Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, I have had conversations with many people stressed out about their work life (or lack thereof). This week alone, I heard from a couple people that I used to career coach. One person was laid off, and another individual’s job offer was canceled; they both lost these employment opportunities due to the pandemic’s impacts on their respective industries.
As someone who has managed and overcome challenges with job loss, I have expertise on these matters from both a personal and professional lens. Whenever I write my professional bio for a job or event that I lead, I am tempted to include my expertise on job loss due to my own lived experiences with it. Honestly, I think my personal experiences with job loss make me more qualified to be a career coach than any academic degree, credential, or leadership role I have held; however, I recognize that is not typically what job seekers and growers want to read when seeking career and leadership development services. Therefore, when you read my bio, you will see the degrees, credentials, and leadership roles I have held.
Am I proud of graduating Phi Beta Kappa and with other honors from the University of Illinois, earning my master’s degree from Harvard, serving on the board of directors for the award-winning organization Harvard Alumni for Global Women’s Empowerment (Harvard GlobalWE), leading service projects for AmeriCorps, and other endeavors I have pursued? Of course. Do I think those experiences alone have made me a well-educated and qualified career coach? No. Aside from my educational, professional, and leadership experiences that you see on my LinkedIn profile, my personal experiences with job loss have contributed to my creativity, critical thinking, and leadership as a career coach.
I bring up my lived experiences with job loss because that is what informs much of my work, including this piece that I am writing. If you are someone who recently lost a job or a job offer, I am writing to you now not just as a career coach, but also as a human who can relate to your loss.
Actually, the photo in this post is not some stock photo from the Internet. I took it after a workshop I attended. One of the major projects in the workshop was to create a vision board, and that is what you see in this photo. According to my computer, this picture was taken on August 5, 2014 (I cannot believe that was nearly six years ago from today’s date). This workshop took place in Boston and was for women, who like me were seeking their next big break—however they chose to define that.
In my case, I was defining it as a full-time job with benefits. It preferably would have been with a career center in higher education, but I was open to other related opportunities. Months earlier, I had lost a job when my organization discontinued my position. Although I managed to find part-time and temporary jobs related to my interests, I still needed a full-time position with benefits. I was walking that fine line between being focused and flexible with the jobs I was seeking.
A month and five days later, I received a phone call with a job offer from Laspau (formerly known as LASPAU, or Latin American Scholarship Program of American Universities). It is an organization affiliated with Harvard University that focuses on connecting higher education across the Americas. It was a neat way to integrate my expertise gained from my Bachelor of Arts in International Studies with a concentration in Latin America, minors in sociology and Spanish, my Master of Education in Higher Education, experience working in graduate admissions, and other experiences coordinating scholarship programs for higher education. Based on my values, interests, personality, skills (VIPS), talents, and strengths, this was a strong match for me.
Yes, things ended up being okay for me, but I did not know when that would happen.
With that said, as both a career coach and more importantly as a person who has experienced job loss, I am offering the following tips to those of you who have lost a job or a job offer due to the pandemic.
1. Give yourself time to process your new status.
When my position was discontinued at an employer, I left my office, got home, and picked up the phone to find a volunteer position at JobNet Career Center, which was a one-stop career center (these types of centers are now known in Massachusetts as MassHire Career Centers).
Since I had been a job seeker in the past with support from JobNet, I already had been in talks with a staff member to volunteer there. Even before I realized I would lose my job, I already had an interest in giving back to this career center that gave me so much.
The day that I lost my job, I informed the JobNet staff member that my position was discontinued and joked that I finally had time to volunteer with her. She encouraged me to take time to rest, and soon enough we could discuss volunteer options. Eventually, my volunteering position there led to a paid part-time position, but again, I did not know that would happen at the time. I am happy that she advised me to take time to rest and take care of myself.
If you are someone like me who is proactive and quick to take action, I commend you. Simultaneously, I strongly recommend that you take time to rest, nurture yourself, and process your new status. It does not make you a less efficient or less motivated person. Investing time in resting and processing change will be foundational and essential for managing this change in your life.
2. Conduct a needs assessment.
Take personal inventory of your holistic needs. Identify your needs in the following categories: mental, emotional, physical, social, financial, spiritual, and any other pertinent areas of your life. Some people like to write their thoughts in a journal; others prefer to organize lists on spreadsheets; and others opt to share their ideas with a trusted person via text, email, phone call, video chat, or other forms of communication.
Whatever you choose, do what is most effective for you. What is most effective might vary by day. It is okay to change your methods to managing the madness. Friends, family, and others might have tons of advice for you, but ultimately you get to choose what modes of needs assessment will work for you.
3. Create a strategy based on your priorities.
On both the homepage and About page of my website, I tell people I am a dream strategist because that truly is how I see my role as a career coach. Based on my experience in this field, I know how important it is for job seekers like yourself to create a strategy based on your priorities. If you conducted a needs assessment, you will have to identify which needs are your highest priorities. You might not obtain everything on your wish list immediately, but you will need to determine which needs you will pursue first.
4. Execute immediate action steps for your strategy.
After you determine which needs you will pursue first, execute immediate action steps for your strategy.
Do you need to file for unemployment insurance? Learn about the process on the US Department of Labor website.
Do you need to cancel memberships or services that are nice to have, but not essential for your current circumstances?
If you can execute your top one to three action steps today, you should be proud of making even that much progress. You can determine when to take other actions later.
5. Schedule time to execute ongoing and long-term action steps for your strategy.
After you have executed the most urgent, immediate action steps, schedule time to execute ongoing and long-term action steps for your strategy. This is where tools like a calendar, spreadsheets, whiteboard, sticky notes, notebook, planner, or other resources of your choice can be useful.
I also want to note that your tools can be physical or virtual. I do not care if your calendar is a physical one that hangs in your kitchen or a virtual one on your phone as long as you have one.
The basic principle is that you need to identify what tools and methods you will use to schedule reminders for the action steps you will take tomorrow, next week, and during other stages of your personal timeline. You get to choose what works for you.
While you are crafting your strategy, identify an accountability buddy or more to support you and keep you motivated during challenging times.
6. Surround yourself with kindness.
Aside from having buddies for the purpose of accountability, build relationships for the sake of cultivating kindness in your life.
When I had a career coaching appointment with someone a few months ago, she was going through many challenges with her career development. After I shared strategies for managing logistics, I told her to find kind people. Now typically career coaches encourage networking, and I of course generally recommend that. However, I felt that it was a moment where highlighting the need to surround oneself with kindness was the highest priority.
This person in the career coaching appointment was clearly stressed and faced with personal crises within this global public health crisis. There was no way I could end our meeting without telling her to find kind people and build community.
Honestly, that is when I personally most enjoy networking. I like when networking does not feel so formal and feels like I am authentically connecting with others. Now I know that will not be every networking conversation, but I do believe that is when networking operates at its finest—regardless of what advice, information, or referrals come out of it. In times where people are being more and more isolated due to the pandemic, authentic connection and community building with kind people are essential.
What do you find to be essential with managing job (or job offer) loss during this pandemic? If you have tips, strategies, resources, or tools that work for you, feel free to share them in the comments below.