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Worldwide, COVID-19 is causing employers to let go of even senior employees, flooding the market with job candidates and ballooning unemployment. Every member of this equation is adapting: the employee, the employer, and even the recruiting firms that connect the two.

“We’ve had to be creative in how we conduct business over the past several months,” says Karim Hakam, Operations Director at Morgan McKinley Japan, the regional branch of the globally hailed recruitment company.

Mynavi, one of the leading companies in Japan’s recruiting industry, agrees. Satoru Moriaki, General Manager of Global Business Managing at Mynavi, cited adaptations to new services, online tools, and online job fairs as formidable COVID-19 challenges.

Hakam and Moriaki gave us the scoop on employment today. Here are the three takeaways for job seekers in a COVID-19 world.

Getting hired just got harder, but recruiters are evolving to meet the challenge.

Coronavirus hasn’t lessened recruitment companies’ drive to connect great candidates to great companies, nor has it eliminated hiring altogether.

“There seems to be this false impression that all companies have stopped hiring,” says Hakam. “Although certain companies temporarily froze roles, many are back in the swing of things.”

This is certainly truer in some regions than others. Canada has managed to recover roughly 90% of its jobs, according to the June Federal Labor Force Survey. The EU, as of July 2020, is still seeing slow increases in unemployment. The latest statistics published by Eurostat put Euro area unemployment at 7.8%, up from 6.7% in May. The United States hasn’t seen unemployment under 10% since March 2020.

In Asia especially, what once was a seller’s market is now a buyer’s market. New graduates in Japan that could once expect to be placed in companies prior to graduation have had their placements retracted or delayed. It’s an effect that isn’t limited to 2020: job offers to students set to graduate March 2021 fell as much as 15.1%, according to research institute Recruit Works.

A large line of people wearing masks wait for a bus.
In Indonesia, young people are being hit particularly hard by coronavirus-related employment issues. @ILO Asia Pacific | Flickr

This is making the job market difficult for candidates, but determined recruiters are rising to the challenge.

“Given that job seekers are facing decreasing hiring quotas and cancellations in hiring activity overall, we are trying to enhance follow-up services,” says Moriaki of Mynavi. “Overall, the [hiring] requirements and conditions are becoming higher.”

Hakam agrees. “It’s the quality of our service that’s in high demand, rather than the volume. We saw this during the global financial crisis and, prior to that, after 9/11.” Overall, though, the firm isn’t worried. “Most good recruiters tend to come out of times like this better equipped.”

Companies that communicate well will outpace those that don’t.

Both Morgan McKinley and Mynavi cite adapting to online or hybrid workplaces as the main challenge for both their firms and the companies they work with. It’s a hardship that spans company size and industry.

“Even some technology companies struggled with this adaptation,” says Hakam. But overall, “firms who were able to adapt quickly to a hybrid… strategy have had the least number of disruptions.”

It can be difficult for change to take hold in a country like Japan where traditional corporate culture tends to reign supreme. Commuting levels in Japan are already back up to 70% of what they were pre-corona, despite the government’s plea for companies to ensure that at least 70% of employees work from home.

That said, according to Moriaki, the number of companies participating in online services has exceeded Mynavi’s expectations. About 30% Mynavi clients who planned to join in-person job fairs have turned to online tools, and the company is strategizing to grow that number.

Re-establishing the sense of urgency in businesslike communication has also been a challenge, says Hakam. While things have mostly gone back to normal, there was a period of time where email replies that should have taken hours were instead taking days.

And in this job market, warns Moriaki, things like professional communication and turnaround can really make a difference for job seekers.

To get hired during corona, “be conscious of your achievements at work.”

Job competition is still fierce, and data suggests it won’t get easier anytime soon. Even so, both Mynavi and Morgan McKinley remain optimistic about candidate placement.

“Finding creative, hard-working, qualified, bilingual professionals has always been a challenge,” says Hakam. “But these people can usually take on more challenges, persevere and succeed.” Morgan McKinley fully expects demand for professionals of that caliber to continue.

Mynavi suggests candidates remain flexible. “In this situation, it’s not easy to get the job you want, so don’t overly narrow down the types of industries and occupations you’re looking at.” Remember that how you make use of the job you have will influence the perception of future employers. Moriaki suggests that achievements at work will make all the difference. “Think carefully about what you can do,” he says.

With that in mind, don’t lose hope:

“Morgan McKinley has placed a number of candidates from companies struggling during COVID-19 into other firms in need of talent,” said Hakam. “Japan is still a good market for candidates as companies continue to hire.”

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