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Navigating a Career Change During the Pandemic

As a career coach and counselor, Linda Whited founded Time To Be Career Savvy and supports graduate students with Wake Forest University from home while also being a mom to her two little ones. With a passion for helping others find meaningful work and their next better job, Linda supports women in career transitions through individual coaching, online education, and speaking. Here she shares her career advice in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

We all know this year has been “unprecedented” in many ways and has made us all reassess lots of things we used to think we had to do or be. This lesson in flexibility and resilience has been thrown at us whether we wanted it or not. So how will you emerge?

With regard to your career, perhaps you’ve taken a hit financially or were put on furlough. Perhaps you started working remotely and realized it’s more efficient for your job than you thought. Perhaps this season has been depressing and making you dream of a return to “normal.” Wherever you are, there are a few things all of us can benefit from reflecting on and doing before we move on to whatever is post-pandemic life.

Have an Answer for What You Did With Your Time During the Pandemic

If you were out of work for a time in 2020, how did you or could you supplement your learning and commitment to your career path? Did you complete LinkedIn Learning courses? Get a certificate or add a credential? On-demand online learning is at your fingertips for fractions of the cost of an entire degree. You can diversify your skills in a short period of time and be a more valuable asset in your next job. Sites like Udemy or Coursera and others have courses on just about any topic.

Companies are still looking to hire problem-solvers. What problems did you encounter and come up with positive solutions to? Have you told people about this? Perhaps publish something on LinkedIn or a post on social media about a lesson you learned this year.

Focus on What You Can Do and Take an Active Role in Your Own Career Path

What are your strengths? What are your career “must-haves”? Need to work remotely? Need access to professional development? Need a raise? Write it all out. Analyze your transferable skills and experience, particularly if you are in an industry that has been negatively affected by the pandemic. Make a list of which companies you would most want to work at if everyone was hiring. Consider companies that are meeting pandemic-specific needs (e.g., health care, shipping/delivery, IT and tech support roles). Don’t discount temporary and short-term positions in your desired field. In 2020 and 2021, they may be more plentiful. Companies may be wary of taking on permanent, full-time employees when their future is uncertain, but they still have needs to fulfill.

Researching your prospective employer is even more critical — be aware of changes affecting the company due to the pandemic. Set up Google Alerts to be informed about news affecting your ideal employers. Follow your target companies on LinkedIn. Also subscribe to the company’s emails, blog, and social media channels.

If you’re currently unemployed, your next job may not be a full-time or permanent position. It may not be your dream job. But a short-term or temporary position may make it easier for you to weather the pandemic and be in a position to get a new role in the future. Some temporary and short-term roles may turn into permanent positions once the economy ramps back up again. As my mom always says, “The best time to find a job is when you have one.”

Opportunities for remote work are increasing, and if you are able to do your job remotely, there are even more opportunities, especially outside your current geographic area. Create a search on LinkedIn for jobs that have “remote” as the location. Add your newfound skills for working remotely to your résumé and LinkedIn profile. For example, you now know how to use Zoom, I bet!

Nurture Your Network

Networking is even more important for a job search during times of high unemployment. Meeting face-to-face for coffee may not be an option right now, but you can still connect virtually. Stay in touch through social media, phone calls, Zoom or FaceTime, email, text, and LinkedIn messages.

Here’s a pro tip: Suggest a phone call rather than a Zoom meeting for any busy professional who is on video calls most of the day. They can walk, drive, or do dishes while talking to you – that’s a win in 2020.

Some people benefit from tracking their network. Create a calendar to remind yourself to reach out to a connection or reply to a message, and stay on top of any follow-up you need to do. Perhaps your next step is to add to your network through a professional association or LinkedIn group. Make it a goal and just do it!

Prepare for the World to Pick Up Speed Again

It’s important to be prepared for what’s next. This means updating your résumé and LinkedIn profile and taking the time to track and document your accomplishments. Having an accomplishment-focused and up-to-date résumé and LinkedIn profile will help you secure interviews.

Interviews for job opportunities are more likely going to be virtual for the foreseeable future. Prepare for an online job interview by setting up a specific space for it. Make sure it’s someplace quiet with no distractions. Conduct a practice session with a friend on Zoom. When it’s time for the actual interview, dress like you’re going to an in-person one (head to toe!). One advantage of job searching during a pandemic is that it may be easier to interview because remote interviews can be done at any time. You don’t have to drive somewhere and wait in an office for the interviewer to be ready. You can also have your notes in front of you to reference easily. And, if the interview is by phone (and not by Zoom or Skype), you don’t have to dress up or worry whether you’re making sufficient eye contact with the interviewer.

Human resources staffers are likely to be working remotely, too, and coordinating the hiring process can take more time than it did before the pandemic. That’s true even if the company initially seemed in a hurry to hire. Do follow up, but don’t be a pest. Ask how the person is doing and if there’s anything they need from you to move the process along.

Some jobs openings may be put on hold temporarily as situations change in the business. You may even have a job offer rescinded if a company’s fortunes suddenly change. If you do have a job offer that is put on hold, consider asking if you could work in a contract or temporary role in the meantime. For example, one national furniture rental company is currently in a hiring freeze, but they are staffing with contract/temporary workers in the meantime.

Companies that are hiring are pivoting to meet jobseekers where they are. Most job fairs have gone online, allowing you to participate remotely. Some companies are even doing Zoom “meet and greets,” allowing prospective employees to interact with company representatives virtually.

Should you be searching for a new job now? Well, if you’re in an industry affected by the pandemic, the answer is likely yes. If you’re in an industry that is currently in a hiring freeze, lay the groundwork so you’re prepared to make a change once the pandemic ends.

Even if you’re not interested in changing careers right now, create a plan for the future. Some things about the job search — virtual interviews, for instance — are likely to stick around long after COVID-19 is gone.


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