We are undeniably in a very difficult situation. Fear, uncertainty, social and physical isolation, concerns about securing basic necessities or a potentially looming economic crisis. Many people have been laid off, many others (myself included) were not even given a chance to start their next career step. Who knows how the situation will unfold in a few months when we will be allowed to resume our life? One thing is for sure, many of us will re-enter the job-hunting arena. In that regard, what can we do, while staying at home, in order to increase our employability? Here are 10 ideas, which can help make a difference when –conditions allowed– we get back to “normal”.
- Take a moment to think about what YOU WANT
What better excuse to take some time and focus on what you want to do with your life? Since all we have is time on our hands, we might as well take a moment (or two) and ask ourselves if our current career pathway is what we want, or we would be happier doing something else. Not necessarily make a U-turn and change sector –although there is nothing wrong with that– but think if we could change something, pursue a slightly different role, focus on expertise we might have on different areas, incorporate our hobby into our current role, if applicable. If one is happy with their current role, they might want to take some time to think if the working conditions are satisfying enough for them to continue. Factors such as salary, working space, managers, team workers, work-life balance, or opportunities for self-development can be neglected when amidst a busy and constantly changing lifestyle of a demanding full-time job. We should all “take advantage” of the situation and review our career path and current employment (or lack of) situation. Getting out of the house in a few weeks could be also a breeze of fresh air for our career, other than as physically implied.
- Engage with online training on improving your weaknesses, or add new skills in your CV
Deep down we all know what we are bad at, what we hate doing, what we try to avoid doing at all costs. Even if we cannot pinpoint our weaknesses by name, we can roughly understand the areas we lack. Also, many of us have had a specific request for a skill we do not possess –yet– and we had in the back of our mind that we will engage with developing it when we have some spare time. What better opportunity to turn the tide (sound familiar?) and improve ourselves?
Especially when unemployed, engaging with online training can be very helpful with giving us a sense of achievement, allowing us to “kill time” purposefully, and gain skills without the need of physical contact with trainers and the pressure of tight timetables. There are many available online courses for anything you can imagine, for all levels and abilities. Engaging with a paid course might be advantageous in terms of recognition, quality of content and length/depth of the course, but there are many free options, especially for those looking into developing their interpersonal skills, or learning new skills at introductory level. For instance, the Open University offers a wide variety of free courses on many topics, such as education, science and technology, business, environmental studies and all sorts of interconnected topics.
- Finish your homework
Yes, you heard me! I am sure you have that one task or assignment, one older with “exciting new –now old– papers to read”, or a manuscript to finish (not me, a friend), that you keep postponing because you have SO many other things to do, the stars are not aligned, yada yada, but realistically it is not done yet because you cannot be bothered (honesty is our best friend). Well, this is the time to finally be bothered and get it over with. From personal experience, I can reassure you that it is not as daunting as you think, and who knows, it might open up new and exciting avenues for further exploration. What do you have to lose? Only time, which now is in abundance. Win-win situation!
- Get organised #1 (tidy your home, do a spring clean, rearrange your space)
Spring is here, well, outside, so this calls for a spring clean! OK, away from the pushy mindset that you have to go through your wardrobe twice a year and see what you do not wear anymore, engaging with chores and spending some time away –yet still inside the house, stay safe!– from your “office”, “work”, “effort to get a job” can be beneficial. Same goes for rearranging furniture, re-organising your kitchen cupboards, tidying around in general. Besides the physical exercise you will engage with (have you ever moved your couch to vacuum behind? That is a thing you should try at home), you will give your mind a much needed break. Being constantly on work-mode and not allowing our brain to take a moment, might prevent us from seeing the bigger picture of whatever we are focusing on. Especially with the new, work-from-home patterns, it might be a slippery slope for those who are not experienced with it, to fall in a loop of moving from in front of the computer to in front of the TV. Introducing shorter or longer breaks where you actively get organisational chores done could have a positive effect on your actual work, but also on your project and time management skills.
- Get organised #2 (set goals and try to see them through)
Realistically, the lockdown situation will last for at least few weeks, regardless of where you are in the world. It is not a desirable situation, but at the moment there is nothing we can do about it, other than stay at home and try to get things done. What things though? Working from home can be confusing, especially when there is no clear checklist of things to cross off. So, what you can do, is to set clear goals for the day, the week, probably the month and start seeing them through! From simple goals, such as “start that course”, “organise my lab book”, “submit this assignment” “work on that manuscript”, to more difficult ones, such as “plan my thesis”, “apply to X jobs”, “read X papers per day and summarise them”, having a checklist can help immensely with accountability and with our sense of achievement.
- Re-write your CV, enhancing different experience/skills each time
Those days where people had one CV and sent it to any possible work opportunities are long gone. It is true that for someone who is after a particular type of job, it might look like all job advertisements are looking for the same skills, but still, each role and each company are different. For those of us who are on a more elaborated job search, things are even “worse”, in the sense that jobs can be quite different but evolving around specific transferable skills. In any case, taking the time to personalise our CV and tailor it to the specific job opportunity can increase the possibility of it standing out to the hiring manager and land us an interview. Similarly, take a moment to update your CV. Have you included all the relevant experience for a particular role? Especially for those looking for placements, work experience, or those who are planning on changing sectors, highlighting all relevant experience is fundamental. Relevant experience does not necessarily need to be in paid employment, it can be through volunteering, group projects in university, hobbies and other phenomenally “irrelevant” activities. Same advice goes for cover letters, take some time to look up the company you are applying for, learning about the values, motivations, history. Why do you want to work for them, what do you have to offer? You can have the same main body of the cover letter, but those small tailorable details can make all the difference.
- Read books
Reading books is advised at any point, but especially now, it can be a great opportunity!
Currently we all have extra time on our schedules, saved from commuting, meetings, possibly work, so no more excuses of lack of time. Regardless of what genre you choose, fiction or not fiction, self-development or technical, books can offer so much to the reader. A change of scenery, an opening to a whole new world, an expansion of horizons, useful advice, a chance for reflection, introduction to new experiences through someone else, and the page-turning agony of “what is happening next?”. No matter the choice you make, you will end up mentally richer. If you choose to read self-development books, you will also end up with new skills, perspective, better self-management, better self-awareness and a generally wider understanding. There are countless options out there, in physical or virtual form, the only thing you need is time!
- Engage with your online presence / social media
I am sure that you are aware of the power of social media and the possibilities they offer on a personal level, but are you aware of the professional opportunities you can find online? Especially LinkedIn has proven to be a powerful tool for networking, career exploration, information, sector updates, learning and so much more. If you do not already have a profile, now it is the time to make one, and if you have a profile, now it is the time to update it. You should focus on expanding your network, connect online with people from your immediate professional circle (colleagues, academics), and then start expanding to other connections, based on your work experience, studies or career aspirations. Engaging with people and creating your network can be very rewarding, as it can boost your communication skills, make you go out of your comfort zone in order to send a message, make you aware of available opportunities –even during the lockdown period– and overall increase your employability. Same goes for other platforms, less often regarded for professional purposes, such as Twitter and Instagram. You have nothing to lose from enhancing your online presence, at this point this is the only place to be other than home.
- Reach out!
Reaching out is not only helpful when we are in desperate need of something. As human beings we are dependent on a community and Covid-19 has drastically reduced the opportunities for physical contact, this is the time to keep in touch virtually. Send an email, make a call, send a personal message. Not only to your loved ones, but also to those who interest you professionally. Keep in touch, see what they are up to, see if you can get involved. Trust me, it will be appreciated when things go back to normal. If you are applying for jobs (I cannot see why you would stop, hiring might be currently on hold, but it will slowly resume), reach out to the hiring managers, ask about the role, ask about the previous and current status of the company, see if you could see yourself in it. For those who want to take their game a step further, LinkedIn offers a great service which is open to everyone, called “Career advice hub”. There you can enter the areas you would like advice on (e.g. machine learning, big data, public speaking, management…) and you will be matched with experienced professionals who can offer information and potentially mentoring. Until I actually used this tool I did not believe it could be useful, but after a couple of successful attempts I can happily report back that I love it! You should definitely give it a go if you are interested in delving deeper in an area, learn about a profession from the professional and connect with like-minded people.
- Maintain a positive mindset
At the end of the day, despite the pandemic, life goes on. Surely, it will never be as it used to, many things and structures will change after Covid-19, but the only way to look is forward. Many of us were looking for jobs before and many of us –even more actually– will be looking for jobs after. The only things you can do is to maintain your physical and mental health, keep your spirits high and improve yourself. Take this time to manage this crisis so the outcome will be a positive one for you, you can do it!
There you go, a quick list of 10 tips to increase your employability during the lockdown period. Usually the limiting factor to act on our self-improvement is time, and now time is all we have. Just think, if not now, then when?