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My advice for candidates during the COVID-19 environment

Kerry Condon is Global Head of Talent Acquisition at Akamai Technologies. With more than 20 years' experience as a strategic human resources leader across emerging and developed markets, she shares her take on how candidates can put their best foot forward during these unusual times.

Since COVID-19 transformed life around the world, we've heard much about the changing workplace and the experience of employees working remotely, while adapting to shifts in priorities and workloads. Now, I'd like to focus on another group: candidates who are actively in the process of applying for jobs. What has changed when it comes to job hunting? And what can you do to put your best foot forward during these uncertain times?

 

When searching for a new role or employer, you must have a strategy. Great opportunities rarely fall into your lap. Right now, there are new challenges to face, and for many - especially graduates or college students looking for internships - it may feel like opportunities just aren't out there. 

There's no doubt, it may be tougher than usual. But I urge you not to panic. At Akamai we are continuing to hire. Yes, we have had to rethink the way that we interview and are onboarding virtually rather than in-person. But our need for talented people, diverse perspectives and fresh thinking is as vital as ever. In fact, as customers trust us to help them protect and deliver their digital businesses in a world that is increasingly reliant on technology, it's probably never been so important for us to keep finding and hiring great people.  

My advice to candidates - whether you're considering a career at Akamai or elsewhere - is first to focus on your strategy. Everyone's circumstances are different, and you should approach this in a way that makes sense for you. But I do have some specific pieces of advice for navigating as a candidate during COVID-19.

1.    Keep networking

In-person conferences, workshops and career fairs might not be on your calendar for the foreseeable future, but that shouldn't stop you from networking. Increasing numbers of virtual events are appearing to fill the void. These events might even give you the opportunity to connect with people you wouldn't otherwise have met, and don't forget you can take things further by reaching out through LinkedIn or email to introduce yourself. Make your communications professional, but personal so that you can explain why you'd value someone as a contact. Don't use a templated email. Then, make the connection meaningful by asking for a virtual meeting. That's a chance for you to find common ground and build a relationship rather than just soliciting advice. I recommend ending every such meeting by asking if there's anyone else they could put you in touch with, or anything they would recommend you do next. You will find in these difficult times, people are more willing to help than ever before.

2.    Be prepared for remote communication

Whether you're holding networking meetings, joining a webinar, or attending an interview, you can expect that it will happen virtually. As we rely on technology to connect socially as well as professionally, it's useful to consider what's appropriate in different situations. Every employer will have a different take on things, but most will be highly empathetic. At Akamai we appreciate that life and work have blurred, and understand if your pet or child makes an unexpected appearance. But try and make sure your environment is clear and tidy, and dress as if you were attending an interview in-person (avoid patterns that can distort on screen). Also, while some of the software provided backgrounds are fun, I would recommend you keep your video background neutral. Prepare. You might even practice for a video interview with the help of a friend or family member. Be sure to look at the person you are speaking to, not your image.  Test your technology beforehand, and close any applications which may distract you or interfere during your meeting. Most importantly, relax.  Interviews by definition can make us nervous and video can intensify those feelings.  When looking for a job, every conversation is worthwhile.  Take a deep breath, smile and engage the person over video just as you would in person.  

3.    Think flexibly

Uncertainty rules and things are changing fast. That could mean the role you were thinking of applying to is no longer available, or that it has changed to better reflect business needs. Nobody has all the answers right now. We're all adapting as we try to find the best way, so be prepared for the unexpected. Be as flexible as you can and keep an open mind. You may want to explore a new skillset to add to your resume. You may have been planning to relocate and now find that you'll be working remotely. Perhaps you were looking forward to meeting with your new team, and now have to do so virtually. Your resilience and ability to adapt will help you find the right opportunity, and avoid disappointment along the way. 

4.    Update your online brand

With recruiters reliant on virtual experiences to get to know you, it's worth investing time and energy in your online brand to ensure it's showing you in the best light, and that your profiles are up-to-date. You'll also want to check that you're telling a consistent story across LinkedIn, your resume, and any covering letters or applications. Have you written any articles or blog posts that you can highlight through LinkedIn? If not, maybe now is a good time to write some? Take every opportunity that you can to showcase not just your experience, but also your point of view. 

5.    Know what energizes you

This doesn't just apply to our current situation, but I do think during challenging times it is fundamental to helping you stand out, and guiding you towards the right opportunity. Spend time upfront in your job search weighing up what matters most to you. This might be an exercise you've gone through before, but given the changing circumstances and impact of COVID-19, it could be worth revisiting this to check in on your own priorities and whether they've shifted at all. Ask yourself what kind of work you want to do. What experiences or support do you need to help you grow? How should work fit with your lifestyle? Once you know what matters to you, you can be clear and authentic about your motivations - making a compelling case to prospective employers. We want to hear about the real you. At Akamai, our inclusive work culture thrives through the different experiences and perspectives that our people bring. The more we can understand what drives you as an individual, the better we can see where you fit within our community. 

Finally, remember that when you start a new job you also join a team, and become a part of that organization's culture. I can imagine it may feel more daunting than usual if you find yourself working remotely from the outset, but I hope through virtual introductions, on-boarding and great communication, you will feel welcomed and included from day one.