Categories
Seekers White-Collar

New Hope for White-Collar Job Seekers? It Depends on the Job – The New York Times

The hiring trough seems to have passed, but most opportunities are with the industries least buffeted by the coronavirus shutdown.

Credit…Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

Shawn Banerji’s services do not come cheap. A top headhunter, he typically has several searches underway at once, each of which can cost the companies that hire him a six-figure retainer.

In April and May, when the coronavirus pandemic shut the economy, he had just one executive spot to fill. Now he has five new assignments, as corporate hiring has rebounded in June.

“I’m feeling bullish,” said Mr. Banerji, who works from Stamford, Conn., and Manhattan and places executives in tech-oriented roles at major companies. “I don’t think we’re going backwards.”

The turnaround at Mr. Banerji’s firm, Caldwell, echoes a broader reawakening in hiring for professional positions, according to interviews with headhunters, recruiters and executives at staffing firms. Human resource departments are beginning to consider filling open jobs, and recruitment is picking up for high-level corporate posts.

But the recovery is uneven. More than a million new jobless claims continue to be filed each week, and certain industries are far outpacing others in the rebound from the trough a month or two ago. Jobs in technology, health care, financial services and consumer packaged goods lead the way. On the other hand, the headhunters and others say, hiring by retailers, apparel makers, airlines, hotels and academic institutions remains moribund.

And it remains a disorienting time for many veteran corporate employees. Even as hourly workers at restaurants and other businesses are called back, salaried employees find themselves in an unfamiliar landscape.

Melissa Kushner, 45, lost her job in April after 20 years in the apparel industry. “I never was laid off before,” she said. “I’m really nervous. It’s hard at my point in my career to find a job, irrelevant of Covid-19.”

“I’ve been doing a lot of networking, applying to different jobs, and trying to figure out if I want to pivot,” she added. “It’s like the world turned upside down.”

Workers in areas like technology are feeling more confident. Nick Harness voluntarily left his position in New York at JPMorgan Chase in March and has been looking for a job as a technology officer at asset management firms or banks since then, perhaps in his native Britain or an American city like Austin, Tex.

Image

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

“I’m optimistic, and there are definitely roles out there,” he said. “The process has been slower, but it feels like now people want to close some of the conversations that have been taking place over the past few months. They want to fill strategic roles.”

“Other than a week or two in late March and April as the lockdown began, I haven’t really had a dry period,” Mr. Harness added.

The recovery’s tentative nature is echoed in government statistics for the job market. Employers unexpectedly added 2.5 million jobs in May, defying expectations. And even though they have declined significantly, new jobless claims remain at historically high levels.

“There’s been a lot more activity in the last few weeks,” said Tom Gimbel, chief executive of LaSalle Network, a Chicago staffing company. After the depths of April and May, he said, “companies are adjusting to the new normal.”

Information technology, marketing and human resources positions lead the way at LaSalle, according to Mr. Gimbel. Increasingly, employers are asking to meet potential candidates, albeit in a socially distanced fashion.

“It’s been all though Zoom or Microsoft Teams, but clients are starting to say, ‘I want to meet face to face,’” he said. “They say, ‘Come to my backyard or the park or a table outside Starbucks.’”

One exception to the positive trend has been hiring for sales positions, Mr. Gimbel said.

“This concerns me,” he explained. “At moments of confidence, you’d see companies hire 100 or 200 salespeople. We’re not seeing that, and I think that mirrors where the economy is right now.”

Another quiet area has been academia, with fewer searches for new administrators, said Shelly Weiss Storbeck, managing partner at Storbeck Search & Associates, a division of the Diversified Search Group.

“They’re a bit in no man’s land,” she said. “Colleges and universities don’t know what their financial position will be in the fall.” People are holding on to deposits, she said, since students at most schools have yet to find out if classes will be held in person, online or a hybrid of both in the fall term.

As a result, college trustees are asking presidents to stay on longer, rather than face vacancies. “The system is a bit clogged,” Ms. Storbeck added. “Hopefully, it will clear by late summer as more knowledge about Covid becomes available.”

That may be Ms. Storbeck’s hope, but it’s looking less likely that the economic effects of the coronavirus will be so quick to fade. There’s been a resurgence in cases recently in states that have reopened in the Sun Belt, and there are questions in many places about whether public schools and colleges will reopen as normal in September.

Also unclear is whether white-collar workers will want to return to crowded downtowns or dense office environments. Many have become used to working from home using digital networking platforms, just as they are shopping online rather than going to the store.

These shifts in professional and consumer habits are powering the demand for executives at the companies Mr. Banerji serves. He has searches underway for roles like chief digital officer, chief technology officer and head of engineering.

“Companies want to transform and adapt to the digital landscape,” he said. “They’ve gotten religion as a result of the coronavirus pandemic in terms of technology. They don’t want to let a crisis go to waste. This was going to happen, but it’s an acceleration.”

The financial services industry has long been an early adopter of technology, and Mr. Banerji is seeing a similar willingness to adapt to changed consumer and employee behaviors in areas as varied as health care, groceries and consumer packaged goods.

“This is about how customers want to be serviced,” Mr. Banerji said. “This whole work from home thing has also changed the landscape.”

  • Updated June 16, 2020

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


Like Mr. Gimbel, Mr. Banerji sees sources of weakness as well as strength. Apparel makers have been more cautious, along with the construction industry.

“There’s still a large degree of uncertainty,” he added. “It’s greed and fear — things are fluid.”

At ManpowerGroup, the staffing and placement company, the number of posted jobs has jumped 10 percent in June, said Becky Frankiewicz, president of ManpowerGroup North America.

“No one is saying we are back, but we are cautiously optimistic,” Ms. Frankiewicz said. “We got into this overnight, but we are not going to get out of it overnight.”

Despite the increase in virus cases, states that reopened earlier have had more of a pickup in employment activity than states that remain under more restrictions. The rate of hiring in Georgia and Texas, for example, is running slightly ahead of the pace in California, according to Manpower.

Manpower’s reach extends much further down the corporate organization chart than high-price recruiters like Mr. Banerji, who focuses on executive talent. But like him, the company is seeing a desire to fill technology positions like software and application developers, as well as information technology and security analysts.

About one in four jobs listed at Manpower has no location recorded, indicating it can be done remotely. That’s up from one in 10 in January. The top remote roles include software developer and customer help desk personnel, according to Ms. Frankiewicz.

She, too, views the apparel industry as a laggard. “It has been very slow to recover,” she said. “I expect it to start coming back, but it hasn’t yet.”

The wave of national protests after the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis has also intensified corporate attention on the need for diversity, said Krishnan Rajagopalan, the chief executive of Heidrick & Struggles, a global executive search and leadership advisory firm.

“We’ve been seeing a push for diversity for a while,” he said. “But there’s no question you’re hearing about it a lot more in the past month. It’s more than just placement. It’s about creating a culture of inclusivity.”

For some workers, it has been a matter of two steps forward, one step back in recent weeks. Alan Berman, an architect, had a staff of 14, including him, at his New York firm before the pandemic. Business was so good he considered bringing in a partner.

By April, he had laid off all but three members of his staff. Work has begun to trickle back during June, and now he’s up to a staff of eight. When will the remaining workers be called back? “Not for a long time,” he said. “I have no idea when and if I will be able to bring back any more employees.”

Read More