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How to get hired during COVID-19: experts share their tips

May 27, 2020

From conquering the online interview to approaching networking in a new way, Professor Maja Djikic and Rotman alumna Mary Sullivan share their strategies for navigating the virtual job hunt.

Whether you are a new grad looking to start your career or a seasoned professional preparing to transition to a new industry, it’s hard to get a handle on job searching and career planning right now.

In How to Get Hired During COVID-19: Navigating the Virtual Job Hunt, Vice-Dean Ken Corts asks Professor Maja Djikic and Rotman alumna Mary Sullivan, chief talent officer at CPP Investments, about what employers are looking for right now, how to succeed at the virtual job interview and more.

Here are their responses to the big questions on the minds of most job seekers:

It’s easy to feel defeated and overwhelmed during this challenging time. How can I stay positive and productive while job searching?

Looking for work and transitioning jobs is always anxiety-inducing. Now, with the uncertainty around COVID-19 and added family responsibilities, job hunting can feel especially daunting.

If you’re feeling discouraged, Djikic suggests addressing any feelings of grief.

“Most likely, you planned your career in a way that makes sense to you. Now something has happened to throw it off, and you have to deal with the loss,” say Djikic, who is an associate professor of Organizational Behaviour and Human Resource Management and director of the Self-Development Lab at the Rotman School.

You may be in denial (believing that your issues will resolve themselves overnight), angry (that the economy hasn’t reopened as quickly as you wanted it to) or feeling hopeless. These emotions are all tied to grief, and you need to address those feelings.

Most importantly, do not let anxiety and despair consume you. Crises create more work, says Djikic. Across all sectors, during and after the pandemic, there will be backlog of work that needs to be tackled by talented people. Think about how you can contribute and make an impact.

“Anticipate an organization’s needs with regards to the work that needs to be done, then map your skills against these potential needs,” advises Djikic. “Keep your mind flexile, nimble and open to opportunities.”

What are practical things I can do to establish a presence and nail the online interview?

Make sure that your hands are visible on-screen.

Hands are a part of language. If you are explaining a complex concept, the viewer needs to be able to see your hands to better understand what you’re saying,” says Djikic.

Make eye contact.

Maximize your interviewer’s window and focus on speaking to that person. (On most computers, the webcam is positioned below or above the centre of the screen. Focusing on a central picture will be interpreted as eye contact by the person you’re speaking with.) Resist the urge to study yourself during an online conversation. Interviewers will notice — and they won’t feel a connection with you.

Don’t read from written notes.

Sorry, but you aren’t fooling your interviewer when you refer to written responses. “Your interviewer can tell from your eyes, from the way you pace your language and from other cues that you are not in the conversation. That immediately diminishes trust and the connection you are able to have through the screen,” says Djikic.

Be aware of your background.

Interviewers are evaluating you and your workspace. Hold your interview in a clean space, one that your interviewer can imagine you working in productively. Avoid using virtual backdrops, which can be distracting and might make hiring managers wonder about what you are hiding.

What are employers really looking for right now? What are your tips for job seekers?

“In a way, nothing has changed,” says Sullivan. “Hiring managers are still looking for the same things.”

“We are focused on a couple of fundamental questions — does the candidate have the skills and will to do the job?”

She advises candidates is to prepare extensively for interviews. That means researching the company online and being able to present examples of where your experiences match up with the organization’s mission and guiding principles.

While it is a very tight market, there are a decent number of jobs other there, says Sullivan. She suspects that more opportunities will be posted soon, as some companies might be hesitant to advertise openings right now, as it might be perceived as tone-deaf.

Now, more than ever, it’s worth networking and making connections so that you can prepare for these potential opportunities.


“Anticipate an organization’s needs with regards to the work that needs to be done, then map your skills against these potential needs.”

—Maja Djikic, Director, Self-Development Lab


With social distancing restrictions, how can I build new relationships and network effectively?

With in-person events cancelled and coffee shops closed, it feels especially difficult to build new relationships or organize coffee chats. However, there are ways to make it work in this new climate.

Keep in mind that many senior leaders and executives have more time on their hands now that they are not traveling, and most are open to connecting virtually.

As always, do not approach networking as a means of securing a new job.

“People can sense that you are putting pressure and responsibility on them,” says Djikic.

Instead, she recommends approaching new contacts with questions on where they think the industry is moving and their advice on how to learn about new opportunities.

I’m looking to relaunch my career or have just finished a parental leave. Am I at a disadvantage when it comes to job hunting during this time?

Fortunately, enlightened employers recognize that many candidates have needed to take parental leaves or other types of leaves at some point in their careers.

“Be confident in what you have to offer. Organizations are using this time to pick up great talent,” says Sullivan.

For those who have been laid off recently, don’t be self-conscious about your employment status.

“I think everyone recognizes that the world is different now, and jobs come and go. Particularly in this environment, people are coming from different places,” she says.

“The market is really crowded, but for really capable candidates, there are going to be opportunities.”


More Rotman Insights | More from this webinar series


More from this webinar series

Managing Uncertainty: Adapting to and learning from the COVID-19 crisis

Watch past or see upcoming webinars →


Meet the researcher

Maja Djikic

Associate Professor of Organizational Behaviour & HR Management
Director, Self-Development Lab

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