New unemployment claims may be declining, but the U.S. economy is still facing a huge jobs shortfall since the number of openings is down 10 million from where it was in February, according to recent data from the Economic Policy Institute.
That means there's a ton of competition for jobs right now. So if you're unemployed, now is the time to step up your game, says bestselling management author and CNBC contributor Suzy Welch.
As a hiring manager, Welch looks for people who are resourceful, energized and ambitious — no matter what the role. "I'm looking for people who got handed six or seven months of vast nothingness...and turned it into something productive," she says. "They're going to make my company better."
To help set yourself apart from the crowd, Welch recommends taking two critical steps. First, use your free time during the pandemic to gain knowledge and learn new skills. Second, use any additional downtime you may have to sell something.
"There will come a time — there will — when you are finally interviewing again, and you will be asked to explain how you spent the pandemic. And your answer could have the power to land you that job you want or torpedo your chances," she says.
Gaining knowledge and skills
Welch's first recommendation — take a class or develop a skill — is the easier of the two, she says.
There's seemingly a class for everything these days, from graphic design to UI/UX to health-care management, and you can take many of them online. "Digital classes are everywhere and come in every variety," Welch says.
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"You name the industry, you name the level, you name the time and the cost — there's a class for you," Welch says. Right now, try to find a course that will bolster both your brain and your resume.
Whatever you decide on, it's important that you take it seriously, Welch says. "Don't just show up. Check in. Be there. Or don't bother," she says. "This activity only shows dividends if you commit."
Finding a way to 'sell something'
On first glance, Welch's second piece of advice — sell something — may not seem applicable to those outside a sales position. But Welch says it's an important skill to have. And if you're unemployed right now, it may be especially worth finding a way to bolster your sales skills and experience.
"I've said this before and I'm happy to say it again because I believe it so ardently — every job, no matter what it is, involves selling," Welch says. "You have to sell your ideas. Or your way of doing work. You have to sell people on trusting you and liking you. That's business."
Every experienced boss knows this, which is why many (including Welch) check every resume for evidence that a candidate has, somewhere along the line, sold something, she says. "It's a leading indicator that a candidate has learned hustle, humility, empathy and grit," she says.
You may think that you don't have anything to sell. Not true, Welch says: "You just haven't thought hard enough about it."
During the pandemic, Welch says she's seen people selling guitar lessons, grammar tutoring and even grocery shopping services. "If you're just killing time, dig deep to figure out what you can sell for the time being and get the experience — the good, the bad, and the ugly — of putting yourself out there," she says.
Chances are, when you are interviewing for a new job, the story of your sales experience will make for an interesting conversation with a prospective employer.
"I get that it can be hard to start something — like taking a class or selling your wares — because everything is so vague and unstructured," Welch says. But that's exactly why, if you take these steps, you'll be in a better position to land a job, she says.
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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.