How COVID-19 changed the job search

This ‘Life In Quarantine’ column originally ran on Sunday, September 6, 2020 in The Gaston Gazette and five other newspapers throughout North and South Carolina.

They say job hunting is a full-time job. And it is. But it can also be a lonely full-time job. Some days it just feels like you’re all alone, cruising down an endless highway, just hoping – praying, even – that there’s an opportunity coming up where you can merge back onto the freeway with everyone else again.

Job hunting requires a gritty persistence – a stick-to-itiveness of sorts – as the weeks and months tick away. It’s one job application followed by another. Resumes and cover letters disappear into a black hole where they go to die. But you do it anyway – you show up, butt-in-seat, fingers on the keyboard – because you know, it’s one big numbers game after all.

The good news is, you only have to close one deal. The bad news is that you’ll experience quite a bit of frustration and rejection on the way to closing that one deal.

Looking for a job is hard. Looking for a job in the midst of a global pandemic is even harder. You can’t go out and network. No one wants to shake your hand or pass you their business card. You do the best you can given the circumstances.

I prefer connecting in a traditional sense. But these are not traditional times. And those tried and true methods of connection are out the door while these dark COVID clouds hang over us. It’s Zoom interviews, application portals and ‘do-not-reply’ automated email responses. It’s high tech over high touch when it comes to job searching these days.

After a while, the self-doubt starts to creep in. You don’t see it coming. Next thing you know, you start to question the skills and talents that got you where you are today.

All of the job descriptions start to read the same. These companies are in search of the perfect candidate, knowing full well the perfect candidate doesn’t really exist. But you still find yourself asking the question: “Could I do this job?”

The answer is probably yes, but you may need to be reminded of that sometimes. That’s what friends and family are for – to remind you who you are and what skills and talents you bring to the table.

That reminder came in the form of a phone call this past week. It was from a former co-worker telling me what she would do if she were in my shoes.

She told me basic things – things that were so obvious, but they never seemed to cross my mind. She reminded me of people I should reach out to and some companies I should look into.

Sometimes we can’t get out of our own heads. We need a friend to help break through the clutter.

And then the phone rang again. This time it was an old college friend. He was reaching out because he knew a guy at a company that I had recently applied to. We only spent about five minutes talking about the job. We spent the other 62 minutes catching up on life.

We talked about kids and school, what it’s like to work from home and what it’s like to lose a job.

Apparently I am not alone. He told me how he was the victim of a job loss just two years ago. But he bounced back by eventually starting his own company, which he still owns and operates to this day, despite a pandemic.

He assured me that starting his own company was not in the script when it came to his ideal career path. It’s just where he ended up. And he’s grateful for it.

Through this friend’s story, it reminded me that my story isn’t finished yet. And that I still have a lot left in the tank no matter where I end up.

The benefit of hindsight is a beautiful thing. We don’t have it in the moment – in the middle of the storm – but sometimes we just need trust the storm will pass and we’ll be right where we need to be.

Being on the receiving end of those two phone calls is clearly where I needed to be this week. It’s proof you can’t, nor shouldn’t, do this job search thing all by yourself.

These two friends – from two completely different orbits in life – were just what I needed at this moment. They offered hope, understanding and a little advice. But more than anything else, they offered a listening ear.

Despite all the digital this and the virtual that, it’s still a “reach out and touch someone” world out there. Perhaps, now more than ever.

Ben Dungan has been writing about how life has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak. You can email him at [email protected] and read more from him at