Career Advisor, Jessica Lichota in conversation with Mental Health Missions
Since the Covid-19 Pandemic began over a year ago, millions of people have experienced displacement in their jobs, endured immense changes in professional responsibilities, been furloughed or laid off, had hours cut, or found themselves working among very different and challenging circumstances. Just consider the sales manager who once went to work in a downtown high-rise and is now managing daily job tasks from her kitchen table while keeping an eye on her young child who is playing on the iPad as her husband takes business calls from the laundry room. Or the frontline grocery store employee who has to take a Covid test before going to work each day and returns home with facial indentations after wearing a mask during a long, twelve-hour shift. Then there are the medical professionals, some of whom must isolate for days at a time for fear of exposing their families to a potentially fatal pathogen. It seems that no sector of the professional world has escaped the impact nor the perils of the pandemic. What were once regarded as adjustments in the working world have now become necessities for survival. Welcome to employment in the Covid Era.
The quest for a job has never been easy but a full year into the pandemic, the obstacles may feel insurmountable. In a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40% of US adults reported struggling with mental health and/or substance abuse related to Covid-19. Combine this with the fact that losing a job can be linked to increased stress and the significant mental health issues associated with job loss and the subsequent job search become very apparent.
If you are lucky enough that your position hasn’t been affected by the pandemic, chances are you are still impacted by some of the perennial havoc that Covid-19 has wreaked on our society. For the millions who have lost their jobs during this unprecedented year, the thought of embarking on a job search may feel daunting. Looking for new professional opportunities can be taxing in itself but doing so during a global pandemic can be an emotional roller coaster that is downright terrifying.
The pandemic has affected almost every aspect of our lives, including our work; how we work, when we work, what we do for work, and how we look for new work opportunities. If you find yourself in the precarious position of looking for a job, you are certainly not alone. Since the start of the pandemic, millions have been laid off and unemployment numbers have sharply increased.
Make no mistake, the struggle people are facing in this competitive and uncertain job market is very real but it’s not all bad news; there are bright spots. Having devoted much of my own career to empowering individuals secure employment, I believe it is crucial to heed the mental health challenges associated with looking for a job.
It’s important to remember that the job search is a journey, one that often begins with hope and can quickly become filled with a sense of dread. Many of us have been there; endlessly browsing through job boards in hopes of finding our next big break, tirelessly working to create the perfect resume, and applying to countless positions, all to no avail. Let’s be real; looking for a job can be a real drag, but it doesn’t have to be a negative experience entirely. While the job search can feel arduous and bleak, there are reasons to remain optimistic. If you are actively job hunting, considering a professional change, or are seeking a new career path altogether, here are some things you can do to maintain positivity while navigating the sometimes, treacherous waters:
Accept where you are and acknowledge your feelings
When looking for a job, one of the first things I recommend is to take a deep breath and accept where you are. Whether you left your job voluntarily, were terminated or laid off, accepting where you are is an important first step when starting a successful job search. Looking for a new job can be scary, but the prospect of a fresh opportunity can also be exciting. Although it might be tempting to jump right back into the world of work, it’s important to first acknowledge how you are feeling.
Whatever the circumstances that led you to this point, the loss of a job is rarely easy. Grief is often associated with the loss of a person but losing a job is a different form of grief. Displacement from a job can amount to more than just loss of income. There are other losses that can arise including loss of connection, loss of professional identity, and losing a sense of purpose and routine.
If you find yourself grieving these types of losses, I recommend you acknowledge that as well as any other feelings that are coming up for you. While the period of professional transition can be onerous, even painful, understanding and finding meaning from your experience can be conducive to future success.
Create a roadmap to achieve your professional goals
Take time to identify your professional aspirations and consider ways to reach these goals. This might be something you need assistance with. If that’s the case, you might want to consult with a professional job coach or career counselor.
Three things I suggest you consider:
• Where you are professionally
• Where you want to be
• What steps you will need to take to get from where you are to where you want to be (A career coach can assist with this)
Be curious and prepare for your next move
As you embark on the search for a new job, it’s important to be thinking about the next step. Here are some important questions to ask yourself in this stage:
- Am I ready to begin looking for work?
- What kind of job do I want to pursue? What do I enjoy? What am I good at? How can I make a difference?
- Am I mentally prepared to return to work?
- Do I need to get back to work right away for financial reasons?
- What do I need before I am ready to return to the workforce? Do I need any additional skills or vocational training? Is it necessary to acquire any type of certification?
- Are there any logistical matters I need to consider (for example, childcare)?
- Do I need help with my resume, cover letter, or working on a professional networking profile?
- What kind of salary do I need? Am I comfortable discussing those needs?
- What is my ideal type of work environment? Do I work better as part of a team or individually? Do I perform better when I am closely managed or when I have more independence?
- Have I reached out to people in my network?
It may feel overwhelming to think about all of these questions. Keep in mind, you don’t need to have all of the answers; these are simply things to consider as you contemplate your next career move. It’s also important to remember that there are resources that can assist you through the process. Taking career assessments and/or consulting with a career advisor or coach can be very useful. You may want to inquire about free employment assistance at your local workforce center or public library, resources that are available in most cities and counties. If feasible, you can also take advantage of outplacement services that your former employer might provide.
Be strategic and realistic. Don’t get hung up on the ‘Dream Job’
Although you might be excited about several career paths or opportunities, it’s generally best to pick and maintain a focus. For this reason, I usually suggest job seekers concentrate on 2-3 positions at one time. Staying focused minimizes the potential of overwhelm and defeat.
I want to stress that the process of career exploration is evolving and a ‘dream job’ is unlikely to appear overnight. Career goals will continue to transform with time. It’s ok to feel excited about one option today and to be inspired by a completely different one tomorrow. I urge people to be open to new opportunities, even ones that you may have not previously considered. One of the most critical qualities to maintain while looking for a new job is flexibility. Keep in mind, you never know where that next opportunity can take you.
Create structure and cultivate creativity
Make sure to designate time to focus on your job search. By setting aside select hours to concentrate on employment related activities, the job search won’t dominate your life. You might carve out three hours per day completely devoted to looking for employment. That allotted time is reserved for doing anything related to looking for work including networking, engaging in professional development, creating marketing materials, working on your resume, and applying for jobs.
Set aside time for other structured activities throughout the day, which may include exercise, connecting with friends and family, engaging in creative pursuits, reading a book, working on a passion project, or journaling. We generally are more productive when we maintain a variety of interests. Harnessing the power of imagination and getting in touch with what makes you feel energized can aid in your career exploration.
Focus on what you can control
Identify the things you can control pertaining to the job search. Rather than wasting your time worrying about situations that are beyond your control (like whether a potential employer calls you back), focus on elements that you are able to manage such as completing applications, tailoring your resume and cover letter, and making sure you are well-prepared for that next interview. You can also create and maintain your online presence through professional networking websites, including LinkedIn, a website often used by recruiters. A recent article in the New York Times provides guidance when it comes to maximizing your LinkedIn profile.
Reflect on contributions you have made in your career
If you aren’t working and are currently looking for a new job, it can be easy to focus on all of the skills you are lacking. You may fall into the trap of believing that you have nothing to offer and that you can’t possibly compete in a tight job market. Some job seekers can even develop a distorted image of their professional identity or experience the largely dreaded, imposter syndrome. Taking time to reflect on the skills you have acquired and contributions you made in your previous roles can help to shift this image.
If you are falling into a place of self-doubt (which can happen), remind yourself of your past accomplishments and attributes. Start by making a list of problems you have solved and consider important lessons you have learned along the way. For example, perhaps in a former job you implemented a procedure that streamlined services and saved a considerable amount of money for the company’s bottom line. Or, maybe you developed a new process that improved service delivery and increased customer satisfaction. Think about all of the things you did in your previous roles to help grow the business, cut costs, as well as save time. And remember, the little things count too!
Create a strong network
You might be familiar with the old adage, “It’s not what you know, but rather who you know.” In fact, networking and who you know is a vital component to successfully finding work. Upwards of 70% of jobs are found in what is called the hidden job market, which refers to jobs that are not advertised but instead secured by already established contacts or other avenues of networking. Landing that next job will likely require resourcefulness and savvy networking efforts. And while leveraging your professional network is important, don’t lose sight of personal connections. Remind those around you that you are in pursuit of a new opportunity. Informing more people of your professional prospects will only broaden potential possibilities for that next job.
Be aware of burnout
Feeling overwhelmed during the job search is understandable. We often think about burnout as something that occurs while on the job, but people can also experience burnout during the job search. If you are feeling symptoms of burnout, know that can be an expected part of the job search process. The good news is, there are things you can do to hit reset and give yourself some rejuvenation.
When I am working with people who feel defeated, I recommend taking positivity breaks throughout the day. These are short, simple pauses that can evoke a sense of optimism, relaxation, and joy. Positivity breaks don’t have to be elaborate; the objective is to ignite a renewed sense of energy. Some ideas might include:
• Taking a walk around the block
• Mindfully sipping tea
• Completing a few clues on a crossword puzzle
• Listening (and dancing!) to a song you enjoy
• Watching a funny video
• Cuddling with a pet
• Doing a round of sun salutations
• Focusing on your breath
• Reflecting on the successes of your day
• Considering intentions you want to set for tomorrow
Be gentle with yourself and don’t miss the silver linings
The quest for employment inevitably includes some form of disappointment; perhaps you didn’t land that sought after job you so fervently wanted. Such experiences are to be expected. Remember, each encounter has the potential to benefit us. If things don’t go the way you had hoped, don’t overlook the positives of the situation and aspects that can teach you something. If you become immobilized by staring at a closed door, you may miss an open window offering you another opportunity.
The job search is seldom a walk in the park, but determining your goals, staying realistic, and focusing on aspects within your control can make the process less strenuous. It is sometimes easy to be very hard on yourself but keep in mind, the pursuit of your next job is a marathon, not a sprint. It will take concentrated effort, dedicated time, and likely require challenging yourself to step outside of your comfort zone. If you become discouraged, remind yourself that you are doing your best. You may also want to refer back to the things discussed here. As you navigate the process, remember the importance of believing in yourself, being patient, and practicing self-kindness. Your next opportunity will undoubtedly come.
Best of luck in your job search!
This article is the result of several conversations and has been edited for clarity. Jessica Lichota has worked in career services for several years, assisting individuals with job searches by identifying appropriate professional opportunities, tailoring resumes, and providing effective communication techniques for engaging with prospective employers. Ms. Lichota graduated from University of Colorado, Boulder with a degree in Biological Sciences and also holds a Master’s Degree in mental health counseling. Photo courtesy of Ms. Lichota.