How to Position Your Career for the Current Uncertainty: You Need Options

Melody and I have held off on sending out advice over the last week as the right “advice” has seemed like a moving target. However, it looks like uncertainty will be the new “situation normal” for a while; and as two banker girls who lived through the 2008-2009 financial crisis, we have some advice for how to handle the bumpy ride that likely lies ahead and come out on the other side successfully.

On top of washing your hands, cleaning and disinfecting, and for goodness sake, STAYING HOME, it’s a good time to take a look at the market if you haven’t already and connect the dots on what this situation means for your job, your career, and your options over the next few years. Yes, I said that:  “years”. 

We don’t know what the global economy will be like tomorrow, much less in a year or three years. If you’re at a vital intersection in your career, which many who receive our emails are, we have a few recommendations on how to game plan for uncertainty and emerge from this as an even better team player and leader. 

Assess Your Internal Options:  The first thing you need to do is get a handle on what your options are at your current company.  Start talking to people and figuring out what parts of the business will be growing and declining. Melody and I were both bankers at a bank that eventually failed during the financial crisis. Whole divisions were shed, while others stayed intact.

Consider Your Skillset:  Maybe you’ve been working mostly in marketing for the last two years, but as part of your job you also do a lot of PR or strategy. Are there other ways you can market yourself? Are there other roles you can work in? Now is a good time to start thinking about which of your skills are “portable,” and leverage online classes to brush up on any new ones.

Network, Network, Network – Internally and Externally:  Now is not the time to put your head down and just keep doing your job. Get out there and act like you’re recruiting. Talk to people within your company and at other companies. Make yourself known. Make sure people know who you are, what you can do, what you’ve achieved, etc. so that they have you in mind if decisions are being made. I’m not saying you need to shamelessly self-promote, but you can bet others will be, so in your own tactful way make sure that you’re out there too.

Step-Up to The Plate: Some people say that in times of uncertainty it’s important to make yourself indispensable. This isn’t very easy to do as a junior person at a company, but you can show your value. Senior leadership will be distracted with lots of unexpected and challenging, strategic planning. What can you take over from them? What can you do to help that process? Now would be a good time to speak up and provide your ideas, proactively undertake work that you know needs to be done, and generally be a good leader. 

Be a Positive Leader: The day I sat at a Bloomberg station watching the stock price of the bank I worked at sink into the ground, one of the senior people on my team said “how you act now will really show who you are.” And he was right. Some people panicked. Some people shut down. Some people were downright reckless. And some people, like him, kept moving forward and trying to bring positivity to the team when possible. You can’t organize a happy hour, but you can organize a contest for who has the funniest work from home space. You can host a “virtual” happy hour with trivia on Zoom. You can check-in and call people who you know are worried. Stay connected, visible and positive. This is a very important time and we need people who can really stand up and bring people together. 

Don’t Slack: Resist the urge to binge Netflix between meetings. Just because you’re working in your pjs doesn’t mean that your work is any less necessary. Your team and your boss need you to keep working and getting things done so they can focus on urgent projects the current environment is creating. Check your work an extra time before sending it up the chain, research even more broadly, and generally go the extra mile. People are counting on you.

Educate Yourself: If you’re saving 1-2 hours per day on a commute now, and hopefully your social life has come to a halt, then you have extra time each day. Maybe it’s a good time to study for the CFA or the GMAT. Maybe it’s a good time to take an online class. Don’t spend all of your time watching the news and hoarding toilet paper. Build in a mental break that you know will also help you in the future. Imagine how impressive it’ll be to a future employer that during this time you took it upon yourself to learn how to code (just because)? 

Apply to Grad School: As an MBA admissions consultant, I’m clearly biased when I say that you should consider applying to business school. But I can also say from personal experience that going to business school during a recession is a fabulous use of time. I scrambled to apply as the financial sector was crumbling in 2008 and I was grateful to get a spot during a very competitive year. Being in school during a recession was fascinating – our syllabi sometimes changed mid-course as new regulations or global events changed things. And I basically got to wait out two of the worst years of the recession by developing myself and learning. I highly recommend that approach. That said, it’s never been so important to apply in round 1. There will be a race to apply as soon as we see what the full impact on the job market is. Our guess is that after first quarter and definitely after second quarter earnings reports are released, there will be massive upticks in people making the decision to apply. Start now – give yourself the option. If you wait until July, it’ll be more of a scramble, and this is not the year to try and get by on a sub-par application.

If you decide applying to business school is the right step for you, we’d love to help! Take advantage of our initial consultation to learn more about how we can improve your chances of admission to a top program.

And finally, from the bottom of our hearts we want to say that we’re thinking about you all right now. For those impacted by COVID-19 already, we are hopeful that you and/or your relatives or friends are on the road to recovery soon. And for those who are sheltering in place and worrying about what the future will be like, we are with you too. We encourage everyone to please, please, stay home to keep yourself and others safe; and we also encourage you to find ways to help if you can. The people who reach out to us are some of the smartest, most innovative minds out there. Do you have ideas right now? Even something small like finding a way to make people smile is needed right now.  We are taking our own advice on that front and are already working on how we will be able to help in the face of another recession with many job displacements. Though not resulting from a global pandemic, Melody and I were both in our mid-twenties and very impacted by the greatest recession of our time, so we know what the uncertainty feels like and we will endeavor to support. 

Stay safe everyone


Meredith & Melody

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