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How to Protect Your Career If the Worst of Covid-19 is Ahead of Us

Whatever our individual reactions to the coronavirus, it’s undoubted that these are unprecedented times for the modern world of work.

Reactions from organizations have varied from closure, to laying off various proportions of staff, furloughing, and cutting away non-essential positions and resources to protect key workers. Some have received public funding. Many have reengineered their business to parachute their way through this crisis. For those working in professions where work can be carried out from home, some processes have likely changed, either through intentionally managed changes, and/or through other more intuitive methods adopted in order to survive and continue as normally as possible.

Cases have been rising again in many areas for most of the summer. Of course, reactions have been hugely varied, and disappointingly political; with some choosing the path of hysteria, and some trying to ignore the issue altogether because admitting we are not fully in control doesn’t suit the status quo. For the pragmatic amongst us, it’s about moving forward cautiously and respectfully, but also boldly and with as much optimism as possible. In that spirit, here are four ways to look broadly beyond just your current job, and to protect your career if the worst is yet to come with covid-19.

Get to Know Your Job More Broadly. We all have an identity in the work that we do. Some of that is wrapped up in our present organization, but some reaches beyond that and is grounded in the profession itself. Now is a good time to ask how your organization, and others, structure your job. If this is your first or second job within your field, you may assume that your job would look the same everywhere. If you have held the same position for considerable time, you may regain perspective on how the same job looks elsewhere – and some aspects may have changed in other organizations, particularly with re-organizations on the rise. It’s a good time to re-examine what the parameters of your role could be, and how task and reporting structures could result in needing to change your current expectations around autonomy and other resources. Some good places to start are O*Net, colleagues and friends outside the organization who do the same type of work, and industry groups and associations.

Prioritize Core Tasks. This might sound obvious, but our time can get sucked into tasks and activities which take us away from the core of our profession. It’s good to be a team player, and now may not seem like a good time to turn away requests from leadership to help with things that are tangential to your role. It’s wise, however, to be selective about how and when you get off track to help. Getting too bogged down in tasks which are idiosyncratic to your current organization, and may not do anything for your broader professional identity might harm your chances of landing a similar job elsewhere if you aren’t paying attention to key performance indicators. Re-examine your time and resource management around core versus non-core tasks in order to demonstrate dedication to your current role, while protecting your transferability should the need arise. It’s also perhaps more important than ever to have clarity about what your KPIs are and how you and others will measure your performance and success. Finally, encourage your organization to be nimble with these KPIs, and allowing for more re-visiting and revision as the world and your organization’s strategy change week-to-week.

Know Who the High Ground Organizations Are. Are you up to speed on who the key players are in your industry? If the industry contracts, who is most likely to survive? Just as it makes sense to find high ground during a flood, know who the high ground companies are in your field of work. Industry websites are likely to help, but it is worth collating your own knowledge. One suggestion is to create a spreadsheet of companies you could be working for, insert links to their media pages, and carve out regular times to keep abreast of press releases. Rank order companies based on how well you believe they are managing the downturn. Even if you cannot know for sure, some information now is better than having to gather rushed intel later if the chips are down.

Prioritize Networking. Even if you feel safe right now, it’s wise to reach out to two sets of people. The first is your extended contact list. Even weak contacts with whom you have had infrequent dialogue can be helpful in a time of need. The second set is the right contacts in these high ground organizations. Most leaders are always keeping a lookout for talent, even when they have no open positions. Chief People Officers are on the rise, and in a market where many organizational leaders are more bogged down than ever, but applications through the front door to HR are likely to be high, an intermediary figure may be a good choice to proactively reach out to. If you make contact now, and your current position becomes untenable, you will be a known quantity, not just another applicant. Additionally, you will stand you out from the crowd as forward thinking, diligent, and someone who is prepared to go the extra mile – qualities that leaders crave.

The coronavirus has shaken the global economy, and the effects are likely to follow us for years. Although some industries have been worse hit than others, seemingly none are immune from it. It can seem as if everyone – from organizational leaders to the person who you sat next to on your last work trip flight before the lockdown – is reacting to this as a totally new experience, with no obvious end in sight. That’s because they are. In the face of uncertainty around a vaccine, now may be an opportune time to protect your career by following these steps.

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Marcus J. Fila, Ph.D., is an organizational analyst and industrial/organizational psychologist. He is an associate professor of management at Hope College; and a researcher, speaker, and consultant on work stress. How can download his free self-assessment tool here.


Photo by Morning Brew on Unsplash

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