Reports of a labor shortage have popped up around the country, including in the Pittsburgh region. That means jobs, at least on paper, are plentiful. But not all jobs are equal, and less appealing jobs are going unfilled as workers search for positions that offer better pay, benefits and safety in the pandemic. While businesses are hiring, that doesn’t mean landing a good job is necessarily easy.

“People are a little nervous to jump back into the workforce, being so uncertain about COVID and things like that,” said Lindsay Patton, employment case manager for The Brashear Association. “They are applying at different jobs. They are getting interviews … they just don’t know what the future is going to be with the pandemic.”

PublicSource spoke to local experts on job searching to learn more about resources available and their best advice for those looking.

How can I start my search?

Nationally, Indeed and Zip Recruiter have become standard and dependable online tools for finding a job across industries. A general search for openings in Pittsburgh yields more than 53,000 jobs on Indeed and more than 68,000 on Zip Recruiter.

Pittsburgh-area residents can also take advantage of several regional job listings:

What local organizations can help me?

There are a slew of groups in the Pittsburgh region that offer free help for residents trying to find a job. Some are specific to certain areas; others cater specifically to residents based on their identities and backgrounds.

The Mon Valley Initiative serves clients in the Mon Valley who are looking to find a job. Help includes resume workshopping, job fairs and referrals to education and training. The Brashear Association assists residents of South Pittsburgh with job searching through its Neighborhood Employment Center.

PA Women Work focuses on connecting women to the workforce, though it also offers a program, RISE, that offers tailored assistance for immigrants and refugees. PA Women Work also offers the 3 Cups of Coffee program, which matches residents with a mentor to meet for conversations that serve as job preparation.

“All of our clients are on the path to employment somewhere,” said deputy director Susan Showalter-Bucher. “Our programs are all designed to meet that person wherever they are on the path.”

Other organizations include the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh and the YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh.

How can I improve my resume?

Resumes are the simplest and most direct way to communicate how much experience, education and overall value one has to potential employers.

Employers tend to look at resumes for just six to seven seconds, which means resumes should be concise and easy to read but packed with relevant experience, training and education.

T. Charles Howell, director of workforce development and financial coaching for the Mon Valley Initiative [MVI], instructs his clients to add as much education and training as possible. MVI often refers clients to organizations like New Century Careers, Literacy Pittsburgh and the Community College of Allegheny County to acquire more training or education.

“As a potential employee, you are a product that you’re selling to that employer,” Howell said. “You’re going to trade time and effort, energy, labor for wages and benefits. And that’s the basic math.”

How should I approach a job interview?

In an interview, a candidate should be informed, professional and confident. But local experts also emphasized the importance of being mindful of what your needs and desires are from your employer, including pay, flexible hours and benefits. Making sure the job fits your needs can be accomplished through negotiation, something many job-seekers find difficult or intimidating.

“I usually try to just ask people, ‘What do you want from this?’” said Patton. “And if you’re willing to be that open with me, then jot these things down and make sure that you ask them at these interviews.”

In a labor market marked by shortages of workers and ever-evolving responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, employers in many cases are more open to negotiation. One example is remote work.

“Depending on the position, there is more room nowadays to be able to negotiate and working from home more, right?” Showalter-Bucher said. “We’re seeing that more and more, where companies are allowing at least part-time from home, and that’s opening up the door for a lot of people.”

If negotiation does not pan out the way you want, you have to weigh the pros and cons of taking the position compared to your current situation, according to The Brashear Association. One job could lead to a better one in the future. Timing can vary, but generally, you should expect to wait about a week after the job interview for a response. You can also ask about next steps at the end of the interview.

How should I approach job searching if I have a criminal record?

Most of the clients that get assistance from MVI have some history with the criminal justice system, according to Howell. And despite a shortage of workers, many residents with a criminal record still struggle to find an employer that will hire them.

When Howell meets with residents who have a criminal record, he focuses on having a productive but difficult conversation about their situation and the possible paths forward.

“Some of the work that we do is helping folks talk about those situations, what happened, how do we grow from it, what’s happened since then,” Howell said. “And sometimes it’s a frank conversation, that maybe that particular item in your background isn’t going to give you access to a certain career path. So we need to talk about other options.”

Jobs in health care can be particularly difficult to break into for those with criminal records because of government-mandated bans on hiring those with certain offenses on their record. Jobs in transportation, for example, are often more accessible.

“Don’t offer information that’s not being asked,” Howell said. “But… always be honest and upfront. I don’t want anyone to ever present themselves as something they’re not.”

Will my COVID-19 vaccination status impact my employment options?

Yes.

President Joe Biden’s administration has mandated that all employers with 100 or more employees must mandate the COVID-19 vaccine or a weekly test for the virus.

Many small businesses across the country, including in the Pittsburgh region, have also chosen to implement vaccine mandates, and the vast majority of healthcare jobs require vaccination.

“We have a large population that is vaccine hesitant, and so we’ve had folks that have turned down decent jobs because those employers are mandating a vaccine,” Howell said. “And so that leads to other kind of uncomfortable conversations with people, but it’s also a reality-based conversation.”

Matt Petras is an independent writer and educator based in the Pittsburgh area. He can be reached at matt456p@gmail.com or on Twitter @mattApetras.

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