By Allison McWilliams (’95), Ph.D., Assistant VP, Mentoring and Alumni Personal & Career Development, Wake Forest University

Potted plant on a table

Photo by Galina N on Unsplash

The short- and long-term economic repercussions (not to mention the mental health ones) of this global pandemic will be far-reaching and are as yet unknown. We know that the travel, entertainment, retail, and service industries have been hit particularly hard, and it’s anybody’s guess as to when or if a rebound in those sectors will happen. What’s still unclear is what will happen to other industries. Already there is talk of the beginning of a “second wave” of recession hitting white collar workers, and reduced tax revenues will impact on state and local governments and education. Without a vaccine, or near-term feelings of security to go back to “life as normal,” we should all expect an uncertain future.

For those just entering the job market or who find themselves recently unemployed these are particularly challenging times. If you find yourself in these categories you should seek out the resources that you need to find gainful employment as quickly as possible, and recognize that it will likely require an industry shift or taking a position at a lower salary than expected. But remember: this moment won’t last forever, and when the economy expands again, you can pivot. And, gainful employment will always look better than a gap on your resume. It could be a great time to think about graduate school, if that is an option for you.

But what if you are an experienced professional who perhaps had been considering a job change a few months ago, or one who is worried about what that future might hold? While there is no such thing as a sure thing, there are some steps that you can and should take now to prepare yourself for what is to come.

Assess your needs, finances, and possible outcomes. First and most importantly, don’t get taken by surprise if you end up unemployed or furloughed. Do the work now to assess your lifestyle needs, your available income, where you can make some cuts, and plan out possible outcomes. Don’t wait until that moment happens to wish you had saved more or hadn’t splurged on unnecessary items.  Austerity measures aren’t just for countries. It’s time to get brutally honest about how much you need to live on.

Adapt where you can. The question is not if work is changing, the question is, how much, and for how long? Will our current work from home status become a permanent fixture? Will online education suddenly take hold? Will we stop eating in restaurants and getting on planes, forever? The likely answer to each of these questions is, probably not. But it’s just as likely that the answer is, possibly. This is not the moment to stick your head in the sand and to wait for everything to “go back to normal.” Normal is a moving target. And the people who will still be employed when the dust settles are the ones who were willing to embrace new opportunities, adjust the ways in which work gets done, and see change as a positive. This isn’t just about having needed skillsets, it’s about having the right mindset.

Identify your gaps and upskill. And, this is a great time to add new skills to your toolbox. Look around and see who seems to be getting work. Think about where your gaps are and look for opportunities to build those. Do you need a project management certification or to learn user experience design? Are you lacking Excel or web design skills? There are tons of online resources and courses available to you, at your fingertips. Pay attention to your current work environment, and seek out opportunities to ask for additional responsibility and projects. This may not be the time to look for a new job, but it’s a great time to add tangible experiences, skills, and knowledge areas to your resume for when that time comes.

Clean up your resume and LinkedIn profile. Speaking of your resume, when was the last time that you updated yours, or cleaned up your LinkedIn profile? Do you have a LinkedIn profile? Now’s the time to do that work. Seek out the guidance of a professional career coach for some feedback, or just ask your colleagues or friends to look at it and tell you what they think. What story do these documents tell about you and your skills? Updating your resume is a great exercise to help you identify those gaps and to inform what your next opportunity might be.

Do your homework and create a plan. Finally, this is the time to do your homework on industries, roles, and opportunities and to create a plan for what’s next. Yes, the current unemployment rate is terrible. But that doesn’t mean that no one is hiring, or never will again. A recent online post shared 100 employers with over 70,000 positions open right now. This is the time to conduct informational interviews and to create a targeted, strategic plan of roles, industries, and locations you find interesting and that match your skills and experience. Just like you need a plan for your personal finances, now is the time to create a plan for your career, so that when the roles become available, you’ll be ready.

None of us can predict the future. Whether it’s a global pandemic, downsizing, or something personal to your life, change is always potentially on the horizon, much of it out of our control. What you can control is how you prepare and how you react when the change happens.