Social isolation could be a 'golden opportunity' for your career. Here's exactly how to use the extra time to network and develop in-demand skills for the new economy.

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Social isolation could be a 'golden opportunity' for your career. Here's exactly how to use the extra time to network and develop in-demand skills for the new economy.

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Break your long-term goal into bite-sized tasks.

  • If your have some extra time, consider investing in your career development.
  • Experts advise taking online courses and volunteering virtually to help a cause you care about.
  • It's also wise to get your job-search materials in order, so that you won't be scrambling if you wind up needing them.
  • Click here for more BI Prime stories.

In the era of social isolation, a lot of people have some extra time on their hands.

That could be simply because they're no longer commuting to an office or meeting up with friends at restaurants. The cause could also be more distressing: They're among the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs in the last few weeks or their work hours have been reduced.

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Let's be clear. In the short term, losing some or all of your wages can be devastating. And some people may have more free time than others right now, depending on how much responsibility they have at home.

But in the long run, getting back a couple hours every week can be the best thing to happen in your career. If you're "safe and comfortable and suddenly have time on your hands, this is a golden opportunity," said Amanda Augustine, a career-advice expert at resume-writing service TopResume.

We asked Augustine and other career experts how to make the most of the extra time. They said it's crucial to prepare for your next career move by reconnecting with old colleagues, dusting off your portfolio, and honing the job skills you'll need to get ahead.

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Break your long-term goal into bite-sized tasks

Fred Goff, the cofounder and CEO of Jobcase, or "LinkedIn for blue-collar workers," said every professional should have a "magnetic North star," or a long-term career goal that guides all their current efforts.

Let's say yours is to become an electrician. The first thing to do, Goff said, is to pinpoint one task that you can accomplish in the next two weeks that will get you closer to that goal. Maybe that task involves taking an online course or setting up calls with two people in your professional network who have similar roles. Once you've completed that task, you can move onto the next.

Reflect on your past performance

amanda augustine

Courtesy of Amanda Augustine

Amanda Augustine is a career-advice expert at TopResume.

The only way to identify how you should be spending your time in the next few months, Augustine said, is to take stock of where you stand today. To that end, Augustine recommends "grading" your job performance in the first quarter of 2020. (You don't have to share this evaluation with anyone.)

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Take a look at the goals that you set for yourself, or that your manager set for you, and pinpoint where you exceeded or fell short. That way you have a sense of the skills you still need to develop and the areas where you could improve.

Then think back on a year ago, Augustine said. Where did you think you'd be today? How is your current situation different, and why?

Prepare your job-search materials

Even if you haven't lost your employment, keep in mind that the best time to prepare to look for a new job is when you don't desperately need to.

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Goff recommends using this time to brush up your resume and ask colleagues for references. If a new opportunity comes up - or worse comes to worst, you lose your current employment - you'll have those materials ready instead of scrambling to gather them the night before a job interview.

Augustine tells clients to take the opportunity to update their "brag book." That's a hard copy or digital collection of your professional accomplishments, plus the praise you've received from managers and clients. "That information is going to be the fodder you need when you want to negotiate for a raise or a promotion," Augustine said, regardless of whether you stick with your current employer.

Keep a copy of your brag book on your personal computer, Augustine cautioned, just in case.

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Learn something new - and it doesn't have to be directly relevant to your job

Fred Goff Jobcase

Fred Goff

Fred Goff is the CEO of Jobcase.

Augustine suggested taking an online course on a platform such as Coursera, Udemy, edX, or LinkedIn Learning. It's perfectly fine to learn something that isn't directly applicable to your day job, Augustine said: "It can make you happier at work if you find another outlet for your creativity." Augustine has taken some painting classes online, since she's always been artistic but doesn't always get to tap into that in her current role.

If you decide to take a course on a topic that is directly related to your job, consider pursuing a side project based on what you're studying. Augustine used the hypothetical example of a software engineer who builds an app using the new type of code they learned.

Network strategically

There are plenty of opportunities to connect virtually with people who have the same interests that you do.

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Jaime Klein, CEO of the human-resources consultancy Inspire Human Resources said volunteering for a cause you're passionate about is a great way to meet like-minded people - many of whom would be happy to help you with your next move. One possibility Klein mentioned is tutoring students via videoconference in a subject you specialize in. Another option is working as a counselor for people in crisis.

Try to develop a growth mindset

"Growth mindset" is a term popularized by Stanford developmental psychologist Carol Dweck. People with a growth mindset think skills can be developed through hard work and see challenges as an opportunity to learn. (People with a fixed mindset, on the other hand, think talent is innate and see mistakes as failures.)

In recent years, business leaders like Microsoft's Satya Nadella have used Dweck's findings to cultivate a love of learning and trying new things among their employees.

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Klein said developing a growth mindset is the best way to thrive in the current economy. Employers want people who can "pivot" easily, she said, as their organization and industry evolves. Indeed, leaders at companies from snack giant Mondelez to apparel company Canada Goose have told Business Insider they look for people who take an entrepreneurial approach to their work and aren't afraid of change.

This is an ideal moment "for people who do really well with uncertainty and without there being a really clear paved road," Klein said.

Focus more on the companies you'd like to work for than the specific job function

Goff tells job-seekers to worry less about the specific job they apply for (provided they're at least somewhat qualified and interested in the work) and to focus more on finding a company they could thrive in. "You can bet on yourself and get ahead" within that organization once you've gotten a foot in the door, Goff said.

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In fact, LinkedIn research suggests that internal mobility - switching jobs or teams within the same organization - is on the rise across industries.

Don't take your job security for granted

Goff doesn't think anyone should take their job security for granted these days. Even if you're currently employed, it's worth thinking through what you did if you were suddenly unemployed, or if your job function had to change entirely.

"In the new world of work, you have to manage your own career," Goff said. "You're not going to have the luxury of having someone in the corner office telling you, 'Here's what you're going to do next year and the year after and the year after.' You've got to figure it out yourself."

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