Author Jennifer Folsom is partnering with Know Your Value’s A-list roster of experts to launch REBOOT Camp, a series featuring women who have lost their jobs amid Covid-19 and are struggling with their employment search amid uncertain times.
We are following their journeys, their highs, and lows, in hopes that sharing their experience will help others looking to reboot their careers as well.
Anne Nichelson can sum up the past year in one word: stressful.
Just before the pandemic, the 40-year-old with an MBA finalized her divorce and relocated to her hometown, about an hour south of Boston. Nichelson had settled into a leadership role with a national non-profit organization, distributing grants to community groups. She was adjusting to life as a single mom. Her sons, then 3 and 5 years old, were happily enrolled in school.
Then Covid-19 hit. And as a result, she was laid off in June.
“From March to June [during the pandemic], I was super stressed. I was trying to work full-time at home and give my two young children (whose preschool and daycare closed) the attention they needed. It felt like I was trying to do the impossible ― without any support. I was exhausted, anxious and felt marginalized.”
Nichelson is just one of the 5.4 million women in the U.S. who have been laid off as a result of Covid-19. She was receiving stellar performance reviews and her customer demand was high. But like many organizations struggling amid Covid-19, business came to a screeching halt.
At first, she was relieved to be focusing only on caregiving for her young sons. But with bills looming, Nichelson quickly began looking for employment in the same industry she worked in (nonprofit leadership), not to mention jobs she thought she could land right away. Nichelson set up her “job searching desk” in the living room next to her kindergartener’s virtual school desk, juggling Zoom job interviews and oversight of her kids’ virtual classes.
But leadership opportunities at nonprofit organizations were far and few between during a global recession, and the positions that were open didn’t seem like the right fit.
Nichelson turned to her former Babson College classmate, career coach Farah Hussain for advice. Hussain coaches her clients to find what’s important to them on their own terms. Nichelson told Hussain that she wanted to find a job “that’s for me.”
Digging into that statement, Hussain helped Nichelson review her entire career arc, not just her most recent role in a national non-profit organization. They went through an exercise to pull out the parts of each job that she really liked, and perhaps more importantly, what she didn’t like.
From serving as the director of branding and communications at a large, publicly-traded firm to founding a regional non-profit organization, Nichelson (like so many women) had a resume that looked more like a “lattice” than a traditional career ladder. Those career transitions made sense to her, particularly as they related to transitions in her personal life, but might not be an easy story for a recruiter to follow, particularly in six seconds, the average time a resume is reviewed.
By teasing on the “whats” and the “whys” in each job, Hussain helped Nichelson understand that she was attracted to values-driven organizations. She cared about being a leader with accountability and influence, and what got her jumping out of bed in the mornings was the ability to make a positive impact on communities around her. With that, Nichelson honed in on social impact or social responsibility roles within a larger corporate organization. While her heart will always be with non-profit organizations, at this point in her life, she preferred the relative stability (not to mention the resources) of the corporate world.
I get it. Hiring a personal career coach may not be in your budget if you’ve been laid off. But if you can muster the resources, it’s a sound investment in yourself and your return-to-work strategy. On average, career coaches charge $75 to $150 per hour, with many offering fixed-rate packages to address several phases of a job search, including search strategy, resume reviews, and interview preparation.
There are plenty of other helpful options. Take advantage of free resources at the Mom Project, a digital talent platform for moms and companies smart enough to hire them, including their RISE project, a scholarship program dedicated to accelerating equity for moms of color. I am also a big fan (obviously) of NBC News’ Know Your Value, in addition to ForbesWomen, which both share news and insights that are highly relevant to women at work today.
Nichelson realized, “I wanted to work in a growing corporate environment, but in a role that has real social impact,” said Nichelson. By getting clear on her job search goals, she was able to start a highly-efficient job search, rather than throwing resumes into online black holes.
While Nichelson’s stellar networking skills leveraging LinkedIn Premium and her two alumni networks got her to the first round of Zoom interviews for corporate social responsibility positions, she has struggled to get called back. “…The talent pool is really wide, so employers can be highly selective,” she explained.
It has been eight months since Nichelson has been without a job, and the financial stress is mounting, as her small severance ran out in August. Add that to the stress of hybrid virtual schooling, and her job search has taken on a new urgency.
Her networking, however, continues to pay off. She has a first-round interview scheduled for a role she is really excited about. By sharing her very specific job target to her network, a friend of a friend referred her to a leadership role in community social impact at a Fortune 500 company.
Lessons YOU can learn from Nichelson:
1. Don’t assume your job search will go quickly.
Negotiate as much severance as possible, know your rights for unemployment compensation, and get your own finances in order. HerMoney.com is a great resource.
2. You may have to pivot.
Many industries have been hit hard. Nonprofits, hospitality, service industries, they are not coming back quickly. Take a personal skills inventory. Where are they in demand? Does your resume and LinkedIn profile reflect this?
3. It begins and ends with the network.
Leverage yours. Start somewhere, anywhere, and make a concerted effort for a specific number of outreach activities each week. Having a hard time holding yourself accountable? Find a buddy.
Stay tuned to see how Nichelson prepared and if she gets called back for a second round. We'll also share strategies for narrowing your job search, without ruling out great jobs with “adjacent” skills.
Jennifer Folsom is vice president of growth at ICF Next. She lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with her husband Ben and has three teenage sons. Her practical guide to modern working motherhood," The Ringmaster," is out now.