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How to Accelerate Your Career During an Economic Slowdown

Taking steps to further your career when the future is uncertain can be daunting, but these strategies can help ease the process.

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So … you graduated into a recession. Or you lost your job due to a pandemic. Or you launched a new business right before that sector took an unexpected nosedive. No matter how badly your plans have been scrambled, you can still take your career to the next level—as long as you don’t lose hope.

Let me repeat: All hope is not lost as long as you’re willing to take hopeful actions.

While the beginning of the pandemic ushered in alarming job losses, there have been some gains in recent months due to businesses reopening and hiring once again. Of course, things may look different depending on the field you’re looking to enter. If you want to become a travel agent, for example, your long-term plan might be a little longer now. And no matter the path you planned to take, you should expect to navigate a few more twists and turns than you’d originally anticipated.

But your career pursuits don’t have to stall completely if we enter a pandemic-fueled recession. You just have to know how to resuscitate. There are steps you can take, no matter your situation, to advance your career. Here are four things you can do starting today to move your career forward despite economic uncertainty.

1. Sign up for volunteer opportunities.

If you’ve got extra time on your hands and a passion for a good cause, consider donating your abilities through volunteerism. 

“Because of the current economic climate, many nonprofits are still seeking volunteers, even if it’s for a virtual opportunity,” says Crystal Crump, managing director of company relations at national workforce development nonprofit LaunchCode. “Find an organization whose mission is meaningful to you and offer to help. This will go far in building your network and beefing up your résumé, and it will also help you learn more about your professional interests and preferred work environment.”

There are volunteer opportunities in just about every field you can imagine, from mentoring a young woman learning to code with CoderGirl to making phone calls to homebound elders with Dorot to helping with COVID-19 contact tracing at your local health department. Spending your time volunteering can help you build your skills, give back to your community, and demonstrate your dedication to future employers. Volunteering is good for your personal brand.

2. Pursue online education.

Now is the perfect time to take advantage of the hundreds of online classes offered by organizations and universities worldwide, some even for free. You won’t be alone: Platforms like Coursera have seen a huge increase in enrollment numbers this year. Coursera, Class Central, Udacity, and other platforms let you access many massive open online courses—or MOOCs—that are often free or low cost to remove the barrier to education that traditional post-graduate programs often carry.

These opportunities can benefit your career in a few major ways. First, they can help you hone skills or earn certifications in your current field if you’re looking to find a new position within it. If you’re looking to enter a new field, such courses can also introduce you to new levels of mastery and new concepts you’ll need in order to cast a wider net when pursuing jobs. The projects you complete in class can also become part of your portfolio. And listing online courses or certifications on your résumé or discussing them during interviews will prove to future employers that you’re dedicated to learning and growing.

3. Build your network virtually.

You may not be able to meet someone in person for lunch or coffee, but that doesn’t mean you can’t meet them at all. Take advantage of the flexibility of digital communication to connect with your contacts via email, instant messaging platforms, LinkedIn, or Zoom. Don’t feel like you can only talk about professional topics, either. You may actually strengthen your relationships by chatting about current events and offering help—not just seeing assistance—in any way you can.

Use this time to spruce up your LinkedIn profile and résumé so they’ll be ready to share during your virtual meetings. If you’re chatting with an individual who may not have a contact or connection for you, consider asking them to take a look at your LinkedIn and endorse you for a few skills in which they know you’re an expert. Even small gestures like these can make a big difference in your job hunt and interview process.

4. Hone your skills with personal projects.

The Washington Post reports that folks all over the country are spending more time on personal projects like baking, painting, and learning to play instruments during the pandemic. Working on a passion project allows you to put your skills to the test at your own pace. Even if you only have 20 minutes a day to spare, you can still make progress on something you enjoy. Doing this also gives you solid talking points to use in future interviews if a potential employer asks what you like to do in your spare time.

Start sketching out ideas for the novel you always said you’d write. Draw up a social media campaign or marketing strategy for a company you admire. Create lesson plans for a subject you dream of teaching and then post some videos of yourself teaching others on your new YouTube channel. Turn up the heat on whichever projects you’ve had on the back burner for years, and see how much you learn from completing them. Alternately, you might discover that a project you thought you’d love isn’t really living up to your expectations. Use that knowledge to adjust your job hunt accordingly.

It’s completely understandable to feel overwhelmed by the prospect of building your career when the future seems more uncertain than ever. But take comfort in this: By working to improve your skills through online education, personal projects, and volunteer work, as well as broadening your network virtually, you can continue to keep your dream career on an upward trajectory no matter the circumstances.

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