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Jobs can end abruptly, as COVID showed. To cope then, prepare now.
By Alaina G. Levine | August 8, 2022
A crisis can happen anytime, to anyone—but a career crisis management plan can help.
At the beginning of 2020, I had an exciting year ahead for my career, with a full calendar of speaking engagements, including one at the University of Tokyo. When the pandemic hit and all my contracts (and most of my income) disappeared into a void of anger, fear, and cupcake crumbs, I knew I had to act. I did—and by the end of the year, I had booked more business than I had in any year before. How? By developing and using a career crisis management plan. You need one too—before crisis strikes.
Crises can happen anytime to anyone. They can derail our plans for career advancement, cost us precious resources, or lead to job loss. And as the pandemic has shown for so many people, crises also take a physical and emotional toll.
In short, crises suck.
But you have the power to overcome them—in this case, by building and executing a customized crisis management plan for your career. This strategy serves as insurance, letting you identify and mitigate points of risk that could hurt a career in a crisis.
A major component of this plan is networking, in which you craft and activate mutually beneficial relationships with the aim of supporting one another during challenging times—and enabling everyone to harness their hidden capacities for success in the face of loss. And by building the plan now, we foster resilience and increase the chances of professional sustainability, for us and our connections. Here’s how you design and implement your career crisis management plan.
Recognize your emotions and give yourself space and time to feel them. Our feelings, whether positive or negative, are valid and valuable. You may not be able to heal before you need to take action, but by acknowledging these emotions, you prevent them from festering.
View the situation as a logic problem. Physicists are excellent problem-solvers; one of your assets is your ability to think logically and see challenges as a series of questions for which you need answers. This is how I think too! My mathematics background helps me break problems down into nanosteps with a logical framework. This guide is a good place for you to start.
Check your record and inventory your skills (intrinsic data). Crises can mess with your mind. A little voice in your brain can convince you that you’ll never get out of this crisis, that a character flaw got you here in the first place, etc. To squelch this voice, review the truths of what you have accomplished. Your leadership, publications, awards, promotions, and other contributions—any indicators of the problems you’ve solved—are facts, not opinions, and they can cushion you when your sense of confidence wavers. Then, inventory your skills. List out the skills you gained from each CV item—for example, technical skills in science, engineering, and computing, as well as “business” skills in communication, leadership, and project management.
Understand your career ecosystem (extrinsic data). Gather data on the market or community you’re seeking to work in. What are the gaps—e.g., for a type of employer or job—your inventoried skills enable you to fill? What employer pain points can you alleviate?
Refine your marketing materials. Marketing materials are anything you use to advertise your skills and availability. Review your CV, online research profiles, cover letters, LinkedIn profile, and more. These ought to clearly and concisely communicate your value, including the facts of your resume, the skills from your skill inventory, and the gaps you can fill in your career ecosystem.
Activate your network. At its core, networking is about generosity. When you network well, you don’t ask, “What can I get from you?” Instead, you ask, “What can I do for you and with you?” When you invest in win-win alliances, everyone benefits (including you!). So, in a crisis, reach out to people. Request a short call or coffee break. Ask, “How can I help you during this challenging time?”
Diversify your network and skills. When you connect with people inside and outside your field, sector, region, and culture, you uncover opportunities to contribute value in new ways. New perspectives always lead to innovation—especially in career development. The same goes for skills. Ask yourself, “What novel skills can I learn that will enable my success in a crisis and protect me in the future?
Think entrepreneurially. Become what I call a Career Entrepreneur—someone who continually looks for opportunities to serve their community and add value by solving problems. Just like a startup aims to add value for its customers by solving a technical or business problem, we must connect the needs of the community (extrinsic data) with what we can do to meet those needs (our intrinsic data). Physicists naturally do this. And when you turn your physics talents toward career problem-solving and crisis prevention and mitigation, you can weather any storm.
Alaina G. Levine is a professional speaker, writer, and STEM career coach. This article builds on content that has appeared in her other works, including her columns, speeches, and book, Networking for Nerds (Wiley, 2015).
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