How to make a comeback career in a COVID-19 world

Executive career coach Liz Bentley lays out the best strategies for those looking to pivot or embrace change in their careers.
Image: A "We're Hiring" sign advertising jobs is seen at the entrance of a restaurant, as Miami-Dade County eases some of the lockdown measures put in place during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Miami
A "We're Hiring" sign advertising jobs is seen at the entrance of a restaurant, as Miami-Dade County eases some of the lockdown measures put in place during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Miami, May 18, 2020.Marco Bello / Reuters

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By Liz Bentley

Many of us are being forced to address our careers amid the coronavirus pandemic in a way that feels abrupt and scary. It’s important to remember, however, that change can be good: it pushes us to grow, and it illuminates the roadblocks we have previously been unwilling to see and address.

If you find yourself suddenly at a career crossroads (perhaps you lost your job, took a pay cut or are contemplating work in a completely different industry), the best thing you can do is lean into the change as you decide your next move. It’s equally important to recognize your own strengths and where you struggle in order to have more clarity in your actions. Here are the best strategies if you want to pivot and embrace change in your career.

Review your journey up to this point.

Ask yourself: how long has this change been coming and how have you been addressing it? It’s important to look back and review whether this is something you could have gotten in front of sooner. This way you’ll know if you have a bad habit to fix or if there have been company or industry changes.

Also, be sure to critically evaluate your work during this time. We work with many leaders who have noted employees who have risen and embraced the challenges and those who have not. For example, if you were suddenly forced to work remotely, how did you manage the transition? Were you productive or did you get overwhelmed? By taking stock of your own ability to be resilient and push through unprecedented challenges, you’ll know if there are any areas you need to work on.

Embrace a growth mindset.

In coaching, we always work with our clients to develop a mindset that prioritizes evolving. This means that people can take risks and make mistakes, but they need to grow and understand feedback to constantly improve. The goal is not perfection; the goal is to never stop growing and learning. This mindset is more important than ever in a world that is constantly shifting and, in some cases, dramatically changing. And it’s critical to your career navigation no matter where you are on the path.

A growth mindset doesn’t happen overnight. You need to work at it and be willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone, course correct when you need to, and always be asking for and accepting feedback on your performance. It’s a game changer and it’s essential to staying relevant and adapting during all periods of your life.

Build your confidence.

Change is always hard. It requires risk taking and putting yourself out there. To do that, you need to feel good about yourself and your abilities. If you’re feeling insecure, which is natural during a time of transition, it will come across to your potential employer.

To build your confidence, think back to your historical wins. These are areas in your life where you have succeeded and feel a sense of accomplishment. Replay those wins in your mind to feel good about who you are and what you can do. Then start to visualize your success at every step of the process. Visualize your interviews, your conversations and yourself in your dream role or the job/career you are transitioning to. Feeling confident will help you navigate the areas of uncertainty more easily. And remember sometimes you have to “fake it until you make it.”

Assess your unique talents.

What value do you bring to your work? More specifically, what collection of skills helps you get your job done well? And what personality traits do you bring to the table that add to a team’s dynamic? To get a more holistic view, ask your managers, co-workers and friends about your skills and style. Then think about how to match them up with the future. For example, if you’re in sales, what makes you great at selling and how will people want to be sold to going forward. Or if you’re in an industry that has taken a big hit such as travel, what skills will naturally transfer to burgeoning areas such as remote technology services.

Understand advancements in technology and work with all communication platforms.

Understand how these advancements have changed the workplace and will continue to change it going forward. And make sure you are well-versed in these areas. It’s disadvantageous if you’re not technologically savvy. So if you aren’t well versed in this area, don’t brag about it -- try to learn. There are thousands of classes and resources available online.

Also, communication has changed dramatically, so you have to know how to communicate on all platforms. If you’re a Millennial, that means you need to be able to talk on the phone; if you’re a Gen Xer, stop overusing email; and if you’re a Boomer, be able to text for work and stop thinking it’s a big deal. The goal isn’t how you communicate; it’s that you communicate effectively with all types of people. It’s being able to adjust to different styles and preferences and making sure the message is not lost.

Always connect to the user experience.

For the most part, people still want the same things, they may just want it delivered differently. For example, they still want food cooked by a chef, but they now want it delivered to their house instead of going out. Or they still want to meet and see you, but they now want to do it virtually instead of driving to your office.

As you evaluate your career moves, keep these societal changes in mind and place yourself in the user’s mindset. This will help guide you toward companies that are doing the same and thriving.

Look further ahead.

To be relevant, don’t only think about what’s important right now, think into the future and how things will evolve. How do you think people will want to experience your services? While no one has a crystal ball, it’s good practice to stay on top of trends and continually think about where things are going.

If you adapt a mindset of constantly evolving, you will naturally be shifting and adapting to your workplace. This will help you rise to whatever opportunities and challenges you may face in the future.

Liz Bentley is the founder and president of Liz Bentley Associates, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development programs. She is a nationally recognized keynote speaker and executive coach to top leaders and teams across a broad range of industries