The Surprising Data Behind Recruiting in the Age of COVID

by Libby Bevin on September 14, 2020

In addition to health concerns, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an upheaval of the public sector job market that has left many workers uncertain about their future. With massive layoffs and a hiring freeze, the US unemployment rate increased to 14.4% in April, the highest since World War II.

According to our survey of 23,310 job seekers between April and June of 2020, 51% reported their job status had changed as a result of the pandemic. The top three reasons that caused a job status change were involuntary, including being laid off (32%), reduced working hours (25%), and being furloughed (18%).

However, seemingly counterintuitively, job seekers have been less active during the pandemic. In fact, approximately 250,000 fewer job seekers logged into their account on (the leading public sector job board) during the week of July 8th, 2020 when compared with the same week last year.

Job seekers are also submitting fewer applications, which is surprising given the number of people who have recently lost their jobs. By the end of March, job applications had dropped by more than 2,000 per week. 

Certain categories saw significant reductions in applications per job. Transportation and Visitor and Convention Bureaus experienced more than 70% fewer applicants to job openings. 

As hiring has significantly slowed in the public sector and unemployment has gone up, one would expect the combination to result in larger applicant pools per position, not smaller applicant pools. Even during the last few weeks of August 2020, there were nearly 1,000 fewer applications per week than there were during the same weeks in 2019.

There's no question that fewer government and education job requisitions are being opened. In May, we surveyed HR professionals from 241 government agencies  and higher education institutions to understand how the pandemic had altered their methods of recruitment. 88% of respondents said COVID had impacted their hiring process, with 27% of those reporting that they had stopped opening new job requisitions entirely.
We've witnessed the same trend on, which saw a 15,000 decline in the number of job postings created per week between March and May. By May, public sector organizations were posting more than 10,000 fewer jobs than the same month in 2019. 

While some categories have actually seen an increase in job postings since March, the top seven categories that have done so are unsurprisingly in the medical field. The top three categories with the largest increase in job openings are Pharmacy (23%), Medical/Dental (18%), and Medical Examiner (13%).

Similarly understandable, many of the categories that have seen the largest decrease in jobs posted since March include Retail, Visitor and Convention Bureau, Library, and Museum roles. Retail positions have seen the biggest change in the number of job postings, with a whopping 75% decrease.

While there’s no clear answer to when the country will return to normal, the data shows that public sector recruitment is starting to pick back up. 

But what about applicants? Prior to the pandemic, there was a significant talent gap with too many public sector jobs and not enough qualified applicants to fill them. The silver lining of a high unemployment rate is the ability for organizations to pick up great talent that may not have otherwise been available. But for some reason, that's not what most government agencies and educational institutions are experiencing. 

If this trend continues, public sector recruitment's “new normal" may look a lot like it did prior to the pandemic -- a continued struggle to attract qualified applicants to public sector job openings. 

Libby Bevin

Libby Bevin is a content writer and editor for NEOGOV. Libby earned a Master of Arts in English Literature and Language from Wake Forest University and a Bachelor of Arts in English and History from Stetson University. Contact Libby at