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Job hunting during tough times: gaining a competitive advantage

ByDarshan Shah

May 9, 2020

The recent Covid-19 outbreak has put a huge strain on businesses large and small. Around 60% of companies have put in place hiring freezes, while layoffs are being made across most sectors. Competition in the job market has never been stronger.

Whether you’ve lost your job due to company rollbacks or you were job hunting prior to Covid-19, there are a few extra ways you can give yourself a competitive advantage in the job seeker market during these tough times.

Tailor your CV

It is the quality of your job applications that will get results – not the quantity. Too many candidates send out generic CVs in bulk to every role that vaguely matches their skillset, tailoring nothing more than the covering letter at best.

Study every job advert and ensure the skills and experience each recruiter is looking for shines through in your CV. If the job advert offers very little detail, swot up on the skills that employers typically look for using job profiles.

Write a powerful personal statement

The opening paragraph of a speech grabs the listener’s attention and sets the tone for the rest of the delivery. Your CV personal statement works exactly the same way. This concise 3 – 4 line section sits just under your contact details and summarises to recruiters why you’re perfect for the job.

Use the job advert when writing your personal statement and spell out how you meet the requirements. Recruiters spend just a few seconds looking at each CV – so don’t leave a recruiter to read between the lines. Make sure they can see in a few words why you’re worth an interview.

Emphasise secondary skills

Employers may have been forced to make cuts across many departments, so job seekers who can bring valuable secondary skills to the table may have a competitive advantage. For example, perhaps you’re a customer service advisor who has produced blogs for a previous employer. Perhaps you’re a bookkeeper who does digital photography in their spare time. Maybe you’re a receptionist but fully capable of managing a WordPress site. Consider which skills your target employers might value and include these on your CV. They just might be the foot in the door you need.

Speak the employer’s language

The employer will have used particular keywords in their CV which you need to include in yours. Many recruiters process applications automatically using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). Failing to include the same keywords can mean your CV is overlooked. This might mean slightly adjusting your previous job titles which is perfectly acceptable, provided that the word you use means roughly the same (example: team leader / team supervisor).

 Use an ATS-friendly template

Whilst there are many free CV templates available on the web, it’s important to select one that is likely to run smoothly through ATS software. Those employers who are hiring will be swamped with applications right now and the likelihood of them using an ATS is even greater. Choose an ATS-compatible CV template that doesn’t use graphics, columns or tables.

Focus on results

Almost every candidate applying for a customer service role will have experience. Practically every candidate looking for an accountancy role will have had certain responsibilities. Simply listing off experience and responsibilities won’t impress an employer – but results will.

Did you have an idea that was implemented which made a tangible difference to your employer (saving time, saving money, increasing efficiency etc)? Did you achieve a target, establish a team or win an award? Results like these are proof that you’ve not only done the job, but you’ve also done it well.

Where possible, use metrics – “My idea increased the revenue by 17%” – but if these aren’t available or appropriate,  use strong words such as ‘achieved’ or ‘surpassed’ when writing about your work experience. This will help you focus your work history on your results. Some suggestions include:

  • Achieved
  • Created
  • Improved
  • Increased or decreased
  • Launched
  • Managed
  • negotiated
  • Resolved
  • Trained or mentored

Show, don’t tell

Throughout your CV, take a ‘show, don’t tell’ approach to writing. For example, rather than telling the employer that you’re a great team player, show them through practical examples. Showing rather than telling helps you stand apart from candidates who grossly exaggerate their skills, or all-out lie.

These do not have to be examples from your work experience – you can show teamwork, leadership and other valuable soft skills through your hobbies and interests, such as sports coaching or management.

Be ready to Skype

For those countries with lockdown restrictions in place, Skype interviews are becoming more commonplace. They give recruiters an experience closer to the traditional interview than a phone conversation, whilst still respecting social distancing measures. If you’ve never done a video interview before, it’s worth checking your equipment and getting some practice in, as these Skype interview tips suggest.