What It's Like Looking For Work During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Mar 27, 2020

Unemployment numbers released Thursday were staggering. "A record 3.28 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week as the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the country," NPR reported.

More than 150,000 Ohioans filed for unemployment benefits in the last week as they've been laid off, furloughed or otherwise left unable to work during the COVID-19 outbreak. Requests are so rampant the state's unemployment website was having trouble handling them. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted says a tech team is working overtime to build up capacity for the site.

Some of the newly unemployed are joining the ranks of those who were already seeking work.

Journey to Hope, a 501(c)(3) non-profit in Finneytown, offers support and coaching groups, including several job search support groups. [Full disclosure, WVXU's Tana Weingartner attended a career support group here before joining Cincinnati Public Radio.]

"The most common thing I'm hearing is that all activity has stopped; companies aren't hiring; it's a waste of time to be filling out applications right now," Journey to Hope Executive Director Diane Kinsella explains. "The big concern is that they can do networking now but is it going to lead anywhere because there are so many businesses that are completely out."

Groups are currently unable to meet in person, but Kinsella says, "We'll meet by Zoom, if we must."

That's just what they're doing. On the same day the national unemployment numbers were released, three women gathered in front of computer and mobile phones to talk about the challenges of career hunting, right now and in general. Despite the climate, they seemed to be trying to stay optimistic.

"I'm concerned because as someone who works with industry, if industry and supply chain and such doesn't recover as quickly, companies may not be hiring people to improve their suppliers," says Chris Vorpe, who is skilled in quality supervision and supply engineering development. "It could of course go the other way. They could say we need somebody to help get the supplier up to par. We'll see."

She understands she may need to switch careers and has been considering going into quality assurance in the medical field. She's a Lean Six Sigma Black Belt and sees that as a positive in helping her change directions easily.

Hannah Deters has been looking for a position in graphic design for several months. She's been focusing in the job search group on how to improve her networking skills and says she struggles with the anxiety of reaching out to people or sending applications and emails. What if it's just not right, she worries.

"I feel like I'm pretty much in a similar spot as I was before (the pandemic). I feel confident that what I would like to do is something I can do remotely and I can offer that and emphasize that when I'm networking."

She's concerned about the number of people competing for limited positions in her field. People are getting hired she says. Two people in another one of her networking groups recently landed positions, "but I just worry I'm going to have to work twice as hard to land myself. If places are hiring, I imagine they're still going to be hiring, their bar is just going to be set much higher."

Kinsella tells her that's a valid concern.

"In the recession, in order for people to wade through the thousand resumes per job opening, they just kept adding requirements to the job description until it got to the point that the people who'd actually held the job with that title would no longer qualify or be hireable for that particular role."

There are ways to overcome that though, Kinsella adds.

Heidi Lattire has been wondering about an influx of applicants on the market since Macy's announced it was moving its corporate headquarters out of Cincinnati. She has a background in accounting, a masters degree in executive leadership and organizational change, and is looking for a position in human resources, which has her somewhat optimistic.

"It's a little threatening," she says of the influx of coronavirus related job seekers, "but I really think the positions that are being let go are not going to affect the level that I'm looking for. If anything, I think it will help my position a little bit more with trying to get into HR. I think they'll realize that they need it more than they thought they did because there's so much need for HR people right now."

Kinsella estimates Journey to Hope was one of the first in the area to pivot and get its job search support groups online when the coronavirus pandemic hit Greater Cincinnati. She says others are picking up now, and she offers encouragement to everyone who may be struggling.

"The difference between a person who has a job today and a person who doesn't is a very, very fine line. Anybody who has a job who is being paid to work from home but they know that the revenue side of the business isn't producing is worried that they're going to be the (next) person in line. It's a time to reach out and be in this together whether you're employed or not.

"It's through the generosity of spirit and the willingness to help each other out in whatever form that takes is what will bring us all through it together."