Take the Bridge over Troubled Waters to Survive the Coronavirus

By Catherine Cunningham - Career Specialist - Australia

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These are drastic times where many of us shift from talk of careers to strategising how to find and keep jobs - regular work that supports us and our families.

Beyond the immediate emergency, even when our societies emerge from the crisis, the working world will take time to recover and may never be the same again. In times of high unemployment, power swings to employers and many employees will lose confidence, especially older workers whose jobs may permanently disappear. 

I started life as a career specialist when it was a dreadful time to look for work. Unemployment was shocking and there were few good jobs around. Since then, I’ve worked with thousands of clients and have a fair idea of which behaviours, attitudes and skills help individuals to survive. 

This situation is too serious for a list of tips. Instead, here are critical career/job survival elements for you to consider, depending on whether you fit into one of two scenarios.

Scenario A: You still have a job

1.      Stay put even if you don't like your job

Hunker down for the immediate future. I can’t believe I’m actually recommending that you put up with a job you don’t like but such is the state of the world.

Of course, staying put is bleeding obvious, as the Brits would say but let’s examine how you can improve your happiness and change your mindset:

  • Business operations have likely changed. Meet with your boss to nut out what you need to do to help. You are more likely to enjoy tasks that you have some control over. 
  • Rather than a vague statement of discontent, identify negatives precisely. Whether it’s workmates who are too noisy or meetings that go on and on, it’s easier to solve a concrete problem.
  • Smarten up your work environment. Get rid of clutter, make it more attractive and add some personal touches so that you enjoy being there.
  • Stay in the moment. Close down Facebook and avoid YouTube. Focus on the tasks at hand and you’ll be surprised how much faster time goes.

It is possible to revive your relationship with your workplace. Take the first step and then the next. And then the one after that.

2.      Treat your boss like your customer

If an employer had to make the choice between you and co-workers, would they keep you on?

I can remember working with a government employee who told me that he hated his boss. He was shocked at the concept of boss-as-customer and was not prepared to treat him this way. I wonder if he’d say the same thing today.

I’ve done it and done it cheerfully. When I sub-contracted many years ago, my ‘Manager’ had picked up a huge project and was frantically busy. If I had operated on the standard employee mindset, I could easily have bothered him with some legitimate issues. Instead, I did everything possible to make life easier for him. I clearly understood that he was my client.

One of my contacts faced redundancy last week. He and a colleague were up for the equivalent of one full-time role. Instead of his employer splitting the role between the two of them, he was retained. The other person, a young father with a child and a mortgage was let go.

It’s time to imagine that you have no contracted relationship with your boss. Control yourself just as you (hopefully) do with your customers. It’s a key part of your job and it also makes sense from a career survival perspective. 

3.      Be a positive problem-solver

It will become increasingly dangerous to be a Problem Finder – one of those people who proclaim reasons why something CAN’T be done.

The manufacturing world cottoned on to Continuous Improvement / Step Change / Kaizen many years ago. At the core is a belief that critical elements of the workplace can be improved - a world view that requires a positive mindset:

  • Switch from complaining to solving specific problems. Implement three actions you are prepared to take to solve the next pressing issue.
  • Talk to others outside your immediate workgroup. You may find that colleagues from other technical areas in the business can help you to think outside the square.

Problem Solvers are more likely to keep their jobs and be recommended for interesting roles as they arise. Every good business values a positive, can-do type of person. Make sure that you are recognised as one of these people.

Scenario B. You are not in work or want to change jobs once hiring picks up

4.      If you are unemployed when hiring starts again, cover every base

As mentioned previously, many years ago, it was a dreadful time for job hunters. The clients I worked with would do whatever it took to get another role – even the dreaded job search networking. They would typically do 8 or so hours of work on interview skills, for example, even before they scored an actual face to face meeting.

To win a good role in a difficult era, every single aspect of your marketing material needs to be schmick: 

  • I’ve yet to see a Cover Letter that isn’t too long and/or too boring. You have three tasks: demonstrate that you are an outstanding candidate; convince them that you want that job in their organisation; sound likable and normal – and fit it all on one page.
  • Check that your résumé is sophisticated in the true sense of the word. (By the way, we offer a few templates free of charge on our website – suitable for Australian recruitment).
  • Do you have an excellent LinkedIn profile and demonstrate sensible use of the platform – starting with an appealing professional photo?
  • Finally, there’s no point having any of the above if you can’t convince people of your worth in an interview situation.

You will need to have all your ducks in a row to win a good job. And, you will need to find a positive, solutions-focused person to help you battle any job-search demons.

5.      Once things settle down, start networking

If there are fewer jobs and more candidates, these roles will go to exceptional and/or recommended candidates.

Of course, you can’t do any networking now. No one wants to see anyone unless it relates directly to the survival of their organisation (let alone the rules we are all facing about social distancing).

Once business opens up, wait for normality to return. Then, start your networking.

Be careful to get it right. I can always remember working with ‘Luke’ in those desperate years. He was struggling to get Secondary Contacts to agree to a meeting. It turned out that he was having a long conversation on the phone, allowing this stranger to feel that she had given support already with no need for a face to face meeting. This is just one of the many errors that can happen in this oh-so-prescriptive activity. 

Read up on the technique and/or find an expert to help guide you. Then, to use one of my favourite phrases, gird your loins and get started. It’s a long, hard road but it does lead to a job, and usually a good one.

6.      Train yourself up in technical skills

No hiring employer will say, ‘We’re not going to hire you because your Excel skills are too good’. However, they may well say the opposite.

When I left my last job, I also left my PA behind and I had to suddenly train myself in Word. I cursed many a time as I grappled with its intricacies but now, these skills are of immense value in my work.

Experiment madly with whatever software is relevant to you. Push yourself up the skills ladder so that you become an expert. It will help boost your confidence and your employability.

Step onto the Bridge

Here in Australia, people have been pulling together very well apart from a few glitches with toilet paper hoarding and inappropriate flocking to our beautiful beaches.

I will leave it to those with far greater skill than I to advise about a psychological/economic recovery from this terrible scourge. From a career perspective, if you are struggling either in or out of work, ask for help from friends and family. Choose people who are sensible, practical problem-solvers. Whether you need to upskill, change your mindset or adopt a new behaviour, it is amazing what you can achieve if you have help and if you are determined.

Good luck!

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