Will COVID-19 crush you or change you for the better?

As job losses grow and industries and businesses falter, now is the time to recalibrate your career plans and strategize for success.

By: Abu Addae

As the economy finally got the green light to reopen at the beginning of June, so too did news come from Treasury that we can expect between 690,000 and 1.79 million coronavirus-related job losses, depending on the speed of the recovery. The 2008 recession led to 1 million job losses in South Africa, so whichever end of the spectrum we land up on, we’re in for a rough ride. 

While the numbers are down significantly on the previous prediction of up to 7 million job losses, that will be cold comfort to anyone who found themselves stuck at home and jobless when the rest of the country returned to work at the start of the month. Business owners are suffering too. Statistics South Africa found that nearly one in 10 businesses had already ceased operations at the time of their last survey. Many others were barely hanging on.

The virus, and its associated economic crisis, is wreaking havoc on careers, incomes and businesses, and very few of us will come through this completely unscathed. And, with infections rising all the time, the spectre of a return to lockdown level four or five hangs over the economy like a dark cloud. 

For those who’ve lost businesses and jobs – or are worried about holding onto them – these may be some of the most difficult circumstances they’ve ever faced. The uncertainty makes it doubly difficult to pick up and move forward, but what other choice is there but to try and rebuild?

Start thinking long term

COVID-19 has and will continue to shape our world and the job market. We’ve already seen how quickly working from home and meeting online have been normalised; Twitter announced recently that employees will be allowed to work from home ‘forever’. We have new awareness and heightened standards (and rules) around personal hygiene. The travel and leisure industry have all but ceased to exist and we can’t yet imagine how they’ll look in future. People’s attitudes to money and what they’re willing to spend it on may have changed irrevocably too. 

The first step to strategizing a way out of this situation is to understand what these changes will mean for you, specifically how you make your money and the possible long-term implications on your industry. Then work out exactly where you stand from a financial point of view and where you may end up in a best-, ok- and worst-case scenario. This will indicate how drastic your strategy needs to be, and how much debt you can afford to take on while you change your circumstances.

Next, spend time thinking about your personal vision of success. Where would you like to be, ideally, in six months or a year from now? You might find that your vision actually falls outside of the job you had or still have and that maybe this is an opportune time to make a move. 

Develop a new career strategy

Whether through choice or circumstance, think broadly about the options available to you – from studying again and changing career, to starting a business or even a side hustle. Look for opportunity. How can you use your skills and knowledge to make a living in a new way? What are the steps you need to take, day by day and week by week, to get closer to your vision? 

Now is the time to look at your skills and how you can make yourself more attractive to prospective employers. Are you a specialist, say a teacher, who needs to develop more generalist skills in finance, communication or leadership in order to start your own business? Or are you solid in the fundamentals of business and looking to develop expertise in a more technical area like coding or video making? Even if you want to continue growing in your current career, it’s worth exploring complementary skills that can boost your employability – for example, a course in behavioural psychology if you’re a marketer. 

Outside of these formal skills are the multiplier skills that all of us need to hone to develop our resilience and be more effective at work – time management, stress coping techniques, learning to create boundaries and balance in life. All of these can be learned from the comfort of your own home through wide reading and online courses, webinars and events. 

No one asked for the COVID-19 crisis, and none of us saw it coming, but it has changed our lives and our circumstances. Now is the time to recalibrate our outlook and our careers to navigate a way out of the crisis. Working out where you are, where you want to be, what you need to do to get there are the fundamentals of a successful career plan.   

For those who manage to rise above these most challenging of circumstances, there is every chance they will emerge stronger than before: more resilient, better skilled and with a clearer vision of what success looks like, and how to go after it.  

LifeCheq has launched an interactive coronavirus tool with customisable, personalised predictions to help career professionals and business owners navigate their way through the crisis and beyond. Access it here for free []

Abu Addae is the CEO and founder of LifeCheq. 

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