How I Found A Job in a Pandemic

Laura Harris

23 November, 2020

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I found myself searching for a job during the worst recession for 300 years. I hadn’t been furloughed or made redundant, neither was my job becoming ‘obsolete’ during lock down, in actual fact, it had really ramped up and I had more work than ever, moving everything online. I didn’t work in hospitality, travel or entertainment, three sectors where job losses were most acute. I work in arts education. So why, then, was I looking for a job? I have a contract that is coming to an end in December. Santa would be leaving me my P45 in my stocking this Christmas.

Like many artists, I am also making and selling my own work, whilst holding down a full time day job. As a creative industry professional with a first degree in fine art, I am flexible in my approach to my job search, and understand that when you type in the words ‘Gallery Manager’ into a job search website, it’s highly unlikely that anything would come up anywhere close to the actual description. So many jobs in the art industry are through word of mouth and with so many art fairs and private views on hold, those spontaneous conversations and word of mouth roles weren’t going to come my way anytime soon. How, then, would I find anything vaguely art-related, that 200 other people hadn’t got to first?

Most of the workforce has job hunted at some point in their lives, although I do know some people just walk straight into a job after school or university through a friend or contact and never apply blind to an advert, or even create a CV. However, for the vast majority of us, this is just a dream. Some of us have been lucky enough to have skipped this task once or twice in our careers, by being headhunted by an employer directly, thus swerving the slow process of sifting, sorting, applying and interviewing each time we want to move up the ladder.

There’s no denying that this process can be soul destroying and a thankless but necessary task. Feelings experienced include anxiety; the amount of time each application takes and missing deadlines, euphoria (when an interview actually comes through), and disappointment when an application has not been successful.  One day up, next day down. In the mornings I would often feel optimistic and by the evening, pessimistic.

I had three interviews in eight weeks, one in person and two online. I had around ten outright rejections, and several that I didn’t hear back from. I found that some interviews were coming directly from mainstream sites, that I really thought I had no chance of hearing back from- Reed was one. It was a reminder to keep my job search open and not focus on arts – only sites.

I came to the realization that job searching was reminding me of dating some five years previously- of ghosting; an interview has taken place, the offer of a second interview was made and then radio silence. Fake profiling; job adverts that remain live after the deadline on multiple websites.

Anonymous profile viewing on LinkedIn leaves the job – seeker left to wonder who exactly has viewed their profile. Were they a potential employer, or just someone having a browse around LinkedIn one day? All of these stages can play havoc with ones’ anxiety, at an already fraught time.
The pandemic of course has accelerated the necessity for interviews online. While many industries already adopted regular online interviews pre – Covid19, mine did not and I had never interviewed online in an 18 – year career. Whilst the travel savings were welcome, the lack of job interview rituals that were abandoned were not, such as time to think whilst sitting on public transport on the way to an interview and the simple pleasure of having a coffee either before or after an interview to collect ones’ thoughts.

My first interview online can only be described as horrendous, as the panel did not make me feel at all comfortable and I could sense some tension, even through the screen. It left me with a lack of confidence for my next interview. Interview numbers two and three with new firms proved successful and restored my confidence, one offering a second interview at the end of the first after which I was ghosted, and the second firm offering me the role some days later.

It remains to say that the time delay in sound when conducting online interviews is a real interference in the quality of the engagement with prospective employer, as each party talking over the other accidentally is not something that a candidate has to contend with in real life. Not being able to hand shake or even enter into a room physically is quite odd, as the way a candidate moves, walks and uses body language can be almost as important as the spoken word, if not more so.

I remember having a conversation with the receptionist soon after I started a new role. One of the reasons I got the job and impressed the firm, is that I was the only person who smiled at any point during the interview (although, I’ve since learned that smiling too much can also be off-putting) and that my opening of a door for someone coming through it really went down well. Neither of these points linked to my experience, qualifications or skills set but can be adopted by any potential candidate universally. Manners are important and it’s almost impossible to get that across on a screen.

I’m lucky, in that my job search has ended in a happy story, for many others I know that the task will be more arduous and lengthy. My three tips for job searching are: upgrade your digital accounts and pay for premium membership even for one month, as then your profile is boosted on the sites. I didn’t expect my LinkedIn account to be much help, but it’s where I found my art industry role and one for which I applied directly, not through an agent. I enjoyed getting a couple of calls from agents at the same time, it felt like I was being pro – active, and it was nice to talk to a professional recruiter. It’s also great for more mainstream creative jobs such as marketing roles.

Second, update your digital profiles with accurate and recent achievements, making sure that any articles or videos that you have been involved in are linked to your page. Add any recent achievements to your most recent job profile, and quantify these achievements if you can.

Third, ask respected colleagues, in either old or current roles to add an online reference for you on your page, at least two ideally and give any real life referees the heads up that you might be adding their details to an application. This approach allows the referees to be prepared when a hiring manager contacts them for a reference and also rejuvenates your network, letting previous or even current colleagues know that you are on the hunt for work. So many jobs still go through word of mouth and many employers like to re-hire previous recruits, assuming you left the firm on good terms the first time around