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How to Battle the COVID-19 Career Blues
(Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)
As the CEO of BIZDEV: The International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships, I’ve spent 25 years teaching Fortune 500 leaders and four-star generals how to stay one step ahead of the curve.
Across hundreds of keynote speeches and books like ”Think Like a Futurist” and “Make Change Work for You,” I’ve also explained how to future-proof your career and business. But today, as I often remind working professionals in every space—especially meeting and event planners operating in one of today’s most demanding markets—it pays to remember the following: While we’re dealing with unprecedented change in the wake of COVID-19, it’s well within your power to successfully steer around and adapt to these changes as well.
Trade secret: While uncertainty is the only certainty going forward, a few simple shifts in strategy and thinking are all it takes to safeguard yourself against the unexpected and rebound stronger from setbacks.
Following are several tactics you can employ to future-proof your career, no matter what tomorrow brings—and go from strength to strength in coming years while doing so as well.
Stack the Odds in Your Favor
Luck is hard work—the place where opportunity meets preparation. A resilient career is one in which you keep making practical decisions that persistently put you in opportunity’s way.
How do you do this? By creating an action plan and then by asking yourself the following: What do you need to do right now to get where you want to be later?
Being brave in business simply means taking that step, and then taking more steps, one after another, until you’ve arrived at that destination. Constantly strive to gain new talents, training and experience that will be in demand tomorrow today.
Make a point to expand your comfort zone by pushing your creative thinking and problem-solving abilities in fresh directions as well. Right now, there are a lot of new problems that are in need of solutions, and the fastest, most reliable way to put yourself in fortune’s sights is to be brave.
Instead of waiting for career opportunities, seek them out.
You’re More Resourceful Than You Think
Right now, the only constant is change. But anyone can adapt to new and novel problems the same way that leading innovators do: by studying problems, brainstorming original solutions and then steadily testing them out and improving as they go. Success isn’t about how many resources you have, but how resourceful you are.
Periods of uncertainty can be paralyzing. But if you want to start a new meeting or events business, or pursue a new investment, the truth is that there isn’t ever going to be a risk-free option. But by being aware of the risks, and using that information to make smart, calculated bets, you can come out ahead.
Right now, if you have an idea for a new event series or side hustle, but are wary about what the future holds, I encourage you to get started.
Think about your next steps in terms of growth activities that can help you achieve your stated goal. Don’t sit still while times, trends and competitors are also evolving. Keep moving forward.
Watch for Emerging Patterns
Right now, many people are dealing with job losses. Given that the meetings and events industry is one that has been hit especially hard by COVID-19, now is an opportunity to think about where your skills could be an asset, perhaps in a way that you’ve never explored before.
The world’s business leaders pay attention to signals, emerging innovations and disruptions that indicate where the marketplace is headed, and in turn make a point to actively adapt their skills in solutions to match. And you can find ongoing success by learning to do the same.
A number of high-level socioeconomic forces called megatrends—e.g. the rise of remote online work or the growing workplace presence of Gen Z and Millennial professionals—promise to constantly impact the future.
A few simple ways to stay on top of them include reading up on the latest news, attending (virtual) conferences, staying attuned to academic research, listening to industry thought leaders and keeping on top of startup and investment activity.
If you see keywords and terms repeating frequently, or note that an industry is hiring more often, it’s a clue that you might be on the right track to learning where your unique insights and talents could be of future use.
For example: The rise of new innovations like robotics and automation haven’t completely upended most workplaces yet, but—as indicated by companies’ growing push toward digital transformation and increasing demand for skilled professionals—these will inevitably be growth areas in coming years.
Likewise, data science and analytics are clearly on the upswing as companies are actively looking for ways to better anticipate and plan around the changes in customer behavior and shopping habits that the months ahead will bring.
[Related: Meetings Today Podcast With Scott Steinberg]
Naturally, these are topics a savvy meeting and event planner could build into future programming to create more compelling offerings, or a forward-thinking event services professional could capitalize on to build predictive tools and technologies.
Alternately, either could piggyback on increasing interest in these spaces (and the unique access to subject matter experts and thought leaders they enjoy) to provide more business research, strategy planning and intelligence services as part of their solutions portfolio.
Whatever the scenario, your goal is to collect signals such as these and use them to spot bigger-picture trends, and then adapt or expand your skill set to plug into them. Example: If you’re a content producer who suddenly finds themselves operating in the age of TikTok and Twitter, you’d be well-advised to add additional communications skills, e.g. public speaking, video hosting and film or audio production, to your resume.
Build Out Your Professional Network
The most successful people understand that if they want to solve big challenges and spot potential areas for business or career growth, they need to surround themselves with a network of diverse individuals with different backgrounds, skills and experiences who can help support them in their endeavors. And they are constantly building and nurturing those relationships.
If you are one of the many people who is searching for a new work opportunity in the wake of COVID-19, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The more that you make others aware that you’re looking for work, the better off you’ll be. If you’re shy about connecting with peers, find an excuse to be in others’ inbox. You can also proactively volunteer to help others, which helps you meet more people and do a little good at the same time.
Chart Your Own Career Path
Most careers aren’t straight lines. And that’s okay. But what you learn from setbacks can help vault you to unexpected heights.
For example: One young technology executive I interviewed graduated during the Great Recession with minimal business experience and qualifications. She was skeptical about the value of a graduate degree or working for someone else, so she created her own shortcut to career success by turning her life into a self-guided MBA program full of self-imposed challenges (e.g., launching new conferences and entrepreneurial ventures) that filled in gaps in her experience and skill set.
She since went on to become one of the tech industry’s most noted thought leaders and a successful entrepreneur who sold her first startup. Finding career success is about constantly building bridges to future opportunities—a tactic any savvy meeting or event planning professional can employ to positive effect.
Invest Your Resources Wisely
Money isn’t your most valuable asset: Time is, and it’s far harder to replace.
Rather than spend it helping someone else build their dream, figure out what yours is worth. (Hint: you can calculate your hourly rate by dividing your weekly income by 40 hours.) Then work to take on projects that double it, at minimum, and buy back precious hours that could be spent investing in yourself.
Remember: If you’re simply earning enough to scrape by, you’re not setting aside enough money to reclaim valuable time that could be used to pick up forward-thinking job skills, education or experience, or exploring a potentially lucrative sideline business.
After all, in business there’s a difference between maintenance activities (things that keep the lights on) and growth activities (things that pave the way to future expansion), and no matter who you work for, you’re always the CEO of You, Inc.
Futurist and author Scott Steinberg, seated
But don’t let dollar signs blind you to the big picture either: Sometimes, you’ve got to take a sidestep—moving sideways into a position of equal rank and pay—or backstep (moving back down the career ladder) to acquire essential skills and experience, or pave new pathways to opportunity.
If a volunteer position or chance to help a colleague at no charge helps you expand your work portfolio, demonstrate your talents to an important audience or make crucial contacts. Don’t be afraid to contribute.
Your No. 1 goal should be to acquire elastic skills that translate to many industries and contexts and build out your professional network and toolkit: Valuable resources that can help serve as ongoing springboards to opportunity, whatever the future brings.
Make a Point To Refocus and Reinvest
Money should also work hard for you, not vice-versa.
It’s important to save, because every dollar that you sock away into a savings account, stock or new business venture has the potential to help you build equity, and quietly do the work of compounding upon itself, even while you sleep. Wherever you can, get in the habit of putting it away: Ideally, 30% or more of whatever comes in the door.
Most people increase their spending when times are good and cut back when bad. That’s the opposite of how innovators operate. You should be putting more away when things are going well, as a hedge against uncertainty, and spending more during downswings, when your money goes much further and competitors are pulling back.
Market downturns like these are scary times, leading many to curtail spending habits. But if you’ve been planning for downswings in advance, and putting away cash for a rainy day, they’re a great time to focus on growing your resources and capabilities since your buying power has increased. Likewise, they are fine times to explore new opportunities or ramp up marketing efforts while rivals pull back and offer room for you to advance.
Downswings also present an opportune time to connect with service providers and road test any business activity or venture you’ve been holding back on. Dozens of online marketplaces from Fiverr to Upwork can help connect you with affordable business services of all kinds (web development, graphic design, app coding, etc.) that can help you start your venture.
You can always learn and grow your experience by engaging in any of these activities, and your work portfolio will be your resume going forward. It’s high time that you started creating that new event series or building that online conference management tool you keep putting off.
As you can see, future-proofing a career is often an unfamiliar and uncertain process, especially for event planning and services professionals used to operating in the relative comfort and stability of a full-time job.
But the more you lean in and make a point to constantly invest in yourself, the more successful you’ll be. Remember that you can always learn and grow from every attempt, and that flexibility is the essence of future-proofing. The more professional experience and skills that you add to your personal toolbox, the more recession-proof and resilient that you’ll become, no matter what the future may bring.