The coronavirus crisis has unleashed a maelstrom of uncertainty about every aspect of our lives. It has introduced concerns as disparate as mental and physical health, financial stability, children’s education, screen time, the presidential election, humanity at the end of life – for heaven’s sake, we even worry about where our next roll of toilet paper will come from!
Paramount for some Americans are anxieties about employment. Just six weeks into the Covid-19 crisis, a jaw-dropping 30 million people hit the unemployment rolls. And that number is expected to climb. Economists estimate the unemployment rate may ultimately hit 20% – a staggering figure that is now being compared to the Great Depression, when a quarter of the American population was unemployed.
For now, there are still way more questions than answers about the uncertainty – especially for those who have lost, or risk losing, their jobs. Two questions topping the list are: How do we get to the other side of this crisis, and what will it look like when we get there?
The short answer to both questions is that no one knows for sure. This crisis presents the U.S. with two equally harrowing alternatives – a modern day Scylla and Charibdis: Reopen the economy and risk thousands more deaths, or keep the economy closed and risk unparalleled economic damage.
How it ultimately turns out will depend on so many variables, not least of which include when a coronavirus vaccine can be produced, and how effectively our leaders navigate us through this impossibly difficult strait.
But Americans are nothing if not resilient. Somehow, we will get to the other side. And the path forward isn’t so bleak if you resolve to prepare yourself well for work life after the coronavirus crisis. Here are a few observations to help set your expectations.
We Are Unlikely to Get Back to Where We Were
When investors tuned into the most recent annual Berkshire Hathaway stockholders meeting, they were heartened by the optimism of billionaire and financial guru, William Buffett, who dispensed with some folksy wisdom. “Never bet against America,” he said. At the same time the “Oracle of Omaha” was realistic about the changes we face.
“We do not know exactly what happens when you voluntarily shut down a substantial portion of your society,” said Buffett.
To be sure, the return to any semblance of “normal” will take time, and it’s unclear whether the timeframe should be measured in months or years. But businesses are already planning for the next phase.
Consulting firm KPMG, for example, has published a useful conceptual model for how organizations might safely restart in a way that incorporates infection testing to mitigate the health risks to the workforce.
They’ve also looked at the struggles American workers currently face to understand how businesses can better support them. A survey reveals that 60% of employees say their jobs have become more demanding – even overwhelming. This is especially true of parents who are juggling work and childcare.
And the higher they are on the corporate ladder, the more likely people are to find work more challenging now. Few managers have experience overseeing an entirely virtual workforce. It requires a special set of skills to maintain employee morale, productivity, and a human connection at a distance.
Again, no one knows for sure what the new normal work life will look like, but it will probably look a lot like what prognosticators were forecasting in the pre-Covid-19 period. The future of work is now standing at the front door.
Most evident, is that there will be a burgeoning role of technology, especially anything pertaining to remote working. Virus or no virus, it will be impossible to put that genie back in the bottle. Now that companies and workers know that remote working works, fewer people will be going to an office.
Instead, business-as-usual will involve working from home, less travel, more video conferencing, and new apps and platforms that enable team communication and collaboration at a distance. In fact, there is a good chance that Covid-19 will trigger a permanent exodus from dense, metropolitan centers to rural and suburban locales. After all, why would city dwellers opt to pay high rents for a small apartment if proximity to an office is no longer a requirement?
Until a vaccine is available, only those for whom it is critical to be in an office will be expected to go. Those that do will find new floor layouts and safe zones in elevators that promote social distancing. Previously open work spaces may have sneeze guard partitions and ramped up cleaning regimens. If they don’t already, businesses will stagger work schedules to minimize contact among office workers.
Some changes may challenge privacy concerns, such as regular temperature scans. According to the Washington Post, PricewaterhouseCoopers will soon launch a contact-tracing tool for businesses. The tool adds an app to workers’ phones that detects the phones of any co-workers that come near.
The Covid-19 Impact on Career Management
To stay competitive in this new work environment, it’s imperative that workers keep up with technological advancements and prepare themselves for imminent changes to conventional modes of work. The rise of the Gig Economy was well underway before Covid-19. In the short term it will expand even more because companies concerned about their bottom line are likely to hire people on a temporary basis until the dust settles.
“In the past month and a half, we’ve had more clients landing than ever before,” says Dan Resendes, chief consulting officer at The Barrett Group. “Companies that are affected the worst are looking to replace leaders that are failing to handle this crisis.”
Recruiters are also actively beefing up their lists of leaders proficient in dealing with crises, transitions, and virtual business. In addition to these skills, a savoir-faire in managing relationships and leveraging social capital outside of the traditional format is more prized than ever before.
Indeed, Resendes notes that the successes of clients at The Barrett Group is due largely to their efforts to check in on people in their network to make sure everyone is doing okay during this crisis. Networking is hugely important in the best of times. During a crisis such as this, where in-person meetings are risky, this kind of soft skill is crucial to building relationships and creating a community.
“We are seeing a fundamental shift in the skills and leadership background required by companies,” said Resendes.
Some Silver Linings for Job Seekers
It is difficult to see past the daily grim headlines, but there are some silver linings for motivated job seekers. Many job seekers are simply deciding to wait out the storm, which means the pool of competitors is smaller than it would otherwise be for those actively looking. Also, many older workers may simple opt for early retirement rather than reinventing themselves for a few more years, which will shrink the pool even more.
It’s important to remember that when a vaccine or widespread testing puts the worst of the health crisis behind us, the employment picture gets much brighter. Because the economy was victim to an exogenous shock and not internal rot, hiring may well be supercharged when it recovers.
Sure, some industries, like travel, hospitality, and tourism, may take a long time to recuperate, but others, like technology, healthcare, construction, and consulting firms, will be catapulted way ahead as innovators race to respond to new social and commercial needs and new consumer expectations.
Going forward, job seekers should highlight different skills and experiences than they used to. Anything that shows an ability to achieve a vision or a mission by leveraging calm, decisive leadership during times of adversity and crises will grab attention, as will skills in managing a remote workforce, an ability to restructure policies and procedures, and distance production.
Most organizations have never experienced a disruption on the scale of the Covid-19 crisis, and they will do all they can to minimize the fallout and ensure it never happens again. If you can contribute to that goal, you will be hired!
Reading the news is depressing stuff these days. In addition to the tragic loss of life that now seems inevitable, the coronavirus health crisis has turned into a full-blown economic crisis that promises to rival every economic crisis in the post-war era.
Bank of America “officially declared” in mid-March that the U.S. economy has fallen into a recession – and that was even before the U.S. Labor Department reported unemployment claims had surged to 3.3 million, up from 281,000 the week prior. In the week ending March 28 initial claims leapt to 6.6 million – an all-time high.
Experts expect these numbers to worsen yet over the coming months.
A sobering analysis by management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, estimates that up to one-third of U.S. jobs could be vulnerable. The most affected industries – hospitality, food service, and retail – account for 42% of vulnerable jobs. With Americans retreating to their homes, consumer spending – which comprises two-thirds of the U.S. economy – has narrowed to grocery, hand sanitizer and toilet paper purchases.
McKinsey’s analysis find that lockdowns disproportionally affect low-income workers. But unemployment is likely to spread across most industries and income levels until businesses see the economic rebound that invariably follows an economic crisis.
When will that happen?
At this point, it’s anybody’s guess. It depends entirely on the economic policy and the public health responses to the crisis.
But it’s never too early to start preparing for a job search. Whether hiring picks up in the third quarter of this year or sometime in 2021, you should put your worries to work now so that you can hit the ground running when we emerge on the other side of the coronavirus crisis.
This Economic Crisis Is Different
The rapidly worsening doom and gloom news is head-spinning. Events are moving so fast that in the last two weeks of March Goldman Sachs revised its economic forecast of the second quarter three times; first, to a contraction of 5%, then to 24%, then to a jaw-dropping 34%. That’s 3.5 times bigger than any decline in history. Goldman Sachs’ lead economist, Jan Hatzius, says that unemployment will hit 15% by the second half of the year.
Still, this economic crisis is different from other economic crises.
Unlike the 2008 financial crisis, which was the result of complex structural problems in the U.S. economy, the current crisis is the result of an exogenous shock to the economy – that is, an unpredicted event that comes from outside the economic system.
In theory, an exogenous shock to an otherwise healthy economy can absorb the shock and rebound in a classic V-shaped growth curve. That is a big difference from the slow, 10-year recovery after the 2008 crisis.
A quick rebound is exactly what Goldman Sachs forecasts. It sees GDP surging 19% in the third quarter. Likewise, Morgan Stanley forecasts growth of 21% after a sharp contraction of 38% in the second quarter.
To be clear, there is no consensus on what the recovery will look like.
Morgan and Goldman expect a more drawn out recovery than initially anticipated, and some experts foresee a full-on U-shaped recovery. Unfortunately, an L-shaped recovery isn’t out of the question.
But economic relief efforts are underway. In the first week of April Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin tweeted that community banks have already processed over $875 million in loans of the $349 billion small business Paycheck Protection Program, and big banks will be following suit soon. Treasury officials also plan to ask Congress to commit an additional $200 billion to the program.
Experts do agree that the recovery very much depends on the policy response to the crisis. McKinsey has modeled out various economic scenarios based on the aggressivity of the government’s economic policy and public health responses to the coronavirus crisis. To avoid a grim outcome, it strongly urges quick and bold leadership.
What’s the bottom line: Should you postpone your job search?
The answer is no. Here are three reasons why:
1. No one can guess the bottom of this market and it won’t get easier to wait. Back in 2008 many would-be job seekers waited for the market to recover, which took a long time. If current estimates hold, a rebound in the third and fourth quarters would be 3-6 months from now. A typical job search also takes 3-6 months, so starting the process now is the right time to research the job you want and make yourself the best candidate possible for that job so that you’re ready to go when hiring picks up.
2. Hiring managers are always working back channels to place people in open positions, both in good times and in bad. It’s called the “unpublished job market.” If you aren’t job seeking, you won’t know about those opportunities, and hiring managers won’t know about your candidacy.
Imagine showing up for an interview with your top company choice only to be told that the spot you were gunning for was filled two weeks ago. Don’t let someone who acted more quickly than you eat your lunch!
A much better strategy is to throw your hat into the ring now and politely tell the hiring manager: “I understand that your hiring circumstances may be uncertain at the moment, but please keep me in mind when things improve.” Your candor and consideration will be appreciated.
3. Don’t forget that a crisis is the best time to show your mettle to hiring managers. Anyone can be a leader when times are good, but a crisis is precisely when companies need strong leaders. If you have something special to offer, let people know. You will be in high demand.
Whether you are employed or not, you are probably spending your days at home like most Americans. Since you have more time on your hands than usual, take a break from watching Tiger King on Netflix to reflect on what your skills are. Do some research to figure out how they may be transferrable to another industry or another type of position. Lastly, cogitate on how you can present these skills to a hiring manager in a language that he’ll understand: dollars and cents.
Don’t be shy to reach out for professional help. This kind of exercise is a specialty for executive coaching firms like The Barrett Group. If they can help you demonstrate that you can change a company’s bottom line, create new income, or save time and money, you will get hired. In that case, the investment in a coach will have been well worth it.
Quarantining is an ideal time to ramp up your networking. Because everyone is home, they are reaching out to people they don’t regularly communicate with. Exploit this opportunity and make video calls do double duty for you – make it social but with the potential for a future professional payoff. (If you’re nervous, keep it casual by positioning your kids or your dog in the background.)
Lastly, don’t forget that there are many companies that ARE hiring now. Companies from industries spanning technology to online retail to home delivery are hiring to meet increased demand caused by the coronavirus pandemic. LinkedIn maintains a regularly updated list of companies hiring right now. And the Wall Street Journal is tracking a long list of companies that are both shedding and adding workers and worker benefits.
Many of the positions in demand now are temporary, but consider being a hero in the short-term. In addition to acquiring a few new skills, some contacts, and making a little more income, you will make a difference. What better way to put your worries to work?
Rapid technological changes are shaping everything from the way we hail a cab to the way we order takeout food. We are forced to adapt to new ways of doing the most basic tasks. It’s no wonder, then, that you may be feeling similar pressure in your work life.
Your calendar is updated by others remotely, your files are stored in the cloud and editable by someone in a different city – or country, and a modern meeting is held by video conferencing technology in a “zoom room” or over a smart phone. Even the staid one-page, paper resume has been replaced by the LinkedIn profile.
In an effort to keep up with the competition, companies must respond to the never-ending need to upgrade systems, digital platforms, and applications. Naturally, companies value most the employees who can keep up with all these changes. It is incumbent upon you, therefore, to continually develop yourself, to learn new skills – especially digital skills – and to be flexible about learning new modes and patterns of work.
So “upskilling” is crucial for anyone who hopes to position him or herself for a better opportunity at a new company or advancement within the current one. But what skills are the most important ones to have? And what is the best way to acquire them?
What Is Upskilling and How Do I Do It?
A scene in “The Intern,” a 2015 film about a retired professional, bored with retirement, who elects to return to the workforce, shows Robert DeNiro’s character, Ben Whittaker, reading the instructions to digitally apply for a job posting to an e-commerce startup company. “I have no idea what you just read,” said Whittaker’s friend in the scene. “It’s like a different language!” Undeterred, Whittaker applies for, and lands, a job at the startup and begins his re-education in the world of modern technology.
These days the experience of those characters may be common to people of all ages who aren’t actively updating their skillset. A 2016 report by the World Economic Forum forecast that within five years over one-third of skills that are considered important in the workforce will have changed. Therefore, acquiring new skills and knowledge that make you marketable in your career – upskilling, in today’s parlance – should be a constant endeavor for everyone.
But what skills you should learn depend entirely on the needs of your employer and, of course, on you.
Would you like to advance in the field you’re already in or pursue a different career altogether? Many company leaders now see a yawning gap between the technical needs of their company and the technical abilities of today’s workforce.
Research firm Gartner reports that “…talent has now been recognized globally as the single biggest issue standing in the way of CIOs achieving their objectives.” Increasingly, companies are recognizing the value of training their workers in new skills and offering them valuable professional development. If you are offered such an opportunity, jump on it!
If not, you should be exploring ways to develop yourself on your own.
Consulting with a professional career coach, like the ones available at The Barrett Group, is a great first step for getting a fresh perspective on what you might do to boost your career. Other good resources include finding a mentor, joining an industry association, or taking a course at a local university where you can interact with an experienced educator. Speaking to other people who know the industry is a great way to find out what skills are in hot demand.
Once you figure out what skills are important for your career goals, there are endless ways to learn them – and they aren’t necessarily costly or time consuming. Read books, subscribe to technical magazines, or take an online course, of which there are many excellent, free ones, like Coursera or MIT’s OpenCourseWare. It may seem obvious, but do an online search for “How to learn [fill in the blank].” You’ll doubtless get a page or more of good links to blogs, webinars or podcasts to dig into.
Don’t underestimate the value of online tutorials or YouTube videos.
Although they aren’t usually professionally edited and may lack clarity and thoroughness, they are easily accessible and free. What’s more, they often incorporate links, user comments and interactive demonstrations that are incredibly informative.
Finally, set yourself a tech goal, like creating a website or starting a blog. There is nothing better than experiential learning for mastering technical skills. Working on a project is more compelling than reading a book and the task focuses your attention on the practical application of the skills you are learning.
You might also consider joining a tech-related club and volunteering for a technical project. It will give you valuable experience and, perhaps, the opportunity to work with people with more technical know-how than you, who can act as useful resources. Doing this will have the added benefit of broadening your network and possibly opening doors in your career.
Seasoned Professionals Have an Edge
A report by the World Economic Forum on the future of jobs identifies the technology drivers of change that have already impacted industries – mobile internet, cloud technology and Big Data – and those that we can expect by 2020 – artificial intelligence, advanced robotics and autonomous transport. Nearly every industry and every organizational role will eventually require the use of sophisticated technology, but there are huge talent gaps.
According to the RAND Corporation, two different types of skills are in short supply: digital skills and digital navigation skills. The former are the technical skills required to use digital technologies. The latter is a wider and less tangible set of skills that is less about knowing technological skills than knowing how to find and prioritize information and assess its quality and reliability. It means taking responsibility for figuring out what you need to know and where to find that knowledge.
The good news is that hard, digital skills are defined and relatively easy to learn in a class or a book. Meanwhile, digital navigation skills require experience, judgement and time to acquire, which gives the seasoned professional an advantage in the employment market. The key here is to be able to apply technology within the context of a specific profession.
This means, for example, a doctor knowing how to use health IT tools to better diagnose a patient’s malady, or an auditor knowing how to use data analytics and visualization software to evaluate copious amounts of information on a spreadsheet at the click of a button. Still, it’s an ongoing process because the knowledge base is constantly changing and one must continue to adapt to new technologies and ways of doing things.
In the face of such radical change in the job environment, staying competitive means adapting. But successful people understand that learning is a lifelong pursuit. If you invest in ongoing skills development, you will do your job more effectively, increase your salary bargaining power, and give yourself confidence to set increasingly challenging goals. You will set yourself apart from the crowd and the results will speak for themselves.
We hope this finds you well, as are we. The Barrett Group has been active in the
career management market for 30 years and has weathered all manner of crises,
Yes, the US and the world are in the grip of a health crisis. Once governments recognize what needs to be done and commit publicly to doing it, people will adjust. Fortunately, with the measures rapidly being adopted in the US and Europe this is finally starting to happen, though it will certainly get worse before it gets better.
Where China has adopted strict lock-downs, the incidence of new cases has already dwindled.
There is hope that “shelter in place” and similar measures being adopted elsewhere can slow the rate of spread and allow health services to expand their capacity and source the equipment and supplies they will need as the crisis peaks.
Medically, most people even if they become infected are not at risk of anything worse than a severe flu, if that, but please take all necessary precautions. Extensive testing for example in Iceland shows that many who are infected never become symptomatic… though they may still be infectious for a period of time.
Industries will be impacted differently.
The cruise ship, airline, amusement park, and concert businesses are already suffering. Consumer goods companies, particularly makers of hand sanitizer, face masks, toilet paper and the like are thriving. The health care industries once they adjust will probably do well, too.
On-line shopping is booming as you can see from Amazon’s stock development. Microsoft and others have leapt into the remote-learning market as schools have closed.
Government stimulus and support is also making its way through the regulatory process and green shoots are showing on the world’s stock markets. Many other industries will not be significantly impacted in the medium term.
At the Barrett Group we are modestly ahead of the curve as far as virtual working is concerned, and it seems that the world is moving our way. This may be the most significant impact of all in the long term as more and more companies recognize that there are in fact significant advantages to telecommuting.
Already, most initial employment interviews are conducted by telephone and videoconference.
By the way, we can help you set up a complimentary videoconference account of your own, if you wish, to help you capitalize on this trend.
Our discussions with major employers indicate that most expect to weather this crisis and continue recruiting major talent, as their organizational strategies are long term and not particularly affected by the whim of the market.
So, in a nutshell, as long as you are willing to do the work required, this health crisis should not significantly impact your career change campaign in our opinion.
Most of our clients land through the unpublished market anyway and we know how to help you make the connections required to be successful there.
Fear can be paralyzing.
But you need not be a victim.
Take advantage of this crisis to take stock of your situation. Perhaps it is time for you to take
action. If so, please consult us. Thirty years of guiding executives toward a
better work / life / compensation balance has made us the experts. We can help.
In the meantime, please do everything you can to stay healthy and
protect the health of those around you.
Are you in a midlife career change? Are you changing careers at 30, 40 or 50 years of age? Do you need a new career? If you are currently experiencing difficulty in your job search, we’re here to help. Please send a message with your information or call.