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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

7 Ways Job Searching Will Be Different in 2021 (and How You Can Adapt)

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I know everyone is tired of hearing the words “unprecedented” and “2020” together. So I’m going to say that this last year was…extremely unordinary. And it’s probably safe to say that many of us are eager to put 2020 in the rearview mirror.

The coronavirus pandemic took a toll on every aspect of our lives—including, and in some cases especially, the way we work and what our job searches look like. And while we’re starting to see glimmers of light at the end of the tunnel, there are still a lot of variables that could affect the economy (namely the vaccine timeline, a potential COVID relief bill, and a new presidential administration). So it looks like the early months of 2021 are going to be a little uncertain. And we’ll probably be feeling the ripple effects of 2020 for a while.

If you’re one of the many people who’s currently looking for a new job or planning to start a job search soon, here’s what you need to know about finding a job in 2021.

  1. Historical Hiring Trends Probably Won’t Apply
  2. Key Industries Will Be Booming
  3. Temporary, Freelance, and Contract Work Will Be on the Rise
  4. Remote Work Is Here to Stay
  5. Companies Will Expand Their Focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  6. Recruiting Will Continue to Become More Automated
  7. There Will Be More Competition Overall

Historical Hiring Trends Probably Won’t Apply

In years past, we’ve typically seen hiring surges at the start of a new year and again in the fall, while the summer and holiday seasons have tended to be slower. But this may not be the case in 2021.

“We probably won’t be able to depend on past hiring patterns across the board,” says Charlette Beasley, Workplace Analyst at Fit Small Business, a digital resource for small business owners. “Some industries that haven’t been affected as much by the pandemic may still experience similar hiring trends as they have in previous years, but we should anticipate a downward trend at the start of the year for industries that struggled to adapt to [COVID-related] restrictions.”

On the bright side, Beasley expects hiring to pick up again in the second or third quarter of the year on the heels of a widely available vaccine and lifted restrictions on travel, dining, and socializing.

How to Adapt

  • Keep an eye on trends. In a slower hiring market, the more you know about who is (and isn’t) hiring, the better. To stay on top of what’s happening, check out news and industry sites that monitor business and hiring trends (sign up for their newsletters if they have them), follow companies you’re interested in on LinkedIn, and pay attention to the types of job postings you’re seeing on job boards (and the types of companies posting them). If you aren’t sure where to start, reach out to people in your network who also work in the space you’re targeting to ask them how they stay on top of industry trends.
  • Adjust your job search accordingly. “You may need to consider applying for positions you wouldn’t have considered in the past,” Beasley says. This could mean branching out into a new industry, taking on some freelance work, finding creative ways to update your skill set, or trying out different job search strategies.
  • Stay in touch with your network. “Job seekers sometimes think that when hiring slows down, they can too. But that’s actually the perfect time to reach out to your network to tell them how grateful you are for their advice, provide a seasonal update, or let them know where you are in your job search,” says Neepa Parikh, Career Services Manager at Springboard, an online learning platform for students looking to transition into software engineering, data science, machine learning, and UI/UX.  “It’s important to keep your contacts warm so that you can hopefully leverage their support when hiring picks up again.” (Full disclosure: I’m a career coach at Springboard.)

Key Industries Will Be Booming

“Hiring trends are likely going to vary depending on industry and company size,” Parikh says. “Bigger companies that have enough cash flow and booming industries like tech and healthcare may see hiring surges at the beginning of the year, while smaller businesses or those in impacted industries like service and hospitality may hold off hiring until summer.”

That means that 2021 may be the year to step out of your industry comfort zone or take the leap into a career pivot—especially if you want to increase your chances of landing a job more quickly or if you were already considering a career change.

Here are some key industries to watch, according to experts:

  • Tech: 2020 was a big year for tech companies, largely because they don’t rely on physical storefronts for business and can often operate almost entirely online, as most of their employees can work from home. And “the technology industry will continue dominating the market" in 2021, says Cristina de la Cruz, Regional Vice President of Robert Half Technology, a Bay Area–based human resources consulting firm.
  • Healthcare and health tech: “The healthcare and tech industries will continue to expand as the pandemic continues to make society more health-conscious and reliant on technology,” Beasley says. Look for hiring across a wide variety of healthcare-focused organizations, including frontline providers and virtual medical care. We should also start gaining back some of the preventive care jobs that were lost in 2020.
  • Fintech: “Even before the pandemic, the financial services industry was trending toward online banking. COVID accelerated the transition away from a brick-and-mortar presence, so we’ll likely see more jobs in the online banking and fintech sectors,” Parikh says.
  • E-commerce: You know all of that online shopping we’ve been doing? It’s had an impact. “We’re going to see an increased focus on e-commerce and consumer goods, as there’s been a rise in people buying products rather than services,” Parikh says. Companies that were already online or were able to navigate the transition to selling almost exclusively through the web will likely continue adding headcount to meet demand into 2021.
  • Customer service: “There’s going to be a lot of demand around anything involving customer service," says Todd Bavol, CEO of Integrity Staffing Solutions, an agile recruiting and staffing firm. This should translate into increased demand for customer service representatives across a variety of industries, but most notably software (as companies continue to rely on virtual business and remote work) and retail (as consumers continue to do the majority of shopping online).
  • Renewable energy: This industry has been trending upward for a while as we’ve become increasingly aware of the climate crisis. And it looks like climate change will be a top priority for the new presidential administration, so it’s likely that we’ll see growth in the green energy space.

While these are some of the larger industries to watch, this isn’t an exhaustive list. De la Cruz also pointed out that a variety of leading industries across the finance, accounting, and legal spaces will continue hiring in 2021.

Read More: 15 Kinds of Jobs That Are In Demand—and Growing—Heading Into 2021

How to Adapt

  • Determine whether you need to pivot. If your industry is expected to continue to grow in 2021, you’ll want to focus on making yourself the strongest candidate possible. This could mean taking on a project to keep your skills sharp, increasing your networking efforts, or reevaluating your resume. But if most (or all) of your experience is in an industry that’s been hard-hit by the pandemic, like hospitality or travel, you might want to consider looking for a job in a new space where many of your skills would translate, like e-commerce or virtual customer support.
  • Identify your transferable skills. “Take stock of the skills you have from your previous industry and determine which skills will be most relevant and transferable,” Parikh says, and think about how you might build or enhance them. She also suggests partnering with a career coach for help crafting a compelling message about your transferable skills.
  • Do your research. When making a career pivot, it’s important to learn as much as you can about the role or industry you’re looking to move into. “Look at...job postings and think about how your skills relate,” Bavol says. “Go on LinkedIn and look at the profiles of people who have the job you want. Look at their work history and how they describe their roles. Every industry has its own terminology, so make sure you’re using that terminology on your resume.”
  • Continue to expand your network. Talking to people in the industry you’re targeting can help you understand the trends and identify which skills will be most important to potential employers. And remember, there are lots of different ways to network. “Use any and all opportunities right now to attend virtual conferences, join networking organizations, and be part of discussions that are of interest to you,” de la Cruz says.
  • Show your enthusiasm. “Show that you’re humble and hungry,” Parikh says. “In many cases, hiring managers would rather hire applicants who are eager to enter their field, who’ve done their research, and talked to people about the industry, so long as they have basic skills and can be trained. Demonstrating a genuine passion for your career will take you far.” That means you should have a top-notch elevator pitch ready to go and be prepared to talk about your reasons for making a switch during an interview .

Temporary, Freelance, and Contract Work Will Be on the Rise

“During an uncertain economy, firms often rely more on temporary or project professionals,” de la Cruz says. “They may feel cautious about hiring, but at the same time they don’t want to be understaffed and have work that must get done.” That means you’ll probably see more job postings that fall under the temporary, temp-to-hire, contract, or freelance categories. And while the freedom and variety that comes with temp work may be intriguing to some, the more uncertain nature of it can also cause understandable anxiety.

Temporary work has its pros and cons. On the one hand, it can be discouraging if the only jobs you’re able to find don’t guarantee work past a specific date or, worse, don’t offer health insurance (an especially crucial benefit these days). But on the other hand, there’s a chance that a contract role could turn into something more permanent in the future. Plus, freelancing can be a great way to strengthen your skill set, build your resume, or break into a new industry.

How to Adapt

  • Embrace the perks of temp work. If you’ve been having a tough time finding a job, temporary work can be a workable short-term solution. It can be a great way to bridge a gap on your resume or build new skills. “For those who are struggling to get their foot in the door in a new job or industry, temp work is one of the best ways to build a resume," says Bavol, who notes that he started his career as a temporary employee. “I learned so much and got exposure to a lot of different industries.”
  • But be realistic about what will work for you. Some job seekers may be able to embrace temp work as a long-term solution, while others may look at it as a short-term experiment or use it as a way to supplement their income until something more stable materializes. Whatever your circumstances, take stock of your finances to determine what could work for you.
  • Communicate your intentions. Companies are adopting temporary working arrangements because the future is a bit uncertain at the moment. But that will change. “Companies complement regular staff with highly skilled consultants or freelance professionals who offer specialized abilities and expertise. These positions oftentimes become staff positions,” de la Cruz points out. So if your goal is to join the team, be sure to let your temporary employer know.

Remote Work Is Here to Stay

The pandemic has altered the way many employers think about remote work, and it’s unlikely that the number of people who work in an office will ever return to pre-2020 levels. But that doesn’t mean we won’t be returning to our cubicles at all.

Most likely, some companies will embrace remote work in their next chapters, others will want workers back on-site, and still others will look to hybrid and flexible models. In the meantime, many organizations will also continue to conduct their hiring processes remotely, regardless of what type of stance they adopt on remote work in the long run.

How to Adapt

  • Broaden your job search. “The remote work trend has opened up so many possibilities for people all over the country,” Parikh says. This means that not only can you apply to the usual jobs in your area, but you can also apply for jobs that might be based across the country.
  • Keep your video interviewing skills sharp. With so many companies continuing to embrace remote work, it stands to reason that interviews will continue to be largely remote, too. Even those that will eventually expect employees to come into the office might be hiring remotely until a vaccine is more widespread and it’s safer to resume in-person interviews. So be ready to answer common interview questions and follow these video interview tips.
  • Show off your WFH chops. There are some specific traits (like strong organization and communication skills) that make certain employees better remote workers than others. So it wouldn’t hurt to be ready to answer questions specific to working from home during your video interviews, whether you’re interviewing for a position that’s permanently remote or remote for the time being.
  • Reflect on how you want to work. The remote work trend is great news for those who love working from home, but others have missed going into an office and long to work alongside their teammates in person. Whatever it is you’ve discovered you prefer, you’ll want to be strategic about where you’re applying, what questions you’re asking about the company’s current setup and long-term plans, and how you communicate your desired post-COVID working arrangements.

Companies Will Expand Their Focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

One major bright spot in the 2021 job market will be the trend toward diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace. Beasley, who authored a report on hiring trends that will affect women and minorities in 2021, anticipates an upward trend in DEI-focused recruiting and hiring practices at every level of an organization.

How to Adapt

  • If you identify as a member of a marginalized community: The good news is there will be more opportunities in the job market for women, people of color, and folks from other underrepresented groups, including an uptick in internships and entry-level jobs aimed at recruiting job seekers from marginalized groups into industries like tech or finance, Beasley says. But you’ll still need a stellar job search and networking strategy, too. “You need to proactively position yourself. Joining groups for women or minorities will give you access to diversity-friendly organizations and will be much more effective than simply submitting your resume to a job site,” she says. It’s also important to remember that not all companies will be as committed as they’d like the public to think they are, so don’t forget to do your homework. Check out these tips for evaluating a prospective employer’s commitment to DEI (plus red flags to watch for).
  • No matter who you are: Employers are looking not only to build diverse teams, but also to onboard employees who are aligned with their goals. Being prepared to answer interview questions about diversity, equity, and inclusion will show that you’re just as committed to DEI as your future employer is. You should also do some research and ask thoughtful questions about a company’s programs or the make-up of their staff during your interview in order to determine whether they align with your values.

Recruiting Will Continue to Become More Automated

Hiring teams are increasingly turning to automated systems to help them manage the influx of applications. That means more applicant tracking systems and chatbots to answer application FAQs, ask basic screening questions, or even schedule interviews.

Job seekers can also expect to see more automation in the interview process. “Companies are increasingly using pre-recorded interviews to screen candidates,” Bavol says. “Some are even developing AI to review those interviews, listening for keywords and watching facial expressions. That level of technology is the infancy stage but it’s coming.”

Some of these new technologies also scan cover letters and even chat conversations for relevant keywords and use them to determine whether or not a candidate might be a fit for the job they’ve applied to. Which means tailoring your job search materials for the jobs you’re targeting will be more important than ever.

How to Adapt

  • Tailor your resume. The whole point of a resume is to get a recruiter or hiring manager interested enough that they take the next step and schedule an initial phone screen with you. And the easiest way to do that is to use your resume to spell out why you’re a great fit for the role you’ve applied to. That’s why it’s so crucial to tailor your resume for a specific job and make sure it’s also ATS-friendly.
  • Use automation to your advantage. When you run into a pre-recorded interview scenario, chances are, the AI is going to ask common initial interview questions like, “Tell me about yourself,” “How did you hear about this opportunity?” or “Why would you be a good fit for this position?” So you can prep for these kinds of questions in advance in addition to making sure you’re prepared for the digital interview format.
  • Don’t forget to add a human touch. “Always supplement applications with follow-up,” Parikh says. She recommends reaching out to the hiring manager or people who work at the company you’ve applied to whenever possible.

There Will Be More Competition Overall

With unemployment and remote work on the rise, the once shallow applicant pool has now deepened. This means more people are now applying for any given job posting. That can make it harder for you to stand out from the crowd. It can also mean that you could be in for a longer job search.

How to Adapt

  • Polish your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile. Actually, don’t just polish them. Make sure they shine like the top of the Chrysler building. In a competitive job market, investing time in perfecting your resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile will be more important than ever. You should also make sure your social media accounts are job-search friendly and update your portfolio or personal website (if you have them—if you don’t, consider making one!).
  • Be strategic. “Don’t send your resume out everywhere,” Bavol says. “Laser in on the right job postings for you and then fine-tune your resume for that specific posting.” It’s better to submit a few thoughtfully tailored, high-quality applications than to apply for every job in sight.
  • Think about creative ways to stand out. Can you learn a new skill? Self-publish an article? Create an impressive or unique personal website? “If you’re looking to enhance your skills or build up your resume, consider taking on freelance work or a pro-bono project if you can afford to. Employers appreciate candidates who go the extra mile to stay sharp and keep up with the industry,” Parikh says.
  • Embrace upskilling. “We’re in an upskill world," Bavol says. "Ensure that you’re staying a step ahead of the trends and that your skills don’t become obsolete as things continue to change.” There are a plethora of sites that offer free or affordable online classes for job seekers looking to brush up or add new skills to their resumes.
  • Be patient and flexible. “Job seekers should go into the 2021 job market with an open mind,” Beasley says. “They need to be flexible and ensure their resume and ‘candidate brand’ reflect that.” This might mean you need to have multiple versions of your base resume (one for each role or industry you’re targeting) or that you take a temporary job or a freelance gig to hold you over until you find the right opportunity.
  • Practice self-care. Under the best of circumstances, looking for a new job can be incredibly taxing. Remember to set aside time to take care of yourself. Take time away from your search to enjoy simple things like going for a walk, baking something yummy, or catching up with a friend or family member whose calls always fill you with energy.

The past year was a year unlike any other and 2021 will probably continue to be a bit of a rollercoaster. But there is reason for hope. “We’re seeing great optimism in hiring overall,” de la Cruz says. “It’s been a rough year, but there are so many bright spots in the market and a lot to look forward to in the new year.”