Relearning the art of job seeking in a post-COVID world

Posted on January 22nd, 2021 by Gil Sawford

Forget what you were told about going out and selling yourself.

In a post-COVID world, where opportunities for people of all ages may be reduced, there is an increased need for all of us to help and support one another to understand our purpose, who we are and how we find our next job.

We also need a different approach to how we find and succeed with new work opportunities and make the best contribution we can to our employer and our community.

To truly understand how we can make a real contribution to the success of our future employer’s business we firstly need to understand ourselves.  

We have all been successful in different ways that can help an employer to see how we can contribute to their success.  That can be playing in a sports team, succeeding in a difficult challenge, helping family or friends, or looking after the neighbours’ children.

Attitude, Skills and Knowledge (ASK) are recognised as the three factors that determines an individual’s ability to contribute and they are the major factors that employers use in making employment decisions.  ASK is the most important instrument or currency that individuals use in their entry into and movement through the labour market. 

The best and most successful employers recruit for attitude.  Attitude is comprised of values, beliefs, and assumptions, which are deep personal characteristics that must align with those of a future employer and need corresponding deep support if they are to change.  Employers can train for skills and educate for knowledge but are less able to develop for attitude.

If employers recruit for attitude, we need to understand our values and how they fit with those of our prospective employer.  We also need to reflect on and understand our beliefs about work, working, businesses and our prospective employer and change any beliefs which may not be helpful.  Similarly, we need to challenge any of our assumptions about how things work and make sure they do not get in the way of forming good relationships with our prospective employer.

When people talk about their best work experiences – when they felt most successful, useful and were contributing their utmost – they invariably frame their stories in the context of us – the relationships between the people they were working with as they achieved those memorable outcomes.

Strong ties, weak ties

We all know people we have a strong personal relationship with – relatives, parents of friends, or the guy next door and we find it easy to talk to them.  We have what is known as strong ties to these people.

Research shows that when we are looking for work, the most important ties are what are known as weak ties.  Weak ties are friends of friends, or relatives of friends – people we can contact through our strong ties – we do not know them, but our strong ties can help us to meet them.  These weak ties open new opportunities and connections that we would not know about if we only used our strong ties when we are looking for work.

Overcoming our fear and reaching out to weak ties we don’t know may seem difficult but remember this first connection is about understanding the other person that you are meeting, not to try to sell yourself or to simply send your resume through cold.

A metaphor for thinking about this is music.  We all have our favourite music that we listen to and like to tell others about.  If I asked you about your favourite music and you told me and I said “that is rubbish, you should listen to my music”, what are the chances that you would share a link to your favourite songs? – none.  On the other hand, if I said “I don’t know much about that – it sounds interesting” you would insist that I copy a link to your favourite song.

This is relationship building, and when we show interest in what someone else is doing, they show interest in us. 

This means that the first thing to do when you meet a new employer is to ask questions that help you to understand their needs, fears, hopes and dreams about their business.  When you do, they will be interested in you.

Relationships, not transactions

When we are looking for work, we are often advised to go out and sell ourselves and apply for everything we see. 

When we go into a department store and the salesperson tries to sell us something, our reaction is usually “leave me alone, I will come to you when I find something I need”.  Experience shows that people are not usually satisfied when they have been “sold” something – they feel much better when they have bought something that meets their needs.  Just like the salesperson, you will have much more success if you talk to an employer about their needs, and then talk about how you can contribute to help them to meet those needs.  An employer will buy your ASK when they meet their needs – they are less likely to be sold your ASK to meet your needs.

When we apply for a job which has been advertised on social media, or in the newspaper, we are using a method that started in the 19th century and has not changed much since.  This is a transactional process that says, “tell everyone about everything and see what happens”.  What happens is that job seekers get heaps of rejections which results in fear and shame, and employers must trawl through scores of applications and rarely make the right decision.  The result of this outmoded process is that 80% of employers say that they cannot find the right people and 60% of employees are actively looking for another job.

When we change our job-seeking process to one based on building relationships and understanding the other, we are all more likely to make better decisions and make stronger commitments to help the other build their success.


Gil Sawford

This article was written for, and published in, The Mercury on 29 December 2020. It is one of a three part series and you can view the other two articles at the below links: 

Posted in News
Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

Relearning the art of job seeking in a post-COVID world

time to read: about 4 min