What Career Mobility Looks Like Now

Despite carefully crafting those one-, five- and ten-year career plans you were working toward, chances are things look a bit different today. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to back off and tread water. To perform as well as possible during the pandemic and emerge professionally stronger on the other side, now is the time to reimagine your next role, dive deep into skill development and reflect on what moving ahead looks like for the foreseeable future.
 
It is almost impossible to know how you will react in a crisis until you find yourself right in the middle of one — day after day after day. Now we know that those who rise to the occasion excel at identifying unmet needs and filling them, contribute beyond their job description and grow their leadership influence, even if informally.
 
Harvard Business School Professor Kathleen McGinn, Ph.D., who researches gender, career mobility and how people negotiate better futures for themselves, says that even in the midst of a global pandemic and recession, there are ways to think about career advancement. 
 
“Waiting is not just a time of reflection, but a time of planning for what’s next,” she said recently during the Unpause Youself episode of the Women at Work podcast from Harvard Business Review. That includes sharpening your focus on activities that contribute to higher-level goals and keep you moving in the right direction. Here are several ways McGinn and others suggest to keep on keeping on.
 
Create and measure value in new ways by capturing how you are contributing now that may be completely different from pre-pandemic priorities. That’s where your current growth is most likely revealed. If you can document how you are delivering, despite unprecedented challenges, your value will be better understood and you can build from there when your organization emerges from this crisis.
 
Negotiate for recognition rather than raises to highlight recent wins. “After the successes that you’re helping put in place right now, talk with your boss about what you learned, about how you grew through the experience, about what you’re ready for next,” McGinn advises. While a promotion or raise may not be possible in today’s climate, it’s important to help your boss and others understand your impact on the company’s survival. “What people should be pushing for is that announcement, that measurement of making sure that people are aware of what they’re doing,” McGinn advises.
 
Get back on the workplace radar by drawing attention to great work someone else has done.  Founder & CEO of Workparent, Daisy Wademan Dowling, shared advice in a Harvard Business Review article during the 2008 recession, “How to Sell Yourself When Your Job’s at Risk,” that she says applies just as much today. Shining the spotlight on others enables you to show you’re engaged and focused on the same things that matter to your boss, without appearing overly self-promotional.
 
Emphasize workplace priorities over job anxieties to signal your ability to think in broader terms. If you are worried about job security, go to your boss with the key things you’re working on and focus on how your activities address critical business problems. When you engage your boss in candid conversation about where the organization is headed and where you can best focus your time and energy, it may allow you to realign your activities with organization priorities and build skills to further protect your job.  
 
Create a script for your boss with powerful, concise bullet points that demonstrate how your activities contribute to her top priorities. Make it easy for her to see your contributions and advocate for you when you’re not in the room.
 
Build skills outside of work that will enable you to continue to grow in ways that may be less available in the workplace right now. Pursue extensive online learning opportunities, such as through WFF Connect, and track new skill development. Volunteer at your local food bank or animal shelter to put your leadership skills to use in new settings and expand your network.
 
Take a quick break from nine months of long hours at work and home. Checking out for a week or more may not be feasible but long weekends, afternoons off or a mid-week breather can help a lot. “I think what’s really, really burning people out now, is that sense of, I’m on the treadmill, and there’s absolutely no way to jump off,” Wademan Dowling says. Small breaks can help restore your strength while showing you understand current pressures.
 
Increase your competitive advantage by embracing personal innovation. There is no such thing as people who can innovate and people who can’t, according to Tamara Ghandour, author of Innovation is Everybody’s Business and WFF Leadership Development Workshop speaker. In a recent interview on the Idea to Value podcast, she explained that we all innovate in our own way.
 
Although our brains are wired to protect us from challenging new ideas, you can learn to recognize resistance to change and innovate more. That trait will be especially beneficial as you continue to navigate your career in and through a global pandemic. Learn more about what innovation means today to you personally and professionally at the next WFF Leadership Development Workshop, Leading Strong Through Change and Uncertainty, November 12.

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