Before starting my remote job search, I was offered every job for which I interviewed. I had been through the interview process exactly three times and it was all face-to-face. Then I started searching for a remote position.
Talk about a rude awakening.
I was an active freelancer with oodles of experience in my field. (And with a vocabulary that includes “oodles,” I bet you’re amazed I had any trouble, aren’t you?) I was versed in (much of) the new, relevant tech. I had a multitude of excellent references.
It wasn’t enough. I didn’t waltz into the video interview and waltz back out with the job. Not even close.
After a series of promising video interviews that all ended with the “thanks, but no thanks” email, I started wondering what I was doing wrong.
I learned a few things.
First and foremost, I discovered that a remote job search is very different from a search for a location-centric job. I also found that the vast amount of resources available for remote job hunters can be both help and hindrance.
Let me act as your remote job hunting sherpa, if you will. :)
Be realistic. You're competing against a really wide field of applicants.
Think about it. If you’re job hunting locally, your competition comes from a much smaller pool of applicants. The companies in your area can choose from people already living there or those willing to move to your city. When you’re applying for a remote position, however, employers can cast a much wider net. Depending on their size and the tax laws, you might be competing against applicants from your entire state, country or even various locations around the world.
To demonstrate, I did a quick FlexJobs search for Web Content Editor positions that can be done from anywhere in the world. The search returned 578 results!
On one hand, this is fantastic. My opportunities are nearly unlimited. On the other hand, this is overwhelming and intimidating. My opportunities are nearly unlimited. Not only that, think of the sheer number of people who will also be applying to those positions. This leads me to my next point. Be picky. Be selective. Be choosy about the positions for which you apply. In the past, conventional wisdom said if you saw a job that looked even a little interesting, you should throw your hat into the ring. You never know unless you try, right?
Maybe, but think about it this way. Each application you prepare and submit consumes valuable time. You’re not just stuffing envelopes with a Xeroxed copy of your resume and a “Dear Sir or Madam” letter anymore. So, while I’m not saying you should limit yourself to only the most perfect job postings (You might remain unemployed forever, amiright?), making careful choices will help you avoid being bogged down by applications. Additionally, focusing on quality over quantity can help you stand out from the pack.
Andrew Gobran of Doist points out, “When you’re searching for an exciting new opportunity, it feels counterintuitive to shrink your net instead of widening it. But it’s often dedicated effort on a few priorities that wins out over divided attention on various options.”
You’ve heard it before. I’ll say it again. Tailor your materials for every job application. Sigh. I know. It can be exhausting, but I can't stress it enough. It's vital to customize your resume and cover letter for each position. If you don't, you will not make it through the first round. Highlight your relevant skills and experience and how those qualities can meet their needs. The hiring manager doesn't want to hear why this is the perfect job for you; they want to know what you can do for them. It’s equally important to demonstrate that you’ve done some research on the company. Does the job posting use formal language? Maybe it’s more casual or even a little bit weird. I’ve replied to a job posting that instructed me to write a letter to the company as if I was interested in a date while including as many food-related puns as possible. (Yes, really! It was a blast to write and I landed an interview.)
This strategy really works. According to Courtney Seiter, Director of People at Buffer, “We find that great candidates generally show a high level of communication skill in a number of ways. One way is by matching their tone to that of the job description and our other online content, like blog posts. Buffer tends to communicate in a casual, friendly, and open way. When we see candidates model this communication, it’s generally a sign that they’ve done a bit of research to become familiar with the way we talk with our customers and community, which feels really great. They’re already one step closer to feeling like a part of the team!” Tell the HR manager why you are the ONLY person for that job. Sometimes a personal story or anecdote, although a little risky, can get you in the door. In an application for a position at my city library, I detailed the impact their Summer Reading Program had on me as a child. I received an interview request in two days. While I eventually decided that wasn’t the job for me, it was a clear demonstration of how valuable personalizing your cover letter can be.
In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Founders Marketing CEO Kristi DePaul writes, “Making personal connections, finding out who the hiring manager is, and reaching out personally with your application materials could be the single most important action you take — the one that lands your resume on or nearer to the top of the virtual pile.”
Don’t focus on what you AREN’T. Similarly, don’t limit yourself to what you have always been. What do I mean by that? I can pinpoint the exact moment I fell out of the running for one of my most promising remote jobs. It was a panel interview and I said, "I'm not a talker. I'm a writer." The lead interviewer zeroed in and asked for clarification. The job was primarily a written position - communicating with team members and customers via email/Slack/message boards, etc. —but of course, there would be times when verbal communication was necessary.
As I was clarifying, the litany running through my head was, 'Oh *&%#. That’s it.’ Unfortunately, I was right. Despite my best attempt at recovery, I received the "It was so nice getting to know you, but we're going with a candidate who more closely fits our needs" email a few days later.
By highlighting what I considered a weakness, I effectively torpedoed myself. As an introvert, I often find talking to new people intimidating. I am, however, a pleasant, articulate person (if I do say so myself) and am quite competent in meetings. There was no reason for me to point out my personal hang-up.
This isn’t uncommon. We often focus on our (perceived) failings when we feel vulnerable. FlexJobs Career Coach Betsy Andrews sees it often in her work. “I regularly speak with job seekers who are frustrated. Many will read a position and know they can do the job, but hold back because they aren’t confident in a couple of items listed.”
Learn from my mistake. Be your own biggest advocate!
You can make it through the remote job search unscathed (or maybe just a little singed), complete with hard-won self awareness and hopefully a shiny, new remote job. :)
To that end, I’ll leave you with a few final tips, tricks and one additional tough lesson I learned so you don’t have to.
Stand out. Make a video for your LinkedIn or Flex Jobs page. Many of us really hate putting ourselves out there, much less for anyone to click on and watch at any time, but setting yourself apart is a good thing.
Pay attention to detail. If your resume makes it through the first level and you receive an email with next steps, read it carefully. Read it again. And one more time. Only then should you start working on your submission for the next step. Make it perfect. Seriously. No mistakes. One typo can be the reason your application gets tossed out in favor of someone else's.
Check your spam folders. Another lesson I learned the hard way. You don’t want to miss the “We received your resume. Please let us know when we can interview you” email because it was routed to the “Promotions” folder. (Yup. That happened. Thanks Google.)
Protect your mental health. Take a break. Yes, you need a job, but too much rejection is bad for the soul.
What life lessons have YOU learned while job hunting - remote or otherwise? It doesn’t have to be deep and introspective. It might be practical. It might be goofy. No matter. Share it with us, please.
Who knows? It could be the thing that turns someone’s week, month, or even year around. And we could all use a little of that magic.