Advertisement
Business

Job hunting is never easy. But finding work amid coronavirus is ‘a whole new world’

Job seekers | Michele Mammen
Michele Mammen, 32, in her New York City apartment. Mammen, who grew up in Pleasanton, Calif., has been looking for a job in the New York area but recently expanded her search nationwide. The coronavirus has made her search even more difficult.
(Michele Mammen)

Job seeking in an uncertain economy is hard enough. Throw in coronavirus fears, home quarantines and hiring freezes at many companies, and the hunt for work becomes even more difficult.

Millions of people are suddenly competing for a shrinking pool of jobs, with more than 3.8 million laid-off workers applying for unemployment benefits last week alone, bringing the total to 30.3 million in the last six weeks.

So much has changed. Firm handshakes and in-person interviews are relics of pre-pandemic times. Networking over drinks or coffee is out.

The Times talked to four people about their hunt for work in these times. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

Advertisement

Bob Waeger, 41, and his sons, Jack, 11, and Cooper, 8, in the backyard of their Long Beach home.
Bob Waeger, 41, and his sons, Jack, 11, and Cooper, 8, in the backyard of their Long Beach home.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The sales executive

Bob Waeger, 41, Long Beach. A salesman-turned-entrepreneur who holds patents for a back brace to improve posture and reduce pain, Waeger sold his company and patents and went back into sales. After five years, he lost his regional sales manager job in a corporate restructuring last August.

I found myself laid off for the first time in my life. I wasn’t worried. I thought, I’m in the sweet spot of my life. I’m 40, I have great experience. I’ve invented products, I’ve started companies, I’ve been very successful as a sales manager, and I’m interviewing.

Advertisement

Then this pandemic hits and everything in the world goes on hold. Since then, I’ve had multiple situations where I’ve gone four or five interviews deep into the process, when I’m the final guy and with this pandemic, companies say, “Hey, we’re not going to hire anybody. We’re just going to see what pans out.”

I miss the face to face. I’m in sales. I love to shake somebody’s hand, use the charisma, see their eye movements and all those things. That’s where I shine. So it is very difficult. I put on my suit and I have to do an online interview where you’re looking at a computer. It’s a whole new world.

It can be hard to get a flow going. Like one day they’re calling my house here in Long Beach, which is totally fine and good, but the next time they call to do the virtual, she goes, “Wait, you’re not in the same house, where are you?” I’m just in my cabin in Big Bear and she’s like, “That doesn’t look like California. There’s a fire going in the background.” So they invade your space, if you will.

Advertisement

I’m willing to relocate. And if I have to, I’ll do contract work or part-time, temporary and remote work.

And I’m not only just looking for a job with a positive attitude and spirit and really hitting the ground hard there. I’m a single parent. I’m the chef. I’m the maid. I’m the teacher, the counselor. I’m the friend. I’m the play mate for both my sons. It’s a juggling act because the kids aren’t in school.

And as hard as it is, you’ve got to appreciate it. Take it positively, think, “This is cool. I’m hands-on learning with my sons.” When else am I going to get this opportunity to spend this much time with them, at such an influential time in their lives?

I think we’re going to start opening things up in the next four to six weeks and get back to normal at a slow pace, and I think companies will be back hiring, and everything’s going to come back. But my hope is that maybe this was a blessing in disguise for me and some great job opportunity is going to come along. I’m ready for it. Spread the word. Excellent resume here. Positive outlook. I’m ready to work.”

Advertisement

San Leandro barber Maurice Burrell, with his son Maurice. Before the pandemic struck, Burrell was at his barber shop giving as many as 65 haircuts a week.
San Leandro barber Maurice Burrell, with his son Maurice. Before the pandemic struck, Burrell was at his barber shop performing as many as 65 haircuts a week.
(From Maurice Burrell)

The barber

Maurice Burrell, 35, San Leandro. Burrell operates Tha Chop Shop, where he cuts hair and rents space to other barbers. The business is shut down under government quarantine mandates, and as his savings run low, he’s looking at other work.

I’m a barber and, honestly, I’ve just looked at what other work is available, trying to think of what is needed. Mostly that just seems to be security work and grocery work. I’ve taken a class to get a security guard license, so if I need to get back to the workforce like that, I can. But still, I’m a barber. I have my own shop, so I don’t want to commit to something else yet. This virus is only temporary.

Advertisement

Before all this, I would see from 35 to 65 clients if it was a real busy week, five days a week. My place is called Tha Chop Shop. I’ve worked there since 2009, but I took it over in 2018. I had appointments, and walk-ins were always welcome. I had so many customers I gave some of the walk-ins to my other barbers so they had enough business.

My clientele started dropping off during the first week of March. We watched the news every day at the shop. We knew about the coronavirus. We just didn’t know it would crash the economy.

People are depressed. They’re only spending money on things that help them shelter in place. Eventually, I’m not going to be able to pay the overhead. The landlord isn’t going to get paid.

The worst part about this virus is that I’m losing the fellowship, the community. Some people just used to come to my barbershop just for that, the connection with others. I had clients who don’t even have hair. They come in and want a smooth head just so they can shoot the bull with everyone.

Advertisement

My customers had become family, friends. Some days I wake up and think, “Man, I have no value.” Because no matter what else was happening, someone always needed a haircut. Somebody was always going to walk through my door.

Truthfully, I’m trying to think of what I could sell. No matter what, I’m going to have to be selling something. I can either sell a service, cutting hair, or I can sell a product. But what would people buy? A lot of the people I know are depressed, and depressed financially. They are only spending money on the things that help them shelter in place. You go around in circles thinking about it. What would I sell? Where would I be able to sell it? That’s just the economics.

Job seekers | Michele Mammen
Michele Mammen, in her New York City apartment, has been looking for a job in the New York area, but now “I’m expanding my search,” she says. “I’m looking everywhere.”
(Michele Mammen)

The sports marketer

Advertisement

Michele Mammen, 32, New York. Mammen has several years’ experience in areas such as project management, marketing and content development. Her last job disappeared in June, shortly before the sports data start-up she was working for folded.

It’s always hard to find a job in New York. You never feel like you can take your foot off the pedal, but this is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.

Now, in terms of the number of jobs available to apply for, there’s what was out there before March 17, and what’s been left after. Between June 2019 and March 16, 2020, I applied for 255 jobs. Since March 17, I’ve found 21 jobs to apply for.

I had a call for a content producer job for a sports-related company on March 12. The interview went really well, and I was told that I’d be moving on to the next phase of the interview process, speaking with someone who I’d be reporting to directly. Around that time, sports leagues were shutting down, the NCAA canceled its championships, schools were closing down, and employees were being told to work at home.

Advertisement

I was supposed to have a call from that person on March 16, which was a Monday. But I was told that she was booked up and couldn’t do it that day. I wasn’t notified when it would be rescheduled, so I followed up and called back. Then the next day, March 17, I was told that they’re not going to be moving forward with the interview process because of the coronavirus.

Since then I know a lot of companies have just started taking job postings down, just because they don’t want to get people’s hopes up. Since March 17 I’ve had five calls, and just one of them has been on Google Hangouts, and then the other four were phone calls. Out of the five, one was “stay tuned,” for two of them I didn’t get the job. I didn’t hear back from one and the other was put on hold. So, that’s the breakdown.

I’m expanding my search. I’m looking everywhere. I’m feeling, not great, but thankfully I’ve planted enough seeds before this virus hit, that I’m hoping that once things lift in New York and the rest of the country and someone will say, “Hey, remember when we talked to Michele?” And we can resume these things.

I try to come across as someone who’s eager and can learn quickly. Sometimes that can be hard to explain to someone — “Hey, I may not know the ins and outs, but I’m a quick learner and I put the time in. I’ll be the first one in the office and the last one out at night.”

Advertisement

Robert Puzauskie
Architect and planner Robert Puzauskie hasn’t had a full time job since 2017 and is now considering any type of work to make ends meet.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The architect

Robert Puzauskie, 60, Santa Monica. Puzauskie was a senior planner at a university when he was laid off in 2017. Since then, he’s spent considerable time taking classes to refresh his resume and skills and was mired in time-consuming testing required to apply for government jobs.

Job hunting in the quarantine puts me at a disadvantage. I’m always worried about how I come across, and the cover letter you send in becomes everything. When I can get someone talking, I can start a relationship where I can find out what they really want. You can ask the question, will I be doing you a service and will you be helping me? I have gotten to the head of facilities and design for some major hospitals here in town. Each time they said, “I would love to hire you in that position. We don’t have that position right now because we’re digging ourselves out,” or they said, “I’m so glad we got to talk because it wouldn’t have been a good fit.”

Advertisement

So many times in the past, I got a job because of someone I knew, who referred me. Then the pandemic came and the one architecture firm I was talking to got rid of a lot of people, so they’re not going to hire me for a part-time thing.

Before, when I talked to the people who were going to offer me jobs and they were pretty much set already right before the pandemic, I was feeling pretty good. Now, you know, I’m going back to making new resumes for different jobs, like temporary, do-at-home kind of jobs.

I’m not trying to be a naysayer; it’s just my timeline. I don’t have that much time to wait for recovery, regrouping, reorganizing once the virus is controlled. I even reapplied to Trader Joe’s and to Whole Foods, even though I’m scared about being in a bad group for the coronavirus, being 60.

I don’t regret that we have to be quarantined. I think it is working, but I have learned something very important about myself. My excitement in life is meeting new people, having new experiences. That’s what keeps me going and keeps my fire lit. And I’ve found that I’ve done every online way, it just bores me to tears.

Advertisement

That part has me very sad. If you look at it, it’s kind of like the resume on paper. It all looks great. But the one thing that’s missing is that human contact thing, like literal serendipity, which just leaves me incredibly frustrated.


Newsletter
Your guide to our clean energy future

Get our Boiling Point newsletter for the latest on the power sector, water wars and more — and what they mean for California.

You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.
Advertisement