Today, there’s a greater opportunity than at any point in the last 100 years to reinvent the idea of work—namely, where, when, and how people choose to make a living. No longer bound to a desk or relegated to eight-hour days, the promise of more flexibility for workers seems to be on everyone’s mind.
For you—someone likely on the job hunt—there seems to be a new way of doing things on every horizon. As the workplace has changed, so have hiring practices. From cover-letter requirements to tech reading your resume even before a human ever sees it, legal hiring managers are adjusting their practices to a post-COVID-19 world. Your job application should adjust, too.
What’s new in cover letters?
The cover letter has long been a staple in the application process. It allows hiring managers to weed through stacks of potential new hires in a consistent way that should make a candidate stand out. But is this painstaking job application norm here to stay?
Some hiring managers say no.
“What’s on paper isn’t as important as the intangibles,” said Raymond Panneton, a civil litigator with Ted Smith Law Group in Harker Heights, Texas. “When I get a follow-up call, an email, a handwritten note, it says to me that this person gets it.”
In fact, some people say a cover letter helps weed out bad candidates rather than highlight good ones. “You can spot a faker in a resume or a cover letter,” said Nick Coates, a Federal Trade Commission attorney in Oakland, Calif. “It’s easy to tell who used a template resume or cover letter drafter.”
What’s important to Coates when hiring for legal positions with his federal agency, apart from being earnest in your cover letter, is that applicants take time to read his agency’s specific needs. Knowing whom you’re applying to, what needs that agency has, and how you’re the best fit in the larger picture will help any federal job seeker.
“We’re looking for what we’re posting on the job vacancy,” said Coates. “You should put forward that you meet those requirements. Then think about what you can do to show us that you’re passionate about those things that we put out there.”
While cover letters are considered less important, remember that hiring managers use them to test an applicant’s soft skills. Did you read the instructions? Did you carefully look over the job description?
Furthermore, the cover letter gives you an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to the mission of that organization.
Point to specific instances in your background that meet the needs of the organization at which you’re applying for a job.
Recent resume trends
If you can use technology to get a job, hiring managers can use it to sort through candidates, too. Many companies, agencies, and firms are now using internet parsing technology to search for keywords that match the description of what they’re seeking in a candidate while actively eliminating those that don’t.
The practice gives the term buzzword a new, more significant meaning.
Korn Ferry, a management consulting agency, helps candidates search for jobs by crafting resumes around this technology, mostly by ensuring that keywords and formatting sought by the technology are in your application documents.
Beyond this, resume crafting tends to get more subjective.
“Resumes are a necessary evil,” said Joshua Daniel, a career coach with Korn Ferry Advance. As Daniel sees it, the crafting of a resume should be “equal parts art and science.”
Daniel said resumes tend to look similar in format but should still reflect you as an individual. “We don’t prescribe or direct because we don’t want a tight control over the process,” he said. “Two candidates could be from the same school with the same objective and strengths, but we’ll have a different approach in how we help them along.”
One of the fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic was the need for applicants to become more flexible, added Daniel.
He suggested creating an “agile” application—one in which an applicant in an uncertain world looks for unique hiring opportunities and ensures that their resume reflects their well-rounded skill set.
“Today, there’s a great emphasis on candidate agility,” he said. “With all these issues ongoing around the world, an in-person interview might not be a given. As the process advances due to new technology or global requirements like a pandemic, it requires candidates to be agile. A resume should reflect that, and so should the interview.”
For example, if you do the first few rounds of interviewing online, but you’d be much more comfortable interviewing in person, and yet you persevere, you’re demonstrating a “roll with the punches” attitude that showcases your agility.
“You might have had solely in-person interviews before, but that same company might not do it that way anymore,” said Daniel. “As things progress, and they change for situations like a pandemic, candidate agility is key.”
Improvements to interviews
Of course, the most important step is the last step, and the interview process is full of its own nuances and intricacies.
Landing the interview is hardly the first impression employers have of you. They’ve already viewed your resume and cover letter. But the interview process is focused only on you, which means you’ll need to knock it out of the park, often with many interviewers.
“We ultimately try to get as many people involved in the process as we can so we have an idea of how that person is with the other members of the firm, rather than just the people at our firm doing the hiring,” said J.J. Hardig, a Houston-based partner at Gray Reed.
As much as COVID-19 has changed the workplace and hiring process, it has also changed the traditional negative connotation of having a gap in your resume. Hiring managers said they view these situations through a much more sympathetic lens today and tell candidates to be up front about such holes.
“Hang a lantern on that right away,” said Panneton. “Talk about it out of the gate and give context—don’t be shady, and don’t withhold.”
Gabe Vick, a partner at Gray Reed in Houston, agreed. “Address it up front—the elephant in the room—because there’s no reason to think the interviewer won’t be understanding. Talk about the efforts you made to fill the gap. Every person’s situation is different; everyone has different issues to contend with. The gap isn’t necessarily detrimental, but you should be ready to address it in the interview.”
As the world rounds out its second year wading through a pandemic, much of the conventional wisdom and the traditional processes that surround finding a new position still apply, if only to have been altered on the surface to reflect a world in flux.
The cover letter and resume remain necessary staples of the job search, with more emphasis placed today on your willingness to be flexible. And in the interview—whether done remotely or in person—highlighting manners, showing respect, and being candid about who you are and what you bring to the table will never go out of style.