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The New Qualifier: COVID-19 Vaccination Status and Your Job Search

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By Casen Combs
Senior Career & Educational Resource Specialist

If you’re a current job seeker, recent hiring trends and evolving politics might be heightening your job-search stress. For the past two years, the job market has contended with stay-at-home orders, mask mandates and “The Great Mismatch.” Now, thousands of employees are losing their jobs or choosing to quit over the COVID-19 vaccine mandate debate.

Not only are some employers mandating vaccines for their employees, but some employers are also discarding resumes that don’t include an explicit vaccination status. Whether you’re vaccinated, unvaccinated or simply don’t wish to discuss these matters publicly, your vaccination status has prominently inserted itself into your job search.

You may not have any wise elders to seek advice from on these issues. After all, you’re among the first to ever battle these prickly employment challenges. Career Services can, however, help you develop a strategy for navigating the murky waters of today’s job market.

Understanding the Legality of Vaccine Mandates

Massachusetts enacted the very first vaccine mandate in 1902 to combat the spread of smallpox, drawing its power to enforce such a mandate from the 10th Amendment. This amendment established police power, which grants the restriction of individual liberties by government entities to protect the public welfare.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on many lawsuits testing the scope of police power, but this very first vaccine mandate led to one of the earliest and most notable lawsuits, Jacobson vs. Massachusetts. When a Cambridge pastor, Henning Jacobson, refused to receive the smallpox vaccine, he was subsequently fined five dollars (worth approximately $150 today). In 1905, the Court ultimately ruled in favor of the state of Massachusetts with a 7-2 majority.

The debate didn’t end there. Objections to such laws have been answered by other major Supreme Court cases, such as Oregon vs. Smith, which denied the right of religious exemption in the face of generally applicable laws. Across the numerous legal rulings addressing 14th Amendment-related exemptions, all are ultimately enforced by individual states, whose application of exemptions vary widely. 

So what does this mean for you as a job seeker in today’s contentious job climate and amid the global COVID-19 pandemic? It means that you must contend with more than 100 years of disjointed, often unclear legislation that changes from state to state. Most importantly, it also means that it may be legal for an employer to inquire about your vaccination status and require you to be vaccinated for anything – including COVID-19.

Many lawsuits have already been filed testing the legality of such a mandate, but it may be years before the courts make their final ruling. If you’re serious about landing your next career move soon, the first step is to understand the foundational legality of the issue and then remove that legal debate from any of your communications with a potential employer.

Know if Your Industry Has Clear Vaccine Requirements

Currently, the only industry to have a widespread and clear mandate is the federal government. President Biden recently signed an executive order requiring all federal employees to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 22, 2021. Under this order, any U.S. company with more than 100 employees must also require their employees to be fully vaccinated, though many private companies are openly challenging this order.  

The President’s mandate does allow for legal exemptions, but the parameters of those exemptions are difficult to pinpoint. In addition, the executive order appears to leave those decisions with the federal agencies themselves.

If you fall under the purview of this executive order but feel you have a legal exemption, seek out information directly from your federal employer or research the vaccine policies of the federal agency you’re applying to. If you’re applying to a private company with more than 100 employees, research them thoroughly to ascertain their current vaccine mandate compliance.

Decide if Vaccination Status Is Right for Your Resume

Unfortunately, the choice to vaccinate has become very polarizing. Listing your vaccination status on your resume could alienate hiring managers, who may be for or against vaccine mandates.

According to job market giant Indeed, job listings specifically referencing the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of employment rose 119% in just one month. In addition, Resume Builder found that 63% of companies are now requiring COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment.

Many major companies, such as Southwest and Goldman Sachs, have been extremely vocal about COVID-19 vaccination requirements. If you perform proper research on the employers you’re interested in, you should be able to tell whether vaccination status is explicitly required for employment.

If you are vaccinated and are applying to a position for a company that requires COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of employment, list your vaccination status on your resume. Sharing this information will help hiring managers screen your application more quickly and let them focus on your qualifications for the job.

If you are unvaccinated, stating so on your resume could be a risk in the current job market. Choosing to make your job search more targeted could mitigate this risk.

According to Indeed, as of Aug. 30, 2021, searches for jobs not requiring vaccination status were 20 times higher month-over-month. Most of those searches were for jobs in healthcare, which directly reflects the recent forced layoff or unpaid leave of thousands of unvaccinated healthcare workers across various hospitals and medical companies. Whether you’re in the healthcare field or not, searching for jobs that don’t inquire about vaccination status can help you tailor your resume to employers who are more likely to view your application.

Regardless of your vaccination status, if you choose not to state your status on your resume, ensure that it is in top shape. Vaccination status may not be strictly required, so you will want to showcase your qualifications and references to strengthen your candidacy for the job.

Prepare for Vaccination Status Questions During an Interview

If you make it to the interview stage, add vaccination chitchat into your interview prep. For companies that you know require COVID-19 vaccination, be prepared to not only answer the interviewer about your vaccination status, but also to show proof of such vaccination.

Sixty-nine percent of companies are more likely to hire vaccinated applicants over unvaccinated applicants. If you’re interviewing with a company whose vaccination policy is ambiguous, consider that your vaccination status may very well be considered in your hiring potential.

If you are asked about your vaccination status, you should be able to inquire about the policies the company holds regarding COVID-19. Remember to avoid questions of legality, and refrain from criticizing the company’s handling of the pandemic.

Instead, focus on understanding their policies and how you might fit into them. If vaccinated employees are preferred but not required, you may choose to politely decline divulging your status and redirect the conversation back to your qualifications.

Take a Step Back to Evaluate Your Trajectory

Regardless of your vaccination status, you’re likely experiencing the ramifications of a job market struggling to match the needs of employers with the needs of candidates. This time is an excellent opportunity to take a tricky situation and use it to realign your overall career trajectory.

Consider if your job search matches your current lifestyle and values. So many of us pick a career path at a stage in life when we have many freedoms and few burdens. As our career paths evolve with modern work environments and we encounter new roadblocks, so too do our day-to-day lives. This time could be the perfect moment to ask yourself difficult questions.

Is a high-level marketing executive still your dream job? Has a growing family or ill parent shifted your priorities? Are you wondering if your small business idea might be your next move?

These questions can be difficult to answer, and they require quality time to investigate. But time is the one thing the COVID-19 pandemic and volatile job market have gifted us. Thankfully, we no longer live in a world where career changes are uncommon or inherently high-risk.

While you’re engaged in an active job search, take this opportunity to thoroughly reflect on your career choice. Determine if your current career still fits with the person you’ve become. If it doesn’t, research options that might better suit your lifestyle and interests.  

If you want to pivot your career but you aren’t sure where to start, our Career Exploration team can help. Together, we can explore careers by your area of study or skillset, discuss your interests and values, and identify the next steps in your career journey.

About the Author

Casen Combs has worked for the University since 2017. As Career Services Coordinator, Casen facilitated virtual events of varying size to encourage connections between students, alumni, employers, and the Department of Career Services. She also conceptualized and ran the department social media strategy from 2017 until early 2020, acting as head content creator for all platforms.

Most recently, Casen was promoted to Senior Career and Educational Resource Specialist and leads projects that produce career-related educational resources in a variety of formats. Casen received her Bachelor of Business Administration degree with a concentration in music and entertainment marketing from Baylor University.

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