Employment Advisors To Seekers: It’s All About Relationships (Audio)

The business travel world turned upside down in 2020. Careers came to abrupt pauses, leaving professionals wondering when and how they’d again be employed. The Company Dime offered free one-year subscriptions to travel professionals who lost their positions due to the coronavirus and about 570 of you took us up on the offer. To help those with questions about job searches, career opportunities, résumé building and interviewing — and to provide a forum for commiserating, networking and sharing — in April and May 2021, we hosted dozens of attendees on a two-part conference call as well as a Zoom roundtable with five of those displaced. We based the discussions on feedback gathered from a survey of the 570. What follows is part of the output from our 570 project.


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For millions of professionals who lost jobs during the global Covid-19 pandemic, unemployment can feel like standing outside the walls of a members-only event without an admission ticket. This may particularly be the case for those who were employed in travel, an industry with a mature workforce in which decades-long tenure is common and the median age is 46, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As many as 570 subscribers to The Company Dime were among those who lost jobs.

“A lot of people have been with the same company for decades,” said Maria Chevalier, a corporate travel industry veteran and executive vice president of customer success at PredictX. “They don’t know how to look for a job.”

How might those sidelined by the pandemic go about restarting their careers? To answer that question, The Company Dime turned to travel industry executives, recruiters, career coaches, experienced job seekers and some good books that encapsulate career advice. Several of the travel professionals and career experts, including Chevalier, participated in teleconferences and a Zoom roundtable offering career-building and job-hunting advice.

To begin with some good news, most career consultants agreed that job gaps on a résumé created by the Covid-19 pandemic needn’t be a top concern for job seekers. “Hiring managers want to know that time spent outside the workforce is an explainable variance,” said Lea McLeod, a former HP travel sourcing executive now working as a consultant and career coach. “If there’s ever a time to explain a résumé gap that people would understand, it’s now.”

McLeod said candidates can speak of their job search itself as a form of project management — setting goals, carving out time, checking off tasks, completing goals. It’s an example of being a self-starter, managing a significant project without a lot of oversight from other people. “There’s a lot, even in that process of job searching, that [demonstrates] you have the ability to manage something that delivers a result for a client,” she said.

Job seekers shouldn’t try to hide gaps in their résumés through deceit. A better approach is to find productive activities during unemployment that show hiring managers their self-initiative. “When asked, ‘What have you been doing for the last few months?’ you should have this really rich stew of things that you can talk about,” said GBTA CEO Suzanne Neufang. Professionals can bridge job gaps by taking on part-time work or attending professional development courses.

Find Your Happy Place

People who lose their jobs go through emotional stages of loss similar to those experiencing the death of a loved one, according to Chevalier. “And you need to feel them,” she said. “You need to go through each of those stages.”

Ten years ago, Chevalier helped create a volunteer group for job seekers. As the global pandemic wreaked havoc on the travel industry, the group rebranded as the CTME (Corporate Travel Meetings & Events) Search Party and created a private group on LinkedIn offering free coaching and consultation.

“This journey messes with people’s psyche and their confidence,” Chevalier said. “There are going to be peaks and valleys.” When you hit a valley, she advised, deploy a coping strategy. To help her through dark moments, Chevalier created a “bad day file” filled with things “that make me laugh from my soul.” The file can include anything that will help you regain your confidence, from a collection of inspirational clippings to a positive performance review from a previous employer.

Another way to fight demoralization is to reach out to people who know your value and will remind you of that. During the pandemic, “You’re stuck at home,” said Mat Domaradzki, a former travel manager at ConsenSys and mentor to corporate travel professionals through the Global Business Travel Association’s Ladders program. “You’re not seeing a lot of people. It’s really a good thing to stay in touch with people.” 

Many job seekers also find it uplifting to help out someone else. Sometimes giving back helps feed your soul, Chevalier said. 

Most agree that those facing prolonged unemployment run the risk of inertia. To mitigate that, Domaradzki schedules the hours of his day as if he were fully employed and working. Looking for a job became his job. “That’s the only way that I see myself moving forward through this,” he said. 

“Waking up every morning with a purpose, setting career-search goals, is really helpful to me,” said Jack Purdy, a former sales executive at United Airlines. The one thing that job seekers can control is their attitude, he said. “Stay positive, and have a system. Set goals: weekly, monthly. Keep chipping away at it. Good things will eventually happen.”

Fulfill Your Work Destiny

When Shawn Kumar, a senior product marketing manager for a travel management company, lost his job during the pandemic, the event initially felt like a curse. Eventually, however, he came to see his period of unemployment as a gift that provided him the time to reinvent himself. He deeply explored questions of purpose: “What am I good at? What am I experienced in? How can I leverage that in defining my next role?” As a result, he successfully narrowed his career search and secured his dream job. “You cannot do that as easily when you are working,” he said. “You just don’t have the mental capacity. This really gave me a new beginning.”

Knowing the real reason behind your ambition lets you create a plan for fulfilling it, writes Stacey Abrams in “Lead from the Outside: How to Build Your Future and Make Real Change.” Often, however, people mistake wishes for ambition. “Wishes feel good and rarely come true,” Abrams writes. “Ambition, on the other hand, fuels your days and refuses to be ignored. It challenges your sense of self and fulfills your sense of wonder.”


The 570 Conference Call, Part One, April 22, 2021, with Lea McLeod and Suzanne Neufang

Click for timestamps. Slide the player above to hear comments on specified topics.

• 00:42 – Quotes from The 570
• 02:00 – Speaker intros
• 02:38 – On being typecast as a “travel industry person”
• 08:50 – Ageism is alive and well — account for your demographic
• 14:25 – Résumé bots are meant to “eliminate” you — here’s how to beat them
• 18:44 – Suzanne Wolko’s journey and the importance of keeping a schedule
• 25:19 – How to deal with résumé gaps
• 32:00 – “Stop applying, start targeting”
• 39:35 – Keeping up with tech and keeping skills current


What about people who don’t know what they want? Indecision, effectively applied, is a great way to figure out the role you want next, according to Abrams. One way to clear a path through indecision is professional development. The gap between jobs is a great time to educate yourself, Neufang said. Take classes, add extra skills, participate in events. “Find what really brings you joy and what you might be ready to learn,” she said. If you’ve been in the same job for a long time, get used to learning again.

Professional development has never been more accessible than it is today, with seemingly endless options for free and paid courses. Millions of people around the world use Massive Open Online Courses for career development, supplemental learning and corporate training, according to the program, backed by nonprofit edX. That was the tactic Kumar used to identify the fields in which he was interested in working. Always one to consistently block out time for LinkedIn Learning courses, Kumar jumped into professional development with added urgency after losing his job, learning as much as he could about artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain through educational sites including Udemy, Udacity and online learning offered by traditional universities. “I learned a ton,” he said. “I committed myself to learning every day.”

Manage Your Candidate Assets

With unemployment levels still high and online job postings making it easy for anyone to apply regardless of qualifications or geography, hiring managers today are overwhelmed with the volume of applicants, said Nick Reid, co-founder of Nomad.me and travel industry recruiting firm Travel Staff. To cope with the overload, human resources departments quickly sort applicants into buckets. Most use Applicant Tracking Systems — otherwise known as HR robots or artificial intelligence — to identify top candidates. Whether using algorithms to instantly sort applicants or taking mere seconds per résumé to perform the task manually, HR tries to ensure that hiring managers never waste time with candidates lacking the required skills and experience.

Online recruiting tools eliminate candidates and suppress opportunities. The AI in candidate screening really does no more than identifying keywords, Reid said. Nearly everyone who responds to an online job listing by posting their standard résumé “will just get spat into the garbage bin.” To avoid such indignity, career professionals advise job seekers to take two steps: Only apply for jobs they truly want and spend a lot of time customizing applications to align to those jobs. 

Career coach Lea McLeod

“My mantra with job search clients is, stop applying, start targeting,” McLeod said. “If you’re going to apply online, make the tools work for you by ensuring you are a really good match for the job advertised.” In other words, rewrite your résumé for each job application using keywords from the job description. While those out of work are usually on a tight personal budget, getting professional help with résumés, cover letters and LinkedIn profiles is often worth the expense, experts advised. At the very least, they recommended, share your candidate assets with trusted peers to solicit their feedback.

So often when looking for a job, candidates focus their résumés on their scope of responsibility, while companies hire people based on their accomplishments, Chevalier said. At least half of the résumé should focus on goals and accomplishments, quantifying results with statistics.

It is okay to have many versions of your résumé customized to the qualifications described in job postings. When looking for work in a new industry, candidates should update the language in their résumés describing previous roles to match the vernacular used in the destination industry. “When you’re sending a résumé in the travel industry, it’s okay to use travel lingo,” Chevalier said. “When you’re switching, you need to neutralize it.” 

The summary at the top of a résumé or LinkedIn profile is important, Neufang said. It is the one place where you can use full sentences to succinctly describe who you are and what you’re good at. What are your top five differentiators? What are your top professional accomplishments, especially ones you can back up with input from a previous boss? “It’s really the inspiration for someone to read further,” she said.

A cover letter is an opportunity to differentiate a job candidate in a way that a résumé cannot. Even if the cover letter only slightly gives a candidate a better chance of being selected for review by the hiring manager, it’s worth the effort, Chevalier said. “Every phase of the process is a weed-out process, so do whatever you can do to be weeded in, not out,” she said. An effective cover letter doesn’t list skills, Reid added. Rather, it should explain why you are a qualified candidate, why you want the job and why you admire the hiring company.

McLeod said her years of experience as a career coach and a travel executive solidified her belief that skills from the travel industry are transferable to other sectors — but it’s not self-evident to hiring managers. “You know you’re great at analyzing data and managing suppliers and managing horizontally across an organization,” she said. “Do the translation for what that means to the next organization.” 

The probability of securing a job interview from an online application is very low. Chevalier estimated that the success rate for landing an offer for a position advertised online is between 2 percent and 3 percent, yet many people devote 90 percent of their job search applying for posted positions. “You have to think about this journey just like you do in sales,” she said. For that reason, candidates should think about when — and when not — to pursue an online strategy. McLeod recommended candidates devote no more than 15 percent to 20 percent of their job searches to online applications, and focus on job postings “that look perfect for you.” 

Gain Access Through Networking

When Mindy Berger lost her job as a client management executive at a travel management company in 2020, there were no jobs to be found within the industry. Nearly 38 percent of the 20.5 million U.S. jobs lost in April 2020 came from the leisure and hospitality sector. Naturally, she began looking for a new job outside of the industry she knew best. “I felt like people just couldn’t get past my travel background, and that’s the industry that I’ve been in my entire life,” she said. Although she applied for jobs “aligned to everything that I’ve done,” Berger struggled to get interviews.

“The barrier to access makes it tougher to identify where opportunities actually exist,” Abrams writes. The vast majority of jobs are filled by what she called unusual points of entry — essentially, access from the cultivation of relationships of all kinds.

“The hidden job market is real,” said Chevalier, referring to positions filled by companies that didn’t get posted to a job site. “It is where 80 percent of the jobs still exist today.” Most hiring managers find their top candidates through referrals — either from employees, industry peers or other trusted sources. In other words, candidates can only gain access to the vast number of job openings through networking.


The 570 Conference Call, Part Two, May 13, 2021, with Maria Chevalier and Nick Reid

Click for timestamps. Slide the player above to hear comments on specified topics.

• 01:00 – A quote from The 570
• 02:20 – Speaker intros
• 03:41 – Customize your résumé and put accomplishments before responsibilities
• 09:10 – Why résumé gaps are no longer such an issue (thanks, millennials)
• 11:28 – Cover letters are worthwhile
• 18:43 – Job seeker spotlights: Shawnda Witterstaetter and Ashwini Kumar
• 26:45 – Interview processes have changed — do’s and don’ts
• 39:35 – Tips for negotiating
• 43:12 – How to decide whether to take a lower-paying post
• 51:00 – The benefits of temp-to-perm
• 52:06 – Battling demoralization


Getting a job “will come from the people that you know,” said Barbara Dirnberger, a consultant with Airline Metrics. “If you just do a résumé, it goes into an electronic pool, searching for tags and keywords.”

GBTA’s Neufang agreed: “The worst thing is to just apply for a position without doing some homework around it, finding someone who knows someone there.” She said the question you want to ask in every networking conversation is, “Can you introduce me to the hiring manager?” 

Cultivating relationships, alliances and friendships to help you succeed professionally is vital to growing your capacity, according to Abrams. To find someone who can help guide you on your path, you must first understand the taxonomy of professional relationships. When you ask others to help you succeed professionally, you are essentially asking to be mentored. Not every type of mentor offers the same help.

Abrams puts mentors into four groups. Sponsors are people with whom you have a cordial relationship, not a deep one, but they are willing to open doors for you. For example, introducing you to a hiring manager. Advisers are people with whom you have a closer professional relationship, who can offer long-term career advice. Situational mentors are individuals who serve in a temporary role offering quick-and-done advice on specific subject matter expertise, like how to negotiate for greater responsibility. Lastly, peer mentors are people who fill similar roles to your own and can offer insights and compare notes. 

Professionals at all career stages can seek out and cultivate relationships with people who can help them. But before seeking help, you should first do some homework so you won’t waste anyone’s time and energy, according to Abrams. The responsibility for scheduling meetings with mentors, creating the agenda and making sure time is well spent lies squarely with the mentee. You should confine questions to only things that you cannot easily learn elsewhere.

Network at every opportunity to connect with someone who can help you — whether in person or during virtual industry events — volunteer in the community, reach out to request an informational meeting or work as an intern. If you struggle to connect with the decision-maker you’re pursuing, try striking up a relationship with the support staff, including executive assistants, Abrams writes.

Berger budgets significant amounts of time on LinkedIn to identify the hiring manager for a position she wants or a senior leader on their team. Sometimes there’s nothing to lose by taking an educated guess. “If I’m looking for a client management role, I can go into LinkedIn, I can find out who the VP of client success is, and then send a message,” she said. “Sometimes I’ll get a response, sometimes it gets passed over to HR and I hear back from HR.”

Also, consider applying for a job that doesn’t yet exist, said Reid: “If there’s a company that you think you can help that you admire, write to them, contact them, be the only one in the race.” 

Another point of entry is the temp-perm path — that is, candidates who get a foot in the door as temporary employees but stay on permanently. Reid estimated that 85 percent of temps are offered full-time positions. “Be brave, because that gets you in the door,” he said. Temporary jobs help candidates build relationships, and “it’s all about getting to know you as a person.”

Win An Offer By Interviewing Well

One of the biggest interviewing challenges job seekers run into is that “we really aren’t very good at learning how to talk about ourselves,” McLeod said.

A good place to begin is building self-awareness. “Self-knowledge opens our capacity to receive support and to comprehend how we process advice and change,” Abrams writes. A Meyers-Briggs type test can be useful in learning about your strengths and weaknesses, and how others perceive you. Other good ways to learn about yourself include conducting a formal skills assessment, reading old performance reviews and soliciting critical feedback from people who know you well. Job seekers can find both free and paid skills assessment tools online.

McLeod advised job seekers to perform a strengths assessment, either through a recruiter or online service, or by using books. With identified strengths in hand, candidates then should write stories about how those strengths already helped create positive outcomes. “It gives you these very concrete words that you can use to describe yourself — which people really struggle with,” she said. “Once you have your strengths and you know how they’ve already created success for you, you can tell a story.” Then practice telling those stories until you feel confident and strong about yourself.

Interview success requires many hours of preparation and practice, Chevalier said. A candidate’s failure to adequately prepare is immediately apparent to a hiring manager, who operates on the assumption that the past is the greatest indicator of future success. “Don’t think that you can come up with all the best examples on the fly,” she said. “Prep, prep, prep.”

Free and paid services available online help job candidates practice interviews. Online groups allow people to interview one another and provide feedback. Some sites allow candidates to select specific questions asked by a virtual interviewer, with everything recorded for playback to identify strengths and weaknesses. “I’ve done that for hours,” Purdy said. “Your confidence level improves each time.”

remote work

Each type of interview — telephone, Zoom, in person — requires different preparation, Reid said. If you are not meeting in person, he recommended standing up for the interview to improve voice projection. For live video conferences, practice ahead of time. Look into the camera as you speak, rather than at the image of other conference attendees. This gives an interviewer the appearance that you are looking them in the eye. Regardless of medium, have your notes easily accessible. If you’re working on a computer screen, make sure any files you wish to glance at are already open before the conversation begins.

The interview process has changed in the pandemic era, Chevalier said. Some companies have taken to sending job candidates a video in advance which prompts them to answer a question within an allotted amount of time. Some allow a do-over and some don’t. Job seekers need to be prepared for multiple scenarios.

Most companies use situational interviewing techniques, asking candidates for specific examples of actions they’ve taken in previous jobs that demonstrate their competence in executing tasks and responsibilities required of the new job. Chevalier recommended that candidates spend time writing out such examples and practice saying them out loud. If a job description says a candidate must be a good negotiator, then write out two or three examples demonstrating your skills as a negotiator. Practice until you can quickly recite the examples. 

Chevalier also advised candidates to start every interview by outlining the top three things that differentiate them from others. Again, these should be written and practiced ahead of time. At the end of the interview, ask the hiring manager if they have any questions or concerns regarding your ability to be successful in the role. This is important because it allows a candidate a do-over if the hiring manager identified what he or she thought was a shortcoming. For example, if the interviewer raises a concern about your ability to be successful at negotiating, you might reply, “Let’s revisit that, because I think it’s actually one of my strengths,” Chevalier said. On the other hand, if the hiring manager identifies a required skill that the candidate clearly lacks, you might respond with, “It’s true that’s not my area of strength, but I will surround myself with people who do it well.” 

Travel Staff chief puzzle solver Nick Reid

Also, be prepared to ask relevant questions of the hiring manager. This demonstrates that a job candidate has prepared for the interview and has enthusiasm for the job, Reid said. Don’t ask a question that Google can answer, he advised, and don’t be pushy. Think of the interview process as a relay race with different stages. No one gets hired after the first interview, so save some questions for later rounds. 

In the first stage, you may be talking to a recruiter. Reid suggested you ask them why people leave the company, what’s the turnover rate and why the specific position is open. When speaking with the hiring manager, you want to get deeper into the weeds regarding the job and its responsibilities. When you get to the hiring manager’s boss, you want to get in the clouds. Ask about corporate vision, the critical things that need to be accomplished, and why people succeed or fail in the company.

If a candidate begins to feel intimidated during an interview, they can fall back on a simple idiom. “If you get the interview, you’re qualified,” Purdy said. “Knowing that should provide a little boost in confidence.”

Within 24 hours of completing an interview, send an email to the hiring manager listing three reasons why you are the best candidate for that job.

Create A Job

Before starting her first business, Abrams writes, “I had no interest in becoming an entrepreneur because I liked paychecks.” However, her personal circumstances eventually left her few options. “No one else was going to hire someone who planned to be absent from the office for six months” to campaign for a state legislative seat, she conveyed. In the wake of the global pandemic, many new entrepreneurs may find that necessity is the mother of invention.

“The Internet allows people who want to sell a unique product or service to find customers all over the world,” Davidson writes. “Advances in trade mean that unique products can be delivered to the people who most value them, wherever they happen to be.”

Even before the pandemic, many businesses were going through a transformation resulting from the forces of globalization and automation — a process causing painful disruption and offering enormous opportunity. For example, the ability to book flights and trips online upended the travel industry. That disruption cleared the path for new businesses that create personalized travel experiences, according to Davidson. Travelers are still looking to get help planning trips from individuals with a deep knowledge of the places they wish to visit, experts who intimately know the particulars of destinations and can steer them toward the best options available.

One former corporate travel professional, unfamiliar with Davidson’s book, has already experienced a degree of success in the passion economy. Purdy, the former United Airlines sales executive, is investing time and money in his son’s online fishing supply startup company. 

“In this world with the global marketplace, or through the Internet, a very small, infinitesimal slice of a huge product category can still produce inordinate amounts of income,” Purdy said. “For example, if you have one one-hundredth of the paper market, you’re still going to do very, very well because the market is so huge.”

Michael Antrobus

Author: Michael Antrobus

Michael Antrobus reported from 1991 to 2005 on local, state and federal government, the courts, education and business at daily and weekly newspapers and business journals. He served from 2007 to 2020 as director of public relations and content creation at BCD Travel. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English and philosophy from Boston College and a master’s degree in journalism from Louisiana State University. More on LinkedIn.
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