COVID-19: Amid Rising Unemployment and Economic Uncertainty, Career Coaches Offer Advice

As Philadelphians remain under a statewide stay-at-home order and non-essential businesses keep their doors closed, questions surrounding how COVID-19 affects unemployment have taken center stage. Many Philadelphia residents are unable to work remotely and are facing unemployment. 

On April 25, 6,729 Pennsylvanians filed for unemployment, bringing the weekly total of unemployment claims to 114,700, the lowest in five weeks. The state’s total unemployment claims currently sit just above 1.6 million. 

Record unemployment means uncertainty for many in Philadelphia, but career experts have advice for bouncing back after losing a job or getting laid off due to coronavirus. 

“I know, just from Temple University, working with employers on entry level jobs and professional jobs, hiring has slowed down,” said Temple University career coach Karen Demmler. “But it’s not because the companies are saying we’re not hiring. It’s that they don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Career coaches advise current job seekers and those who are recently unemployed not to be discouraged. 

“Nobody knows how long things are going to last or how things are really going to shake out,” said certified career coach Rita Friedman. “But I think we’re sort of at that point where people are starting to figure out or cope with this.”

Ed Hunter, owner of career and executive coaching service Life in Progress, said that for the unemployed, this is a critical time to get back to the basics of branding yourself for future employment.

“If you don’t already have an excellent resume that is carefully branded to the types of roles you’re interested in getting, this is the time to do it,” he said. 

Building and revamping a LinkedIn profile is a crucial first step for job seekers seeking to polish their personal brand, Hunter said. Professionals should also consider developing a personal website or digital portfolio that shows potential employers and clients their skills and the quality of work they are capable of. 

It is also important to know that not every industry has been hit equally by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The guidance that I would give anybody job hunting in this market is be really careful about looking at the headlines out there in the news,” Hunter said. “The stunning unemployment numbers, for instance, the tragic stories about wide-scale layoffs and things like that, and assuming that suggests anything about how you should behave.”

According to research from the Urban Institute, service industries have been hardest hit across the United States, especially low-income workers in accommodation and food services. That segment accounts for more than 114,000 food and hotel jobs lost in Philadelphia. Other industries, like information technology and financial services, remain relatively stable.

“It’s not equally bad everywhere,” Hunter said. “There might actually be reasonable employment options in your field.” 

Job seekers can also expect to see employment opportunities for roles that can be done remotely, since so many companies have increased their virtual operations. 

Jobs in information technology and support, as well as database administration, online education, tutoring, and virtual customer service all can be done remotely, Friedman said.

Because so many jobs have gone online and digital, job seekers should also be prepared for their interviews to be virtual as well. 

“Employers have been doing this the entire time, very rarely does the first interview start in person,” Demmler said. “It starts over the phone, or, at this point, it is Skype or Zoom. So, it’s making all of us become a lot more comfortable with the platform, which enables us to perform better with it.”

However, preparation is still essential when it comes to nailing a virtual interview. Making sure to test technology before an interview and practicing common interview questions can help increase an applicant’s likelihood of moving forward within the hiring process.    

Though a vaccination to cure COVID-19 may take some time, eventually the job market will recover or have to make the necessary adjustments to survive. 

“I think there is every reason to be optimistic that most industry sectors will all recover, but I think they will recover at different speeds,” Hunter said. “Just to give an example, even if we said COVID is behind us, I don’t know if I would be in a big hurry to go to a Phillies game and to sit in a stadium with 30,000 people.”

In the meantime, Friedman said, now is a good time to start thinking creatively about how you can make ends meet. 

“Maybe you’re not going to have to do just one thing,” he said. “Maybe you are going to have to do two or three things and have a portfolio of part time jobs or gigs or finding ways to make money on the side for the short term.”  

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