How to job search during COVID-19

In the new reality of COVID-19, it begs the questions: How do you stand out when there are tens of thousands of Americans in the job hunt? Are there strategies that will give you a competitive edge throughout your application process? What are recruiters looking for right now? Is it still possible to negotiate your salary?

These questions and more are answered in the exclusive Write For The Job interview between WFTJ Founder Sarah Sax and Wells Fargo Talent Acquisition Specialist and Recruiter Farrah Medrano. They sat down to discuss the most pressing questions of today's coronavirus job search and how to guide you to land a job that makes you happy.

Below is a transcript of the 10-minute interview.

Sarah: Welcome to the site! I'm Sarah Sax, Founder of Write For The Job, and I'm here with Farrah Medrano, Wells Fargo Talent Acquisition Specialist and recruiter extraordinaire. Farrah, thank you so much for joining us.

Farrah: Thank you for having me.

Sarah: Of course. So this segment is going to be focused on the COVID-19 environment. How do you land a job in this crazy environment that we're all trying to navigate -- whether you've recently been laid off or you're just concerned about job security in general. As a recruiter yourself, are you looking at candidates differently right now?

Farrah: Yeah, I think it's a good question. I think COVID-19 has made us all in this really unique and surprising environment. And I will say that for the companies that are hiring -- my company is one of them -- we've definitely had to take a view of our candidates in a different light. And I'm not saying it's any more negative or positive, I'm just saying that we've understood that people are coming from all different walks of life now. People who had jobs -- careers even -- up until last week are getting let go and furloughed, and they have families and are looking for a change. So our expectation isn't that you would have the 10+ years of in a company per se, but we're looking for those translatable skills or transferrable skills.

I think in general for COVID-19 and something to keep in mind is don't panic. I do hear that people have frustrations and family's on the line and rents are due. I'm in the same boat, I'm in the Bay Area and I have rent to pay, so I totally understand it. I think the people who do well in this environment are people who are staying calm and confident.

And I say that because given COVID-19, the interactions of face-to-face interviews aren't happening as much. So a lot of these interviews are being over the phone or sometimes in a video format. If you're a little bit more twitchy or a little bit more nervous, it's harder to see who you really are and see if you would be a good fit for the company. Just relax! When you're talking with a recruiter, we're human beings -- we're normal people just like you. And really try to tell us what your experience is and what skills you already have that would be great for our role. Not so much that you really need this job or that COVID-19 has been a rough couple months for you, but in general, do you see yourself making this a career for yourself? And if so, why? And that's what we're looking for.

I think the people who do well in this environment are people who are staying calm and confident.

Sarah: So many people right now are being forced to pivot into different industries, just as you mentioned. And what I'm hearing from you is that regardless of external circumstances, you're still looking for people who want to join your company because your company, Wells Fargo, has a mission, has a purpose, and you want people to be aligned with that.

What are the best strategies to present yourself and your professional materials to showcase your transferrable skills? How does someone go about doing that? Because that's what really the key for making a pivot into a completely different industry.

Learn how to position your professional materials to make a career pivot.

Farrah: I would say for Wells Fargo specifically, we can use our job expectations as a check list. We have a section for desired and required qualifications on all of our job openings. And if you read through them, they're pretty basic sometimes

-- one year of management, two years of detail orientation, whatever the position requires -- and that's what we're looking for. It literally tells you: this is what we're looking for in a candidate, so put this on your resume.

I've had people who were able to pitch me an Eagle scout, a boy scout, and how they were able to manage a P&L spreadsheet for a company and a couple other financial services experiences as their accountability for being able to be honest, trustworthy, on time, and being able to handle large amounts of money. And I said, "you know, that's great. That's more experience than I'd probably get from someone who's been in retail for five years." As long as you're able to show me what I have on my required qualifications and desired qualifications list and you're able to explain that to me, we'll definitely move you forward to the next round.

We have a section for desired and required qualifications on all of our job openings...It literally tells you: this is what we're looking for in a candidate, so put this on your resume.

Sarah: That's fantastic. Keeping on this transferrable skills topic, how does someone even go about identifying what industry to go into? For example, having strong communication -- that's a really, really valuable skill that a lot of people don't necessarily have. Some people think that they might have it but they don't. It's really valuable when you come across it, but strong communication can fit into a million different buckets. So what would your advice be to job seekers who have transferrable skills but don't exactly know where to point the compass?

Learn how to use the skills section to maximize your reach on Linkedin.

Farrah: I would say get your mind out of the box in this case. A lot of people tend to go, "I was a cashier for Walmart and I can only be a cashier for Target." And that's not at all the truth.

I have a couple of peers that say they ran through Linkedin, opening ever single job application they had and reading what the job requirements were. And the more you read, the more you find out "I like the sound of this job, and I want to do this job."

The biggest example I have was a team member who was in Communications -- she was a service manager, which means she does operations for the [banking] branch -- but she really fell in love with Diversity and Inclusivity. And she really wanted to be the diversity head. And I was like, "well that's a jump and a half, you don't really have Human Resources experience, you don't have experience leading the business per se." But she was able to read what it took to be in the Diversity and Inclusion Department, get a lower job that she knew existed, and work her way up again. But she would have never known she could get into Diversity and Inclusion if she hadn't read the job description to start with.

I recommend going through and reading a bunch of different [job descriptions] -- even ones that you think there's no way I can do this. You could be surprised, some of them don't require certificates, some of them don't require licensing. You just need the right personality type and the ability to do the job. Don't box yourself in. Have some confidence reading those ads, and apply to the ones that you truly are qualified for and you truly have interest for.

Sarah: It just goes to show, if you have the confidence and you feel prepared going into it with your professional materials, with prep for your interview, with your research you do on the company ahead of time, it's possible.

Farrah: Very true. The same thing happens in my experience as well. I have a lot of males who are going for jobs that they are probably not as qualified for and they don't say that in the interview. I have female candidates who, if they even apply, they say "I know I'm not as qualified as your other candidates might be" or they'll end the interview with "how strong is the candidate pool for this opening? What is my likelihood to get to the next round?" They always have that little bit of self doubt there.

Especially when it comes to salary. I get that a lot too, [women] usually low-ball themselves. I have to remind them that, hey, you have this many years of experience -- the worst you can do is ask me for too much and I'll give you the realistic offer. Worst comes to worst, I'll tell you what's real.

Sarah: Because you want the candidate, you'll keep them around?

Farrah: Yeah, unless there's a huge disparity and there's no way I can make it up. I have entry-level roles that are $50,000, and I have people who want six figures. Ok, maybe not. But if you were saying that you wanted $65,000, and I tell you it's $55,000 with these bonuses or incentives or whatever, if that's doable for you, I'm not going to cut your chain there. So it really depends on where you want to be.

A lot of companies are trying to be more transparent about compensation. We don't want to false advertise there, and so most jobs out there have ranges. At least at Wells Fargo, we have salary ranges to help out with those conversations as well. That way, you know what to feel comfortable asking for.

Sarah: A lot of companies these days are massive layoffs, obviously salaries are being cut at major companies that you don't imagine this happening. Is there flexibility with salary offers now during this COVID-19 crisis?

Farrah: I think there is room at the table to talk about [salary] range. At least with my experience as being a recruiter and being in HR management for two different companies, there's always a range that we're allowed to fit people in. Usually there are people who say, "I have to commute there -- there are tolls, there's a parking fee," those are not the candidates that I can fight for. But if you explain to me, "I have my Bachelor's, I have my Master's, I have X amount of years of experience in this" those are the things I can work with when I go to negotiate for you to the manager. I can say, "they have as much experience compared to your team members who are already in this let's not give them starting pay." So there's always room for negotiation.

I would say the worst thing that's going to happen is that we would say, "hey, unfortunately, this isn't a realistic number. Are you going to be negotiable for this?" That's the worst that's going to happen. Recruiters aren't going to say, "oh my gosh, that person asked for way too much money." I'm not going to hold it against you -- I probably won't even keep track of it mentally by the time we get to an actual offer. I get it, you always want to push for more money.

Sarah: You don't get what you don't ask for.

Farrah: Exactly.

Sarah: Last question to wrap up this segment. What advice would you give to job seekers right now that are desperately needing to switch roles and find a new position? What's the best advice you can give them given the current job application climate?

Farrah: I know there's a rush to get into another position, but take some time to really fix up your resume. Prep! This is the only time in this unique situation where you can practice behavior-based questions before you're interviewing because you don't have another job that you're multi-tasking with at the same time.

Reach out to the recruiter ahead of time. I have people who reach out to me from all over the world for jobs, and I only hire for the Bay Area. But I do my best to connect them with the right recruiter. So there's no negative to reach out with questions like you're asking me right now, Sarah. You can ask these questions to a recruiter.

Using the tools -- translatable skills, building strong cover letters making sure your resume is nice and clean -- you'll be able to get your foot in the door.

And at the end of the day, too, evaluate a career choice. You may have loved the company you were with and something happened, and you've always wondered "what if I want to be this," now is the time to explore that. It's a very, very unique and diverse environment. It's so competitive in diversity of thought, which means we're open-minded to having external hires across all major companies. You can think "hmm maybe I didn't think about banking before," or "hmm what if I want to go into production or project management?" Now is the space to be able to do that, and hopefully using the tools -- translatable skills, building strong cover letters making sure your resume is nice and clean -- you'll be able to get your foot in the door and try an adventure you never even thought you were going to start.

Sarah: Amazing. Well, thank you so much for joining us Farrah. We're so lucky to have your advice and expertise on the site. We'll be back with more segments to give you all the tools you need for the job hunt."

Sarah Sax is the Founder of Write For The Job.

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