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Job Hunting in the Pandemic

Written by: Elizabeth Heubeck
Published on: Jun 17, 2020

Job hunting during a pandemic

Credit: DigtalVision Vectors/Getty

Let’s face it: the immediate job market for teachers is uncertain at best. Despite an ongoing and increasing teacher shortage in many regions of the country, the pandemic is taking a devastating toll on budgets in many districts. Some have announced hiring freezes; others, layoffs. Still others are in limbo, waiting for word from state officials on how big a hit their districts will take. 

All of this news has one thing in common: it’s out of your control. But here’s the good news: There’s plenty you can do to improve your odds of landing a teaching job. We spoke to experts to get their advice on what you can do right now. Here’s what they shared. 

Take networking online.
You might not be shaking hands with prospective employers this hiring season, but networking needn’t stop. In addition to formal networking opportunities like virtual career fairs, now is a great time to engage in independent networking online, according to Andy Chan, the vice president for innovation and career development at Wake Forest University, who says people tend to want to help others during the crisis, and now they may have more time than usual to do so. 

Chan offers several strategies for effective online introductions. When sending an introductory email, he advises researching beforehand to identify any connections you may already have to the recipient—a shared alma mater or having played the same sport. What you shouldn’t mention in that first email? That you are looking for a job. It will make the exchange seem more transactional than educational, explains Chan. Instead, he suggests positioning the inquiry as a request for an informational interview, asking for about 20 minutes of the person’s time and making clear that your objective is to learn more about the organization. “They know you’re looking for a job, but it’s not something you mention in the first conversation,” Chan says. 
Create a connection to the district with your cover letter.
It may be tempting to blanket the country’s K-12 school districts with a generic cover letter and resume. But you’re much more likely to stand out--and get a response--if, again, you do your research, discovering specifics about particular districts and reaching out to those whose mission, initiatives, and culture interest you. 
The internet makes it easy to find relevant information to create these connections, explains Brian White, executive director of human resources and operations at Auburn-Washburn USD 437, a school district in Topeka, Kansas. Scanning board meeting notes, newsletters, blogs, and other information posted on district websites can provide insight to personalize a cover letter, he explains. 
Embrace technology that facilitates communication with recruiters. 
One of the most unnerving aspects of job hunting can be the unknown. Oftentimes, you have no idea whether an employer has received your application or even whether a job you applied for remains open. Increasingly, digital technology facilitates communication candidates hunger for. Experts suggest job seekers take full advantage of it. 
For instance, the Auburn-Washburn USD 437 district recently adopted the use of chatbots, allowing candidates to “chat” online with district recruiters via text. White calls the practice mutually beneficial; it lets candidates get additional information on the district and vice versa. Their district’s chatbot system guarantees a response to a candidate’s inquiry within three days. “Don’t be afraid to jump in, provide some information that will allow you to connect with someone on the other end,” White advises. 
Think broadly. 
Not every school district will experience the same pandemic-related fallout. As budget cuts vary, so too will hiring outlooks. This benefits the flexible job seeker. “Those who aren’t location-bound, those casting their net a little bit further—they’re doing well,” said Deborah Dillon, the senior associate dean for graduate and professional programs at in the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development.
Be ready to discuss your post-pandemic teacher preparedness. 
There’s no predicting what the classroom of the future will look like. You’ll want to show recruiters you’re prepared for any version of it: traditional in-person, virtual, or hybrid. Patricia F. Deklotz, superintendent of Kettle Moraine School District in Wales, Wis., shares sample questions that speak to potential new realities: “A big part of the conversation will be: ‘How do you develop relationships with students through a virtual environment? How do you check for understanding?’” she says. 
Consider pivoting your job search to one that requires a similar skill set. 
Can’t find a teaching job? Consider searching for employment that requires similar skills—you’ll have additional experience to tout when a teaching position does become available. Online education companies have gained traction since the pandemic: one such business, K12 Inc., which operates virtual schools, was recently listed as one of top 10 companies currently hiring. Childcare is another possibility: Parents may begin to return to offices before schools open to students, thereby creating an enormous need. 

Give yourself a break.
We’re in an unprecedented period that has affected every industry. Subsequently, it’s unlikely that employers will frown upon job candidates whose employment history doesn’t match their typical expectations. That doesn’t mean selling your soul by accepting work with an organization whose mission, leadership, or culture you don’t believe in, Chan says. But, he added: “Do your due diligence, but don’t be so picky that you say no to everything.”