In stormy times of crisis, there will always be opportunity, whether you’re a budding entrepreneur, a recent graduate, a rising star, or a mid-career professional. With COVID-19 upending organizations, reducing headcounts and shredding careers, most individuals are trying to survive the stresses of work and avoid drawing the eye of Sauron. The question is, should they hunker down, or should they instead be working to raise their profile?
When layoffs and furloughs are being announced globally because of COVID-19, it’s natural for many to hunker down, focus on themselves, wait it out, and not push boundaries. After all, you’ve got bills to pay, mouths to feed, and expectations to uphold. The common worry is that making waves will lead to you becoming the next unfortunate head to roll.
Yet that inaction can backfire for your career growth. From the ranks of frontline associates, middle management and the executive suite, world-class organizations keep close tabs on the available talent in the marketplace. Board members and business leaders are looking to identify value-adding and ambitious employees who are jumping at the opportunities that such crises create. They are looking to identify and develop the next generation of leaders who can help propel Profitable Growth during the pandemic as well as far into the post-COVID era.
The most forward-thinking individuals will show risk-taking, curiosity, agility, teamwork, leadership, ambition, perspective, analysis, integrity and positivity.
Here are some key career-advancing steps to consider.
1. Seek Out (and Resolve) Your Manager’s New Pain Points
With every crisis, there are new challenges introduced into the daily whirlwind of work that make most normal priorities obsolete. With COVID-19, overseas supply chains came to a grinding halt, and customer demand for goods normally shipped to offices, nonessential services, schools and sit-down restaurants consequently stopped. More recently, activity has focused on ways to safely reopen, to reduce and realign cost structures, to address customer uncertainty, and to accelerate recovery and growth.
Your boss might not be entirely forthcoming with these priority changes, however. It’s up to you to ask, even though that might be intimidating. In normal times, asking your boss what the priorities are might suggest that you’re not really paying attention. Now, your manager likely will appreciate you showing personal and proactive interest in helping the organization. You might even be tapped to design and implement a change in the business processes. At this juncture, you can speak up and come out of this with more options, more project experience, and a broader perspective.
2. Volunteer for Assignments
With layoffs, furloughs and remote working, there are fewer hands on-deck to manage through the crisis. Taking on something new, particularly if it’s not an assignment you have much experience with, can be scary and risky. After all, no one wants to make a colossal mistake or produce a dud. But bosses have more pain points than ever, and they’ll particularly appreciate anyone who can step in and make a positive impact. There may be more latitude from managers who do not expect perfection from someone who volunteered to take over a major pain point and manage that major effort during their own time of stress. At the same time, these volunteers can learn new skills, see new processes, make new professional contacts, and get noticed within an organization.
3. Ask for That Promotion or Raise
It may seem selfish to ask for more money or more responsibility when others are fighting simply to keep their jobs. Promotion cycles have been upended by the pandemic, with many companies pushing back roster and compensation changes until the crisis is over. But it doesn’t hurt to ask now, especially if you were on track for a promotion before the pandemic shut things down. It’s important that you know whether you were ready for advancement, though; asking for the sake of asking, without having the portfolio of work that would normally be rewarded, is a bad move. Talk to the boss and say, “What adjustments can I make?” to stay on track for promotion. Just because companies are reducing headcount doesn’t mean they’re not rewarding and advancing their stars. Management may tell employees that they don’t want to talk about advancement for a while, at least until there is firmer ground underfoot. But bringing forth the idea and raising awareness of the topic now plants the seed for a deeper (and more positive) conversation a few months from now.
4. Test the Waters of (or even Jump Into) the Job Market
Crises tend to increase the number of incumbents who decide to retire or relocate. This turnover — plus cost-reducing layoffs — creates opportunities across a variety of employer-organizations. Not every market sector or region experiences the same downturn. Some companies are even growing dramatically because their products and services are in high demand. Even as the economy falters, there are millions of active job openings nationwide. Nimble candidates can use their modern and customized resumes, well-written cover letters, outreach to network contacts, and openness to geographic flexibility to find the next step in their career path.
(written by: Nelson)