Looking for Work Has Changed Forever — Here’s Why, with John Sullivan

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Find Your Dream Job, Episode 242:

Looking for Work Has Changed Forever – Here’s Why, with John Sullivan

Airdate: May 6, 2020.

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.

Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.

Find Your Dream Job is brought to you by TopResume. Top Resume has helped more than 400,000 professionals land more interviews and get hired faster.

Get a free review of your resume today from one of Top Resume’s expert writers. Go to macslist.org/topresume.

Our economy is going through big changes because of COVID-19.  And this affects how employers hire and people find work.

Our guest today is Dr. John Sullivan. He says the way you need to look for a job has changed forever. And he joins us today to explain why this is so, and what you can do about it.

John is a human resources expert, author, and speaker. He also teaches at San Francisco State University.

John comes to us from the San Francisco Bay area.

Well, John, let’s get right into it. You say job search will never be the same because of the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s different now, John?

John Sullivan:

Well, obviously the unemployment rate has changed dramatically but the primary difference is that most people are working from home. But that means recruiters are also, and because they’re working from home, it’s harder for them to get things done. It takes longer for them to process a candidate, to get a manager who’s working from some other place to approve the candidate list. So, the job search will just take longer and offers, which have been averaging about 40 days, might be up to 60 days.

Mac Prichard:

Longer waits, people are working remotely, what other changes are you seeing happening for people who are looking for work right now and in the future?

John Sullivan:

Well, regular face-to-face interviews are gone for the foreseeable future, so almost all interviews are being done through Zoom or Skype, remotely, and as a result, the performance changes. So, some people are not good at video interviews, they have bad lighting, they do many things wrong, so the performance changes if you’re not used to that.

Mac Prichard:

Hold that thought because I want to get into that. You have a terrific article that lays out 10 permanent changes you say are going to happen in job search, and I want to go through them one by one, John, but before we do, the changes we’re about to talk about, why are they permanent?

John Sullivan:

Well, working at home changes everything. Corporate people are not used to working at home, but the competition has changed. So, with the unemployment rate around 15%, depending on where you live, the competition went from, maybe one job had 250 resumes to 400 resumes. So, it takes a lot more to be seen, a lot more to get an interview, a lot more to get hired, so the competition has changed dramatically, and you have to raise the bar if you expect a realistic chance at getting a new job.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, let’s go through your list. The first change that you identified is, you’ll have to wait longer to get a job. What kind of wait are we talking about here, John, and why do you see that happening?

John Sullivan:

Well, in some disorganized organizations, they’re not sure about hiring. So, some companies have hiring freezes and really don’t know what they’re doing, so it used to take about 42 days to get a job; now it might take 60 days. In some cases, it might take months because they’re just not used to hiring this way, so you have to be patient. If you need a job right away, it’s going to be difficult to get one. Unless you work in shipping or some job like that.

Mac Prichard:

The second change that you see out there is that your resume must be customized, and you say, John, that it’s got to be perfect. Tell us more about that.

John Sullivan:

You have a better chance of getting into Harvard than you do a job, given the number of resumes submitted. And because electronic application systems, people can literally apply for hundreds of jobs with a button push, and so the volume of applicants goes up and that means that people are looking for an excuse to can your resume. So, it has to be, 1) Customized to the company and the job, generalized resumes have no chance, and it has to be perfect.

Most of the systems have an automated spell-check, error-check, and if you make one error at a company like Google, you’re automatically rejected, and worst of all, you’ll never know why.

Mac Prichard:

What’s your best tip for avoiding those kinds of errors? Are there things that you recommend every person do before submitting a resume?

John Sullivan:

You know, we’ve tested it with Grammarly and all sorts of spell-check. Unfortunately, they don’t work very well. English major is my choice, they’re really good at English, they’re really good at spacing and all those things. Find a human that’s detail-oriented, and use Grammarly, but use them also.

Mac Prichard:

Okay, so turn to the tools but verify as well by working with a human.

What about customization, John? Some people might think they have to rewrite every resume from scratch to produce a customized resume. What kind of changes do you recommend? Is it 100%? 50%?

John Sullivan:

Well, the keywords have to change, so if the job description has 5 keywords, you’ve got to change your resume, hit those 5. There’s no excuse and no exception, so normally, I recommend a spreadsheet, an Excel spreadsheet. So, this job requires 2 leadership mentions, then you can pull that off your spreadsheet of all the different times you’ve been a leader. So, it’s usually 30 or 40%, the changes, but even your education, you want to emphasize. If this job emphasizes detail, you want to mention that you learned to do details in your education.

It’s critical, don’t change your resume, use the same one every time, and you’ll be unemployed for a year.

Mac Prichard:

I’m glad that you brought up the fact that some people do use the same resume; it’s often called the spray and pray approach, you send out as many resumes as you can. When you’re doing the kind of customization that you’re talking about, it means that you have to be selective about the jobs that you apply for, doesn’t it?

John Sullivan:

Well, you do but you shouldn’t be applying for jobs you don’t have the qualifications or the right key skills. So, yeah you do, but resumes need to be customized but so do interviews, so if the competition customizes, you customize. Remember, they’re looking for a chance to throw your resume away and as soon as you put in your cover letter, “I want to work for Google,” when you’re applying to FaceBook, your career is over.

Mac Prichard:

The third change that you mentioned in your article that you see happening after COVID-19, and you’ve already touched on this, is that people have to excel at video interviews. Obviously, because of remote work, this matters, but why is this skill so important now? Is it largely because people will be working remotely?

John Sullivan:

Yes, it makes it more important. If you can’t interview remotely, you certainly can’t work remotely, but the performance varies. People that are good in person, they get energized, so a lot of it is energy. You get energized when you look in someone’s eyes, shake their hand, come to the office, but you don’t get the same energy on a video link, so you need to…there are two criteria for every interview.

“I’m excited, I want the job.” And, “I’m confident I could do the job.” Those don’t normally come through in an interview and if you’re bland or have bad lighting, you’ll be rejected instantly. Remember, when they’re recorded, when they scan through them really quickly and as soon as they see one thing, I know recruiters who don’t even put the sound on and they just watch how you act, and when you start to pick at your ear or nose, you’re gone.

Mac Prichard:

How do you convey energy in a video interview? How do you see people do that?

John Sullivan:

Well, I call it, “Feel the excitement.” So, part of it’s your smile. You go from a small smile to a huge smile when someone joins the camera. When someone says something interesting, you smile, you react, you nod your head, and you need to practice it. So, I spend a lot of time teaching people how to look excited, and you need to videotape and look at your own. In most cases, when people see their own video, they go, “Who would hire that stoic individual?”

So you can’t look like an accountant, you have to look like a salesperson. That includes facial expression, voice expression, changing your voice, your movement, move forward. You should test it and find out, do you look excited?

Mac Prichard:

You’d recommend doing a practice interview perhaps with a friend or a colleague where you talk to each other, say, via Zoom, and then watch the recording?

John Sullivan:

I would recommend numerous practice interviews. So, remember, they’re going to reject you instantly with one mistake, so most people practice interviews until they get it right. You need to practice 10 interviews until you can’t get it wrong. Be professional, practice until you can’t get it wrong, that’s the level of quality that’s going to be necessary at this current unemployment rate, it’s 15%-20%, you’re going to have to stand out, positively, if you’re going to win this.

Mac Prichard:

What’s the biggest mistake you see people make in video interviews, John?

John Sullivan:

The lighting, the head placement, what they have as a background. If they have porno pictures or stupid stuff, if the dog barks, there’s a long list, not hard to find. If you come across as a professional, you come prepared, you’ve done your research, you show you’re committed. So, you have to show confidence and confidence comes from, “I’ve done my research, I know what you want, and I have what you want.”

Mac Prichard:

Do you think, given that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, that hiring managers might be more forgiving if your child pops up in the background, or is that an epic fail?

John Sullivan:

Interesting, I’ve never heard sympathetic and hiring manager in the same sentence. No, they become arrogant. The power has shifted, they know they’ve got you by the short hair and they’re going to do whatever they want to do. So, if you expect some sympathy, you’re making a mistake. They can choose from hundreds of people, they’re going to be arrogant.

Mac Prichard:

Well, speaking of interviews, the fourth change that you say has happened because of the pandemic is a big increase in automated interviews, especially with chatbots. Why is this kind of automated interview happening?

John Sullivan:

Well, with less hiring they’ve let go recruiters, they have less recruiters, and it turns out, at least the initial interview can be done pretty well with a chatbot or automated interview. You know, it doesn’t take a human being to say, “Tell me about yourself. Tell me about your strengths.” So, it’s cheaper, it’s faster, it can be scanned through, in some cases they can even be evaluated by the computer. So, for the first interview, anyways, it’s likely to be the wave of the future. You’re going to talk to a robot and you might not even know it.

Mac Prichard:

What’s your number one tip for dealing with a chatbot? How can you stand out from your competitors when you’re talking to a machine?

John Sullivan:

You assume it’s a machine, but you still want to show your enthusiasm and your confidence. So, enthusiasm, “I want this job. If you offer it to me, I’ll accept.” No one wants someone to reject them, and then confidence, if you don’t think you can do the job, then why should I think that you can? So, it’s hard in front of a robot to show excitement, to show confidence, but you have to. “I want this job. I can do this job.”

Mac Prichard:

Well, John, I want to take a quick break. When we come back I want to continue to work through your list, and especially, I’m excited about the next item, which is the need to be memorable.

Stay with us and when we return, we’ll continue our conversation with John Sullivan about how the way you look for work has changed forever because of COVID-19, and most importantly, what you can do about it.

John’s point about errors in your resume is so important. Make one typo and your application can go into a black hole.

Here’s something else that matters. Many employers use an applicant tracking system, known as an ATS,  to rank your resume.

That means if you don’t write your resume with these robots in mind, a human being may never see it.

How can you get past these automated gatekeepers? Our show’s sponsor, Top Resume, can help.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

You’ll get a free review of your resume by a professional writer in 48 hours or less.

And you’ll learn if you’re using the right keywords, format, and other things that matter to an applicant tracking system.

Go to macslist.org/topresume.

Don’t you want to know what the robots think about your resume?

Go to macslist.org/topresume. It’s free.

Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with John Sullivan.

He’s a human resources expert, author, and speaker, and he teaches at San Francisco State University.

John, before the break, we were working through a list of 10 ways you say job search has changed permanently because of COVID-19.

Number 5 on your list is one I think is especially important; you say candidates need to be memorable. Why is this, John?

John Sullivan:

I actually call it a standout resume, the resumes that we develop. They’re, literally, they’re…once a computer scans your resume, a human will look at it and there’s probably going to be a hundred to look at, so even though they like everything in the contents, when you ask them, and we’re data-driven and so we do, “What do you remember about those resumes?”

Literally nothing, they can’t quote the name, what’s the skills, what’s the background, but what they do remember is a wow, “The boss told me I was promoted faster than their son or daughter.” It’s a story and during an interview, it’s remembered.

A number or an accomplishment that’s quantified, “I made them 20 million dollars,” is remembered. You need to realize that a resume physically has to be findable. In other words, when they spend 7 seconds on your resume, and you won the Nobel Prize, if they don’t see it or find it, you’ve made a huge mistake. So, we spend a lot of time testing resumes, working with recruiters, and saying, “What do you see? What do you find? What do you remember?”

Number one is a wow, number two is a great quote, a story in an interview, a powerful quotation from someone else is better than you saying, “My boss said I was the best leader ever.” So memorable things that can be found in a resume that are remembered an hour later in an interview and a story, it turns out, is the most memorable things from an interview.

Mac Prichard:

When you’re writing that resume, put a quote in it, look for some fact or accomplishment that will invoke the reader to say, “Wow.” But I have to ask, John, how do you do that and still get past the applicant tracking system? Because it sounds like there’s some originality required there and you’re up against a computer that is scanning resumes according to a formula, perhaps.

John Sullivan:

They are but there are two separate scans. So, a computer will not reject you because you put in dollars, but it won’t give you points because you do. It doesn’t know what a wow is. It only uses keywords and key phrases so you need to prepare. Start with the job description. If it says, “Walk in the park,” you say, “Walk in the park.”

You have to do that so that you can get through the first computer scan, and you can test it online. You can have a recruiter submit your resume and see how many points it gets. But the other is the human scan which is, to some extent, even harder because people are moody. But we do know that if it’s not visible, they won’t find it, so if you put on the second page, they might not find it. You put it on the right side on the end of a line, they won’t see it as often as the left side of the line. In some cases, you can bold or underline, but if you win the Nobel prize, when people scan your resume and they don’t see it, you’re in trouble. And a computer scan will not look for the Nobel Prize but it will look for leadership or technical skills, so they’re two different assessments, done two different ways, with two different criteria.

Mac Prichard:

How do you see candidates successfully tell stories in their resume in a way that’s going to attract the attention of a recruiter?

John Sullivan:

You can’t really tell a story in a resume, although every bullet point should be a mini-story. “I did something for this reason with this impact.”

But there are some certain commonalities; if you put in a resume that you did it because you wanted a raise, that’s different than “I did it for the good of the team.” If you quantify in dollars, it shows you’re business-oriented. If you mention, “I did this and I used my leadership skills or I used a software tool,” it tells more about you.

Stories normally come from the interview, and when someone asks you any kind of, “Tell me about a time in your life,” that’s a story. You should have a story inventory for at least 10 areas where, let’s say now, under pressure, you handled stress. To give you an example, you tell the story of how you handled dealing with the virus. Other workers couldn’t come to work or get their work done but you still did. So, there’s plenty of signs behind it, people remember stories and in a resume, one of the things they remember the most is promotion. If you got promoted right away, promoted in front of 10 other people, that will get noticed and remembered.

Mac Prichard:

Number 6 on your list of permanent changes in job search is that candidates must show intense interest in a job. Why does this matter so much now?

John Sullivan:

There are fewer recruiters, they work really hard, and they’re really pissed, if I can use that word, when you turn them down. They want to see zero doubt that if you’re offered this job, you’ll take this job because if there’s any doubt about you staying where you are or whatever, they’ll just drop you. They’re going to drop you for any reason, and anything that says, “I might not say yes” will get you dropped. So, recruiters have to get paid on people saying yes. If you’re not interested, excited, and show that you’ve done your research that customizing your resume to say, “I want to work at this firm.” Doing your research on the interviewer so that they know that you’ve done your research about the team, not the company. That shows that you’re prepared, it shows that you really want the job.

Mac Prichard:

Are there other ways that you could show research, besides customizing your resume? Doing research, I agree, is very important but again, you’re competing against a lot of people, so you’ve got to take even more extra steps, don’t you?

John Sullivan:

Well, you’ve got to take the right steps, so most people will research the company. But you’re not working for the company, you’re working for this team. So, they want you to focus on the team. They want you to do a profile of the interviewers. If you go to LinkedIn and you know something, some more details, if you’re interviewing in someone’s office and you mention, “Oh, I understand that you went to Cornell and you did this, and I read your article.” So, to people like me, when in an interview you said you’ve read their article, that shows that you’ve made a commitment, you’ve done your research.

It’s not simple, first-page web stuff. Everyone says that, it has no value. It’s in-depth, for this team, “I did research because I want to work there and I don’t want to make a mistake. I’m choosy. I’m pretty good, so I’m only going to pick companies and teams that have what I want and,” say it’s leadership,” Your team has leadership.” And when you put a quote in or, I read an article where someone said, “You have great leaders” and that’s verifying that you did your research.

Mac Prichard:

Know the people that you’re going to meet with and work with, and know something about them and talk about that.

The seventh permanent change that you mentioned in your article is that people have to show that they can work at home. How do you recommend people do that, John?

John Sullivan:

Well, the first thing is, you can work at home. You’ve been successful at it. So, it’s not that you’re willing to do it, it’s that your performance improves. So, it turns out that if you’re producing something, you can be as much as 40% more productive, so you show that you measure your own productivity, you can see how it went up, you see how cooperation is high, how your product is better, your work is better. You mention the tools you use, so the tools make a difference but just saying, “I have a checklist to make sure that, remote work is difficult, that I keep up, that I keep in touch, that I show everyone else that I’m interested. I collaborate, I help others.” There are criteria that we have for a great team player who works remotely.

You want to proactively show that you have those and actually list them off.

Mac Prichard:

What do you do if your experience in the past has been in an office and now, in this new world, you’re applying for jobs that require 100% remote work or a big chunk of remote work? How can you demonstrate to an employer that you’ve got skills that are transferable, that you can do that?

John Sullivan:

Well, first we called it a VUCA, a volatile environment, so you say, “We operate in a volatile environment where things are going to change. I plan ahead, I have checklists and strategies and processes for handling not just regular change, but radical change. So, I had a plan for remote work, I tried it 2 months ago to make sure it worked, and sure enough, when I had to work remotely, my performance went up. I also shared my checklist with others, so they improved their performance, and now, when there was a presentation needed on how to work remotely, they asked me to do it.”

There are many ways but you want to show that you’re an expert, you’re prepared, not just for working at home but for other crises that are going to come along. “I work under pressure, I look forward to this. I have a plan for everything.”

Mac Prichard:

The eighth change on your list that you say job seekers must be prepared for, to answer are what you call the, “Are you rusty?” question. What do you mean by that, John?

John Sullivan:

I don’t know any subtle way to put it, managers frequently, behind the scenes, say, “Do not hire someone who is unemployed. Do not.”

Well, why is that? It’s not that they don’t like unemployed people; it’s that they’re rusty. They haven’t been working for a while. So, if you’re a pitcher that didn’t pitch for six months, they’d be nervous about you. You might get hurt, you might not be trained, they might have to train you, and that’s expensive. Tell them, “No, I’m up to speed. I learn on my own. I learn on LinkedIn. I take vocation courses, I’m not rusty.” And then you do that by mentioning some key new approaches to problems you can solve, new tools like Zoom that are relatively recent. You show that you’re current by keywords, by things that you’ve learned, by actions you have taken, and remember you can do work, so you can say, “I prepared a solution to this problem.” You can put it in your resume, even though you didn’t do it for a boss, it shows that you’re current. So, I don’t want to pay money to train you, I don’t want you to be rusty, I don’t want you to be behind the times, and that’s the concern for someone laid off, who might have been laid off for poor performance or, worst of all, they’re rusty.

Mac Prichard:

The next item on your list is that you need to be tolerant of slow responses, and I get that, I’m sure listeners do, too, given the times that we’re going into. How do you recommend keeping in touch with an employer and following up and, realistically, what kind of response rates are we looking at? How long will it take for employers to hire?

John Sullivan:

Well, many candidates will be ghosted and it might be weeks before you hear from someone and no one’s talking to each other, so it’s going to take weeks, two weeks longer to make a decision, so you need to show your interest. We call it no response email or texting. Send them a message saying, “Just wanted to let you know that I’m still interested and enjoyed the interview. I look forward to hearing from you. No response required.” Make it clear that you’re just saying, “I’m interested.” You’re not nagging them or asking them, “How am I doing?” Because they don’t know and they can’t tell you even if they did. It’s not nagging but it’s maintaining interest.

Other people, they don’t connect with me. I don’t know if they’re still interested but Mary, she keeps saying, “No rush, but I want you to know that I’m still interested.”

Mac Prichard:

The last item on your list surprised me. You say that a candidate might be asked if they tested for the COVID-19 virus. Isn’t it illegal to ask that question, John?

John Sullivan:

Oh, a revelation, recruiters asking illegal questions.

It is but realistically, do you want to be known as the recruiter that hired Mary Smith, who brought the virus to the team, and now we all have to work at home or not work? Someone’s going to say it, whether they’re going to do it subtly or not, they’re going to try to find out if you were in the hospital lately. You know, “Hold your breath for 30 seconds.” They’re going to do something like that. You can say, “Illegal, I’m going to call my lawyer.” But realistically, you need to be prepared.

If you have testing, unless you have some reason not to, volunteer, “I’ve been tested, I this, I that. There’s no concern.” Because if it’s between 2 candidates and I’m not sure about your health, they’re going to pick the one that they’re most comfortable with. So, give them information if you feel comfortable with it. Let them know that there’s no concern.

Mac Prichard:

It’s been a terrific conversation. John, tell us, what’s next for you?

John Sullivan:

Well, I’m helping companies get better at recruiting. They’re struggling. With so many candidates, hiring remotely is hard for them. But I’m also helping people who are looking for work, with how to get a job in this extremely competitive environment. I have a class that I offer to the University in the fall on how to do competitive advantage job search, is what I call it. How to stand out, how to be remembered, how to show that you’re better than others.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know people can learn more about that class and about you and your work by visiting your website www.drjohnsullivan.com.

Well, John, given all the useful tips that you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about why looking for work has changed forever because of COVID-19, and what a candidate can do about it?

John Sullivan:

The skills needed to work remotely are different, the job environment, the pressure, all of that has changed, so the workplace environment has changed. You need to be able to show them that not only can you handle those changes, but you’re adaptable. So, be able to show them that not only are they good now, but so that if the world changes, we can’t work at all or we have to do this or that, that you’re ready for it, so we call it adaptive.

Make sure that your resume is clear. “I have all of the skills. I can handle change, I look forward to future dramatic changes. I can adapt.” And then with video interviewing, showing, “I studied, I have a checklist.” Really saying, “I have a checklist for that. I have a process for that. I’m ready for that.” Shows them that you’re the kind of person they want to hire.

Mac Prichard:

Don’t get trapped in the resume black hole because you didn’t use the right keywords.

Have one of the experts at Top Resume tell you how to beat the bots. Go to macslist.org/topresume.

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Next week, our guest will be Lisa Orbe-Austin.  She’s the author of the new book, Own Your Greatness: Overcome Imposter Syndrome, Beat Self-Doubt, and Succeed in Life.

Lisa and I will talk about how imposter syndrome can affect your job search and what you can do about it.

I hope you’ll join us. Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we look for work. But how long will those changes last, and what do they mean for the future of job search? According to Find Your Dream Job guest John Sullivan, the changes are permanent and you need to be prepared to adjust your strategy. John shares how to show potential employers that you are capable of handling crises, as well as proving to hiring managers that you have the up-to-date skills needed to work from home and even lead a team remotely. 

About Our Guest:

John Sullivan is a human resources expert, author, and speaker. He also teaches at San Francisco State University.

Resources in This Episode: