Before COVID-19 swept the state, people on unemployment needed to prove they were looking for work to receive the payments. That requirement was lifted during the pandemic but was recently reinstated.
If you don’t know where to start to find work, California’s Employment Development Department is offering resources for job-seekers, along with the criteria to prove you’re trying to find a job.
But your job-hunting skills may be rusty. We spoke with Adrian Vasquez, employment coordinator for Sacred Heart Community Service which offers career services to low-income individuals, and Dr. Justin Rietz, an assistant professor of economics at San Jose State University who runs a Covid-19 Economic Dashboard for Silicon Valley, about the state of the job market and how to find work.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Are jobs available right now?
Rietz: What the data shows is that unemployment is dropping, so people are getting back into the workforce, which obviously is a good sign. But we still have room to increase employment to get back to where we were before COVID-19. Employment in retail and hospitality, for example, are still behind their pre-pandemic levels. That suggests there are decent job opportunities.
Q: Where should I be looking for jobs?
Vasquez: There are many sites for job searching, but we use Indeed because for us it’s the most reliable. While you’re trying to look for a job, there are employers who are trying to find employees, so you’re able to actually post your resume and get scouted.
Indeed’s application process is also really simple. They require very minimal information from you to actually submit an application. All they want is your phone number, email address, how many years of experience you have, and what your relevant skills are.
We also recommend networking. Word of mouth always helps. You can start networking with prior coworkers, prior managers, friends, family, on social media, and friends of friends. Those are the best to start with because then they branch out. For example, if I post “Hey, I’m looking for a job” in a group chat, more than likely a friend is going to say, “Hey, we’re hiring here” or “I’ve seen this place that’s hiring.”
Really just get out there and start applying, because the typical turnaround from the time you apply for a job to the time you actually get hired is about three months.
Q: What if I’m not computer savvy or don’t have access to the internet?
Vasquez: The pandemic has changed the job market a lot because everything is virtual. If someone isn’t computer literate, it makes it that much harder for them to get the assistance they need to apply for a job, even if they qualify.
If you are a resident in Santa Clara County and you don’t have any connection to the internet at all, we can help you get connected. Whether that’s getting a hotspot from a library or getting connected to a central internet. For those across the Bay Area, go to libraries for free internet and you can also ask the schools for resources. Going back to friends and family, I’m pretty sure someone knows somebody who can help you out.
Zoom has been a little easier for members of the community to use because the interface is pretty straightforward. You go on, make an account, and as long as you have the password and the meeting ID, you can log in.
(San Jose’s public library offers iPads, Del computers, and hotspots for library members for up to 120 days. Oakland’s public libraries also offer computers to check out, while most libraries across the Bay Area provide free internet access.)
Q: What are your top resume tips?
Vasquez: You want to identify your unique qualifications by actually building a resume that shows your skills, certifications, and relevant job experiences. You don’t want to use more than 10 years’ worth of employment history because the employer wants just a very brief synopsis of what has this person done? And how do they qualify for this job? That’s all it comes down to.
If you are trying to switch your job expertise into something else – for example, if I’m in hospitality but I want to move to tech – in your free time you should invest in yourself.
Research the job that you want, see what those skills are, and see how you can learn those new skills and techniques. Capitalize on volunteering roles, which can be a form of free training.
Q: What are your top interview tips?
Vasquez: Interviews can be very intimidating, especially in a virtual setting. What I would suggest is to do mock interviews. The mock interview is able to help you answer difficult questions, improves your communication skills, and reduces stress before the interview.
Although it may seem silly to be in front of a camera and wear something professional, you still have to prove yourself, so dress professionally.
When it comes to pay negotiation, really refer back to the job market and say “Hey, this is how much the job is going for in the job market as of today.” And stick to that.
(The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides wage estimates for different jobs in California.)
Q: What will happen to the job market over the next year?
Rietz: Anecdotally, I was told many times that people who were working but are now on unemployment are making more on unemployment than they did at work. That does suggest that once the additional unemployment benefits from the federal government go away in September, we’ll likely see a jump in the number of people trying to find jobs.
And also remember September is when school starts. So if you were a stay-at-home parent during COVID-19, when those kids go back to school, it’ll be easier for you to get back into the workplace. So the job market could become more competitive in September.
This article is part of the California Divide, a collaboration among newsrooms examining income inequality and economic survival in California.