When To Start Looking for Jobs During COVID-19

By Jane Kellogg Murray

Updated March 29, 2021 | Published August 31, 2020

Updated March 29, 2021

Published August 31, 2020

Jane Kellogg Murray is a content operations manager for Indeed. A former magazine editor now based in Vermont, she particularly enjoys helping others find fulfilling remote work opportunities through Indeed’s Career Guide.

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2020 may be the most difficult time in recent history to be job hunting. Indeed’s Hiring Lab has been tracking how COVID-19 is impacting the global labor market: Job postings collapsed in March, but have been slowly trickling upward since early May. Still, the number of job postings in August was more than 20% lower than they were the same time last year.

Unfortunately, unemployment is a severe reality for millions of people across the world right now. In the United States, five months after the coronavirus forced millions of businesses to close their doors and shrink their workforces, the Department of Labor reported more than 28 million people were still claiming some form of jobless aid.

As we continue to navigate an uncertain and changing job market, you may be confused as to when or whether you should even start looking for work—and if so, how. In this article, we explain how to rethink looking for a job right now. We also review the pros and cons of accepting work that pays less than unemployment or your pre-pandemic job.

Read more: August 2020 Labor Market Update

Hiring Lab rate of job postings on Indeed

When should I start looking for jobs during COVID-19?

In addition to being unsure how long unemployment benefits will last, many people may be concerned they won't be capable of going back to work at all right now. Parents may also lack confidence in being able to balance a full-time job given uncertainties around schooling, caretakers or immunocompromised individuals are wary of taking a job that could put them at risk, and some people who work in lower-wage industries are hesitant to pursue the job openings that pay less than pandemic unemployment benefits. The question on everyone's mind seems to be: When should I start looking for work again?

In short, you should always be looking for your next job. In a normal job market, it can take up to six months to find an acceptable position. Sometimes the interviewing process can take a few weeks to a few months, and if your prospective jobs require relocation or additional education, it can take even longer for you to become an ideal candidate.

But in a pandemic—when job postings are historically low and competition is high—it is unpredictable how long it may take you to find the right fit for your unique situation. One of the best ways to ease anxiety about finding your next job is to prepare for the job search.

One simple way to stay up-to-date on jobs being posted to Indeed is by subscribing to Job Alerts. After you sign up, you’ll get notifications of jobs posted in your search criteria straight to your inbox. You can change the frequency of or delete Job Alerts in the “settings” section of your Indeed account. You might also consider setting a weekly application goal based on your needs and timeline.

Read more: When Should I Start Applying for Jobs? (FAQ Guide)

5 ways to rethink job searching during an economic downturn

Like a lot of other things in 2020, job hunting requires flexible thinking as you adapt to the current job market. Here are five things you can do to reframe the job search narrative in an uncertain market:

1. Focus on the short term

At the moment, so much in your life might feel out of your control, which can make it difficult to plan for the future. Instead, plan for what would be best for you in the next one to three months. What are your priorities right now? Do you need to build a financial safety net? Or do you have enough savings to cover your basic expenses so you can focus solely on job opportunities that benefit your career advancement? In what ways can you easily cut expenses to stretch your savings or unemployment benefits, so you can extend your job search period?

Depending on your financial status, you may need to consider short-term work—including work that is outside of your skill set—while your preferred employers adjust during the pandemic.

Read more: Companies Hiring Now

2. Tell your story

You may be facing challenges that others will never experience in their careers. The way you navigate job loss in a pandemic is something you can take pride in after this crisis subsides. From your cover letter and resume to how you present yourself in a virtual interview, your entire job search strategy should tell a clear and compelling story that explains this and your motivations to return to the workforce.

Avoid talking about your financial motivations—that’s a reality most employers are aware of. Instead, talk about your professional motivations and objectives. Explain why you are looking for work at this point in your career. Share your goals for the rest of the year. Explain your past and present, and how it led you to apply to the jobs you have today.

Related: COVID-19 Job Resources

3. Build your virtual network

Long gone are the days of meeting a mentor for coffee or heading out to a networking mixer with a stack of business cards. In 2020, online networking can be a vital component to finding your next job, and it’s imperative you continue to develop your network even while social distancing.

Reach out via email to former colleagues, friends and mentors to ask if they’d be willing to meet with you virtually over video chat. Then, just as you might if it were an in-person meeting, share your story and ask for advice as they share their past experiences. What trends are they seeing in the industry? How has the pandemic impacted them and their current employer?

Be direct about the type of help or advice you really need, such as putting in an internal referral at their company or giving feedback on your cover letter. People in a position to help may be more willing to help others find a job during a pandemic than they would have in normal circumstances.

Finally, remember to follow up. This shows your contact that you’re both reliable and gracious. Send a thank-you email within 24 hours along with anything else they might need to help you, such as a brief paragraph they can use to make virtual introductions on your behalf.

4. Seek more professional training and education

If you have extra time right now—and the motivation—consider enrolling in online courses to develop certain skills necessary to get and succeed in the job you want. Job openings are down across several industries, from hospitality and travel to financial and business sectors. If your industry is experiencing a major shift right now, this is a good time to evaluate whether or not you still enjoy your chosen field.

If not, consider exploring education opportunities in other fields that interest you. If you’d like to remain in your current field, evaluate related job openings to determine which skills and qualifications are in demand right now. There are several affordable or free education options available if you are wary of added debt; search online or ask people in your network or preferred field what they recommend. Professional development training, online certifications and skill-specific classes all require less of an investment than seeking an advanced degree.

Read more: Tips for Graduates Entering the Workforce During COVID-19

5. Aim for quality over quantity

More people are job searching than ever before. When you’re unemployed, panic can lead your job application process and motivate you to apply to every opening you’re even remotely qualified for. Resist this urge.

A better way to propel your career forward is to focus on the things you can control right now, like building your relationships to find the right opportunities. Candidates with a referral may be more likely to get a job offer than those applying blindly from a job board. Instead of applying half-heartedly, you can give your all to a few applications for jobs you feel you’d truly be a great fit for.

Read more: Why Quality Over Quantity Matters in Your Job Applications

Four reasons to consider accepting a job that pays less

There are factors beyond comparative compensation that might persuade people to accept a job. Below are a few reasons why you might consider work that pays less than unemployment benefits or your pre-pandemic job.

1. Unemployment insurance is temporary

Supplementary unemployment benefits from the federal government during the pandemic may have dissuaded some from immediately returning to the workforce, but many benefits expired on August 1, and it’s unclear if and when additional benefits will return to those who are still impacted by pandemic-induced shutdowns.

Traditional unemployment benefits will eventually expire as well. While full-time opportunities may be limited right now, consider short-term contract or freelance work that can provide stability and a livable wage while you look for better opportunities.

2. Benefits like health insurance and retirement plans add up

Your job can be more than just a paycheck. For many, a decent benefits package may be enough to make up the difference for lower wages. For example, the loss of a 401(k) matching program may not be very noticeable in the short term, but it could cost you thousands in missed contributions later on. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average employee benefits account for nearly 30% of total compensation.

3. It can be easier to get a job offer when you already have a job

Prospective employers may find candidates more appealing when they are employed, regardless of how much they are earning. Continuing to work will keep your skills sharpened, and adding experience to your resume could help give you an advantage.

4. It can lead to more career opportunities

Even if the job you are hired for is less than you feel you are qualified for, there may be ways to grow within the company. Ask your prospective employer if there are opportunities for advancement and if you will be able to increase your wages or position in time.

Read more: 10 Ways To Increase Your Current Income

Four reasons to decline a job offer while collecting unemployment benefits

Turning down work at a time where there aren’t as many available jobs is going to be a challenge for a lot of people, but sometimes it’s necessary. If you are currently unemployed, here are a few reasons you might be willing to decline a job offer.

1. It doesn’t meet your financial needs

According to Indeed’s Hiring Lab, while job postings of all income levels are lagging, postings for higher-wage jobs have dropped the most. Not having a job can be a blow to your self-esteem, so it’s only natural to want to accept any work that might come your way.

But if you accept a job for the sole purpose of having a job—especially if it isn’t comparable to your prior income—it can lead to unhappiness with your career trajectory in the long run. (Note that if you are receiving unemployment benefits, your state may require you to accept a job that offers wages comparable to your recent work history.

If you are collecting unemployment, check with your state’s department of labor for eligibility requirements.)

2. It can take time away from job searching

Looking for work can often feel like a full-time job itself. Reaching out to your network for job leads, editing your resume, writing new cover letters and multiple rounds of interviews can be difficult to balance while you are also working. Stretching your savings and unemployment benefits will give you the flexibility to conduct a full-time job search so that when you finally find a suitable role, you have time to pursue it adequately.

Read more: How To Use Indeed to Job Search During COVID-19

3. It can impede your long-term goals

Just because you are earning a paycheck doesn’t necessarily mean you are moving toward your career goals. When you get a job offer, consider your long-term needs before accepting. Where do you want to be in a year? What about five years? Does this job take you a step further along that path?

4. It could put you or your family at risk

Don’t forget that we are still in the middle of a pandemic. Before accepting a new job or returning to a position you held before this crisis, it’s important to ask what your prospective employer is doing to protect its team members right now. Will you be able to work remotely or at a safe distance away from others? Do they offer paid sick leave, and are they encouraging employees to use it if they are exhibiting symptoms? Do they have an emergency response plan in place if someone in your workplace tests positive for COVID-19?

You and your employer should be aligned in these matters. According to the Department of Labor, you may qualify for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance if you are concerned about exposure to COVID-19 and have been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine as a result.

Read more: What To Expect When Returning to Work During COVID-19

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