Whether you were furloughed during the pandemic or have been inspired like so many others to make a major career change, now could be the time to jump back onto the job ladder. As the U.S. economy continues to bounce back and employers add hundreds of thousands of positions each month, job seekers are finding new opportunities for growth and advancement.
As you dust off your résumé, however, you may be questioning how to market yourself to employers after a year of layoffs and unpredictability.
We spoke with Lori Shreve Blake, senior director of career engagement at the USC Career Center, about how to advance your career as the economy recovers and employment opportunities expand in the wake of COVID-19.
Overall, Blake — whose human resources expertise has been called upon not only by job seekers and career-changers, but also by major media outlets from CBS and CNN to Forbes and The Washington Post — advises to stay positive.
“In my 21 years of coaching alumni and professionals, I’ve found that what people think is a negative — having lost a job — opens up doors for even better opportunities,” she told USC Online.
Know Yourself — and Your Market
No matter your motivation for getting back into the job market, the first step is honestly assessing your goals and skills, according to Blake. Do you want to take your current career to the next level, or do you want to move to another industry entirely?
“Ask yourself what you really want — and don’t want,” Blake urged.
List your likes and dislikes about your current or past job. “Identifying what you didn’t like will help you avoid some of those pitfalls as you move forward in finding a position that satisfies you,” she said.
In other words, what type of work do you want? Be frank about any additional training or advanced degrees you might need to fulfill its functions and be competitive in the marketplace. Explore the type of work you find most fulfilling and that best fits your skills and preferences with tools such as 16 Personalities, a free assessment in line with the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, Blake advised.
After your self-assessment, it’s time to examine the job market. Which organizations would you like to work for? Break it down by industry and then by specific organizations. What companies do you admire, and what titles would you want to hold there?
Blake recommended looking at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook for further inspiration and to help you determine the requirements for the job titles that most interest you.
Now that you know what you want, what you can offer and where you want to offer it, it’s time to get acquainted with those ideal employers. Blake asks you to consider, “Whom do I know and how can I get connected to my target companies?”
Don’t overlook your college alumni network. For example, “as soon as students are accepted at USC, they become part of the Trojan Family,” Blake noted.
“We have a strong network of alumni who have agreed to talk to students and fellow graduates about their careers through informational interviewing,” she added.
Such interviews provide invaluable insights from company insiders and are also an ideal way to find out about any additional training or experience you might need. They might even lead directly to that dream job.
“Eighty percent of jobs come through networking,” Blake observed. “That’s another reason we tell people to have informational interviews. One person leads to the next person — and to the job. Even if your contact is in a different department, they may refer you to someone in the right one.”
And don’t hesitate to apply for a position just because you don’t meet all of its ideal qualifications: “If you have 50 to 60 percent of what the job requires, you can learn on the job,” Blake said.
Link Up Through LinkedIn
For people entering or reentering the workforce, “all roads lead to LinkedIn,” according to Blake. So, make sure your profile is up to date and reflective of your skills, achievements, work history and objectives. If you don’t have a personal website, use LinkedIn for that purpose and include the URL at the top of your résumé.
“I’ve heard so many employers say that they go to candidates’ LinkedIn pages before looking at their résumés,” she explained. “It’s also very powerful for networking and getting noticed by recruiters, headhunters, executive search firms and hiring managers.”
Think of your LinkedIn profile as your personal branding site, she added.
“What I love is that they even have an area where you can say ‘just for recruiters’ eyes only,’ and you type in what job you’re looking for,” Blake said.
Promote Yourself for the Job You Want
Be sure your résumés — and LinkedIn profiles — feature keywords associated with your targeted industry. “Include those buzzwords and write your résumé for that next job” instead of current or past employment, Blake said,
How do you find those buzzwords? She suggested looking up a posting for a position you want and use its job description to revise your résumé.
Most applications are screened in 60 seconds, she said, often using an applicant tracking system that filters out any potential employees who haven’t included the buzzwords appropriate to the job.
Therefore, it’s vital to tailor your package for the actual job you’re seeking. Too often, she said, “people often ‘spray and pray,’” meaning they don’t take the time to personalize their materials and apply randomly to a wide range of positions.
Also, Blake emphasized that you should give yourself credit. Whether you’ve supervised a single intern or a full-time staff that ended up being furloughed, for example, it still counts as management experience.
“It’s incumbent on each of us to be the CEOs of our own careers,” Blake noted.
Moving and Joining
Perhaps you want to move to a different location as well as a new job. After the pandemic, many companies have expanded the locations where their employees can live.
“You can work for a Bay Area company but live in Texas, for instance, and enjoy the best of both worlds — the job you want while owning a home in an area with a lower cost of living,” Blake noted.
She also recommended taking advantage of resources in your new community of choice.
“All major cities have business journals that also publish books of lists,” she said.
These publications contain key information about each region’s leading industries and employers.
Even if you’re staying put geographically, Blake suggested expanding your network by joining relevant organizations — from Twitter groups to professional associations.
“If I want to expand my network in HR, I’m going to join the Society of Human Resources Management Professionals,” she said. “Or if I want to do marketing, I’m going to join the American Marketing Association.”
So, find out which professional groups reflect your interests, then include those affiliations on LinkedIn in addition to building relationships. But don’t limit yourself to LinkedIn or Twitter — you can use other social media platforms to increase your network and track down job leads.
Admittedly, not every lead or interview will pan out, but as Blake said, “If they don’t hire you, it’s their loss. There’s always something better.”