A global pandemic might seem like a strange time to be switching careers, but for many professionals, 2020 is the year of fresh starts. Voluntary or otherwise.
Although the COVID-19 crisis has seen huge job losses in Australia, the ABS reported 35 per cent of lost payroll positions had rebounded by the end of June. It’s not happy news, but it’s better than nothing. "By mid-April, job losses for people under 20 were around 23 per cent, but by the end of June this had been reduced to around 5 per cent," ABS Head of Labour Statistics, Bjorn Jarvis told The Age.
Interestingly, despite widespread layoffs and unprecedented financial pressure, many employees are using the COVID lockdown to upskill, broaden their resume and even pivot into new careers.
2020 might be the worst year we’ll face in our collective lifetimes, but the very things that make it terrible (financial insecurity, job loss, social restrictions, remote work etc.) are also the things that force us to re-evaluate what really matters: both in our personal and professional lives.
The ABC calculated that one million lost jobs (when viewed through an admittedly glass-half-full lens) represents about one billion hours of available time. Time we never really had before. And job-seekers are increasingly making the most of that time: 50 per cent of respondents surveyed in the US said the COVID crisis has allowed them to try new things and learn new skills.
So how should you approach a career change in 2020? Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction.
If COVID has given you a fresh perspective on your career, that’s great, but we need to temper ambition with realism. Many professional sectors have been decimated by the crisis, so you need to do your research and set your expectations accordingly. Almost a million Aussies lost their jobs at the beginning of the outbreak, and the full extent of the unemployment slump is not really known yet. As such, many industries will have reduced opportunities and hugely increased competition. That’s not to say you shouldn’t aim high. You just need to frankly assess what’s out there, particularly before giving up a secure, full-time position.
The 2020 pandemic hasn’t hit all industries evenly. While many sectors have faced unprecedented hardship (retail, hospitality and tourism being the big three), some are actually booming. As someone looking to change careers, it’s worth thinking strategically about which sectors will benefit in a post-pandemic world. The plant-based food industry, for instance, is seeing explosive growth, as is remote work software and in-home entertainment. These shifts in consumer behavior, and the new pressures on global infrastructure, will also make some fields more vital than ever: think supply chain management, cyber security and web development, to name a few.
Embrace the “liminal” period
Organisational behaviour expert, Hermina Ibarra, talks a lot about the “liminal period” in job hunting. That period of time between your old life and the new, when you’re between jobs, between worlds, between “a past that is clearly gone and a future that’s still uncertain.” In 2020, with a global pandemic raging all around us, this liminal period will probably last longer than ever before. You’ll have to spend more time looking for work, more time upskilling, more time networking and banging your head against the door of your chosen industry. Ibarra recommends leaning into this time and using it productively. Don’t fight the anxiety – channel it
Upskill as much as you can
This is good advice for job seekers at any time, but particularly during the COVID crisis. For one thing, most of us now have more time on our hands, and it’s more than likely time spent at home. Lockdowns and social distancing have removed some options for career progression, of course (it’ll be a while before our next face-to-face networking conference) but others have emerged to fill the void. Online learning has never been easier or more accessible – or more popular. There are dozens and dozens of practical, industry-relevant short courses out there. Take some time, do your research, and figure out your interests.
Prepare for remote interviews
Zoom interviews have become standard practice during the COVID crisis; In fact, recruiters have noticed a 67 per cent spike. So if you’re hoping to change careers during the pandemic, you’re going to need to get comfortable with speaking down the camera. There are plenty of good online guides out there, but most of them boil down to the same things. Approach your Zoom sessions with the same professionalism you would any other interview (that means putting on pants). Test the connection beforehand, and maybe practice online with a friend. And finally, make sure your home ‘office’ presents an appropriate background. Take some time to style the room, clean up any mess, and keep the kids outside.