What Is Your Career Identity During COVID-19?

Four steps to find your career identity in a pandemic

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Almost everyone’s career has been affected by COVID-19 and that can lead to bigger questions about your career identity — especially if you’ve always identified yourself by your job title. In the past few weeks, people have been furloughed, let go, or restructured out. Others found out there jobs are essential. Others, like my husband who works in video streaming, are busier than ever. Many people are learning how to work from home while balancing family relationships and having their kids home too.

Even if your job title has not changed, what your career means and how it feels might have shifted.

So, what happens when you are used to identifying yourself by your job title?

For years, career development professionals have said, “you are more than your job title.” But, if you loved your job title, you wouldn’t have paid too much attention to that. There was no reason.

And in some ways, we still are what we used to be. For many of us, not all, we still have the same job title. I was a career transition coach in January before social distancing began. I am still a career transition coach. But how I feel and how I am in my job is much different. 

I struggled with this in the first weeks because I knew I needed to keep going. I work for myself, and so I couldn’t close my business because of the pandemic, but I also want to feel good inside the work. This is what I did to figure out who I was going to be during this time, and honestly, probably after.

1. Think of your career heroes and watch what they are doing. Or imagine what they would do.

I have a few career heroes — these are people who I admire and trust. They tend to be experts in their niche, kind and clear about what they offer. My career heroes have changed over the years, but I have a handful of people whose work I follow.

I looked to see what they were doing. And from the outside, nothing looked different. They stayed in their zone of expertise. They met their people where they needed to. They continued to be a strong voice. They weren’t discounting programs, using icky sales-pressuring tactics, they continued to show what they’ve always shown — compassionate leadership.

Some of them adapted their programs, went on podcasts to share advice and they connected with the people they best serve.

I looked at this and took my cue from it.

How to do this:

  • If you don’t already have a list of career heroes, think about people whose work you have a tremendous amount of respect for. People whose work you love. You likely always open their emails or newsletters because you like the way their work makes you feel. You trust them.
  • Look at what actions they are taking, and how that makes you feel as a fan. Does it leave you feeling supported? Does it make you trust them more? If so, identify what actions made you feel that way. If your career hero ends up doing something that turns you off, identify what it is.
  • How might you model this behavior in your own work to see how it feels for you and the people you work with/for?

2. What are the people you serve experiencing right now?

Next, I moved my attention to the people I serve. I was hearing about minor job loss, but most of the people I work with still have high-paying jobs. They may be unhappy in them, but they were not desperate. They still need 1:1 coaching, they actually want it more than ever. And they’re not looking for quick job search tricks and hacks, they want to make a wise and intentional career transition.

Some people in my secondary market, people who rarely buy from me but are great supporters of my work through word-of-mouth and social media likes, were losing their jobs.

How to do this:

  • You can ask people directly how things are different for them
  • You can check out what your followers are saying and talking about
  • Keep track of questions they are asking, or what they are concerned about

3. Do you need to change anything to help your ideal people?

Once you know what your ideal clients (whether that is your internal team or the people who buy your product or service) need, look at your offerings to see if they are still relevant.

While manufacturers manufacturers have modified their operations to make protective gear for medical professionals, there are smaller-scale changes that also matter.

I adapted some of my offers slightly to better serve my clients.

How to do this:

  • Compare your current offers to what your ideal clients said they are experiencing
  • Assess if anything needs to pivot
  • Decide what will change and for how long

4. Do you need to change anything to help other people beyond your clients?

Once your business needs are covered and you adjust, think about how can you help other people, beyond the people who pay your bills. And, in helping others, could you try on some of the characteristics of your career heroes?

One of the biggest fumbles people make in career development is not ever questioning whether the work they are doing is it is the right one for them. One way to test this out, and find out who you are in the meantime, is to craft career experiments.

Career experiments, in a non-COVID 19 environment, can sometimes be selfish. Career experiments during COVID 19, could be the place where you could try on an attribute you wish you had while helping others.

Now, if you’re stressed out already, this is not to make you feel like you are not doing enough. You are. Staying inside is enough. It is helping.

But, if you’ve been thinking about making a career move, and want to test some ideas out first, you could do this. For example, an accountant Margow as thinking about making a career move and then her hours were reduced due to COVID 19. She works from home and has no children. She noticed that all her career heroes did teaching as part of their job. She has always secretly wanted to teach. She enjoys training people in accounting procedures at work but didn’t have much of an opportunity to do it that often.

One thing that Margo gets asked about a lot is how to manage a family budget. She messaged a few of her friends and co-workers and said “Over the years, you are a person who asked me about home budgets. I am thinking about leading a personal budgeting workshop online, it will be laid back, would you like to come?”

And her friends and co-workers were excited and said they would.

She hasn’t done the workshop yet, but Margo said she feels good about even offering it. She said, “if it goes well and I like it, I could look for jobs where I get to teach more.” By offering something that people need right now, she learning to understand herself better in her career. She is no longer just an accountant. She could be an accountant who teaches. Or, an accountant who builds learning programs.

How to do this:

  • Look at your existing skills and see if there are people in need of your help. It might be small (like your immediate family & friends) or larger (your followers on LinkedIn)
  • If you see there is a need for a skill you like to use, could you put something together to help others? It might be a series of articles, a video, or it might be a free class
  • Is there any opportunity to develop a skill or way-of-being that you haven’t had the opportunity to test out before? Have you always wanted to do something, but you never tried it out? Could you test out that skill, while helping others right now? For example, if you always wanted to work in HR and help hire people, could you offer to do mock interviews for people? You’d gain the experience
  • After you help people, take some time to reflect on the experience. Did it feel good? Would you like to do more of this? Or was it awful? Is there something else you can try?

Career identities can change

The cool thing about careers, and how we are in them, is that they’re flexible. This world change is tough on us and leaves some of us questioning if our work even matters. Sometimes asking the right questions, pivoting to service and testing are just the right steps to find out who you are. Even in a crisis.

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