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Supporting Job Seekers through COVID-19

JFCS supporting job seekers through COVID-19, Immigrant Workforce Program

The economic strain of COVID-19 has led many employers to lay off workers or place a freeze on hiring. However, this uncertain period is also a time of possibility for those searching for jobs. The JFCS Career Development Center is still supporting job seekers via phone and video and has even helped several clients to find jobs in the last few weeks.

Supporting Clients through COVID-19

While layoffs have been prominent in the news lately, most industries are still hiring, according to Sarah Welch, director of the JFCS Career Development Center. “They may postpone the start date or have the person start remotely,” she said, but job seekers are having success. “Now is not the time to give up on a job search.”

Plus, job seekers can use this time to focus on improving skills or thinking about different ways to apply past job experience and strengths. 

“Now is the time to do all the things you’ve been putting off,” said Pam Day, a JFCS Career Development Center career counselor. “Do as much preparation work as you can.” Preparation can include researching industries, updating resumes and cover letters, and taking online courses to learn new skills. 

“Now is a good time to really be active so you can hit the ground running” when the job market opens up again, she said. “You will be in a better situation to get a job.”

Building Up Skills

JFCS career counselors are also encouraging their clients to practice interview skills. Robin Farabee-Siers, another JFCS career counselor, noted that phone interviews are increasingly popular in general, not just during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Preparing for interviews to be more phone/virtually based is a very tangible skill that job seekers can develop right now to help them with the changing landscape of navigating a job search,” she said. ”Phone interviews are a different animal than in-person interviews and require a specific kind of preparation and things to think about than in-person interviews. I’ve done a few practice phone interviews the last two weeks to help clients feel more comfortable with the process and get ready to make a good impression.”

JFCS Career Development Center career counselors are continuing to offer one-on-one career counseling sessions via phone or video, based on the client’s preference, and many groups and workshops are or will soon be offered by video. For example, JFCS’s Job Strategies and Support Group, which is co-led by Career Counselor Pam Harris and Clinical Social Worker Kelli McElhinny, can now be accessed via video link. This group gives participants opportunities to talk about their job search frustrations and fears and offers concrete steps that can be taken to cope with the stress of searching for a job.

Helping with Unemployment Compensation

With many businesses closed at this time, thousands of people in our region are now eligible for unemployment compensation benefits. The application for benefits is online , but may be confusing for those who are unfamiliar with the system, are not tech savvy, or whose English proficiency is limited. This video provides guidance on how to file a claim. Community members who are unsure how to complete this process should reach out to the JFCS Career Development Center for support. 

Ms. Day has already assisted clients with this process and is receiving questions from others who are unsure if they can apply, such as those who are self-employed. “We’re staying on top of what’s been changing,” she said. “We’re here to help.” 

In addition to job search workshops, JFCS offers specialized groups for job seekers to help them overcome barriers to employment. Both the Job Search Productivity Group and the Immigrant Workforce Program are continuing to meet virtually at their regular times, and have accepted new members. Both groups provide job seekers with supportive communities to help them stay on target with the job search process. 

The Immigrant Workforce Program (shown in photo at top) specifically addresses the needs of immigrants and provides opportunities to practice English speaking skills. The Job Search Productivity Group provides encouragement and accountability to job seekers who have been on the market for a long time. Over the last few years, the group has had a strong placement rate because it provides the tools long-term job seekers need to maintain focus and motivation, especially in difficult times. 

Advice for Job Seekers

JFCS Career Development Center career counselors are also using their personal experiences to help job seekers stay positive and focused. For example, Jeanne Williams wrote a list of tips to help job seekers stay on task while they are searching for jobs from home. She advises them to stick to regular routines of getting up and dressed every morning and, if possible, to have a designated space at home to use as an office.

“This gets me ready for each day and fools my mind that I am now set to start my work day,” she wrote. She also suggests spending time each day planning for tasks ahead and keeping lists of what needs to be accomplished. “The goal is to keep important things from becoming urgent,” said Ms. Williams. “This is so important for many of my clients whose day is already full and now I am asking them to work on their job search.”

JFCS is Still Here for You

This period of social distancing can be overwhelming and frightening, especially when news reports seem ominous.

“You have to try to break away from that,” said Ms. Day. “The only thing you can do is control what you’re doing.” She encouraged community members to reach out to JFCS for help, noting that current clients have been touching base with her more frequently for support and reassurance. “They need someone to listen to them, so they can vent frustration,” she said. “We’re here to help with that too.”

But above all, job seekers should know that most industries are still operating, and looking for new talent.

“Even though there is uncertainty in the job market right now, people should continue to focus their efforts on finding employment,” said Ms. Welch. “The market will eventually open up and those who have prepared, made connections to build their network, and developed strong personal marketing tools will get the opportunities.”


By Susan Jacobs Jablow, Grant Writer for JFCS


If you are unemployed or concerned about your employment status, please contact the JFCS Career Development Center for support by calling 412-422-5627 or e-mailing cdc@jfcspgh.org.