Career Boosters: 8 Tips for Getting Back in the Game

Portrait of woman holding a stack of books and a laptop, smiling to camera, from her living room.

If you're out of work or reassessing your opportunities in light of COVID, here are some tips from a career coach to rejig your resume or upgrade your skills from your living room. Photo: GettyImages/ Riska

The only thing predictable about the economy right now is that it will continue to be unpredictable for the foreseeable future. 

Some of us are doing fine, finding ourselves with more cash than we’re used to having, buying exurban houses and playing in the blockchain coin sandbox.

And some of us are not. Total unemployment went from 5.6 per cent in January 2020 to 9.4 per cent in January 2021, including an extra 150,000 over the age of 55 out of work. That’s like the entire population of Moncton looking for work in one of the worst employment economies in generations.

Then there are those whose family incomes have dropped enough that a non-working family member feels they should get into the workforce or a part-timer should go full-time to make ends meet.

All told, there are a lot of people wading back into the job market right now, many of whom have been out of it for one reason or another for a long time.

So perhaps some expert advice is in order.

I spoke with Jenn Cutajar, a career coach and resumé consultant at Clear the Noise Coaching Inc. and former sales executive with Microsoft and SAP to see what advice she had.


1. Gird yourself


Cutajar says that whether you’ve recently left a long-term job or are coming back to the workforce after an extended absence, putting yourself out there again can be a shock to the system. “Be kind to yourself,” she says, “and be realistic about the amount of time and energy you’re going to put into the job search.”

Looking for a job can be more demanding than actually having one, she says, so pace yourself. You need to “be on” to tailor your resumé, compose cover letters and focus on your hopes, wants and needs. So if you can just muster an hour a day, that’s perfectly fine. Better one good hour than four dissolute ones.

But choose your hours wisely. “It’s about figuring out when you’re going to be at your best to be a part of that job search and prepare yourself for interviews,” she says, “because it’s a lot of work.”


2. Research for a good fit


Services like LinkedIn have made finding job openings easier than ever, but that’s not the kind of research she’s talking about. You’ve got to research yourself and how you fit in now “because if you have been out of the job search market for a while, it’s changed.”

Your first questions should be “What are my skills?” and “What do I bring to the table?” Cutajar suggests making lists. “And then in my research, I would start to look at what the companies are that seem to align with the list that I created for myself.”


3. Wherefore art thou an active listener?


Though basic skills that are valuable in the workplace often remain the same, they are as subject to trend and fashion as anything else. Which means though you used to describe yourself as a problem-solver, perhaps today you’d be better at process streamlining. Instead of taking direction well, try being an active listener. 

With the exception of certain hard skills (like knowing Python or being able to drive an 18-wheeler), most of the qualities employers are looking for now are the same as they’ve ever been. They can just sound a little strange to an ear not attuned to them.


4. A leader is a leader is a leader


We live in an age of career upheavals. It’s not uncommon to change tracks in early, middle or late career. So it’s especially important to remember that if you have led a team on an assembly line, those leadership skills are transferable to leading a team in an office. And if you worked in hospitality, working with a diverse clientele, ensuring customer satisfaction and generating repeat business are also the foundation of most jobs in sales, from cellphones to software. (You’re also probably a pretty good active listener, too.)


5. Don’t be shy


Use your network. Whether it’s friends and family, former bosses and coworkers or even third-degree social media contacts in useful positions, Cutajar says you should call them up, suggesting a specific (and brief) time slot and sticking to it.

“Ask them about their job,” she says. “How did they spend their day to day? What industries did they come from? How are they learning and growing in their jobs?”


6. Make the robots your friends


Chances are the first person to look at your resumé and cover letter will not be a person, and you should put them together with that in mind. Though some companies have been using bots and algorithms for a decade or more, Cutajar says it’s really only in the past five years or so that you can more or less rely on your application being screened by an app of some sort that looks for key words and phrases. So though it may seem like pandering or regurgitation, if the job description mentions “leadership skills,” “strong communication,” “passion,” “energy” and “creativity,” you should too.


7. But don’t forget the people


If you get past the robot gatekeepers, there will be actual people reading what you’ve written, so you’ll also want to retain elements of your own individuality in how you present yourself. Evince a tone representative of how you’d like to be in this position, so that when you do land the job, you’ll be sure they hired you for what you are, not for what you thought you should be on your resumé.


8. Boost your skills


Continuing your education has really never been more convenient, now that most colleges and universities are offering courses online, often at times that fit around any work schedule you might have, so you can train for your next job while you’re at your current one. Whether it’s specific skills – like spreadsheets or maintaining your online presence – or whole new career directions (phlebotomy, anyone?), if you can imagine it, you can probably train for it.