How to keep your career moving forward — even during a pandemic

While the pandemic has slowed down the pace of life, for many, it has also slowed the pace of career advancement. Companies concerned about revenue may not be making new hires or giving out promotions or raises right now. Professional development and training budgets may be slashed or frozen—not that there are many seminars or conferences to go to, anyway.

If you want to keep building your skills and positioning yourself for advancement, you may just have to do it yourself, says Keri Ohlrich, CEO of PR consulting firm Abracci Group and coauthor of The Way of the HR Warrior: Leading the Charge to Transform Your Career and Organization. “You are the main person who controls your own development,” she says. “I worked at really big companies. And [employees] would sit and say, ‘Well, what is the company going to do for me?’ You’re going to wait a long time for the company to do something for you.”

Instead, take matters into your own hands to ensure you’re moving along your career path in the best possible way now.

Check in with yourself

Before you keep charging forward, take a moment to think about what you want—and why, says career coach and therapist Brieanna Scolaro. The pandemic has made some people rethink their priorities. You may be dealing with personal or mental health challenges triggered by the pandemic. Or you may be facing professional constraints like a reduced team size or budget. Those can be real challenges that may affect what you can reasonably accomplish now, she says.

“What we do need to do now is reevaluate what our goals are, and how they fit in a pandemic world. So if you have been really trying to go for promotion, or you are about to launch a huge project, what are your goals within that? And what are your timelines around that? Maybe you need to adjust the goal that you had or the expectation of your work performance,” she says. Also, look at the “why” behind the goal. What do you hope to get out of achieving it? Exploring the real needs behind the drive can often give you insight about what you really want, she says.

Get the counsel you need

Once you’re clear about what you want, think about the people who can help you stay on track with your development. Ohlrich recommends assembling your personal “board of directors.” These are trusted mentors, colleagues, and advisers who can give you the advice and feedback you need.

It may be a good idea to talk to your manager, too, says Bruce Tulgan, founder and CEO of leadership consultancy RainmakerThinking and author of The Art of Being Indispensable at Work: Win Influence, Beat Overcommitment, and Get the Right Things Done. If you have a good relationship with your manager, reach out and brainstorm about how to keep developing your skills. Your boss may need help with a stretch project or have ideas about how you can learn something new. This also gives you the opportunity to reinforce how you add value. “Here’s my plans for the week. Here are my priorities. I want to make sure I clarified ground rules, marching orders, what can I do to add value,” he says. That’s an important part of making yourself indispensable.

Work on the skills you can develop yourself

While there might not be a lot of big conferences or seminars going on, there are some creative online events happening that offer opportunities to learn and network, Ohlrich says. Check in with your industry associations or professional groups. And the good news is that the online versions are often far less expensive than the in-person versions, she says. As Fast Company previously reported, online learning has exploded during the pandemic, and there are many options on some of the big online learning sites.

It’s also a good time to work on soft skills, which are increasingly in demand, says Melissa Cadwallader, an HR expert with business services platform ZenBusiness. This is a perfect time to exercise your creative problem-solving skills or find ways to get comfortable with change. Are there ways to develop the managerial skills you’ll need to move up, even if it’s through volunteering or finding another way to manage projects or people? “If you think of the knowledge economy, and you think about what are those skills that are needed, it’s the people aspects of it. It’s the connectivity. It’s the collaboration. Anything people can do to hone those skills will be will benefit your career,” she says.

Create a mix of goals

As you’re setting goals for yourself, mix them up, Cadwallader says. Some should be big-picture goals that may take some time to achieve, such as getting a certification or promotion. Then, set some midrange goals, like completing a big project or taking a class. Finally, set some weekly goals so you can feel like you’re making progress, she says. Small goals can also be steps toward bigger goals.

“You have to have your big goal in mind. Whatever that is, and then you have to create your path to get there. The path may not look like it did pre-COVID and so you’re going to have to take some pivots along the way,” she says. But if you keep learning and growing, even when everything seems paused, you can be ready for whatever the next phase of “normal” ends up being.

This article originally appeared in Fast Company.