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People Tell Us What Job Hunting Amid a Pandemic Is Like

“The only thing I have been able to gather from this entire experience is how impermanent everything is.”
June 4, 2020, 1:24pm
job hunting pandemic coronavirus
From left: Vibhawari, Athul, Sonali

The lockdown has finally opened up and for some of us, provided a bit of a much-missed freedom of movement. But what we thought of as ‘normal’ life is still a far-off dream and will probably remain so for a while. Apart from the many changes, the coronavirus pandemic and the resultant push into recession has left more than 14 crore people unemployed, with a staggering unemployment rate of 23.5 percent affecting both, white-collar and blue-collar Indians. Even as we ease out from lockdowns, it’s going to be a while before the situation is defused. Hiring has mostly dried up, promotions and appraisals are on freeze, pay cuts and layoffs are rampant, businesses are shutting en masse, new ventures are in jeopardy and job searches have been put on hold. In such a situation, looking for a job—a stressful activity to do even in a world without coronavirus—can come with a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty. VICE spoke with some people navigating the strange new world of job-hunting.

Sujay, 28, video producer/director

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I’m a freelance video producer and director, and have been freelancing for the past year since March 2019. Because there’s no chance of any shoots happening right now, I haven't had work.

I started my career as an editor and photographer. But because I’ve been directing or producing for the past three to four years, I haven’t had to edit and shoot for a while. Given the circumstances though, I’m willing to be flexible and even accept editing. I have just now started considering my options because it has hit me that no one knows when it’s all going to get back to normal—if there even is going to be a ‘normal’.

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Honestly, at this point, I’m really struggling to think of how film production would work out. I’ve been talking to a few agencies I want to do content with. They want my services in briefing the talent on the camera—like directing remotely over a Zoom call. Some publications have even started doing entire shows from home, where the directors stay at home and direct over Zoom. I haven’t given much thought to the future because it is scary to think about how your entire industry might just change. But I am realising the longer this goes on, the more actively I have to think about it.

Anusha, 26, teacher

I have been a high school English teacher for two years, working on a contract basis. The new school session was supposed to start in April, but the school never contacted me back. I reached out but didn’t receive an answer.

Around mid-April, the school system of online classes began. At the time, I had reached out to this school but they had made it clear that they could not work with me anymore because they did not have the funds for it. Initially, when I finally realised I wouldn't be getting a call back, I reached out to a couple of schools for remote-teaching positions. I then heard back from a couple of them, but the pay was awful. Now though, I can adjust to part-time or guest lecture positions too.

I love teaching, and when I’m inside a classroom, I feel my best. But I don't know what’ll happen in the future. I have a little experience in content writing so I’m hoping to write freelance, except I don’t think it is going to be profitable in the longer run.

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The only thing I have been able to gather from this entire experience is how impermanent everything is. And I feel we should always keep upgrading ourselves because we could always be replaced by someone who’s got more skills than us and will work for cheaper too.

Sonali, 32, writer

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I have been a freelance writer for about eight years now. Unfortunately, just as I decided to get a job, the lockdown was announced—and things went downhill from there.

What I hear from companies I’ve approached are mainly two things: either that they are not hiring at the moment, or that they are hiring at a much lower position than I am qualified for. I have a decade of experience but most companies are looking for freshers or people with one or two years’ experience, probably because it is a lower pay scale. The economic slowdown has not affected me too much right now because it was kind of expected. I just needed to come to terms with the fact that the situation is difficult and that it has little to do with me. It is not that I am not qualified enough, which is why everyone is rejecting me. As long as I can sustain that thought, I am pretty good mentally. But I do think there are now going to be very few jobs left for the senior roles, not only in media but also other industries.

We have all been forced to go digital, even if we weren’t initially willing. Magazines, for instance, are not being printed right now. They are going digital which means they have to fit whatever they can in one Instagram square. So I'm sure they would not want to invest too much in elaborate photoshoots; they will now run on smaller teams and designers won’t be as required. So while there would be roles available, they will be different. There are new roles, but I am not sure whether all of us are equipped to take them on, given our education. I started a side gig last year—I sell T-shirts. It is big enough right now for me to work independently. Apart from writing, I definitely feel the need to have something else set up too. If writing is my only skill set, then it is a bit scary.

Vibhawari, 24, student of public policy

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I’m doing my Master’s degree in public policy, and graduating right now. I’ve been looking for a job for two months but most organisations are looking for desk workers whereas I am more of a field worker. But since we have a pandemic, I, obviously, cannot do that.

Looking for jobs is difficult right now because colleges are shut. Initially, we were getting jobs through our professors and contacts—we could talk to people, meet them, go to seminars. Moreover, campus placements are also slow right now. Last year, May and June were two months where students were constantly busy with job interviews and acceptances, and almost everyone got a job. This year, while people still secured jobs, everyone is in a state of confusion because they don’t know if they would be able to join them. The opportunity for jobs here is tough because social work doesn’t have a lot of money, and so, they might be cutting down on their costs even more.

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I tell myself that I will continue to keep myself busy, but honestly, this is taking a toll on me. We can’t keep waiting for the normalcy to return, because this is normalcy now. I haven’t thought of what I am going to be doing if I don’t land a job—I’m probably just going to sulk and crib until I get one. My only concern is getting something right now as soon as possible so that I can at least allow myself to breathe and think.

Athul, 24, travel photographer

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I am a travel photographer, so I essentially shoot for all the businesses that have currently shut shop—I shoot for hotels, restaurants, and other related businesses.

I am still figuring things out. I have always been passionate about design, architecture, data, but never had the time, space, or even the mental space to get into it more. Initially, I set out to join courses. But I think I have realised I learn better with hands-on experience. Additionally, I am looking for consultancy positions, nothing full-time yet, because I know the travel industry is going to take about a year to get back into motion

Thankfully I am in a position where my responsibilities are a lot lesser, so I can have that learning mentality. My mental health has been very on and off but I have had this sort of realisation that I need to look at time very differently. I think I am also taking this time to think about my goals and learn more. I am not looking for jobs per se, but I am looking for opportunities to learn. Because there really isn’t any point in thinking about what is beyond my control.

Vandita*, 24, social development worker

I was working with this organisation on a contractual basis for six months. Usually, they are happy with extensions and it is a very comfortable process getting the contract extended, but in this period, they have frozen the extension. So if anyone’s contract ended in this period, it has not be renewed—which is what happened with me.

I began searching for jobs last year, and even though the situation wasn’t the best even then, it wasn’t as bad as it is right now. The opportunities in the social sector aren’t many, and it has been made worse because there are fewer jobs and a lot more people seeking these jobs. Reaching out to the public as a social development worker is going to become a lot worse now. Expansions in terms of operations and funding are going to get worse. People willing to go to communities might shrink, and corporate willingness to support such organisations and areas might reduce—except maybe, in public health. Organisations working in more abstract areas like gender issues would suffer right now.

Since I was a psychology student, I think I understand having good days and bad days. There is not much that can be done so I am just coping with the situation. I have a dog—the light of my life—who helps me survive through the good and the bad. Looking at the phone and social media is super stressful, so I just spend my days playing with my dog instead. I haven’t lost hope yet, because even in a good job market it would take six to eight months to find a job, so I’m just holding out for now.

* Name has been changed on request

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