Career Opportunities in the Wake of COVID19: A Leveled Playing Field

We’re in a jarring, disorienting time — perhaps the most jarring since WWII —  and there’s no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting the professional landscape. The long-term impact will permanently change how we compete for jobs. But here’s what you might not expect: the pandemic is also leading to immediate opportunities that can uplevel your career. 

Our culture has changed overnight: you can’t shake hands, see your grandparents, or go to that conference. In-person connection, a critical part of human wellness and our career culture, is suddenly limited to six feet. 

Everything is uncertain, and when I see people grappling with uncertainty, I notice a pattern I first saw en masse when I worked as a Program Manager for students studying abroad. 

What People Don’t Know about the Culture Shock Curve

What I see happening as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic matches the culture shock curve experienced by every study abroad student. It goes like this: you get to a new country, and at first you’re amazed. Pretty quickly your amazement turns into uncertainty because everything is different and weird and it makes you anxious. The daily challenges, decision fatigue and constant change increase your frustration and anxiety. You hit bottom. Then, you adjust, find the good, accept the bad (or different), and find a new normal. 

This U-shaped culture shock experience is a version of the Change Curve model, which comes from the work of psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the 1960s. A change — whether expected or unexpected — brings up uncertainty, which kicks off periods of anger, denial, or depression, followed by acceptance and problem-solving. 

We Haven’t Hit Bottom and We Haven’t Adapted

We haven’t hit the bottom of this pandemic yet. This experience will permanently impact our culture, like September 11th permanently impacted the way we travel. We’re barreling towards the low part of the Change Curve now — toward the bottom of the U. 

Then will come a period of adaptation, when people get used to a new normal and how to navigate it. The new normal of remote work has interesting implications for corporate real estate and the housing market — and we’ll have to adapt! When you get your next apartment, will you factor in where to take work calls so no one can see your unmade bed? This pandemic may permanently change what professionals look for in their housing.

The Corporate Real Estate Forecast: Good or Bad Depends Who You Ask

Another permanent impact will be on the corporate real estate market. It will tank — not overnight, but over time as companies move towards more remote teams. And that will be a boon to many small businesses.

My client Rachel works for a company with an office for its team of ten, which costs $40K per month in rent. That’s $480K per year. If the business wants to increase its operational efficiency, are they going to lay off resources like Rachel, or remove that monthly $480K expense from their budget? (Interestingly, in places like Los Angeles, less demand for corporate real estate could help resolve the housing shortage.)

A Leveled Playing Field: Location Less of a Driving Force for Companies

On the employment front, location will become less of a driving force for companies. Companies will adapt to the idea that remote work is viable, efficient and productive (not to mention cost-effective). This change will take time, but it’s starting now. As employment becomes more remote, companies won’t be looking for someone to sit in a Chicago office every week. Which means… 

Your Immediate Opportunity

… that it’s okay if you live in Kansas City. Job seekers should be applying for roles outside their immediate geographic area, even if the role isn’t remote. And while most companies aren’t thinking outside the geography box yet, YOU as a candidate have the power to lead that change. If you’re the best person for a job, and the company wants someone with your exact experience… well, they might not be able to find that where they’re located. It’s up to you to show them that you’re the one.

So if you see a role that is ideal for you, GO FOR IT! If you know what makes you different and you communicate that clearly, you have access to your ideal fitting role regardless of where it is.

A woman in my Career Confidence Program was considering an in-person role at Nike. She almost didn’t apply until I encouraged her to reach out — the role was in Seattle, and she lives in Los Angeles. While companies haven’t formally changed policies or ideals regarding campus, they will consider it for a job seeker who knows her unique value. 

Geographic limiters for jobs aren’t gone, but there’s an opportunity to leverage this current climate of change. If you’re the best candidate, you could change a company’s mind. You can get hired right now for an ideal job even if it’s outside your geographic area. 

Long-Term Challenge: Competition Gets Fierce

When location is moot, job competition will change entirely. If you’re looking for a job as a VP of Engineering in New York City and competing with someone just as qualified who lives in Des Moines, and their compensation requirement is $50K less because their cost of living is lower… do the math. As companies go remote, competition will get fierce.

As we climb the right-hand side of the Change Curve, the new normal will be competing with a broader pool of candidates. Which means that specialization, and understanding your unique value and how you’re different, is incredibly, incredibly important. 

This is SCARY for professionals, because the average mid-career professional isn’t thinking about their differentiation as they go about their work right now. That’s understandable, but it will negatively impact your job search later. Without being clear on what makes you different and the value you bring, you’re approaching your job search from a disadvantage.

The best jobs don’t go to candidates who wait to be chosen. Wouldn’t you rather play on a team of people who have demonstrated unique skills and made it clear what they bring to the table?

You Can’t Leverage What You Can’t See

If you’re thinking but I don’t have any special skills, stop: everyone has something unique to offer. But you can’t leverage what you can’t see. The problem is that most professionals have no idea how to articulate their competitive advantage. And what you think is your biggest weakness may be the strength you should be capitalizing on.

My client Whitney was a project manager for a law firm, and wanted to work in tech. She was worried because she didn’t have a tech background —  that was her “weakness.” In fact, we were able to leverage her legal expertise to find her a role at a tech company that focused on a similar client base. Her experience from the law firm became her greatest competitive differentiator. And, we negotiated a 30k increase in salary.

We’re nearing the bottom of the Change Curve for this pandemic. It’s no surprise that you feel uncertain about your career (and your ability to buy toilet paper). Here’s what you need to remember:

  1. Everyone is feeling the Change Curve. You are not alone, and there’s nothing wrong with you.
  2. Have you been fantasizing about a new job or career pivot? Opportunities await you, and geography is less important than ever.
  3. Want to adapt ahead of the curve? Sign up here to learn exactly how to build your professional brand — for free.

We will get past this Change Curve and create a new normal. People and economies are resilient, and we’ll get through this together. In the meantime, we’re all experiencing uncertainty. It’s uncomfortable to be sure, but it’s a powerful catalyst for positive change. 

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