(CBS Baltimore) — The current employment landscape is far from welcoming. Recent graduates finished their high school and college careers through distance learning. They’ve since entered a job market that is flooded with recently laid-off workers and largely devoid of companies that are hiring.

The unemployment rate stood at 13.3 percent in May, surprisingly down from an April high of 14.7 percent. The welcome drop meant some temporarily unemployed workers returned to jobs that were waiting for them. However many of the still temporarily unemployed won’t be so lucky when their jobs disappear. Permanent job losses rose by close to 300,000 in May, and another 1.5 million people filed for jobless aid for the first time for the most recent week available. The current unemployment rate remains higher than any monthly rate since the Great Depression, outside of April 2020.

The situation for job seekers is daunting — the country is experiencing record unemployment during a global pandemic and widespread social unrest. But the job market is not hopeless. Opportunities exist in many fields. And as the country continues to change and open up, more opportunities may present themselves. Preparing for a better tomorrow can start today.

Take The First Step

A job search can be a drawn-out process. According to Lakeisha Mathews, Director of the Career & Internship Center at the University of Baltimore, “studies typically show that it takes three to six months to land a job. So you have to be in it for the long haul.”

That long haul will likely include many incremental steps. Before a job seeker can take a first step, it helps to have some direction. Where are you looking to go? How might you get there? Someone looking to reenter the field they just left will probably have a shorter, straighter path. Recent graduates and those who have seen their jobs and industries disappear will will have a more uncertain path.

According to Marty Gilbert, who started the NorthShore Executive Networking Group in the Chicago suburbs, “the first thing is you’ve got to have a plan.” That plan will probably change or evolve. But it’s a start.

A plan requires some research. If job prospects seem uncertain, take a step back and survey the landscape. As Mathews advised, “…learn locally, through the news, what’s happening in your community, what small businesses aren’t doing well, which ones have gone virtual, which ones are closed. So I think number one, pay attention to the news.”

Beyond the general news, what’s happening in the industries that interest you also matters “The pandemic has impacted different industries [in] different ways,” Mathews explained. “Some industries have thrived. We look at service industries like marketing, health care, some of them are thriving. And then you look at other industries that had to close. The move to a teleworking environment may have slowed down their hiring process.”

This initial research should provide a useful base from which to plot a course. But don’t leave it at that. Staying up to date can prove useful throughout the process.

Update The Resume

Having a resume is critical in a job search. But having an outdated one-size-fits-all resume isn’t enough to stand out in a crowded job market.

Career coach and president of Interview Like An Expert Lynee Alves advises job seekers to lead with a professional summary of key strengths and skills, rather than an objective. The aim is to attract attention.

“You’re really going to highlight where your strengths are and your experience is and take it from there,” Alves recommended. “If you’ve been a stay-at-home mom, you just put on there what you can put on there. If you’ve done volunteer experience that would be relevant to the work you’d be doing or if you did part time work that relevant to the work you’re pursuing.”

After attracting attention, try to hold it. Employers will be looking for experience that can help their business, so listing experience chronologically won’t always be the best approach. Presenting it from most relevant to least relevant may make more sense.

“From most important to least important and most impactful to least impactful, so think about the fact that people want to see the most exciting information first,” Alves said. “In terms of listing your professional experience, you want to list not just what you’ve done, but what you’ve done and how it has benefited the business you worked for.”

Every industry and every company within that industry is unique, and so should every resume. “A resume should be targeted,” said Mathews. “You need to make sure your job-search documents are targeted. And you do need a cover letter and thank you letter and references ready to go along with your resume.”

Creating a new resume for each opportunity, not to mention all the supporting materials, is probably unrealistic. But creating a few versions based on the targeted industry or job type that are then adjusted by opportunity is doable. Tailoring a resume to the company and the opportunity can improve responses.

Get Comfortable With Technology

Technology is a fact of life, for better and for worse. But it’s important to remember that technology is, at the most basic level, a tool. It’s a tool that can be used to find a job. In times of social distancing, it’s a tool that must be used to find a job.

“Many employers,” noted Mathews, “are providing virtual opportunities to meet students. So typically employers might have information sessions or they may visit campuses. But now, to engage candidates, they are doing that in a virtual manner.”

That virtual engagement with employers extends to the personal level. “They have to conduct more and more interviews or screening processes by phone or Zoom or GoToMeeting, any of these virtual platforms,” Mathews pointed out. “And that really changes how you communicate, how your brand comes off. So job seekers need to really have those skill sets and training in how to give an awesome virtual interview.”

Public use of video-telephony has been growing in popularity for well over a decade. But it has exploded during the coronavirus pandemic, with people tethered to their homes. Zoom, in particular, has become the video communication tool of choice for everyone from corporate leaders running organizations remotely to grandparents connecting with grandchildren.

Count job seekers among that group too. “All job seekers need to gain a comfort level with using technology,” Mathews said. “This is going to be so important, because you may be on Zoom, GoToMeeting, phone… you might be in any type of virtual environment to communicate for an interview or pre-screening call.”

Familiarity is important on multiple levels, from knowing how to use the tool to understanding how you appear to the person on the other end. “You need to make sure you understand how to use your voice well,” Mathews stressed. “You need to have your environment behind you on the screen looking good. You need to make sure that you can still convey who you are.”

Alves touches on similar points, stressing the need to speak clearly, answer concisely and know where to look (into the camera rather than at the picture).

Be Social, But Be Careful

Social media is ubiquitous. And that extends to the job market, where LinkedIn is an important tool for most companies. Job seekers need to be where the employers are.

According to Mathews, it’s “…very important for job seekers to have a virtual brand, meaning, number one, you should be on LinkedIn. For me, LinkedIn is the top site for virtual networking and to be seen by employers. Or if employers want to just check you out, because they can’t come to campus, they can’t hold their own information sessions.”

A job seeker’s LinkedIn profile can borrow heavily from their resume. But a couple the fields should be optimized for greater exposure and effect. “Your headline can be so much than your title,” Alves revealed. “These days, this is actually an important keyword area for recruiters who are searching on LinkedIn.”

The About section offers a chance highlight a little that individuality. According to Alves, “this is your opportunity to have your personality shine through and demonstrate what will make you stand out from other candidates or share some unique qualities that you bring to the table.”

Social Media extends well beyond the job market too. It can be used to bring people closer, even as we remain distanced. Networking, through broader social media channels and narrower channels like neighborhood organizations and alumni or professional associations, can bear fruit in the job search.

In these turbulent times, with the health crisis, economic collapse and ongoing social unrest, “job seekers need to be aware of how they’re using their other social media channels,” said Mathews. “If you’re looking for work and you’re also passionate about the things that are happening, regardless of your opinions of them, you do need to realize that what you put out on social media may have an impact on your job search.”

Social media is publicly accessible. Employers can see what maybe wasn’t intended for them, and what they see may influence their opinions and decisions.