The shock of the coronavirus pandemic has made planning ahead difficult, particularly when it comes to major decisions like a career move.
That doesn’t mean you should put your aspirations on hold, however, according to London Business School professor and author of “Act like a leader, think like a leader,” Herminia Ibarra. In fact, for those not immediately hit by job insecurity, it could mark the chance for a fresh start.
In the Harvard Business Review, Ibarra — who has studied career change for the past two decades, including during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis — outlines five key principles to keep you focused on your career goals, even during hard times.
Develop many selves
The future is uncertain at the best of times, but especially during a pandemic. It makes sense, then, to pursue a range of possible options, rather than sticking to one single vision, notes Ibarra.
Some of those ideas may be more realistic than others, but that can open you up to new opportunities and keep you resilient to further change ahead.
“Even in happier times, career change is never a perfectly linear process. It’s a necessarily messy journey of exploration,” she says.
Embrace the ‘liminal’
Career change, by its nature, is “liminal” — or existing between a past that is gone and a future that’s uncertain. That can be an unsettling state, but it’s also an important chance to process emotions and change.
“Downtime is crucial not only for replenishing the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, but also for sustaining the cognitive processes that allow us to fully develop,” says Ibarra.
Indeed, neurological studies suggest making time for “inner business” can be more beneficial than completing a list of self-improvement activities.
Get projects going
Developing new skills, knowledge and contacts are common and important routes to career reinvention. Yet, rather than focusing on one specific project, try several to compare the pros and cons of each.
They may not all be directly applicable to your desired new career path, but they will help you find where your true strengths lie.
“The point is to do new and different work with new and different people, because that process represents an opportunity to learn about yourself, your preferences and dislikes, and the kinds of contexts and people that bring out the best in you,” says Ibarra.
Reconnect with contacts
A pandemic which requires social distancing is not a great moment for building your network. But with more people than ever communicating online, it could be a good chance to reconnect with old contacts too.
Studies suggest distant connections are often better placed to offer you new perspectives and honest advice than your nearest and dearest. However, they may also be less motivated to help you. Ibarra recommends drawing on “dormant ties” — colleagues you were once close to but haven’t been in contact with for three or so years.
Talk it out
A career change can feel like an inward-looking process. However, it’s important to discuss it out loud with trusted parties, to clarify your ideas and ensure they don’t “get stuck in the realm of daydreams,” says Ibarra.
“Just the simple act of creating and telling a story about what you want to do, or why you want a change, can clarify your thinking and propel you forward, by committing you publicly to making a change,” she notes.
“In the end, when it comes to reinventing your career in this time of crisis, remember this important point: The time to get going is now — but don’t go it alone.”
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