Are You Using Lockdown To Pivot Your Career?


Though they will likely reopen their offices in June or July, last week Facebook and Google said they will let employees continue working from home for the rest of the year. This plan seems to echo the findings of a survey initiated by the National Recruitment Federation, which revealed that after two months of lockdown many of us are taking stock of our careers. Six out of ten people are happier working from home, while seven in ten would prefer to continue to work remotely with occasional office-based meetings. 

Someone who concurs is Charley Stoney, CEO, Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland. “I’m having fascinating conversations with people in the advertising industry about their changed priorities during and after Covid-19. Some are adamant that working from home will be their new normal now that they’ve proven how effective they can be. Those, like myself, who have long commutes are now wondering why on earth they spent two hours of every day in the car!” 

However, Stoney admits that working parents of young children are the exception to the general consensus: “Shift working has taken on a new meaning in those households with parents working to an ‘hour on, hour off’ or similar arrangements, so making the working day even longer than normal. This clearly isn’t sustainable for the long term but a degree of flexibility (and having proven that it’s manageable when required), has been an important confidence boost to mums in particular. The current reticence in asking for flexible working arrangements will hopefully disappear.”

Not everyone wants to work from home, though, as Stoney has witnessed, “The younger cohort miss the craic in the office, and craic is particularly high on the agenda in our industry. While we have become highly professional and efficient in our approach, there’s no doubt that we still attract fun, creative and intelligent people with a different view of life so the camaraderie that happens in an agency environment is very unique.” 

But what if camaraderie is currently AWOL and you’ve been laid off indefinitely? Once the shock and novelty wears off, many have been using the (endless) time to think of a career Plan B or indeed kick start their side-hustle. One friend in publishing has recently started to tutor (online) in Spanish and loves it so much she is considering a longterm exit strategy. Couture milliner Emily-Jean emailed to say she has had to diversify: “Like all small businesses it is a struggle at the moment and I have had to pivot my offering and adapt to the market change. People are understandably very cautious about spending money right now so in recognition of this I have designed a more affordable range of jewellery and headwear.” Her new “Turband” is a chic accessory for Zoom calls and also an efficient disguise for any bad hair days. Another acquaintance, on furlough, has been teaching (virtual) adult literacy classes and though less well paid than her full-time role, has provided some much-needed job satisfaction. She speaks for many when she says, “When an organisation does not demonstrate loyalty to its longtime staff in a crisis, they have no right to expect it either. I’m looking into other options.” Indeed half of all those who have been furloughed expect a salary reduction in the future.

There are always options for those unhappy in their job, and it isn’t necessarily a move. Employers don’t want to lose talent, so may work with you on training or on evolving your role to suit your career or family plans.

One wonders if staffers at Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham are currently “pivoting”. Both designers laid off employees at the beginning of the crisis, though Beckham has since retracted due to the backlash and negative publicity.

Geraldine King, CEO of the National Recruitment Federation comments, “If you weren’t altogether keen on your job in the first place, trying to now work from home and possibly deal with radically altered business conditions is not going to improve job satisfaction.” King admits, “It’s usually during holidays that people think about a new job, or retraining, or going freelance. Most of us probably dream about giving up work altogether, if the truth be told!” However she advises approaching any big change with caution. “Indicators in recruitment are that ‘job-hopping’ is now more common. People are tailoring career moves to different life stages, with many CVs showing fluidity between careers and across sectors. And many people run their own businesses, alongside other work, or mix two different types of job.”

Working from home has proven to reduce overheads significantly (not to mention the savings on our collective takeaway lunch and latte habits) so many are thinking of starting their own business. Anne Fanthom, who set up her own agency (Recruitment Plus) having worked for two big names in the industry, says think small steps. “Gather information and assess what you want to achieve, including what it is about your current role or employer that’s not right. There are always options for those unhappy in their job, and it isn’t necessarily a move. Employers don’t want to lose talent, so may work with you on training or on evolving your role to suit your career or family plans.”

Before making any move, evaluating what exactly you want from a career change is important believes Colin Donnery, General Manager at FRS Recruitment. “Is it money, purpose or a life-long ambition? Research the career and what qualifications or training is required, and also if you are likely to have to take a drop in salary or maybe move location. Once you have all this relevant information, it is easier to plan the dream job and go for it.”

The need to benchmark your value is crucial. As Frank Farrelly, COO at Sigmar Recruitment cautions, “Be realistic, as you may have to take a cut in earnings, a step back in level, or to relocate and/or re-skill, all of which can be costly. What you definitely need to do is to hustle and promote yourself, so be absolutely sure of your conviction and commitment.”

It’s a given those looking at alternative careers should use this time to upskill. Bryan Hyland, Commercial Director at Morgan McKinley explains, “Look into online learning platforms or research the appropriate skillset needed. Deal with a recruitment firm specialising in your role or profession. Be prepared to interview remotely, and if successful in your job search, be ready for remote on-boarding and induction too.” Surprisingly, McKinley is optimistic about job prospects, “Despite all the disruption at the moment, there are excellent career opportunities now, and there will be in the future as the economy needs to recover. In the current environment, sectors including pharma are seeing a significant uplift in recruitment, as are those aligned to supply chain channels.”

Before making any jump though, it’s important to do your sums. Get familiar with your bank account and recent credit card statements. Factor in loans or card repayments and deductions like memberships, insurances or pension contributions. If your new income is likely to be lower for a period, challenge yourself to live on it for a few months before making any move.  

Job satisfaction though is about more than a higher salary.  If lockdown has proven anything, it’s our universal quest to press a reset button and achieve more balance in life. Quitting a job which no longer brings personal satisfaction, or negotiating some working flexibility, can be the first step towards achieving longterm equilibrium and reinvention.


Thinking about Plan B? Plan Carefully With These Ten Tips: 

Explore the financial side of starting again.  What are the set-up costs, how can you finance it, is there a market for what you’re planning to do and how well and regularly is it likely to pay?

Plan for a transitional exit. Even if the job change you’re planning is dramatic, the process of making it doesn’t have to be. A transition period can help. If possible, reduce hours in your current role to free up time to take on freelance projects or set up a business.

Make contact with an employer you admire, or use this slowdown productively to plan approaches, when lockdown is over.

Polish your CV with study completed or conferences attended.

Read industry blogs and trade magazines for insights on the latest tools of the trade you’re interested in.

Do some volunteering, or learn a new technical skill for the job or for running a business.

Find a business mentor. Local enterprise offices or your local chamber of commerce may put you in touch with a business mentor.

Set goals to test your commitment. These might include networking more or getting out of your comfort zone.  For example, decide you’re going to make five new business contacts in the next six months, or take on some public speaking.

If retraining or setting up a business get a realistic idea of how long it will be before you start making money.

Professional contracting is now common and is worth considering if flexible employment is your goal. There are temporary and part-time roles, depending on the sector which recruitment firms can help with.

Main featured image: Neptune


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