Between the burgeoning national unemployment rate and the stillness imposed on us by COVID-19 and its stay-at-home orders, I’ve been hearing more and more conversations about career-changing.
How do I know I’m ready to change careers? Should I find a new job in my industry, or should I immediately start looking for something new? Should I give up my steady job to change right now? And how would I even go about that?
Career experts are noticing this pattern, too. Several thought leaders I spoke to agreed that COVID-19 has put everything in our lives in perspective, including the time we often spend on careers that we don’t find fulfilling. Here is their best advice on using the COVID-19 era to pivot to a career you love — starting with how you know a career change is a good move for you right now.
1. You need to be sure you can separate your desire to switch careers from the general stress of life right now.
The first step to making a career change during COVID? Make sure COVID isn’t the only motivator behind your change.
“It’s crucial to remember that we are in the middle of a pandemic that is affecting everyone’s mental state,” Charlette Beasley, the Careers and Workplace Analyst at FitSmallBusiness.com, said. “You need to assess your current feelings as well as those that existed prior to all the madness. If you notice at least some trends that indicate you were lacking something professionally, it’s a sign you should consider looking elsewhere.”
Michele Mavi, Career Strategist and Founder of MonumentalMe.com, agreed — and offered a major indicator that your lack of motivation isn’t just COVID-induced.
“It’s normal for anyone to find it hard to be as motivated under these circumstances. But not caring about the quality of your work and having more anxiety at the thought of going back to work than the thought of having to shelter in place any longer is a clear indication that a change is in order,” Mavi said.
Even if you aren’t experiencing this anxiety, there may be other signs now is a good time for a change.
“You know better than anyone and it’s time to hone in on your intuition to get the answers you’re looking for,” Antoinette Beauchamp, the co-founder of One & Many, said. “Spend some time in reflection — whether that’s journaling, meditating or intention setting — and really consider what feels right for you. Take it a step further by visualizing your dream life. What does it look like?”
2. You need to decide (and market) what you bring to the COVID-era industry.
Jennifer Spoelma, a Professional Career Coach and host of the Career Foresight Podcast, says that believe it or not, now is a great time to make a career change because companies are reevaluating what’s important and what skills they need.
“With so many industries disrupted, most companies will begin rebuilding in the near future,” she said. “Diverse backgrounds and perspectives can be a major asset to any company.”
She says setting yourself apart in this “new normal” means doing your research on how the organizations you’re applying to are changing, then tailoring your application to match those learnings. More generally, she says companies are looking for flexibility, innovation and unique skills that can propel them forward in the digital world.
“Candidates who present themselves confidently and demonstrate how their experience will help the company reach its goals are very compelling to hiring managers,” she said. “COVID has made it clear to individuals and businesses alike that change is inevitable and innovation is a must. By painting yourself as someone who can help a company innovate because of your unique skills, knowledge or diverse industry experience, you will stand out.”
Nicholas Wyman, President of the Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation, says to “be aware of markets and fields that are expanding due to COVID-19, such as public health, human/social services, technology and data-driven services,” and make a switch there if it aligns with your career goals.
3. You need to create skills-first resumes and cover letters.
Christy Noel, Career Expert and Author of “Your Career Survival Guide: How to Get and Keep a Job in Times of Crisis,’ would agree with the advice above: Finding and marketing the unique skills you offer in the COVID world is key to making a successful career change. Job applicants can do this marketing by creating skills-first resumes and cover letters.
“As a hiring manager, I would much rather hire someone who has the skills I am looking for than someone who’s worked in the right industry… I can teach an industry, I cannot teach missing skills,” she said. “My recommendation to those looking to change industry right now is to only apply for jobs in a new industry for which you are qualified and then provide details on your experience in the core skills listed in the job description.”
What’s the best way to do that?
“Show your success and accomplishments, with metrics, for the primary responsibilities of the position… Share real examples of how you performed,” she said.
Even if those accomplishments and examples existed in another type role, try to tie them back to the desired core skill you demonstrated.
4. You need to lean on your network — and be ready to start a new one.
Many of the experts I spoke to advocated for taking the personal approach to the job search right now, especially when you’re looking for jobs in an industry where you’re lacking experience. While your resume may get passed over in a stack for more qualified candidates, someone in your desired industry who knows you from another context may be able to champion you into your first job.
“Switching industries in the middle of COVID will present more challenges than normal, so I recommend taking a more personal approach. Ditch the job boards, and reach out to individuals in your personal network as well as on LinkedIn,” Beasley said.
If you don’t have an “in” within the line of work you’re switching to, making new connections may not land you a job, but it can help you learn about how to transition.
“Before you create a transition plan you need to do a lot of information gathering and the best place to start is with people currently in the role you’re looking to move into. They can offer tremendous insight regarding what the day-to-day is really like… They are also in the best position to offer the most valuable advice regarding what someone with your particular background would need to do to successfully make a transition into their role,” Mavi said.
Where can you find these new connections? Beasley suggests you “join social media groups that target your niche and see if the members have any recommendations or leads” because “people in private social media groups tend to be more responsive and willing to support one another.” One such group? The Fairygodboss Community.
5. You need to be ready to start with learning-based roles.
Making a career change is exciting and it can lead to a more fulfilling day-to-day life. However, Wyman points out that cutting your teeth is often required when making any change. He says to “be ready to explore seasonal opportunities” and “pursue modern apprenticeship programs,” which many companies are offering to expand their talent pools.
While these roles may be less glamorous than making a lateral move in your own field, learning through occupation may be a better option right now than investing in higher education, which Spoelma says should be taken very seriously.
“If going to school has been on your mind for a while, since before COVID-19, then it could be a great time to invest in formally learning new skills and knowledge. However, I would advise against this route if the option is primarily based in fear that jobs won’t be available, or companies won’t see your value,” she said. “Higher education is a major investment, and that investment should give you a return that exceeds what you put into it. If you aren’t sure the value you’d get out of going back to school, it likely won’t be worth it at this time.”
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.