Career Triage During COVID-19
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
As you already know, our unemployment claim numbers are astronomical -- exponentially higher than they have ever been, and we all know friends and loved ones who have been impacted.
Those of us who are lucky enough to be able to work from home have now had some time to adjust to our new reality, from teaching 3-year-old children via Zoom, to remembering to shut down sometime before 10pm. But, I know that a lot of people are wondering how long they will still have a job, or might already be seeing early signs that layoffs or furloughs are coming.
The reality is that the companies that have not yet made staff reduction decisions are going to begin to do that, and we're going to see a lot of it quickly. Many people currently working from home will likely have to look for other work as economic activity sharply contracts: now is the time to start planning proactively.
Before we launch into what to do, I want to underline the importance of the so-called "human element" -- we are all living in a state of anxiety and, for a lot of us, acute suffering. Checking in with each other has been, in my experience, the most fulfilling part of all my recent conversations -- as you get to work, remember check in with how people are doing. That genuine interest will set the tone for your conversations.
Two Plans of Action
The way I look at it is that everyone who is still employed should be mobilizing two plans: first, to keep themselves in their job, and second, to be ready to launch a job search immediately.
Mission 1: Fortify your Current Position
Just like under normal conditions, you will need to provide, and just as importantly, demonstrate your value. This means being visible to the people making employment decisions.
Chances are, you're probably looking at a screen for work for 10+ hours a day. And, those face-to-face meetings, coffee chats, walking talks, and lunch-and-learns that we used to have, are all largely gone. In many companies right now, there's a lot of work, and everyone has their heads down, delivering -- I worry that management, being in crisis mode as they are, will simply take those deliverables without the requisite recognition. So, visibility is just as important as actual delivery, but you will need to pay attention to both.
If your work has picked up and you're very busy, take advantage – especially if your work is revenue-generating, this is the time to kick butt. On the other hand, if you're seeing a slow-down in activity, do not – and I repeat, do not – sit on your hands. Find out if areas of your company are growing, connect with the people working on those projects, and grow the skills you would need to join that work.
1. Connect with your colleagues: whether your workload is heavy or light right now, being in front of your colleagues is critical. There's a lot of talk about virtualizing interactions, and people will be eager to connect with others. Digitize those casual interactions that used to happen in the office: have coffee with the person you used to grab a latte with, have lunch with your lunch buddies. This will help you keep a finger on the pulse of your organization, and you are more likely to be in the loop when things are changing.
2. Reach out strategically: are there areas of your business that are well-positioned to grow right now? Find and connect with the people who are working on those projects – most of us haven't seen someone outside our households (except maybe the grocery store employee…) for weeks, and you can use this as an intro. Try: "Now that we're separated, I'd love to take a moment and just learn more about your job. What projects do you work on, what do you struggle with? Perhaps there are people I know, or things I can do, that can be helpful." This approach can yield dividends with your peers, but you can also use it for higher-ups – managers one level up from you will have insights they may be willing to share.
3. Stay in front of your manager: if your direct report has not taken initiative to schedule regular (video!) check-ins, take it upon yourself. Learn about what they struggle with and what their short and medium-term goals are, so that if you see an opportunity to impact them, you can act on it immediately.
4. Gain new skills: once you know what the critical growth areas are, find out what tools are going to be used. Do you need to get to the next level in Excel? Learn some Python or SQL queries? Polish your Powerpoint skills? Stand out among your colleagues with your crisp Tableau dashboards? Any downtime you have should be used proactively to enhance your skillset, and don't forget to share what you're working on during your networking conversations.
Mission 2: Plan B – Job Search
While you're working on keeping your current role secure, you should simultaneously be preparing to mobilize a job search. Now – this doesn't mean you start blasting your resume, but rather that you are prepared in case your situation changes.
1. Update your resume: you've been doing this on a regular basis, every 6 months or so, right? No? Ok, that's not the end of the world, but update it immediately! And, revisit it every 1-2 weeks. That might feel like overkill, but you're probably under a lot of pressure to deliver in the context of unprecedented difficulty, so chances are, you're accomplishing great things that you should document while they're fresh. For example, my husband has been accountable to stand up 100% remote work operations for a 13,000 employee, global organization – their two main competitors have not been able to mobilize nearly as fast (forgive the brag). I'm willing to bet you're tackling similarly daunting challenges, and you want to make sure that impressive work is on your resume.
2. Find out who is hiring: there will be companies that continue to hire and grow during this time. Make sure you know who they are, and what roles they are hiring for. If you see a skills gap, take some online courses and find out if you can join similar projects in your company. Follow these companies on LinkedIn, and set Google Alerts for their press releases, so you can be in the loop on their developments.
3. Keep an eye on companies solving the current problems: firms dealing with supply chain logistics, manufacturing (think PPE, drugs, and medical devices), groceries, telehealth, etc. will all be grappling with how best to take advantage of the new reality. These are the companies that will be likely to bounce back – know who they are, what they're up to, and find folks you can connect with who work there.
4. Network proactively: before HR ever sees a job spec from a hiring manager, in all likelihood that person has casually reached out to their network asking if they know someone who might be a good fit. Your name needs to come up when that question is asked – get introductions to people in the companies you're interested in, and have a video coffee or lunch with them. Use the same casual approach as you do for your own company – "Hey Brianna, it looks like you're up to some interesting things – let me know if you'd like to connect. It would be great to hear about what you're working on and see if there's any way I can be helpful." When you find out what they're working on, stay in touch regularly by interacting on LinkedIn and sending relevant content.
The uncomfortable reality is that we are all on shaky ground and that causes a great deal of anxiety. Remember that action is one of the best cures to that discomfort – getting in front of people, both internally and externally, is the lynchpin of your strategy.
Happy connecting, and be well.