Finding an HR Job, Mid-Pandemic

It’s a great time to be looking for an HR role, but don’t be surprised if your job search lasts longer than you expect

By Katie Navarra June 24, 2021
Finding an HR Job, Mid-Pandemic

​In March 2020, Angelo Apollos informed 88 employees they no longer had jobs. He was the head of a North American HR team for a large travel software company, and he was one of just three people tasked with delivering the message. Ultimately, he knew his position would disappear, too.

Apollos expected to land a new role within three months despite the pandemic. Six months later, he was still unemployed and anxious, as his employment status impacts his visa. It took nine months for him to obtain a position as HR business partner at Inovalon, a health care technology company.

"[The job search] is more like an ultra-marathon than a sprint. It can be soul-destructing and tiresome, and it's easy to get burned out," he said.

He estimates applying for 90 to 100 positions. He was surprised and disappointed by the level of care given to candidates. More than once, he set aside time for interviews that were canceled at the last minute. Other times, recruiters who had reached out to him were unprepared to talk about the position. On more than one occasion, the scope of the role dramatically changed from the first interview to subsequent conversations.

"There were probably six to eight who handled my candidacy professionally and respectfully," he said. "It's hard to know whether the care dropped off because the staff was extended or stretched or dealing with the challenges of the pandemic."

Juggling the disappointment in losing a job, the emotional strain of excitement and rejection, and the general uncertainty of the times is not easy. It's especially difficult for HR professionals who feel they should be able to handle job seeking easily—after all, recruiting and hiring are big parts of their jobs. They should have inside information that makes this a breeze! But everyone needs support in this process. Here are a few tips for surviving (and maybe even enjoying) a job search.

[For more career advice, visit SHRM's Career Preparation & Planning resource center.]

Lean In to a Support System

Renée Nielsen, founder of search firm Nielsen Associates based in Long Island, N.Y., sees abundant opportunities for human resource professionals looking for a job, especially recruiters. As of late April 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the number of job openings in all industries had reached a record high of 9.3 million. Companies need HR professionals to recruit and hire these people, and, consequently, data from Indeed shows human resource job postings are up 52 percent compared to pre-pandemic times, much higher than the 30 percent average increase across all jobs, Axios reported.

"If someone is unemployed, they are not going to be unemployed for long," Nielsen said. "Right now, recruiters are in big demand and the market for HR professionals is strong, too. The senior-level jobs are out there, too; a lot of them are confidential searches."

But many job seekers have been looking for a while. There may be solace in knowing you're not alone in the frustration of a prolonged job search. But that isn't much comfort when you've filled out applications and prepared for interviews and are still jobless. Apollos emphasizes the importance of building a support system of people who can remind you of your abilities and accomplishments.

"My former team set up a group text. Every time any of us had a down day, we sent a text with a down smiley face," Apollos said. "Everyone else would send back one great thing about the person to keep their spirits up."

Get Noticed

Responding to job ads is part of the process, but Nielsen advises against devoting all your time to postings. Many times, those resumes are funneled into an applicant tracking system and go unnoticed. Instead, she encourages networking with past colleagues and managers and getting involved with volunteer work. Working with a search firm specializing in placing HR professionals is also helpful.

"You have to be top of mind so people remember you," Nielsen said. "They remember you by interacting with you."

Apollos estimates sending 200 messages to LinkedIn connections explaining the work he was looking to do. Interestingly, he found the most well-connected people were the least helpful. It was mid-level workers outside the HR and software fields who proved the most helpful.

"Random people I would have never expected to come out of my network as guardian angels [were the ones] who were supportive," he said. "Never think that somebody might be in a position that is too senior or too junior."

Interview Insights

Participating in interviews is just part of the job for seasoned human resource executives. But being on the other side of the table can feel unsettling, especially for experienced professionals who dedicated years to moving up internally. In those situations, the interviewers already knew a great deal about your skills and abilities. With a new company, you're essentially "selling yourself."

"As time wore on, my performance in interviewing started to improve because I changed my mindset to recognize it was going to take time," Apollos said.

Nielsen coaches candidates through the recruitment process and always tells individuals to ask, "Is there anything in my background that I can answer for you that can help me move forward in the process?"

"If their mind wanders or if they have a preconceived notion of x, y or z on your resume, asking them that question brings them back to the moment," Nielsen said.

[Need to hire highly qualified HR candidates? SHRM members save 25% on job postings at SHRM HR Jobs.]


The job-search process is emotionally and physically draining—sometimes more so than working full time. Prioritizing self-care is crucial to performing your best during each opportunity that is presented.

"It gave me the motivation to get fit, and it helped with the stress and anxiety," Apollos said. "Taking time to sleep, eat well and drink plenty of water is something people kind of snicker about, but it's so important."

 Katie Navarra is a freelance writer based in New York.



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