COVID-19 has disrupted many areas of our lives, including our careers. With so much uncertainty, having a stable job and career is more important than ever as you prepare for many possibilities. Several key industries have been uprooted and unemployment numbers have jumped to an all-time high, giving people good cause to be concerned. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to strengthen and protect your career during these uncertain times to survive and thrive in the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
You should regularly evaluate your job security, pandemic or not, but even more so now, when stability is especially important. Safeguarding your career calls for a frank self-assessment and making the best decisions. You need to be prepared in case you get laid off, or your work hours get reduced, or the company you work for – even the industry you are part of – goes under. Aim for your career to thrive – not just survive, in this new abnormal.
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8 Steps to Making Wise Career Decisions During the Pandemic
Due to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the restaurant industry, one of my coaching clients, Alex, who served as the Chief Operating Officer (COO) in a regional chain of 24 diners in the Northeast US, wanted to explore switching her career to a different industry.
The restaurants had shifted to a takeout model, but faced mounting losses, and the government bailout, she thought, might not save the chain if the pandemic lasted for more than a few months. She felt worried about the very high probability of having to shift to a lower-ranking role in order to get into a new industry, but also worried about her future if she stuck to the restaurant industry.
Alex turned to me as her executive coach and asked for my guidance in early March, before the pandemic fully hit. I recommended an 8-step decision-making process to her that addresses the dangerous judgment errors we make called cognitive biases, and coached her through the process to help her make the wisest and most profitable decision.
Step 1: Identify the need to launch a decision-making process. Such recognition bears particular weight when there’s no explicit crisis that cries out for a decision to be made or when your natural intuitions make it uncomfortable to acknowledge the need for a tough decision. The best decision makers take initiative to recognize the need for decisions before they become an emergency and don’t let gut reactions cloud their decision-making capacity.
Alex had already decided to evaluate the decision to switch to another role and industry, so we were able to complete this step quickly.
Step 2: Gather relevant information from a wide variety of informed perspectives on the issue at hand. Value especially those opinions with which you disagree. Contradicting perspectives empower you to distance yourself from the comfortable reliance on your gut instincts and help you recognize any potential bias blind spots.
I asked Alex to gather information from a wide variety of people with relevant perspectives. They included professional colleagues and mentors in the restaurant industry; contacts in other industries such as vendors to her restaurant chain; experts on the pandemic; and family members impacted by her potential switch, especially her stay-at-home husband who took care of her kids.
In particular, I urged her to include input from executives in her network who shifted to another industry, both those who made the switch successfully and those who did not. Likewise, I encouraged her to have a serious conversation with her accountant on her financial capacity to bear a job search that might take a long time, given the tribulations and uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
Step 3: With the data gathered, decide the goals you want to reach. Paint a clear vision of the desired outcome of your decision-making process. It’s particularly important to recognize when a seemingly one-time decision is a symptom of an underlying issue with processes and practices. Make addressing these root problems part of the outcome you want to achieve.
With the data she had on hand, I asked Alex to come up with a list of critical goals, which should address underlying issues as well.
Among the goals identified were:
- To make sure that within a year, she had a role that would pay her at least 75% of the salary that she was getting as COO of the restaurant chain, whether by staying at the chain or switching to another industry, per her accountant’s guidance
- To ensure that she had substantial room for career growth if she did make the switch
- One underlying issue that Alex identified is that while she favored innovation in business, she was often at loggerheads with several key stakeholders in her current company who didn’t want to deviate from traditional business methods. She was hoping that in shifting to a different industry and company, she would be able to address this issue as well. So an additional goal was to enable her to satisfy her passion for innovation.
Step 4: Develop a clear decision-making process criteria to weigh the various options of how you’d like to get to your vision. If at all possible, develop these criteria before you start to consider choices. Our intuitions bias our decision-making criteria to encourage certain outcomes that fit our instincts. As a result, you get overall worse decisions if you don’t develop criteria before starting to look at options. Rank the importance of each criteria on a scale of 1 (low) to 10 (high).
Alex came up with a number of criteria relevant for the switch and ranked them on
her priorities, with 1 at the low end and 10 at the high end:
- Salary in a year (8)
- Innovation opportunity (5)
- Room for growth (6)
- Stability for the industry and the company in the foreseeable medium and long-term future (7)
- Ease of transition (5)
Step 5: Generate a number of viable options that can achieve your decision-making process goals. We frequently fall into the trap of generating insufficient options to make the best decisions, especially for solving underlying challenges.
To address this, it’s very important to generate many more options that seem intuitive to us. Otherwise, we tend to generate only 1 or at most 2 options, and go with the one we initially prefer, rather than truly considering the variety of possible futures to make the most effective choice.
Go for 5 attractive options as the minimum. Remember that this is a brainstorming step, so don’t judge options, even though they might seem outlandish or politically unacceptable. In my consulting and coaching experience, the optimal choice often involves elements drawn from out-of-the-box and innovative options.
Initially, Alex listed just one option for switching: it was obvious that she was already leaning towards the food delivery industry. However, I convinced her to add 3 more options so that she will have 5 at the minimum. She took a bit more time deliberating and finally came up with 5 options:
- Stay in her current position
- Food delivery industry
- Meal kit industry
- Food processing industry
- Grocery store industry
Step 6: Weigh these options, picking the best of the bunch. When weighing options, beware of going with your initial preferences, and do your best to see your own preferred choice in a harsh light.
Moreover, do your best to evaluate each option separately from your opinion on the person who proposed it, to minimize the impact of personalities, relationships, and internal politics on the decision itself.
At this point, Alex was still leaning towards her favored option, which was to shift to the food delivery industry. She informed me that some of her former colleagues were also able to easily transition to this industry.
However, I cautioned her to consider and evaluate each option carefully, and separate each option from those who recommended it to her. I also urged her to factor in all the variables first, such as the fact that the grocery store industry was booming and will continue to do so.
So we went together through each option, and she ranked each option on each criteria variable. To do so, we made a table with options on the left and variables on the top. Then, after ranking each option on the relevant criteria, we multiplied the ranking by the weight of the criteria.
|Room for growth|
|Ease of transition|
Alex was very surprised to discover that the grocery store option proved much better than all the other ones, including her favored food delivery option. That’s because grocery stores boomed due to the pandemic, and were hiring both workers and executives left and right.
Moreover, those with whom she spoke foresaw that the pandemic would lead to lasting changes in how people got food, with a much bigger emphasis on eating at home and much less on either restaurants or cafeterias in the workplace. Given that people had more time than before, and looked for ways to occupy themselves, they also foresaw a shift away from delivery and meal kits, with more people spending their time cooking instead.
The grocery store industry thus offered much more room for growth, stability, and salary potential
than the other fields she considered. Due to their extensive hiring, she judged it not too difficult to transition there. Due to the many options within grocery stores, they had significant room for innovation as well.
Step 7: Implement the option you chose. For implementing the decision, you need to minimize risks and maximize rewards, since your goal is to get a decision outcome that’s as good as possible.
First, imagine the decision completely fails. Then, brainstorm about all the problems that led to this failure.
Next, consider how you might solve these problems, and integrate the solutions into your implementation plan.
Then, imagine the decision absolutely succeeded. Brainstorm all the reasons for success, consider how you can bring these reasons into life, and integrate what you learned into implementing the decisions.
Alex imagined that the switch to the grocery store industry failed because of three things:
- Lack of proper network with which to source for possible job opportunities;
- Unwillingness to take on a role that is a step down in the organizational hierarchy;
- Inflexible attitude when learning new things, brought about by years of calling the shots as COO
Alex realized that while she had an extensive network, most of the professional contacts she had cultivated were from the restaurant industry, so her network might not be adequate for job hunting. She also had some reservations about having to take a lower-ranking role, considering how hard and how long she had worked in order to become a COO. Finally, she contemplated how difficult it might be to have to relinquish being in the driver’s seat and follow someone else’s business strategy if she does step into a non-COO role.
Alex brainstormed on possible solutions and decided on the following:
- Spend a month growing her network so that she could make new contacts and get to know key players in the grocery store industry.
- Get in touch with former colleagues and mentors who had stepped down from top leadership roles to get their advice and insight on what they learned from the experience.
- Upon landing a good role, focus on learning new skills, brushing up on old ones, and doing a deep dive to get to know the grocery food industry. This way, she could focus her attention on becoming a valuable member of senior management instead of dwelling on any “power limitations.”
When she had finished imagining failure and brainstorming for solutions, Alex proceeded to imagine that the decision to shift to a new role and industry was a success.
After thinking of potential reasons for this success, she determined that this was largely due to her efforts to efficiently transition to her new role and industry by building new core skills. Aside from this, she was also able to bring some of her unique skills from the restaurant industry to the grocery store industry, including:
- Knowing how to serve customers effectively through creating a positive customer experience
- Her expertise in managing prepared food delivery, which was a crucial skill to have, given that grocery stores had to deliver food extensively during the pandemic
- Extensive knowledge on how supply chains operate, a strategic skill to have since the grocery store industry also faces issues of supply chain disruptions due to the pandemic
Step 8: Evaluate the implementation of the decision and revise as needed.
As part of your implementation plan, develop clear metrics of success that you can measure throughout the implementation process. Check in regularly to ensure the implementation is meeting or exceeding its success metrics. If it’s not, revise the implementation as needed.
Sometimes, you’ll realize you need to revise the original decision as well, and that’s fine, just go back to the step that you need to revise and proceed from that step again. More broadly, you’ll often find yourself going back and forth among these steps. Doing so is an inherent part of making a significant decision, and does not indicate a problem in your process.
For example, say you’re at the option-generation stage, and you discover relevant new information. You might need to go back and revise the goals and criteria stages.
Alex was able to successfully shift industries. Within 6 weeks, she was able to get into a large grocery chain as Senior Vice President of Prepared Foods. While it was a step down from her role as COO, she was able to get a compensation package that was 85% of what she received as COO in her former company, owing to the fact that she had joined a much larger organization in a booming industry.
I guided her through the implementation of her decision, where she set the following metrics of success:
- Expand her network by adding 6 contacts/month specifically from the grocery store industry
- Identify and work on 4 core skills that she needed in order to thrive in her new role and industry
- Identify at least 6 key people in her new network and engage with them every two weeks on specific industry issues
- Develop mentors within this new industry
Job Hunting for Your Career During the COVID-19 Pandemic
When I last chatted with Alex by videoconference in early May, she happily informed me that she was easily able to transition to her new role. She confided that she was relieved and grateful that she switched jobs and industries when she did, considering how the pandemic unfolded. She was successfully expanding her network in the new industry, and identifying potential mentors.
Most of the job hunting efforts that Alex expended is similar to what a typical job seeker would do, pandemic or no pandemic:
- Internal readiness is crucial. You cannot launch a half-baked attempt, and this is why applying the 8 steps discussed in this article is important.
- Networking has become even more powerful during these times, and – fortunately – more flexible. Due to the current pandemic, what used to be an in-person activity can now be done 100% virtually, which takes less time and greatly expands your geographic reach. Colleagues, contacts, mentors, recruiters, and possible employers won’t expect you to jump through the usual hoops of attending conferences and in-person introduction meetings. Simply sending an email or connecting through LinkedIn can be a good start nowadays.
- Put a spotlight on your skills, but in the context of the pandemic. Where before you would cite in an interview how your skills would address a department or company need, this time, you would need to frame your skills in the context of this new abnormal. Prepare to be asked pandemic-related questions, and prepare to ask them as well. Given that many companies have shifted to a virtual setup, if you have significant remote work experience, or was able to solve a work-from-home related problem in your previous roles, now would be the time to highlight it.
- Patience doubles its value as a virtue. Consider that the recruitment and hiring process may take much longer now, due to the many things that recruitment and management teams need to consider. Be prepared to wait for an update after an interview, or to receive an offer, or to be onboarded. But also be ready to respond quickly, as in today’s virtual-focused environment, there’s a greater expectation of responding to an email within 12-24 hours.
While many people would settle for their jobs merely surviving in this pandemic, do you really want to be the person who settles? Or do you want to have the job security and the career growth that helps you live up to your true professional potential? You can get that if you are willing to conduct a frank assessment of your career and take the best decision-making steps to execute a successful career change.
Changing jobs or industries during this pandemic is not only possible, but might be critically important for achieving your career potential. Use the best decision-making steps so that you and your career can thrive, not just survive.
Questions to Consider (please share your answers below)
- What concerns do you have about making a career change during this pandemic?
- What in the article might help you switch jobs or industries?
- Which next steps will you take based on reading this article?
Image credit: Pixabay
Originally Published at Disaster Avoidance Experts on July 28, 2020