Interview with Ms. Clark (MOED)

What Job Seekers Need to Know, According to MOED

To prepare job seekers for today’s employment landscape, Ignite interviewed Yvette Clark, Assistant Director, Chief of Employer Services, at the Baltimore Mayor’s Office of Employment Development (MOED). According to its website, MOED “coordinates and directs workforce development initiatives responsive to the needs of Baltimore City employers and job seekers in order to enhance and promote the local economy.” Read on to see what resources MOED has provided Maryland residents in response to the pandemic, what key skills employers are looking for in job seekers, and much more.

How did COVID affect MOED’s operations? Are you finding your hybrid model effective and what are your plans moving forward?

At MOED, we pivoted and shifted to have very effective results with recruitment, planning, and meetings for our operations. But we also wondered how many more people we could serve if we were in person. The digital divide was a concern, as some people don’t have the technology or skills needed to access services, and we also know some people would rather learn in person. However, we had aggressive goals to place people in programs and jobs and we exceeded that. Now, we are strategizing how to reach job seekers more effectively. While we work primarily with employers to develop employment opportunities, we have to figure out how to attract candidates and improve retention. The major goal is to advocate for job seekers by having frank and honest conversations with employers about wages and job cultures.

What kind of changes/challenges do you anticipate seeing after employees return to work?

There is and will continue to be uncertainty about the health climate. While the public may have concern about COVID, Baltimore City will continue to focus on offering hybrid services. This world of virtual work is not going anywhere. Instead, we need to focus on gathering more tools and teaching people how to use technology, particularly to bridge the digital divide. Something we have already done is invest in Google Chromebooks for job seekers. These can be used for trainings and applications. In addition, we’ve developed curriculum for improving individuals’ professional and technical skills in computer basics, such as MS Office, Google, etc.

What initiatives are you most excited about for this Fall?

We co-led, with the Baltimore City Health Department, the Baltimore Health Core (BHC) initiative. The BHC trained and hired hundreds of unemployed residents in contact tracing and care coordination. The initiative aimed to control the transmission of COVID‐19 and addresses the social needs of vulnerable residents through enhanced care coordination. Our agency offered all BHC employees career and financial counseling and will help them find a job following BHC employment this fall. The initiative offered an example of a transitional work program the city could use to employ other groups (such as long-term unemployed, returning-to-work citizens, or disconnected youth) for purposes of public good (such as cleaning the city) and to allow residents to build skills while earning a wage (400 served).

Through successful use of tools and technology, we had over 4,000 applicants, for whom we reviewed applications and conducted pre-screenings, group interviews, and video interviews. This resulted in over 300 people being hired. Our program earned national recognition.

Currently, we are working on Hire Up, our next transitional jobs program, thanks to American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding. We are also offering support services, like legal, job readiness, and child support aids, which all help to lead individuals to employment services with employers who have job openings that could lead to careers.

Once successful, and no doubt it will be, this will set a strong model for others. To start, our pilot cohort is focusing on city agencies, particularly Recreation and Parks, Downtown Partnership, and the Department of Public Works. They will be offering various $15/hour minimum wage positions, ranging from beautification and clean up to administrative and professional roles. The program is 13 weeks and includes one week of job readiness, as well as a transition to employer services for permanent jobs we’ve developed. We’ll be adding more employers from the private sector soon.

What are employers looking for the most right now in candidates? What tips do you have for job seekers?

We always encourage job seekers to focus on soft skills and professional skills (things like coming to work on time, effective communication, writing, work ethic, and dressing appropriately). But, most of all, candidates should develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. That seems to be one of the biggest pain points for employers, who are even willing to help by developing positions especially dedicated to creating trainings around such skills.

Right now, employers are looking for workers who are coachable. Although it’s a competitive marketplace, hiring managers are not looking for the best qualified candidates (excluding, perhaps, in the IT field), but rather for people who are committed, trainable, and who have a strong work ethic. Employers are interested in your personality, your motivations, your drive, your interests, and your passions. They can teach you everything else!

Right now is a great time for career exploration. Job seekers should focus on what they truly want and love what they do. So, we recommend considering your options. For example, some in the workforce are switching from IT to server positions, where they can earn a living based on tips, because they realize that is what will make them happier. If you are unemployed, and there are bills to pay, you can still get into a position, demonstrate your competencies, and use those transferrable skills to later enter a field you love.

Job seekers should also advocate for themselves. Ask in order to get. Negotiate!

What fields are showing the most growth right now?

Administrative, customer service, healthcare, construction, and manufacturing opportunities are growing. MOED hosts weekly recruitment sessions through Facebook lives, which are all archived.

Do you have any tips or strategies on networking?

Leverage all of your social media! Don’t be afraid of seeking, joining, and participating in groups online. Learn from what you see, and when you’re comfortable, engage. Start with a question. There really is no such thing as a stupid question. Be intentional about attaching yourself to groups that relate to your occupation. When possible, lead virtual engagement to in-person meetings.

Some of our clients are seeing one-way video interviews. Do you think this will become a more popular interviewing method?

Yes! Expect to see them a lot. We are a major advocate for them because they get rid of the resume “keyword” problem that might prevent you from moving forward in the job hiring process. People are more interested in hearing applicants talk for five minutes than in reading application content. That way, the interviewer can feel someone’s energy and presence, and the candidate can articulate who they are and what they want. Plus, the applicant has an opportunity to practice for virtual meetings, second round interviews, and even for remote jobs.

Take, for example, our Hire Up initiative. Job seekers can apply by uploading a resume and recording answers to five pre-screening questions. Then, we watch all the interviews and can decide whether to move applicants to hiring managers or filter them through to job coaches for further interview support or training. We’ve seen some mistakes—people recording in the dark, people wearing inappropriate clothing, etc.—that are easy to fix with someone who is coachable. We can help educate people about best practices and help them learn how to set themselves apart.

Can you recommend resources for training programs?

Job seekers can fill out MOED’s Job Seeker Assistance Request Form and someone will be in touch to help figure out which training is best. We work with colleges, universities, and workforce partners to assist. Right now, there is funding up to $3,000 per person for occupational training.

You’ve had a career path rich with experiences from a variety of fields, including business and real estate. What’s your best advice to job seekers looking to switch fields or grow in their careers?

I switched from working for myself for eight years to being in workforce development by aligning my transferrable skills and doing what I love to do, which is to help people. After deciding to get a job that would allow me to focus on building relationships, it did not take long for me to arrive to where I am now. After leveraging my engagement with the Baltimore City Chamber of Commerce by being a Board Member and now a Past Chairman, I was invited to begin my career. Within 4.5 years, thanks to my knowledge, networking abilities, project management skills, and creativity, I grew from Program Manager to Assistant Director to Chief of Employer Services at MOED.

My advice would be to define and refine your transferrable skills, be open to connections and opportunities, and know your worth.

Lizzy Solovey is a Career Coach at the Ignite Career Center.

Whether you are new to the job market or a seasoned professional, the Ignite Career Centera program of Jewish Community Services, can help you go farther and get there faster.  Our highly experienced Career Coaches provide individuals of all backgrounds and abilities with the customized services and tools they need to stand out from the competition.  For information, call 410-466-9200 or contact us through our website. 

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