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Managing Your Career Development in Uncertain Times

Building your career during uncertain times means proactively positioning yourself for long-term success.

5/14/2020 | Career Development, Featured | 8 minute read

Picture of Mary Sharp Emerson
Written By:
Mary Sharp Emerson

Despite the negative economic forecasts, empowering yourself to take ownership of your career can—and should—continue. When leveraged thoughtfully, today’s unique circumstances, although difficult, can present very real opportunities for career growth.

The key, according to Linda Spencer—director of career advising and programming at Harvard Extension School—is remembering that career management in today’s uncertain environment requires patience, flexibility, and creativity.

Here are a few of Spencer’s strategies for maintaining job search momentum and positioning yourself for success today and into the future.

Taking Time to Plan for a Change

Having extra time at home right now can be an opportunity to think strategically about what your ideal role might look like. It’s OK to take some time to pause, reassess your professional goals, and develop a plan for achieving them.

Ask yourself where you find job satisfaction. Brainstorm long-term career goals. What problems do you want to solve? List on-the-job activities you enjoy—and those you don’t. Identify your skills and talents, as well as areas where you’d like to make improvements.

And, most importantly, start your research. Conducting thorough research about potential career choices is an essential element of proactive career management.

While no industry is truly recession-proof, it’s important to consider how fields are changing, both in terms of the immediate COVID-19 crisis and in the long term. Your goal should be to identify industries that are poised for future growth.

The next step is researching the educational background and skill set that those industries are likely to need in the short and long term. This will enable you to frame your skills, or potentially pursue additional training, to meet demand.

Networking While Social Distancing

Networking remains one of the most important things you can do to position yourself for long-term career success. And the good news is that networking is still possible, even in this time of social distancing.

Virtual networking should focus on two things: building relationships and setting up informational meetings, sometimes called informational interviews.

Spencer notes that when thinking about how to network, remember that you have more contacts than you realize.

Start with the people you know. Think beyond friends and current co-workers to include alumni networks, old colleagues, and even former clients. Since so many people are stuck at home, you may be surprised at how eager people are to virtually reconnect.

Networking should not be thought of as transactional. In other words, it’s not about asking people for a job. Instead, focus on building sustainable relationships. A simple check in with an old colleague to see how they are doing can be highly effective.

And remember, most people love to talk about themselves. So start by asking them about their career track and what they did to succeed.

As you build relationships within your network, your goal should be to set up informational meetings.

Again, an informational meeting is not a roundabout way of asking for a job. Instead, it’s a great way to add to your knowledge base about a specific industry or position while enabling people to get to know you in an informal setting.

And in the best case scenario, an informational meeting with someone in your network could lead to an informational meeting with someone in their network.

When engaging in online networking during this time, however, it’s important to be aware of other people’s time, stress, and energy levels. While you may be bored at home, others may be coping with personal issues or feeling overwhelmed trying to keep a remote team on track. So don’t be frustrated if you don’t get a response right away.

Leverage Your Online Profile

In today’s virtual world, social media is a critical tool in your networking toolbox. It’s a fun and easy way to make contact with your existing network. And you can leverage it to expand your network as well.

If you haven’t already, make sure your LinkedIn profile is up to date and complete.

However, leveraging social media to manage your career means more than just keeping an updated profile.

The goal is to maximize social media platforms like LinkedIn to increase your online visibility.

LinkedIn and other networking platforms offer a great way to showcase your expertise. Join online industry discussion groups. Post relevant articles on your profile page, and actively comment on postings by others in your network. Engaging in expert discussions online in a thoughtful way is a great way to demonstrate your skill and knowledge.

And don’t be afraid to use social media to reach out to potential new contacts in industries that interest you. You may be surprised at the positive responses you receive from thoughtful and personalized outreach.

Strengthening Your Resume Through Skill-Building

Another key to successful career management is ensuring that your education and skill set match your career goals.

It could be as simple as thinking creatively about how your existing skills might be leveraged in a different position or even a different industry.

However, depending on your career objectives, it may be necessary to update your knowledge base or even master new skills to be a competitive job seeker in a new industry.

If you find you have some extra time, taking online classes can be an excellent way both to stay occupied and update your skills. There is an amazing variety of virtual programs available today, from certificate programs in specific technologies to entire degree programs.

And if you aren’t sure where to start or what you’re interested in, or if your finances don’t currently allow a more extensive educational program, enrolling in free online MOOCs (massive open online course) or LinkedIn Learning can be an affordable and flexible way to master a single skill or simply explore different areas of interest.

Taking ownership of your career during uncertain economic times is challenging. Practicing self-care and maintaining your mental health should be your top priorities now as always.

Yet if you find yourself dreaming of that ideal job, don’t be afraid to think of today’s immediate economic downturn as an opportunity to prepare yourself for your ideal career. Maintaining a positive attitude and a steady momentum just by taking a few small steps every day can pay dividends down the road.

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