As work shifted to remote options back in March 2020, companies and workers have adjusted to the redundant “new normal” — which expands beyond checking in for your nine-to-five from your couch, but to the way companies and recruiters are considering job seekers amid the pandemic.
As millions of jobs were lost due to the pandemic, it became time for job seekers to rethink the way in which they work. Some are sticking it out and hoping to return to their jobs, but others are making more daring leaps like retooling and changing fields in an effort to get back into the workforce.
That has recruiters thinking differently, too.
A new study conducted by TopResume found that recruiters are caring less about employment gaps, and paying more attention to cover letters and follow-ups than before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report asked 334 recruiters, HR professionals, and hiring managers across the US for their opinion on previous dealbreakers and how hiring practices have changed since the pandemic.
The findings were pretty telling on some stigmas pre-Covid times no longer apply in today’s job market. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they were more likely to read cover letters now, a big spike compared to just 50% which said there was a chance of them being read before the pandemic. Similarly, 68% of respondents said thank-you notes and emails have become more significant lately, while just one-fifth of respondents were neutral on the topic.
The rise of the cover letter
Amanda Augustine, TopResume’s career expert, told Ladders that the importance of cover letters was a surprise during the pandemic, Augustine, a certified professional career coach and professional resume writer, said she thought recruiters were reading it less because there are more applications due to a competitive job hunt.
“I was really surprised to see that a good chunk of people said they were more likely to read it now,” Augustine said.
The rise of the cover letter during the COVID-19 pandemic could be because it’s taken a more important role in getting to know a candidate, Augustine explained. The inability to interview clients face-to-face eliminates avenues where personality can come into play, which is why both the cover letter and resume play such a pivotal role during the pandemic.
“[Hiring managers] are looking for ways for better way to understand candidates applying for these roles because more are coming from unconventional backgrounds,” she said. “A lot of people were forced to switch industries; if you just look at their resumes and their resume wasn’t properly repositioned, you could be confused as to why you should consider this person at all.
“[Recruiters] are trying to read into that cover letter to get a better background into why they should consider them.”
You got personality kid
Personality was something Augustine mentioned a few times. A survey from 2018 found that 70% of employers consider a candidate’s personality to be among the top three factors in deciding whether to extend a job offer.
As Augustine explained, a resume is a “cut-and-dry document” but there are ways to interject a little bit about yourself to make yourself standout from the others like a professional summery at the top of the resume, which offers the reader a “snapshot of what someone should know about you,” Augustine said.
Things like social media links (if it applies to a job) or a personal blog can provide additional insights on a resume, but with a cover letter, a candidate can take it even further if they want to get creative.
“The cover letter is a bigger opportunity here because of the first-person,” she said. “Take the first section and describe an anecdote when you met a challenge or handled a difficult situation. Something that happened at work that can demonstrate what skills you possess that are valuable to that work… It provides proof of the skills you have and your personality.”
The essential thank you note
As for the thank you note, it’s not only courteous to thank a recruiter or interviewer for their time but it can also be another place to show personality to set yourself apart from others.
It starts with the small talk that may not seem all that important.
“The little small talk that everyone discounts in the interview actually becomes very important because you’re trying to think about what we had in common,” Augustine said. “Those little details are so important to try to weave into that thank you note.”
While it may sound trivial, Augustine said it’s a way of reminding the interviewer who you were and to build on the rapport built in the short interview.
Candidates should reiterate that they are interested in the job and include small tidbits of why they are the right fit based on the previous conversation, especially if an interviewer was most interested in something said in the interview. It’s another place to build something out of nothing.
Employment gaps — don’t worry about it
The pandemic has been a challenging time to find new work especially in fields decimated. Many have been forced to take the downtime to retool and hone other skills that can either apply to a job in the future or even making a career switch.
While there was a stigma with workers taking employment gaps in the past, recruiters now see it now as a product of the current climate. Eighty-seven percent of respondents said they were unfazed by inconsistent work history and only 13% said there’s still a stigma attached to unemployment.
“If you’re unemployed right now, you’re in good company,” Augustine said. “There’s so many people in that boat right now or at least going through a similar issue. It’s important to note that being laid off isn’t performance-related; it’s not a termination.”
Emphasize the role you are applying today, says Augustine. With people forced to look at other roles outside of their industry, the focus should be on today.
“If you do have work in this time period, many people won’t have something that fits their career narrative — and that’s OK,” she said.
— Kyle Schnitzer
This article originally appeared on Ladders.