Good riddance, 2020.
After one of the worst years of our lifetime, the ritual of setting New Year’s resolutions has taken on new meaning — especially when it comes to our financial lives. The pandemic erased the jobs of millions of Americans and docked the incomes of millions more.
But now is a time for forward thinking.
Instead of lamenting the past, we can apply a few lessons learned to make 2021 a much better year. (The bar is pretty low. We can only go up from here, right?)
1. Revisit Your Career Goals for 2020
Dig up your New Year’s resolutions from last year. If you didn’t commit them to paper (or a Google Doc) try to think back to the before times. You may have had some grandiose goal of landing your dream job or scoring a hefty raise.
Chances are you did not tick all those boxes. But as you sift through that list, look for any goals that can be salvaged. Then carry those goals over to 2021. Some tweaking may be required.
If nothing else, let this exercise provide a little comic relief. (How naive we were last New Year!)
2. Consider a Bridge Job
Bridge jobs can be a tool in helping you achieve a greater goal — even as you make a lateral but temporary career move.
Let’s say you had an epiphany and realized that your dream job is a creative director at a fancy advertising agency. You may not land the director position right off the bat. But you could gun for that junior graphic artist opening then work your way up.
Or, maybe you were in the hospitality industry and are still recovering from a layoff. You may not find the same job immediately. Instead, you could strategically use a seasonal job to fill the income void while you launch a concerted job hunt for a better match for your skills.
3. Optimize Your Resume
If you’re applying to a large company, chances are you’re doing it online and your resume is going to be reviewed by applicant tracking software (ATS) before any human sees it.
Basically, the software is a screener that scans your resume to see if you’re a good match for the position. It does that by matching skills and credentials mentioned in the job listing with your resume.
But if you didn’t optimize your resume properly, the ATS may not see you as a qualified candidate — even if you have the background the company is looking for.
The trick is to make sure your resume uses similar phrases and wording from the job listing, aka resume keywords.
The format you choose for your resume is just as important. In certain cases, the standard chronological list of employment may not be the best choice. If you’re looking to change job fields or apply to a position for which you lack experience, career experts recommend using what’s called a functional resume: one that highlights your transferable skills and how those are a fit for the job you seek.
4. Jazz Up Your LinkedIn Profile
LinkedIn can be a powerful, free tool for job seekers. If you signed up but let your profile languish without posting a headshot or work history, carve out a little time to jazz it up. Because that time can really pay off.
You can spruce up your LinkedIn profile in as little as 30 minutes. Here’s what you should do:
- Customize your URL.
- Choose a professional photo.
- Craft a killer headline.
- Write a recruiter-drawing summary.
- Ask for recommendations from colleagues.
The professional social media site is especially useful when you’re researching a new employer. You can search for people who have worked for the company (past and present) to get a sense of its work culture. (Don’t be afraid to ask directly!) And if you’re invited to an interview, you can easily look up your interviewer(s).
During the pandemic, LinkedIn implemented a photo banner that you can add to your profile picture to let employers know you’re actively looking for work. For a more discreet approach, in the setting menu, you can toggle an “open to work” feature that only recruiters can see.
And that’s just scratching the surface.
5. Prepare for Virtual Job Recruitment
Virtual recruitment is the new normal. Even before the pandemic, online job fairs and interviews were steadily gaining popularity.
By attending fairs and interviewing virtually, you can connect with people you may never have otherwise had the opportunity to. It may sound a bit daunting at first, but we’ve all been collectively thrown into this remote environment at the same time. Hiring managers and recruiters may be working out the technical kinks themselves and are more likely to be forgiving.
Having strong remote-interviewing skills can be an easy way to set yourself apart. This quick interview advice can go a long way:
- Adjust your lighting. If possible, include multiple light sources from different angles to eliminate any harsh shadows.
- If you wear makeup, consider applying a little extra because it doesn’t show well on camera.
- Position your web cam at eye level. (No one wants to see up your nose.) Stack a few books under your laptop if needed.
- Have an interesting prop behind you. A bookshelf, plant or painting could work wonders.
6. Brush Up on Your Interviewing Skills
Even if you feel like a rockstar interviewer, you probably don’t know for sure unless you’ve watched a video of yourself during an interview (unlikely) or conducted a mock interview with a friend or family member (also doubtful). Having someone else critique your body language and provide honest feedback will help you address quirks you didn’t even know you had.
It’s good to make your mock interview experience as close to the real thing as possible. During the pandemic, that likely means a video call. Have the gracious soul you’ve convinced to assist you make note of technical aspects like lighting as well as the substantive things like how you answer questions and react under pressure.
If you’re one of the millions of Americans who have slipped into long-term unemployment during the pandemic, that adds another layer to your interview you should prepare for: questions about your employment gap. You will likely be asked about your time out of work directly and possibly even in an accusatory manner. Have an honest, straightforward response ready and highlight any professional developments or new skills you’ve honed in the meantime.
7. Get Comfortable Negotiating
Your 2021 career goals aren’t likely to happen without a bit of legwork. Many career-related goals (raises, new jobs, better hours) boil down to one major thing: negotiation.
For most folks, negotiating can stir up some uncomfortable feelings. Those feelings are the first (and probably biggest) roadblock to getting what you want.
Once you’ve committed yourself to having those difficult conversations, do your homework. If your negotiation is income-related, research salary ranges for your position. Peg yourself on that scale based on your location, skills and experience.
Mentally set three numbers: a reserve point (the lowest number you’ll accept), a target point (the salary you want) and an anchor point (the first number to come up during the conversation). Use these numbers to create a game plan.
No matter the type of negotiation, it’s important to practice (maybe that same friend from your mock interview is available?) and to keep your composure. Stay calm, respectful and flexible and you’ll be ticking off those goals in no time.
8. Use a Side Gig Intentionally
Gig work can be a blessing or a curse depending on how you put it to use.
Blessing: extra income to help you meet a personal goal, like paying off debt or honing new skills that further your career. Curse: a seemingly never-ending grind and critical means of income from which there is no escape.
Sounds a little dramatic, sure. But the pandemic has really underscored this dichotomy. As millions of jobs have vanished, gig work — especially app-based services — has become a safety net. The work is fairly straightforward, entry-level and can be started in days.
Left uncheck, though, the gig you planned to do on Saturday evenings can slowly creep into Sundays. Then Mondays. Before you know it, most of your income is coming from a smattering of gig apps that have no real job security or benefits.
To avoid this scenario, set attainable financial or career goals, meet those goals and then get out. In other words, your side gig needs an exit plan.