It was like fishing, and they were always biting.

Carolyn Lowe, CEO of a digital marketing agency, used to place an ad on job sites and wait for more than 100 applications to roll in.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic and the flood of candidates’ emails became a trickle of perhaps a couple of dozen.

Carolyn Lowe
Carolyn Lowe

Now, Lowe has a new strategy: She scopes out potential candidates on LinkedIn and coaxes them to join her small, Austin, Texas-based company, called ROI Swift.

“We are actively poaching people,” she says

As vaccinations spread and the economy revs up, employers are looking to fill a surge of job openings even as relatively few workers apply. , Many are wary of the health and financial risks of switching jobs while the outbreak is still raging. Others are content to draw generous unemployment benefits. As a result, more firms are recruiting -- luring skilled workers and low- and mid-level managers from rival companies as if they were high-level executives.

The trend has been accelerated by a pandemic-induced shift to remote work. The change is allowing companies to target candidates halfway across the country who don’t need to move to join the team. About 21% of online job postings don’t specify a location, up from 11% before the crisis, according to Manpower, a top staffing firm.

“People are averse to change right now,” says Jim McCoy, Manpower’s senior vice president of talent solutions. “There are very few active candidates” so bosses have to go out and recruit candidates who aren't in the market. 

Over the past month or two, as demand for workers has spiked, many companies have seen a 20% decline in the share of people who apply after clicking on a job ad, says Chris Forman, CEO of Appcast, which makes job advertising technology. Forty-two percent of small businesses surveyed in March said they had job openings they couldn't fill, a record high, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. 

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"I've never seen the hiring market shift as quickly," he says.

The headhunter-style tactics are forcing companies to raise starting wages and benefits to attract the employees and work harder to hold on to staffers who could just as easily be wrested away by competitors, McCoy says.

Companies are courting skilled workers and managers in technology, such as software developers and cybersecurity specialists, as well as people who work in sales, finance, health care, legal, warehouse, and trucking, among other fields, McCoy says.Grocery, big-box workers draw suitors

Grocery, big-box workers draw suitors

Even airlines, grocery stores, and big-box retailers are poaching many of their low- and mid-level managers from rival companies, McCoy says.

Before the pandemic, companies sometimes plucked job candidates from competitors, either on their own or through agencies. But McCoy estimates about half of all professional job openings were filled by job seekers responding to ads or sending out cold applications. Now, he figures, businesses are recruiting about 75% of their white-collar hires.

Why the turnabout?

The health crisis split the economy in two. Some industries have catered to people living, working, and shopping from home, boosting technology, warehouse, and delivery companies, and grocery and convenience stores. But restaurants and other sectors that depend on in-person services were decimated. As a result, companies are jostling to fill lots of openings for a handful of in-demand positions, such as truck drivers, nurses, software developers, and grocery store managers. These job titles now dominate postings, with the 20 hottest jobs making up 63% of all online openings, up from 25% before the pandemic, Manpower says.

Also, restaurant and retail positions are coming back as states ease business restrictions, adding to the swell of job openings.

More companies are actively recruiting workers.
More companies are actively recruiting workers.
YINYANG / GETTY IMAGES

At the same time, about 4 million Americans have stopped working or looking for jobs the past year because they fear contracting COVID-19, are caring for children or sick relatives, or other reasons, Labor Department figures show. Many workers also have been reluctant to change jobs in an uncertain economy, McCoy says.

Others, he says, are job hunting but turn down offers because they don’t want to give up unemployment benefits that include a $300 federal bonus under Congress’s COVID relief package. That makes hiring a challenge even with a relatively high 6% unemployment rate. 

The upshot: Businesses are scrambling to fill an abundance of similar job openings from a limited pool of candidates. That forces them to zero in on those they favor and cajole them. 

'Like a blessing'

'Like a blessing'

Lowe, the CEO of ROI Swift, says her new recruiting strategy has been aided by her decision to allow remote work anywhere in Texas. She won’t permit teleworking anywhere in the U.S. because that would trigger additional state taxes, she says. Although she typically can’t compete on salary with Facebook and Google, which have opened offices in Austin, she offers training and touts her 12-employee firm’s more flexible culture.

Since Lowe recently began to more aggressively seek out candidates, she says it has taken her about a month to fill openings, down from six months previously.

Last summer, one of her recruits, Jean-Paul Aguilar, 25, was growing restless as an account manager for another digital marketing agency and was gearing up to fire off his usual quota of about 25 applications a month.

JeanPaul Aguilar
JeanPaul Aguilar
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Then he received an email alerting him to a LinkedIn message from Lowe about a job managing Google ads for clients. After interviewing, he accepted a salary offer that was 15% higher than his previous pay. The position also gives him more decision-making authority. And it lets him follow through on his plans to move to San Antonio.

“It kind of felt like a blessing,” Aguilar says. “It was perfect timing.”

In the more tough-and-tumble hiring environment, businesses that don’t allow remote work may have to loosen up.

“Companies not willing to let people work remotely are going to be at a much greater risk of losing employees,” says Jeanne Branthover, a managing partner at DHR International, an executive search firm.

Vancouver, Canada-based MediaValet -- which stores movies, videos, and other digital assets for companies on the cloud -- now hires sales and marketing managers, software engineers, and product designers who can work anywhere in the world, says CEO David MacLaren. A handful of his 100 staffers work in states such as New York, Florida, California, and Washington.

“I was a diehard you-have-to-work-in-the-office type, ” he says. “I always thought you can’t create and maintain a healthy culture working remotely.”

But, he says, “COVID “forced us to find technology and processes to mimic what we had before” while eliminating wasted commuting time. 

The global remote work policy helps MacLaren recruit about 80% of his new hires, up from about half before the pandemic.

“We need to be more aggressive,” he says. “Pre-Covid, we would just put out an ad.”

Published  Updated 

'I don’t want to be the one who gives it to people': Many Americans won't eat out, fly until COVID-19 herd immunity arrives

Many say they won't dine out or travel even after second COVID dose. They plan to wait for herd immunity, a stance that could temper initial recovery.

Published  Updated 
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A growing share of Americans would feel safe resuming activities like dining out or flying within a few weeks of their second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, but 25% to 30% would wait until the nation reaches herd immunity, according to a Harris Poll survey for USA TODAY.

Their attitudes bode well for what’s expected to be a historically robust recovery from the coronavirus recession. But the sizeable share of people who prefer to wait until at least 70% of the population is immune could mean a less roaring launch to the rebound as some activity shifts to late summer and fall from midyear.

There's no doubt that Americans who have largely been confined to their homes the past year can hardly wait to bust loose.

Thirty-three percent of those surveyed say they would feel safe eating indoors at a restaurant a few weeks after their second vaccine dose or earlier, according to the Harris Poll survey Friday through Sunday. By comparison, 29% of those polled in January said they would be comfortable dining out no later than a few weeks after the second dose.

In the latest survey, 7% said they would feel comfortable eating indoors at restaurants after the first dose; 7% immediately after the second dose; and 19% a few weeks after their second dose. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said a person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second shot.

Meanwhile, 28% would feel medically safe traveling by air a few weeks after their second dose or earlier, up from 25% in January. And 31% would feel comfortable attending a concert or sporting event in that timeframe, compared with 24% in January.

“The vaccine is certainly a game-changer for getting back to doing the things we love,” said John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll.

Traveling again after vaccine

Carol Tucker, 68, of Cranston, Rhode Island, has been hunkering down with her husband, son, and daughter-in-law. For the past year, she hasn’t eaten at a restaurant, shopped for clothes, or traveled, activities she did frequently before the pandemic. She orders all her groceries online.

But, she says, “I plan on doing everything” two weeks after she gets her second vaccine shot around mid-April. “Once I’m vaccinated, I’m not worried about it.”

Carol Tucker, 68, of Cranston, Rhode Island, says she plans on "doing everything” two weeks after she gets her second COVID-19 vaccine shot around mid-April. “Once I’m vaccinated, I’m not worried about it.”
Carol Tucker, 68, of Cranston, Rhode Island, says she plans on "doing everything” two weeks after she gets her second COVID-19 vaccine shot around mid-April. “Once I’m vaccinated, I’m not worried about it.”
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She’s especially eager to resume plane trips to visit friends and relatives once every couple of months.

“I can’t stand not traveling,” she says.

Others plan to return to normal life gradually and to varying degrees.

David Polinchock, 61, of Bloomfield, New Jersey, says that two weeks after his second shot he and his wife will again dine out without being so particular about the circumstances, revive their near-weekly moviegoing ritual, and hit the local flea markets. He also has scheduled a visit to his mother in Florida, whom he hasn’t seen in 18 months.

They also might go to an outdoor concert. But an indoor performance is off the table. He believes he’ll be immune from a severe COVID-19 case after vaccination but could get a mild bout and possibly transmit it.

David Polinchock, 61, of Bloomfield, New Jersey, says that two weeks after his second shot he plans to let down his guard a little, but not completely, because he could still be infected, and “I don’t want to be the one who gives it to people.”
David Polinchock, 61, of Bloomfield, New Jersey, says that two weeks after his second shot he plans to let down his guard a little, but...
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“I don’t want to be the one who gives it to people,” he says.

Katie Reininger, 34, of Austin, Texas, has a similar view, with somewhat stricter parameters. Two weeks after she gets her second shot, “I would feel comfortable doing most things,” she says. But, she adds, “I wouldn’t go somewhere there’s a ton of people,” whether a concert or crowded restaurant.

Darris Johnson, 42, who lives in the Houston area
I would not feel comfortable until most of the nation’s vaccinated, jab or no jab for myself.

Reininger, who is pregnant, worries she could contract a mild case and possibly give it to her two young children. Until the country reaches herd immunity, “I would still be careful about being around too many people,” she says.

Some Americans aren’t waiting to get vaccinated to resume their favorite activities.

About one-quarter of Harris survey respondents already feel safe dining indoors, and 10% would feel confident after close friends and family are vaccinated – figures that are unchanged from January. That means nearly 70% of Americans are already dining indoors or plan to do so no later than a few weeks after the second dose.

As the rate of new cases of COVID-19 continues to drop, the effort to get back to "normal" has become a race between vaccination on one hand and what many experts believe is a careless effort to reopen the economy on the other.
As the rate of new cases of COVID-19 continues to drop, the effort to get back to "normal" has become a race between vaccination on...
MIKE EHRMANN / GETTY IMAGES NEWS VIA GETTY IMAGES

Waiting for herd immunity

Still, a notable share of Americans is awaiting herd immunity, which is when a large portion of the population becomes immune to a virus through vaccination or prior infection, making person-to-person spread unlikely. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he expects the country to reach that milestone by late summer or early fall but added that Americans could return to at least some activities before then.

Some may be hesitant. Twenty-three percent of those Harris surveyed say they won’t feel safe eating indoors until the country gets to herd immunity; 27% won’t travel by air, and 32% won’t feel comfortable attending a concert or sporting event. Those figures, however, are down significantly from the January survey.

Still, many Americans’ inclination to continue lying low until herd immunity arrives could affect economic activity and forecasts.

John Gerzema, CEO of The Harris Poll
The vaccine is certainly a game-changer for getting back to doing the things we love.

Noting that about 10% of the U.S. population has been vaccinated, Wolters Kluwer Blue Chip Economic Indicators says in its March report: “In this era, these data are the most important leading indicators of economic activity in the U.S. As vaccination rates increase, more economic activity can take place as it becomes less hazardous for people to gather inside.”

Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, says that if the vast majority of Americans aren’t back to their normal activities by July 4, it could shift up to a percentage point of his annualized economic growth estimate from the second to the third quarter, though it wouldn’t affect his forecast for the year. He projects 6.2% growth in the second quarter, 6.7% in the third quarter, and 5.7% for all of 2021.

Darris Johnson, 42, who lives in the Houston area, says he won’t go back to his normal activities anytime too soon: "I would not feel comfortable until most of the nation’s vaccinated, jab or no jab for myself.”
Darris Johnson, 42, who lives in the Houston area, says he won’t go back to his normal activities anytime too soon: "I would not feel...
HANDOUT

Darris Johnson, 42, who lives in the Houston area, says he won’t go back to dining out freely, traveling, and taking part in charity bicycle rides until the nation has herd immunity.

“I would not feel comfortable until most of the nation’s vaccinated, jab or no jab for myself,” he says.