Find Your Dream Job, Episode 241:
How to Look for Work During the COVID-19 Pandemic with Biron Clark
Air date: April 29, 2020
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.
Life has changed dramatically because of the COVID-19 virus. And you may believe you should stop your job search during the pandemic.
Our guest today is Biron Clark. He encourages you to keep looking for work during these difficult times. And he has practical tips for how to do so.
Biron is a former executive recruiter. And he’s the founder of CareerSidekick.com. His advice is read by more than one million people per month.
Biron joins us today from Panama City, Panama.
Biron, here’s where I want to start, why should people keep looking for work during the COVID-19 pandemic? I mean, aren’t most employers not hiring?
First, thanks for having me. That’s a really good question. I think quite a few employers are not hiring right now but from what I’ve seen, many still are. Really, the only way to guarantee you won’t find a job is to stop searching. If you do that, you have no chance of a position, so I do recommend continuing.
Well, Biron, a lot of people, not surprisingly, might decide to stop job hunting for health and safety reasons. What would you say to a listener who’s thinking about that?
I think health and safety comes first for you and your family. When I talk about job hunting in this situation, I’m talking about doing it digitally. Networking digitally, applying for positions online, and then even having interviews online. From what I’ve seen, most of the companies that are still interviewing and talking to candidates are doing it via video platforms or via phone, so that’s the way that I recommend doing that right now.
What about people who have jobs? Many job seekers in normal times, for example, already have a position, and they’re looking for something different, maybe a new opportunity. Do you think a listener who’s employed now, given the uncertain times we’re living in, should stay put for now or should they keep looking?
I think it’s great if you have a job now, you’re in a better position than a lot of other people. But if you wanted something else or wanted something better, however you define better, I think there’s no harm to looking now. I think it’s a good time to be networking. From what I’ve seen, people are more open to hearing from you now, more receptive to receiving a message even if you haven’t kept in touch with them for a number of months.
I also think it’s a great time to negotiate to go fully remote or prove yourself to your company. If you have any desire to be a fully remote employee or work from home employee, once all of this settles down, now is your chance to establish that and show them that you’re reliable and producing a lot from home, and that you’re somebody who could continue to work from home after all of this. If you want that.
It’s an interesting point because there is an opportunity there to expand those remote roles.
What about…I’m just thinking about potential job seekers out there, professionals who might have been laid off. Presumably, their goal will be to find a new permanent job but do you think they should change their strategy in the short-term? Should they consider temporary gigs or even project work?
I think that’s a great approach. You do need to…if you filed for unemployment, if you’re in the US, you do need to check with your state guidelines because I think, I believe, in certain states, any type of work whatsoever may disqualify you from receiving those unemployment benefits, those weekly or monthly payments. So, that’s one thing to be aware of, but I do think free-lancing or consulting, finding a way to use your skills that you built in your full-time job, and taking that as a way to earn income now in a slightly different way, I think that’s a great idea as long as you know the…I don’t know if consequences is the right word, but the repercussions of doing that in your state.
Your point about unemployment benefits is an important one and they do vary from state to state and you could see a reduction in benefit, obviously, if you’re receiving income from another source. I’m glad you brought that up.
What about expectations, Biron? It’s always challenging to manage expectations in a job search, and given the competition out there for a much smaller number of positions, what kind of expectations do you think job seekers should set for themselves?
I think there’s a lot of uncertainty and I think it’s changing week to week in terms of what employers are doing and what the economy is doing. So, I think that you will need to be patient. You will need to be persistent but I also think that it’s going to change week to week, so for that reason, it’s still worth continuing to apply. I mean, it’s hard to do but I would say, maybe don’t focus so much on the long-term and don’t worry about your expectations of two or three months from now because no one really knows, but again, if you’re applying then you’re going to be in that first group of people that the employer does call.
Whether they’re just fine-tuning their phone and video interview process right now and looking to start back up next week with their interviewing, or whether it’s a month from now, or whether they’ve already begun and it’s business as usual and they’re continuing to interview. You don’t know for each employer, or you can’t be certain, but if you just focus on your daily goals and daily tasks and weekly tasks, I think that’s the best approach now. Rather than thinking about what’s going to happen in 3 months, or, “If I job search now will I have a job offer in 3 months?” Where it’s you possible wouldn’t, but I still think that’s the best way to go here.
I like your suggestion that you do something every day. Do you have a recommendation, given these crazy times we’re living through, how much time people should spend on a job search? Is it something that you recommend maybe just an hour a day or just doing something, one or two things every day? What do you think is best right now, Biron?
That’s a good question. I think that everybody’s life is different, you know? Some people can spend 6 hours a day, some people have 5 young kids running around at home and just different limitations and different things going on, but I think that if you ask yourself each day, “What are the one or two most important tasks that I can do?”
And every day, if you just do 1 or 2 high-impact things, I feel like that’s a really good way to make real progress in a couple of days or a couple of weeks. That’s how I run my own business, actually, and sometimes one of those tasks might only take a few minutes.
It might be one really well-thought-out, networking message to an old colleague who has connections in an industry you’re thinking about pivoting into, for example. That’s one LinkedIn message but that’s a really high-impact task that could potentially bring about a really meaningful result, which is a job interview, rather quickly.
I like that example you shared. Are there other examples of high-impact tasks that a listener could take? Recognizing that every search is different, of course, but are there some things that stand out to you as you write about job search and work with clients?
I think planning. Especially if you’re laid-off, it might be really tempting to, the first day at home or the second day home, you might be tempted to just send out a hundred job applications on job boards because it feels like you’re being busy. It feels like you’re solving the problem. But I would really recommend spending two or three days planning and thinking about which industries are still hiring, which are not.
Really be more strategic about it and you can use job boards for that actually. You could go, let’s say you’re a staff accountant, you could go on a big job board, type in “Staff Accountant” for the title, search the whole U.S. maybe, and then you could see all the jobs posted in the last 7 days or so.
You’d look at those and you’d see which industries are represented most in those job postings and then which industries don’t seem to be posting jobs at all for staff accountants. And now, as a staff accountant, you have a really good idea of which industries to target and so that would be a day where you didn’t send out any applications, you didn’t email your resume to anybody, but I feel like that’s really productive and that will make your future days a lot more successful.
I would be strategic, plan ahead for a few days.
That’s a great tip for finding industries that are hiring, the obvious ones right now as we record this are service employers like grocery stores or warehouses. What are your other tips though, to find those companies that might be hiring that might not be apparent, might be hiding in plain sight, besides looking at hiring trends on job boards?
I think networking is the way to go for that, no question in my mind. Networking will allow you to hear about companies that are hiring like you said, that just haven’t posted anything on the web yet. It’s not public but they are hiring and networking is how you can find out. And like I mentioned, I think it’s actually a really good time to be doing online networking because people are just more patient and understanding and open to hearing from you.
People don’t have their guard up, people aren’t skeptical, people aren’t doubtful when you message them. It’s much more of a…at least in the communities I’m in and the people I’ve spoken with, it seems like the whole field now, just in terms of the LinkedIn online community and other groups of professionals, it’s just much more like, “How can I help? Who needs what? Who can I connect with and talk to?” So, it seems different now and I think that’s one advantage.
I want to talk more about networking, particularly about how to do it virtually, and let’s get to that after the break, but before we take a break, Biron, one question; I see a lot online, and I get a lot from job seekers as well, is remote jobs. What’s your best advice for finding employers who are looking for remote workers and probably always have, and how to get in front of those employers?
That’s a great question. Those jobs are competitive but they’re definitely worth pursuing. There are a number of really good remote-only job boards, so I might spend a little bit of my time, if I were job searching, I would spend some time looking at the employers on those job boards.
I would also search, I think, in the past, I actually looked for fully remote jobs myself when I was working full-time as a recruiter but I wanted to be able to do it from home, and I started searching Google for terms like, “Remote companies,” “Fully-remote companies,” another term they use is, “Distributed companies.” A lot of employers who are completely remote refer to themselves as being “Distributed” or “A distributed company.” And you might come across some interesting lists that way, as well.
I think LinkedIn also just started a couple of months ago, they have a remote job search. So, if you search for a job title in LinkedIn, you’re searching for jobs, for the location, you can put remote rather than putting a specific city or even country, you can put remote and then you’ll only see remote jobs. So, I think LinkedIn’s a really good way to go as well and it’s relatively new. Not a lot of people know about it yet. I think it was a couple of months ago that they rolled that out.
Those are great tips.
We’re going to take a break, Biron, and when we come back, I want to talk about networking, how you do it virtually, but I also want to start out by hearing what you’re seeing about how employers are hiring differently in this COVID-19 world.
Stay with us. When we return Biron Clark and I will continue to talk about how to look for work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Biron Clark.
He is the founder of CareerSidekick.com.
He joins us today from Panama City, Panama.
Now, Biron, before the break, we were talking about how to look for work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Let’s talk about job hunting itself. What does a listener need to do differently now because of COVID-19?
Well, I think I hinted at a few of the same things that I would think to recommend here earlier, but I think you really need to be strategic. And if you take a blanket approach and just try to mass email resumes, I think it’s not going to work. So, starting with research, thinking about your job search from an industry or broad economic level first, and then going down to trying to find individual positions. And then I really can’t emphasize networking enough and tailoring your resume for…so, once you decide which industry to look in, or once you identify 3 or 4 positions that look nice to apply to, I would really recommend taking the time to fine-tune your resume to fit those positions, and you can tweak it further before applying for each job but I call it “creating a master copy of your resume,” or, “a master resume.”
It’s tailored for the general industry or type of job you want. I think sending out a generic resume right now without doing that is just a recipe for failure. I think you really need to be doing that. Even before COVID and certainly after, I think it’s necessary.
You mentioned networking several times now and I’m a big fan of networking and recommend it strongly, and you’ve talked about people’s receptiveness to hearing from others. How do you recommend people network differently in the world we’re living in now? I mean, obviously you can’t suggest meeting at a coffee shop or going to someone’s office, so what do you recommend to your clients that they do instead?
I think, keeping it completely digital, of course, for health and safety. And it depends on your prior relationship with that person, but if you’re trying to reconnect with someone who you haven’t spoken with in a while, which is the more challenging thing, if it’s your best friend, you can just call them but if it’s someone that you don’t know that well, I think that just sending a message on LinkedIn if you’re directly connected to them or sending an email if you have their email. And I almost think this COVID pandemic is almost a good excuse to get back in touch with people.
Where it might have been awkward before or you might not have known what to say before, whereas now, if you’re reconnecting with a past colleague, you can say, you can check-in and say, “Hi, how are you doing? During these few weeks at home, I’m trying to reconnect with past colleagues. I hope you’re doing well and staying safe, I’ve heard about a little bit of turbulence in your industry. How’s your company holding up? I hope things are going really well for you.”
That’s an example of a really non-threatening, casual, first message to restart a conversation. You don’t want to ask for anything big to start and you want to show some interest in them, so it’s nice to ask how they’re doing but then from there, you could start to gather intel. Ask their opinion about how their industry is doing. You could say you were thinking of trying to pivot into their industry but you thought they would have better insight into how it’s holding up so far.
Everybody likes to share their opinion or share their advice, so that’s a much easier thing to ask for and get a response for, rather than asking for a huge favor right away.
You mentioned doing this by email, are you also seeing people network using video, like Zoom or Google Hangouts or other services?
Absolutely, yeah. I like a written message for the first message. That might just be because I come from, most recently as a recruiter, I was recruiting in tech. It was very casual, people like to type rather than hop on the phone when they have a choice. But depending on your industry or depending on the people you know, a phone call or a video call could be great. And I think even for me or even for a typical tech person, after you’ve connected via one or two LinkedIn messages, I’d definitely suggest hopping on a Google Hangout call, Skype, Zoom, What’s App, depending on what country you’re in, what’s popular there.
I think that’s a great next step, you feel a lot more connected that way. You feel like you really spoke to somebody and saw somebody.
You mentioned not making an ask right off the start, and if it’s a friend, obviously, there’s a relationship there you can build on. What if it’s somebody that you’ve been referred to that you don’t have a friendship or history with? People might feel awkward asking for help with a job search during these uncertain times.
How do you recommend approaching that? Either in an email or perhaps through a virtual coffee meeting?
I think if you were referred, then that’s actually a great thing for you because this person who might have been skeptical of you or might not have even answered you, now they’re going to be a lot more likely to answer you. But the key thing that you should do is really very soon in a conversation, very upfront in the conversation, immediately mention the person that referred you. So, if you’re emailing someone named Susan, say, “Hi Susan, John Davis gave me your contact info. He suggested that you’d be a great person to talk to about blank.” And as soon as this person reads that, their guard’s going to be down.
They’re going to be like, “Okay, I know John. Clearly he thought I could help.” And they’re going to read the rest of your message a lot more closely, but even if you were referred, I would ask for something small still. Ask for their opinion, ask if they have time to connect briefly via a call to discuss further, but don’t ask for an introduction to their VP of HR when they don’t know you. Don’t ask them to stick out their neck for you in that way before building a little bit of rapport and talking to them.
It seems as if, in the last few weeks there’s just been an explosion in the number of Zoom calls or video chats that so many of us are involved in. I’m curious, when networking in this new world, do you recommend doing it largely by video, or are you a fan of the old-fashioned phone call, or does it not make any difference at all?
That’s a tough question. I feel like it depends so much on the industry and the person. I will say this, I feel that, in general, you feel a lot more connected to somebody after a video call. I think you could have like 10 phone calls with somebody and you feel like you sort of know them but after one video chat and just seeing their face and their facial expressions, you really feel like you know them more. And I’ve heard people talking about that and researching that, even when it comes to YouTube videos versus written articles online or podcasts. And I’ve seen and heard a lot of people say that they really feel like they know the person after watching a few of their YouTube videos. Whereas, I don’t think anybody feels like they know me after they read one of my written articles online.
I know that’s a bit of a different example, but I think if you really want to be memorable and bond with them and feel like you got to know them almost like you were in person, then video is the way to go. I really recommend video.
One of the tried and true networking techniques is to go to events, and obviously, those aren’t happening in person right now. What about virtual events, Biron? Online meetups or professional Zoom happy hours, do you recommend taking part in those? And how can someone who does go both make the most of an event like that and then follow up with connections or the speakers after the event ends?
I definitely recommend, I think that’s great, I absolutely recommend going. I think you should make note of the general topic of the event beforehand and then maybe write 1 or 2 questions down just on a pad of paper to yourself. And one way to make the most out of the event, and maybe meet some new people and have some people know your name, is to ask those questions. So, you’ll be getting help with things that you’re actually wondering about, but people will also know you, hear you, see you,
One trick that I learned a while ago from a freelancer is before asking your question, you can also introduce yourself. So, I could say, “Hi, I’m Biron, I’m a recruiter. I focus on the Boston and New York markets. My question was blank.” And so, that’s just an example of how you can give people a little bit of sense of who you are and what you do before your question.
Also, follow up with people after, look at who else attended the meeting. Maybe if somebody else is in your industry, you could send them an invitation to connect on LinkedIn. And I know that might sound odd, but it kind of fits the theme of what I was saying earlier where people are just more receptive to that now, and what might have been odd 6 months ago, I feel like now, with everyone sort of feeling like they’re in this together, I don’t think that people would look oddly at a LinkedIn request after a group event about how to battle COVID as a job seeker, you know?
There’s the camaraderie and I think that people would be receptive to that.
I think you’re right. I do some speaking myself, and I’m always receptive to LinkedIn requests, especially those that include a very brief note, “I attended your recent talk or webinar.” Or, “I heard you speak at this virtual meetup and would welcome the chance to connect.” And that’s a chance, to the suggestion that your friend made, the freelancer, to talk about yourself in one sentence and just sort of get your face out there and so I love that idea.
We’ve talked about who’s hiring, how to find them, how to network; we haven’t talked much about the application process and interviews and we are running out of time. So, I do want to ask, what is your number one virtual job interview tip? Because most interviews right now are happening via video or phone but they’re happening online. What do you recommend people do, Biron, to stand out and what’s the biggest mistake you see people make on video interviews?
Okay, I’ll share some ideas that come to mind, you can let me know if this addresses what you’re getting at here. Because I…I think you want to eliminate distractions, obviously, with your video interview. Shut the windows and set up a microphone that sounds good. Make sure that your webcam is at eye level, make sure that there’s a light behind the camera shining into your face. You don’t want a light behind your head shining into the webcam, if that makes sense because it’ll sort of blackout your face. But I think once you get all of that done, and let’s say it’s a Zoom interview, you should do a test run. Try to do a mock interview with a friend or family member, but once you get that out of the way, focus on the actual interview because at the end of the day it’s no different and they want to hire the person who’s the best fit for their role.
The most excited, the best prepared to come in and succeed in this role. They’re not looking to hire the person who’s best at setting up their webcam. So, I’m not saying to bypass any of those important preparation steps, they’re super important, but don’t get so caught up in preparing the technology and the laptop setup that you forget to really prepare for the interview, because I think you should go in there knowing more about their company than anybody else they’ve spoken to.
Research them so much that nobody else knows them like you do. Go in there with amazing questions to ask, you know, questions about the job description, showing that you clearly studied the job description, things like that.
Does that get at what you were asking or is that a little bit off of what you wanted?
No, I think that’s terrific and it’s been a great conversation.
Biron, tell our listeners, what’s next for you?
This is the first year in a really long time where I’m just doing more of what’s worked in the past. My goal is to write 100 new articles for CareerSidekick.com, my website. There are already 200 articles there, so looking to do 100 more and I’m just doubling down on what’s already been working for me and my business.
Terrific, well, I know people can find those existing articles and the ones that are coming up by going to CareerSidekick.com. You also mentioned before the show that you’re open to connecting with people on LinkedIn, so I hope listeners will find you there as well.
It’s been a great conversation. Given all of the useful advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember, Biron, about how to look for work during the COVID-19 pandemic?
I think there’s a lot of uncertainty and you hear a lot of statistics going around about how it takes X number of months to find a job or you need to apply for X positions to get one interview and I think the message I would want to leave people with is you only need one job and it’s easy to get caught up and worried about the statistics, but at the end of the day, you just need one. And so much of it comes down to what you’re doing, so I would really recommend focusing on your activity each day. Networking, just the things that you can control because if you hear an average, you might hear it takes 6 months to find a job, but within that broad average, there are people finding a job in 2 weeks and there are people taking 2 years, and you don’t want to be in the 2-year group and so much of it comes down to what you can control.
I would focus on that and you’ll find a good job sooner than later.
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Next week, our guest will be John Sullivan. He’s a human resources expert, author, and speaker. John also teaches at San Francisco State University.
Our economy is going through big changes because of COVID-19. And this affects how employers hire and people find work.
John and I will talk about how looking for a job has changed forever, why this is so, 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.