. unemployment rate skyrocketed to 14.7%, representing a 10.3 percentage point increase from the month prior. The result is that 23.1 million Americans are without employment, according to a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics’ news release.
With such a sharp increase in unemployment, job search and interview skills are more important than ever. As an HR professional who has spent a significant amount of time reviewing resumes and cover letters, conducting phone screens and interviews, as well as coaching hiring managers, I’ve compiled a list of best practices to help you get hired.
When Clicking “Apply” or Submitting a Resume for Consideration
- Always, always, always include a cover letter. I can’t emphasize this enough. It seems like common sense, but it’s incredible how often I see a resume submitted with no additional attachments. You don’t have any relevant experience? Include a cover letter to explain how your experience does meet the requirements, even if it’s a stretch. Are you making a career shift? Include a cover letter to explain the career transition. Applying for a job, and you suspect you might be overqualified? Again, include a cover letter explaining why you’re interested in the role. Even if your resume meets the specific job profile, I want to know more about you. I want to know more about your personality. I want to understand why you’re thinking about leaving your current job or why you left your last one. I want to know what motivates you and how it fits into the applied job. I want to see your writing style. Take the time to craft an organized, detailed, and articulate cover letter. It really can make the difference between an interview and a rejection email.
- Don’t bury the lead. Prominently list your relevant work history. Did you wait tables while you were on a career break? Did you work five different jobs or internships during college in durations of less than a year? Great! Many people do! But as recruiters review your resume or LinkedIn profile, it’s difficult to understand the career progression when there are unrelated positions listed in between. It can be distracting and confusing. It also can appear to be job-hopping. If you insist on including your side gigs or bookend employment in your resume, include it in a separate section titled “Other Work Experience.” If you worked in a temporary assignment or contract job, clearly denote that the experience was such – that will help explain any short stints.
- Directly address job gaps, short stints, or other potentially undesirable resume details in your cover letter. You might think that calling it out will draw more attention to it. But the recruiter has already noticed it and is wondering what’s up. Make sure you supply the narrative instead of the recruiter.
Preparing for a Phone Interview
- Treat subsequent correspondence about interviews as important as your application materials. I have withdrawn interest in a candidate based on their poor written communication pertaining to scheduling an interview. Typos, incorrect punctuation, rude tone, and unresponsiveness are all red flags when it comes to emails with candidates. Alternatively, polite, prompt, and articulate correspondence helps develop a positive image and further affirms my decision to interview a candidate—and recommend to a hiring manager.
- Do your homework. This should be a given, but again, I do see candidates who fail to prepare for our initial conversation. Research the company. Take the time to read Glassdoor reviews, explore the website, and review the LinkedIn company page. Be ready to ask relevant and insightful questions.
- Prepare your pitch. Put together a 5-minute overview of your work and education history, your personality strengths in a nutshell, and what you’re looking for in your next role.
- Talk yourself up. This is a technique I have used when preparing for an interview because I have a hard time selling myself. I make a list of all my strengths and career accomplishments to give myself a confidence boost and ensure those positive things are top of mind during the interview.
During the Phone Interview
- Don’t ramble. What you don’t say is almost as important as what you do say in a phone interview. So often, during a 30-minute phone screen, candidates take up to 10-15 minutes answering just the first introductory question, leaving no time to dive deeper into their skill set. Concisely present a specific situation, how you approached and resolved any challenges, and conclude with confidence.
- Present organized responses. The guidance I give to hiring managers is this: the way a candidate responds to questions gives a glimpse into their organization skills. If they veer off into a different subject, trail off, or otherwise don’t answer the question, that can indicate a disorganized thought process.
- Ask 2 to 3 insightful questions. I have spoken with candidates who have peppered me with 7 to 10 questions (after being provided with an in-depth description of the organization and position). While it shows their interest and curiosity, it also makes me wonder if they would be a high maintenance employee. On the other hand, asking no questions conveys a lack of interest or preparedness.
During an In-Person or Video Interview
- Dress to impress. In the Northwest, we are naturally more casual than other parts of the country, so it can be easy to assume all workplaces adhere to the same dress-down approach. But unless advised otherwise by the recruiter or hiring manager, always dress in at least a business casual style.
- Test out your audio/video in advance of a video interview. Most video conferencing platforms allow you to run a test meeting to ensure your audio and video are working. Please pay attention to the lighting, camera focus, angle (make sure it captures your entire face), and background appearance. Give yourself plenty of time before the scheduled interview to troubleshoot if needed.
- Eliminate home distractions. Lock up the dog, ask your partner to watch the kid(s), and sit in a quiet room with a door.
- Send a thank you email. The art of the follow-up thank you email is not lost! It is still important to send a timely email expressing gratitude to the recruiter or hiring manager for their time and reaffirming your fit and interest in the role. I have been involved in recruitments – typically competitive processes – where the hiring manager used the absence of a thank you email as a disqualifier for proceeding to the next interview round.
Are you looking to learn more about the processes and tools to find your next position effectively? Consider enrolling in our virtual Class, Off Work to Offer Letter: Strategies to Help You Land Your Next Job.
If you are an Archbright member faced with upcoming layoffs at your organization, our outplacement program helps your exiting employee prepare for a successful job search. Whether planned or unexpected, employee separations can be a challenging time for everyone involved. Our outplacement coaching service pairs your exiting employee with an experienced Archbright consultant. Contact us today to hear more about this service.