How to modernize your job application in the age of COVID-19

As the US’ unemployment rate continues to see-saw while states flirt with reopening phases, at least 30 million are still seeking a job. This makes the competition to land a fulfilling, lucrative, and challenging role that much higher.

Experts recommend taking the pandemic as an opportunity to recognize a crisis and respond accordingly rather than continue to chase the former status quo. How so? By modernizing every aspect of the application process—from networking and your resume to the interview itself. Here, career experts provide strategies for landing the right opportunity in the age of COVID-19. 

Do an audit of your LinkedIn and other social media channels

With the vast majority of the professional workforce spending their 9-5’s, internet traffic is at an all-time high at home. This fact alone could bring your digital presence to the forefront, which is why it’s essential to do an audit of your social media profiles. Mainly LinkedIn, and anything that’s public-facing, according to entrepreneur Martin Moll, co-founder of Breakaway Bookkeeping and Advising. Since employers can’t meet you physically, they may Google for a glimpse into your personality, interests, and hobbies. Make sure everything they can find, you’d be happy they pursued. “ It’s impossible to separate your professional digital footprint from your personal one, and your online life must be a holistic representation of who you are as a person,” he adds.

Demonstrate you have the soft skills employers want right now

As employers begin to determine what the new ‘normal’ will look like for their businesses, career experts for TopResume, Amanda Augustine, prioritize candidates who possess specific soft skills that go beyond the job-specific hard skills required to do the job. After all, it’s one thing to be a top-performer, but it’s another to be able to roll with the punches when say, a pandemic takes over the world. 

Augustine says these traits include, but are not limited to, critical thinking, problem-solving, flexibility, adaptability, and more. “During the age of COVID-19, it’s more important than ever for hiring managers to find individuals who are willing and able to adapt to new situations and challenges in the workplace,” she continues. “Whether that’s transitioning to a virtual work environment with little advance notice, to pivoting your team’s goals mid-quarter and still meeting or beating them.” 

The more you can show your ability to think on your feet, dig into the nitty-gritty, and sometimes uncomfortable situations, and find practical solutions, the better chance you have at receiving an offer letter.

Ask hard questions

At the end of every interview comes the inevitable ‘Do you have any questions for me?’ question. Candidates always stumble for an answer, but now, more than ever, Moll says it’s appropriate to ask the hard stuff. Think: “How have you supported your employees during the pandemic?’ and ‘What is the outlook for your company post-pandemic?’, and so on. Much like they are trying to determine if you’re the right fit, you need to ensure your values align with the brands. “Asking these questions shows that you’re interested in being part of the company for a long time,” he notes.

Rack up your resume with proof

Augustine says it needs to be layered with proof to have your resume capture the attention of a recruiter or hiring manager. Aka—demonstrated creativity over the last three months, where you learned a new skill, met a goal, or solved a problem. Particularly if you’re currently unemployed, you need to illustrate how you’ve used the time to continue your professional progression. “Perhaps you gave yourself a crash course in a new project-management tool and then trained other team members to better collaborate while working remotely,” she shares as an example. In this instance, you could use the bullet points under your resume’s ‘Work History’ section to highlight these successes, using what is known as the ‘result by action’ format. Augustine explains this is when you begin each bullet point with the outcome of your efforts and then describe the steps you took to achieve such a resolution.

Research the ATS—and use it to your advantage

Most companies of mid-to-large size use ATS, or ‘Applicant Tracking System.’ You can think of this as automated talented management software. Because this streamlines the constant stream of resumes, many brands consider it an effective way to sort through the muck to find the gold. Jodee Ledford, a certified master of career services practitioner and counselor at the University of Phoenix, explains by figuring out what program they’re using; you can work with the system’s advantages to put you in the best possible position. 

Or, better yet, she says to create a resume that bypasses the ATS filters. “You can do this by targeting your resume to a specific role and matching your key competencies with the key skills in the job description,” she explains. “If you want to double-check how well you matched, simply run the job posting and the resume through a free online ATS scan to see just how well you are doing and the likelihood you’ll pass through their ATS filters.” If you are running at 70 percent or less, she recommends updating your resume and keywords to optimize your chances. “Remember not all companies use the same kind of filtering system, for example, the government uses supplemental questions, so be sure to read the supplemental questions ahead of time and come up with detailed key achievements that focus on metrics and outcomes,” she adds.

Leverage your crisis management strategy experience

There’s no reason to sugar coat it: COVID-19 has forced every company to think and act in ways they’ve never had to before. Employers know and recognize everyone has been through something due to the pandemic. Hence, career expert Wendi Weiner discusses your crisis management expertise even if it wasn’t for a business, but your own personal sanity. “If working from home has not been a thing for you, consider discussing how you have handled it and thrived,” she continues. “Think about ways in which you have been more productive and profitable for the company. Perhaps you had to restructure your team or learn how to navigate weekly calls through Zoom. If you are in a leadership role, think about how you have worked with senior leadership to manage the company’s response to the chaos.”

Emphasize your telecommuting experience

Keep in mind that many areas of the US are navigating reopening plans, others will keep work-remote policies through the end of the year. In some cases, the idea of returning to the office is just that: an idea, not a plan. Many companies have discovered their ability to meet deadlines and goals from afar and may keep a telecommute set-up forever. 

To stay relevant, make sure to note how you’ve adjusted. “Demonstrate that you can be a productive and valuable team member—regardless of your workspace’s location—by editing your resume to emphasize your previous work-from-home experience,” she explains. “You might also mention in your cover letter that you’re equipped to work from home with a dedicated workspace and a fast, reliable internet connection.”

Spend more time networking digitally

There is no time like the present to hop on LinkedIn, join in discussions and forge new relationships, especially if you are out of work, Weiner reminds. Industries are having weekly meet-ups to keep business flowing smoothly, and there are distance learning opportunities to engage new skills. “Think about how you can re-tool some of your skills and get out of your comfort zone to expand and create new experiences. Connect with former alumni, reach out to past colleagues and peers, and continue to build a robust network that allows you to stay in-tune with job search opportunities,” she recommends.

Be aware of your background on Zoom interviews

When you are invited to interview for a new company, treat it as if you were heading into the office. Moll says this includes reducing distractions to allow the interviewer to concentrate on you and what you’re saying. It also shows respect for anyone on the call. “Find a clean wall to sit in front of, use soft lighting, and make sure none of your family members walk through the background,” he recommends.