Wednesday, May 27, 2020

COVID Career Casualty? Time to start the job search

Two months into the COVID-19 shutdown here in California, and things look a lot different than at the beginning of March.  After shelter in place orders were given and the need for some to self-quarantine, our employment situation is drastically different.  We are starting to chart a path to reopen the economy, but it may be a very bumpy ride for the next few months. 

The first few days and weeks of the pandemic response seem like a blur.  Businesses were forced to shut down and employees found themselves sheltering at home.  Workers who could work from home were, sometimes for the first time ever.  Other people whose companies closed were home, facing their future.  Many of us now had young children home, and we were navigating online learning.  And some of us chose to self isolate in order to avoid getting the virus.  Looking back, it was a time full of heightened emotion, uncertainty and fear.  Today, emotions can still run high, there is plenty of uncertainty, and some of us continue to have a good amount of fear of the virus, the future and our livelihoods. 

I think the uncertainty is the toughest part of this pandemic.  While I am fairly confident in how to limit my exposure to the virus, and prevent others near me from becoming ill, I'm not completely convinced the coronavirus will not cause harm to me or my family.  Having geared up to make hundreds of masks early on in our lockdown, I felt like I was making something that could help prevent contracting the virus, or prevent spreading it to someone unknowingly.  Hand washing is a new religion for my entire family.  Yesterday I even made my second batch of homemade soap.  But small projects will not keep me occupied or feeling rewarded long term.

Just like I need to keep myself active and engaged with my business, you may be facing an uncertain employment situation yourself.  Now is the time to plan your "get back to work" strategy.  Now that the future is starting to take shape, let's sharpen our focus on your job search strategy. 

Connect with people you know:  Being isolated from people we see regularly can be very hard on us, and reconnecting with those people may seem daunting.  Right now, people enjoy hearing from friends and colleagues.  Pick up the phone and call your old friends.  If you have lost your job, call your old co-workers.  And call your old boss.  We are all going through this together, and right now connecting with those we care about is important. 

Don't be afraid to express your emotions--within limits!  If you reach out to an old colleague right now, don't be afraid to say you have been scared or lonely.  Those are natural human emotions, and most people are feeling them too.  I would say it's best to avoid putting yourself in a situation where you can't communicate because you completely lose your composure.  And while emotions may be high, don't bad mouth your old boss or employer--many people had to make tough decisions on the fly in the first few days of the pandemic.  Remember that the relationships you have are very important now, and keep them strong. 

There is no shame in having lost your job:  During this lockdown, many high performing people found themselves unemployed for the first time in their life.  If you are still reeling from the fact that you lost your job, you are not alone.  Many people are in the same situation, and can commisserate with you.  Face the fact that you don't have your old job, and present your situation honestly when talking to others. 

Get in touch with people who can help:  Right now many people I proudly helped find a great job are facing shaky employment prospects.  I want to hear from you.  Recruiting can feel like a role that is all about making the placement and walking away.  But it really doesn't stop at the placement.  We want to continue to hear from you, help you on your career path and connect you with a great job again when you need it.  Put a quick call into anyone who has mentored you with your career and let them know you are looking for help again.  Knowing you need help often allows others to assist you. 

Take some small steps in your job search:  Looking for a job can seem like a Herculean task when you are sad and sheltering at home.   Breaking up the task into bite-sized pieces will make it much easier.  

Here are some things to do now to get your job search on track, (with resources where appropriate):
  • Update your resume (for tips, click here)
  • Create a generic cover letter to use when sending in a resume
  • Update your LinkedIn profile (tips, click here)
  • Get in the habit of scanning job boards for opportunities
  • Talk to friends about what they are hearing out there, job wise.  
  • Connect with old bosses and co-workers 
  • Have a game plan for taking care of children or family members if you need to do a phone or video interview
  • Follow up on any job leads, interviews or networking calls to see how things evolve over time.  While a job opening might be on hold, when it reopens you want to be one of the first people the employer thinks of.
  • Make sure you can do a video interview, professionally (tips, click here)
  • Get an interview outfit ready, in case something comes up quickly.  The interview may be by video or in-person, and having something ready may save you precious time.  
  • Clean up your social networking feeds--if you have a social media presence and are job hunting, now is a good time to have positive posts up and not political, silly or distasteful posts.  
Figure out what works, and keep doing that:  This job search may be quite different than your previous ones.  There may be many people vying for the job.  Some people may be leery about the role based on the potential for exposure to the coronavirus.  The future of the employer may be questionable.  As you put one foot in front of the other on your job search, see which steps work best, and keep doing those as much as possible.  

Reevaluate your career plan:  Does your employment history skew towards industries that are the hardest hit by the pandemic?  Is the type of position you've had before put you too close to potential danger?  Do you need to factor in family care responsibilities differently now?  This new world we are in may make a profession pivot necessary.  Look at reports on what industries are hiring and poll your friends and family for where they think the jobs will be.  If you can repackage your skill set to a new, thriving industry, do it.  Or if you see an opportunity to provide a needed product or service in this environment, figure out how to make that happen and do it.  This dynamic time can be the perfect time to create a whole new career for yourself.

Hang in there:  This is a tough time for all of us.  We are all in this together, apart.  Soon we'll be in this together,  together again.  Find ways to find happiness in small things, and keep a long view for where your career path leads, not simply on this bump along the way.  

Thursday, May 14, 2020

How to Conduct In-person Interviews during COVID-19

Right around the second week of March all hiring activity came to a screeching halt here in California.  Taking a look at what was going on, as the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a pandemic on March 11, public gatherings were being banned in San Francisco and the NBA suspended the season.  Within days schools were closing throughout California.  On March 15th, Governor Newsom ordered all wineries to close tasting rooms, and restaurants were ordered to reduce capacity to allow social distancing.  Four days later, the state ordered us to shelter at home.  

In this new environment, many companies were quickly forced to close or send workers home to work remotely.   Not surprisingly, all open jobs were closed.  Positions that were recently filled were in limbo--were newly hired employees still going to have a job to go into?  Recruiting practically stopped completely.  
We went into the pandemic with full employment.  Often, finding the right person for the job was nearly impossible since everyone was working.  Fast forward to the end of April 2020 and now 19% of the California workforce had filed for unemployment benefits.  We are in a completely different environment for hiring now.  
The wine industry is an interesting model during the pandemic.  Wine production and vineyard operations are essential, and my clients are continuing to have employees at work daily, whether that's in the cellar, on the bottling line or in the vineyard.  And essential workers are still being hired to keep operations running.  But hospitality roles were severely impacted.  Many hospitality workers I know are currently unemployed, and wondering what the future holds.  
As we start to re-open our economy, hiring will start to take place.  It will be a completely different landscape than two months ago, and we will need to follow different protocols to keep ourselves, our employees and our future employees safe.  Interviews for essential roles have continued during the pandemic.  My clients are implementing more phone and video interviews, but for important roles, the in-person interview continues to be very important.  Employers want to get a complete picture of a future employee, and candidates want to see where they will be working, learn more about the job, and get to know their future coworkers.  This leads me to ask, how should you perform in-person interviews in the Age of COVID-19?
Talking with my colleagues in Human Resources, they are having all interviewees wear a mask and keep all interactions at least 6 feet apart.  Some are conducting interviews outside, weather permitting.  Reviewing the CDC guidelines, and from recommendations of colleagues in the industry, here are my proposed best practices for interviewing amid COVID-19.
Set Clear Expectations:  With interviewees probably visiting the work location for their first time, giving them clear information about some basic items will be reassuring.  These include:
  • Where to park.  
  • Where to enter the building.  If this is a production environment the employer may have certain areas only accessible to employees.  If there is an entrance interviewees and visitors are using, please let the interviewee know ahead of time.
  • Instructions on what to do if the interviewee isn't feeling well.   Let candidates know to inform the interviewer if they do not feel well, and do not go to the interview.    Rescheduling an interview is a small inconvenience. 
Interview Protocol:  Interviewing is often fraught with anxiety, and the added element of COVID-19 will likely increase this.  Here are some items that should be communicated to the candidate:
  • Mask:  If the interviewee will need to wear a mask, please let them know that ahead of time.  Many winery and vineyard workers have a mask for work, and can bring one to the interview if needed.
  • Greetings:  While I was taught the importance of a firm handshake from a young age, it is a completely unnecessary skill these days.  Greet anyone you meet and introduce yourself from a distance.  Don't shake hands.
  • Social Distancing:  All interviews should be conducted with at least 6 feet of distance between all people at the meeting.  Knowing this ahead of time will eliminate any awkwardness at the beginning of the interview.  Some companies are putting large tape Xs on spots that either can or cannot be occupied during meetings.  An interviewer should let candidates know where they can locate themselves for correct social distancing
  • Embrace the great outdoors:  While many things are not understood about the transmission of the coronavirus, I do believe that having plenty of fresh air is a positive element.  If it is feasible, interviewing outdoors in a spot with plenty of fresh air can limit the potential for exposure even further, while you continue to maintain social distancing and wear a mask.  
As always, have a sense of humor!  We are all in this together, and are figuring out how to get back to work, safely.  There may be some mistakes made, but as long as you are safe, I encourage you to be understanding and adjust to the situation.  We will get through this together, and be stronger as a result.  

And at the end of the interview, remember, don't shake hands!  Interviewees--follow up with a thank you email to the interviewers.  Interviewers--let the candidate know what next steps will be whenever possible.  

Good Luck!