It’s important to work: Contact tracers help infected Americans recall the names of everyone they’ve recently come into contact with and then track those individuals down to avert the disease’s path of infection.
Emily Gurley, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist and the lead instructor of a free online course on the fundamentals of contact tracing, calls the people who fill these roles “part detective, part therapist, and part social worker.”
Thinking of applying for a contact tracing job? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is contact tracing?

In a nutshell, contact tracing is the process of identifying people who have come into close contact with someone who recently tested positive for COVID-19, based on results from city and state health departments, with the intent to test or monitor them for infection.
“The goal is to stop the spread of COVID-19 by finding and isolating cases,” says Steve Waters, founder, and CEO of CONTRACT, an online database of over 50,000 qualified contact tracer applicants.
Contact tracing isn’t new, according to Gurley. “It’s been used to contain the spread of diseases like HIV and Ebola,” she says, “but for COVID-19 we have to do contact tracing at a scale and pace much faster than we’ve ever experienced since the disease moves very fast and people are infectious before they have symptoms.”
In addition to tracking down people who may have come into contact with the Coronavirus, contact tracers help infected individuals secure critical support services like housing, food, and medicine.
“Contact tracers spend their day talking to people who are in difficult situations; either people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or people who have been exposed to someone with COVID-19,” Gurley says. “Both of those situations are scary.”

What are the job requirements?

Every state requires different qualifications for contact tracing jobs. Some states require a high school diploma or GED, while other states may also require job experience in health promotion or disease intervention.
For instance, in Georgia, a contact tracing job with the state’s Department of Public Health requires at least a high school diploma. In New York City, a basic contact tracing job requires a bachelor’s degree with 12 semester credits in health education, or a high school diploma with at least five years of experience in health promotion or disease prevention.

What skills do I need?

Contact tracing isn’t for everyone. As Gurley puts it: “You need to be a good listener, you need to be able to build rapport with people and, of course, you need to be knowledgeable about the disease.”
Empathy and good verbal communication skills are crucial. “The job involves talking with people all day,” Waters says. So people who have worked in call centers or customer service may be well suited for contact tracing jobs.
The CDC says contact tracers must also be adept at locating patients and contacts who may be difficult to reach — or reluctant to engage in conversation. In other words: If you want to apply for this job, you need to be comfortable making a lot of phone calls, sending a lot of emails, and reaching out to strangers over social media.

Where can I find a contact tracing job?

To find opportunities in your area, check your local and state health department websites. Although most contact tracing jobs can be performed remotely from home, “the vast majority of contact tracers will be hired to work for the county or state they live in,” Waters says.
Contact tracing jobs are available throughout the country, but the bulk of the open roles are in areas that have been hit the hardest by COVID-19. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently announced plans to hire up to 17,000 tracers across the state as part of its reopening strategy. In California, Governor Gavin Newsom said the state plans to hire 10,000 contact tracers.

How much do contact tracers get paid?

Though compensation for contact tracing jobs can vary widely from state to state and county to county, Waters says most contact tracers earn between $17 and $25 an hour. Some states pay less — Georgia’s Department of Public Health, for one, is offering $15 per hour for full-time contact tracers.
Gurley says most contact tracing job openings are full-time jobs. “There is going to be an ongoing need for contact tracing for quite some time, so these are long-term job opportunities,” she says.
The end of the school year is here, which means normally graduates are celebrating their accomplishments and looking to their futures. But the Covid-19 pandemic has gummed up the works. Graduation ceremonies have been canceled. Students haven’t been able to spend time with and have those final parties with their college friends. And — of course — the economy has taken a nosedive.
This is a scary time to be new to the job market. So what should you do if you’re out hunting for your first job right now?
Patience is going to be key. There are going to be a lot of applicants out there for each open job and securing a job won’t be easy. But there are several things you can do to throughout the process that will demonstrate your character and make you a more appealing candidate.

Hone your skills

Many of the important things you’ll do at a job are not things you learned in college classes. Some of them involve additional skills that are not strictly necessary to get a job in your field, but would certainly make you a more attractive candidate. There might be a programming language or a software package that is often used in the field or a sales technique favored by companies in a particular industry. Ask around to find out what those unique skills might be. Or look at the LinkedIn profiles of people who work in the types of companies you want to work in.
While you’re working on your job application materials, find ways to continue to develop those capabilities. Take an online class, read books, and engage in online forums with professionals in the field you’re interested in.
Honing your skills has two benefits. The obvious one is that it increases the range of jobs for which you are likely to meet the qualifications. The less obvious one is that it helps to demonstrate your work ethic. Lots of people like to say in a job interview, “I’m a self-starter.” Fewer can show all of the things they have learned while waiting to hear about the status of job applications.

Get connected

Part of looking for a job is making connections, which is particularly challenging when you’re social distancing.
One thing you should do is to find someone already in the field you’re most interested in who can serve as a mentor for you. To find the right person, start by making use of your personal connections. Are any members of your extended family already in the field you want to enter? Was there a favorite professor who seems well connected? Ask them for help. Your university career services office may also have good recommendations for potential mentors. There are often a lot of alumni who want to give a helping hand to recent graduates.
Once you find a mentor, have that person go over your application materials to fine-tune the way you talk about your experience and interests. Rely on them to get a clear understanding of your weaknesses as a job candidate. They should be able to identify some of the limitations in your training and your resume, even if they don’t know you that well. They can also give you general advice about common difficulties that new people in the field encounter. Once you know what your deficiencies might be in the eyes of a hiring manager, you can use your time to fill those gaps and build the necessary skills (as I discussed above). Another advantage to securing a mentor is that they might hear of job opportunities through their networks before they’re officially posted.
Many professions also have professional societies for people who work in that area. Find out which one (or ones) are the most prominent and join them. Professional societies have lots of great resources including webinars and tutorials for people seeking to advance. Many of them maintain lists of available jobs.
These societies may also host conferences. By joining up, you will be able to attend conferences (many of which have been moved online) and find out the latest news in that field. That will give you the information you can include in a cover letter or to otherwise frame your job application so hiring managers know you are tuned into their industry. And it will make you a more appealing candidate if you demonstrate knowledge of trends in the field during the interview.

Be of service

One of the hardest things about any extended job search is that it can be demotivating. You spent a significant chunk of time and effort to get a degree with the promise that it would launch you into the career of your dreams. With the pandemic, it can begin to feel hopeless.
Worse yet, you’re unlikely to have an established daily routine. One of the joys of college is that your course schedule is different each day, and so much of what you do to succeed in school happens outside the classroom, so you’re free to organize your schedule around the activities that emerge on a given day.
But there’s lots of downtime during a job search. You’ll likely spend some time looking for job postings, reaching out to people, or submitting applications — but you’ll also do a good deal of waiting. And the lack of schedule can be disorienting. So give yourself something to do.
Just because nobody is currently paying you doesn’t mean that you can’t work. Reach out to local charities, food banks, faith-based organizations, or government offices. Ask what you can do to be of help. Then, go do it.
Not only will this allow you to establish a good daily routine, but it will help lift your mood. There is a lot of positive feeling that comes from helping others who need it. And you might connect with people who may know of jobs that you would be qualified for. And finally, the stories of what you are doing with your time as you apply for jobs will help you to stand out in job interviews. But more important than helping yourself, you’ll be helping people — and there are many — who need it now.