Looking for a Job Has Changed Forever — and Here’s Why

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Mar 23, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

Editor’s Note: For over two decades, John Sullivan has been a consistent contributor to Throughout his 1,024 articles (wow, right?), he has explored trends, challenged conventions, and offered solid advice. Never afraid to call out the profession for its shortcomings, John has been no stranger to controversial positions. Yet at the same time, he’s been one of talent acquisition’s greatest champions.

As John points out below, going forward he will focus his energy on efforts outside of ERE. While John will no longer be regularly contributing here, I have no doubt that he will remain a powerful voice in elevating recruiting. Thank you, John, for all you’ve done over the years to grow and support ERE’s community of professionals. Looking forward to seeing what you do next!

Authors Note: This is my very last of 20 years of continuous contributions. I’m moving on to other venues that are more willing to push the recruiting envelope. In the interim, you can always read my past articles on and my future articles on

I predict that the recent turmoil surrounding our pandemic will strain the job search process to the point where existing search approaches will soon become ineffective. The job-loss damage is already becoming obvious —  25% of people making less than $50,000 report that they had been let go or had hours reduced as a result of the recent turmoil. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said the U.S. unemployment rate can quickly rise to 20%.  When this occurs, the current job-search process, which is already strained due to entire staffs working remotely, might completely collapse. If you voluntarily or are forced to enter the job market (assuming that you don’t want a delivery job), it makes sense to begin preparing for these likely job-search changes. However, if you can’t take brutal honesty, stop reading now. 

The Top 10 Job Search Changes That You Need to Prepare For

1. You will have to wait longer to get a job. With few job openings at most companies due to shutdowns, recruiters will be let go, so there will be fewer recruiters to handle applicants. And with nearly 1 in 5 typical workers facing reduced hours or lost jobs, the volume of applications may literally double. Taken together, this means that it will take weeks longer for a company to make hiring decisions. Therefore, you will have to be in a stronger economic position to be able to hold out until you receive a great next job. Of course, in some, especially troubled, industries, like the airlines, it may be years before there is a realistic chance for a person from outside the industry to get in.

2. Your resume will have to be customized and perfect. With as many as 300 applicants per open job, the competition will be intense. “The passing score” of the resume screening software will be set extremely high. If you submit a resume with a single flaw, your chances are zero. Your chances will also be extremely low if you submit a “one-size-fits-all” broad or non-customized resume. The fact of the matter is that applicants smart enough to submit resumes that are customized and fit the job like a glove will receive a much higher resume ranking. Customization will mean that resumes contain more of the right keywords and have skills drawn directly from the company’s job description. If your resume does make it to a human recruiter, be aware that due to the volume of the resumes that they received, recruiters will be looking for even the smallest excuse to reject you. A single format error, typo, or grammar error will mean that your resume will be instantly rejected. You will never know that your rejection had nothing to do with your qualifications. This means that you must literally customize as much as 20% of your resume to the specific job. Also, you will need to have “an English major” to find every minuscule error in the document. 

3. You will need to excel at video interviews. Transportation issues, as well as so many people in the recruiting process working at home, mean that remote video interviews will become standard. They are new to most, and they are not intuitive. Most candidates simply won’t do well during their video interview. To improve your chances, you will have to spend hours preparing, including learning the functionality of the many technology variations. Candidates will also have to be aware of the bad interview ratings that can be caused by inadequate lighting, posture, microphones, and numerous background visibility issues.

4. You will need to be prepared for automated interviews. The sudden increase in the applicant per recruiter ratio will likely also mean that more firms will require candidates to go to at least one automated interview. The questions are asked by a software package or a chatbot. Under this format, the content of your interview answers will become much more critical. Under this technology, the impact of your smile, voice inflection, or personality is greatly reduced. Many will also find that it is hard to show excitement when there is no human on the other end of the interview questions.

5. You need a memorable competitive advantage to stand out. I find that only recruiters know this, but applicants should also be aware that with such a high volume of resumes and interviewees for a single job, even the best and the most qualified candidates are hard to remember. Not being remembered will be detrimental to your chances of moving on to the next step. The secret to being remembered is to do something that makes you stand out. Don’t do anything crazy with the format in your resume but instead include powerful content that others omit. For example, quantify the business impacts of your key accomplishments in dollars. Or include a powerful executive or customer quote that makes the reader think wow. Making it clear that you have been promoted rapidly also makes you memorable.

Shifting to interviews, candidates need to realize that after perhaps dozens of interviews, it’s not your clothes or your smile that hiring managers will positively remember. Instead, the single memory is likely to be that powerful story you told about one of your wow accomplishments. If you want to be remembered, sculpt your resume and practice your interview answers until they contain one or more things that everyone consistently remembers.

6. Showing intense interest in this job will become critical. Desperation dramatically increases the volume of job-board applications. It causes many applicants to apply for almost every job listed on online job boards, even when they have few of the qualifications or no interest in the company. Recruiters dislike those that “shotgun” applications. Recruiters are likely to quickly drop candidates that appear to be only mildly interested in the job, which is an assumption with “shotgun” applications. They simply don’t want to invest a lot of time in a candidate that might say no to their job offer. You should demonstrate a high level of excitement through your voice and tone, your body language, and your facial expressions. The best way to show your interest and commitment is through a deep level of research into the company and your recruiter. 

7. Be prepared to show that you can work at home. Just like the rest of us, at least initially, a percentage of new hires will likely be required to work from home. Be prepared to show that you know the remote work technology that they use. Also make it crystal clear that you have the work habits, the discipline, the electronic communication skills and the motivation needed to work remotely.

8. Be prepared to answer the “are you rusty” question. It’s unfair, but applicants need to realize that many hiring managers are prejudiced against the unemployed because they are afraid their skills may be outdated. As a result, if you’ve been out of work for even a month, don’t volunteer it. However, you also need to be prepared to convince the interviewer that your skills are 100% up-to-date and that you won’t need costly additional training or extra ramp-up time. In the same light, if you have been laid off or given reduced hours, you need to be able to provide convincing arguments that those reductions were not as a result of your performance.

9. You will need to be tolerant of slow responses. The sudden rise in the unemployment rate has “the power shifted back to the company.” Recruiters are overburdened and perhaps working 100% at home for the first time. This will dramatically slow the recruiter response time and increase what may appear to be “candidate ghosting.” Applicants must become more tolerant of the inevitable delays, while at the same time be persistent. If you try to rush or push to the point where you aggravate your recruiter, you may be dropped from consideration.

10. You may be asked if you have been tested for the virus. It’s illegal to ask this in the United States, but applicants need to be prepared for an informal inquiry as to whether they have or have had the COVID-19 virus and/or have been recently tested. During your interviews, it’s important to realize that a single cough may doom you. Of course, you should take proactive actions (medicines) to minimize the chances that you will not cough or sneeze during interviews. No recruiter wants to be known as the person that helped to hire someone that immediately infected the team.

Final Thoughts

Because the job market has been strong over the last several years, most of us have grown accustomed to finding numerous job openings at every firm. We have also grown accustomed to accelerated hiring and superior candidate experience. Now, of course, most of the eternal online optimists in HR will attempt to convince you that the current positive treatment of candidates will never change. My 40+ years in recruiting tells me otherwise. 

There are distinct historical patterns that show that when there is a surplus of candidates, “the power” really does shift to the corporation. As a result, candidate treatment rapidly deteriorates. In this particular downturn, there is the added component of new emerging recruiting technologies that will surprise and probably hurt the chances for those that are not prepared or that don’t thrive on using technology.

Taken together, these 10 factors mean that if you don’t dramatically change your job-search approach, both you and your family will pay a high price.




This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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