Between COVID-19, record-high unemployment numbers and the collapse of entire industry sectors, 2020 was a miserable year for older workers. In fact, for the first time in nearly 50 years, older workers faced higher unemployment than mid-career workers, according to The New School Retirement Equity Lab. And a Champlain College survey found that 9% of boomers and 11% of Gen Xers have lost jobs in the pandemic.
Yet despite all the challenges, millions of Americans did get hired last year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate was 6.3% in January 2021, down from a near historic 14.7% in April 2020.
What strategies did job seekers and gig workers use that can help people find employment in 2021?
To help answer that question, I asked five of my career coaching colleagues to reflect on their clients’ winning job search tactics from 2020.
Here are their key takeaways:
- Diversify your networking strategies. Job referrals and contacts have long been the key to job search success. In fact, 57% of boomers and 61% of Gen Xers in the Champlain College survey said “It’s still about who you know when landing a new job.”
But in the virtual world of pandemic job hunting, it’s especially critical to find new ways to regularly connect and engage with your network.
Mary Jeanne Vincent, a career expert in Monterey, Calif., says strategic networking helped one of her favorite clients, a 60+ woman, score a one-year consulting contract — with a 12%+ pay increase.
Her client diversified her networking three ways:
First, she consistently posted interesting content on LinkedIn and responded when anyone liked or commented on it; she also reposted content from others in her network.
Second, she held weekly networking calls to help others and herself. “She prepared for every call, knew what she wanted to ask and had ideas about how she could assist her contact,” said Vincent. “When wrapping up networking calls, she never failed to find a way to offer assistance. Sometimes she shared resources, other times she was able to directly connect the individual to another influencer.”
Finally, she joined a group of movers and shakers who were meeting weekly on Zoom. As the woman got to know some of the participants, she invited them to virtual coffee dates. One of these virtual coffees led to the consulting opportunity she landed.
- Network before you need to do so. During a difficult job market, it’s tempting to convince yourself that you can ride out a bad job situation. But if your gut tells you that your job or employer is heading south, trust your instincts and get to work to find work.
As an example, Sarah Johnston, a job search strategist in Durham, N.C., worked with a 56-year-old marketing executive who had enjoyed a long and successful career with his firm and planned to retire from it. But at the start of 2020, he began to question the direction of the company. Once the pandemic took hold, the situation deteriorated and he decided it was time to make a move.
“The hardest part of the entire job search process for him was being vulnerable to his network,” said Johnston. “Once he got comfortable telling people his story, an unexpected door opened, and he landed a new role as the president of a regional distribution company. If he hadn’t told his network he was looking, he would have never known — or even considered — this opportunity.”
- Spiff up your LinkedIn presence. All five coaches agreed that a robust LinkedIn presence is a must have, especially right now. Their most successful clients regularly tweak their LinkedIn profiles, share content on that platform and engage with their LinkedIn networks. But the more you can do to make your LinkedIn profile memorable — with compelling videos, whitepapers or professional photos — the better.
As an example, Laura Powers of Powers Career Coaching in Mount Kisco, N.Y., shared the story of a 50+ chief financial officer who leveraged LinkedIn to land multiple consulting assignments in 2020. In addition to keeping his LinkedIn profile updated continually, he developed and uploaded a PowerPoint presentation there showcasing his expertise and thought leadership. “It proved a real differentiator,” Powers said.
- Pivot to high-growth industries. Marc Miller, founder of CareerPivot.com based in Austin, Texas and a Next Avenue Influencer in Aging, shared the story of one of his clients, age 62, who found a job this year by doing just that.
For most of her career, she worked as a trainer, curriculum developer and customer-support person. When the pandemic hit, she was employed at a nonprofit. Then she got laid off. After losing her job, she decided to pivot away from nonprofits to focus on customer-support opportunities in the booming field of telehealth.
She hired a career pro to revamp her resumé and updated her LinkedIn profile to highlight keywords that could be useful for customer-support in telehealth, while minimizing her curriculum development and training experience.
“She almost immediately began to get calls from recruiters,” said Miller. “And within thirty days, she landed a job.”
- Get creative. Finally, in this most unconventional of years, I’ll end with an out-of-the-box tip from San Francisco-based career coach Melanie Feldman, author of “Bold: Get Noticed, Get Hired.” Feldman says it’s worked really well for her clients in 2020.
Next time you want to schedule a virtual informational interview with someone at a prospective employer, she says, consider attaching a $5 gift card to Uber Eats or a similar service along with your invite. In your email, mention that normally you would have treated the person to an in-person coffee, but since you can’t do that right now, you’d like to treat them to a coffee or breakfast sandwich over a virtual coffee instead.
“Of course, if you’re job hunting this can get expensive,” said Feldman. So, she tells her clients “to find a few special cases where it would be well worth it.”
You can also send the email first without the gift card attached but mentioning your intentions, says Feldman. “And once they agree, you email the card later,” she advised.
Cheers to your job search success in 2021. May it be a better year for us all!
©Next Avenue. Nancy Collamer, M.S., is a semi-retirement coach, speaker and author of “Second-Act Careers: 50+ Ways to Profit From Your Passions During Semi-Retirement.” This article was originally published by nextavenue.org.