How to Switch Careers During a Pandemic

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Published
Sep 10, 2020

Sep 10, 2020 • by Rebecca Smith

The COVID19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy unlike any event in history. Record unemployment numbers and huge decreases in revenue and cash flows have taken their toll on business and employees alike. Unfortunately, many employees have found themselves without a job as organizations downsize in order to stay in business. These people often have trouble finding another job in this economy, so many consider switching to other lines of work.

Even people who have not been furloughed are considering job changes today. Perhaps they have given additional thought to their priorities or have simply changed their career goals. This is driving many people to search for a change as well. So, how do you switch careers successfully during the middle of a pandemic? Here we will outline some tips and considerations to help you make a smooth transition to a new career even during the middle of a global pandemic.

Evaluate Your Current Experience and Goals

Knowing yourself and what you want is the first step toward making a successful career change. Perform an assessment of your strengths and skills. And be honest! Even if it’s painful, you want to be completely honest with yourself during this assessment. Consider asking friends or colleagues for feedback during this process so that you can get an accurate picture of where you currently stand from a career perspective. There are also plenty of career related self assessment exams available online.

Another important thing to consider during this phase is your appetite for risk. If you are extremely risk-averse, then doing a complete 180 with your career path might not be the best idea. Similarly, if you are OK with some risk, then this might be a good time to start that business you have always dreamed of. Your overall skill set and personality traits will ultimately affect which direction you decide to go on your new path.

Finally, what do you enjoy doing? If you are going to make a switch in careers, you should pick something that you are truly passionate about. What makes you tick and what would you love to wake up and do every day? Try to find a way to tie these passions into something that a company would pay you to do. You want to be happy in your new career, and enjoying what you do can go a long way toward that happiness.

Do Your Research

The next step in making your switch is to perform some research on potential careers and businesses. You want to give yourself the best odds of success during your transition. Ideally, you want to make sure you select a job or industry that is growing and in demand during these unprecedented times. For instance, deciding that you are going to open a restaurant during the middle of a pandemic might not be the best idea as the restaurant industry has taken a huge hit due to people staying at home.

On the other hand, pandemics often present great business opportunities for those who recognize them and take advantage of them. Home improvement stores have boomed during this time due to the number of people deciding to tackle DIY projects while they are stuck at home. Cleaning and sanitizing businesses have popped up and are doing lots of work to keep businesses and employees safe for people to enter. People who saw the need for this type of business were able to take advantage of the situation and turn it into a successful venture.

Whichever avenue you choose, do thorough research so that you know your options. Take a look at industry trends in the current market. Also, make sure that the data you are observing is current. Things are changing extremely fast right now, so using old or outdated data could send you down the wrong path and have unwanted consequences in the future. For instance, the new car market took a 50% or more hit earlier this year; however, the used car market is starting to rebound and prices are rising now. You could use that data to determine that opening a new car dealership is probably not a good idea, while opening a used car dealership might be a good opportunity. Offering cash for cars to people needing to sell quickly is also a great way to source inventory - the old buy low, sell high philosophy.

One final point on research - do not overthink it and get “analysis paralysis.” Some people attempt to do so much research that they never stop researching and actually start doing something. At some point, you have to make a decision using the data you have and start heading down a path. If you find later that you made a mistake, you can always pivot again. But, if you are constantly in research mode, you will never make a transition.

Start Networking

Once you have decided on a potential new career path, start talking to people! Reach out to friends and family and see who they may know in that industry. Start reaching out on LinkedIn and connecting with as many people as possible who might be able to offer advice. Most people are willing to help and offer advice if you just ask. Simply ask if you can have 15 minutes of their time to ask a few questions about their career or industry. If you are genuine in your request and truly asking for help, very few people will tell you no.

Normally, it would be great if these informational discussions could be done in person. However, given the current circumstances with the pandemic, phone or video conversations will work just as well. Most people are more willing to have a quick 15 minute phone call than an in-person meeting anyway, so that might work to your advantage. Be sure to familiarize yourself with virtual networking tips before you start these conversations. Also, be sure to send a thank you note or email after the conversation. If you find someone who you have a great rapport with right off the bat, make sure you stay in contact with that person. You never know where that relationship might go in the future, and you could even find yourself getting a job offer or referral from them.

Another thing that these interviews allow you to discover is what types of skills you may need for your new career path. During these networking sessions, try to pick the other person’s brain as much as possible. Figure out if you will need to take additional training or classes or if you simply need to find a way to gain some real-world experience in a specific activity. Take a look at the self assessment you completed earlier and identify gaps. This will help you understand what skills you need to work on before you make your move.

Update Your Skills

This next step is a direct continuation of the work you did in the last section. Once you have identified your skill gaps, it is time to start working on them. This can be done in a variety of ways. There is the more traditional method of training or classes where you essentially go to school to learn new skills. However, in today’s world, this does not have to be the case. There are tons of online resources and other options for learning new skills quickly. Tech companies like Google and Microsoft offer online training where people can learn new technical skills, and others like Udemy offer training on nearly any topic imaginable.

If you are looking to enter the technical world, check your local area for innovation groups or boot camps where you can learn new skills. Many areas have a local tech hub where people can learn how to program or build websites in a 10 or 12 week bootcamp. Many of these programs even offer career placement services that give you a high likelihood of landing a job when you finish the program. Perhaps you can identify some of these programs or services during your networking sessions. If not, look for them on your own as they can be great ways to learn new skills in a short period of time.

Set Realistic Expectations

This is a big one. Many people forget that when they are making a career transition, they might have to take a step back in their career in order to move further up the ladder in the long run. Be realistic in your expectations for making a move. Let’s face it...if you have zero experience with technology, you are not going to land a gig as the Chief Technology Officer at your next company. However, you could very well land a gig as an analyst or similar position that utilizes some of your existing skills while giving you a chance to learn new ones. You may end up being the CTO at that company after all, but you have to understand that when shifting careers, you need a little experience under your belt before you can expect to make big vertical leaps on the career ladder.

These realistic expectations should apply to your salary as well. Do not be surprised if you have to take a pay cut initially to get on a different career path. This also ties in with assessing your personal situation. If you are not in a financial position to be able to take a pay cut, then it is going to be more difficult to make a career change for you. Expecting to switch careers and come into a new position where you have less experience and want to continue making the same or more money is not very realistic. While it can happen, you should be honest with yourself and the pay range for the type of work you are wanting to do.

Find Unique Ways to Gain Experience

It’s the age old scenario...you need experience to get a job in a certain field, but how do you gain that experience if you cannot find a job doing that work? In today’s world, you can find unique ways to gain new experiences. If you are trying to become a web designer, you could volunteer to create a website for a non-profit organization. You could moonlight in entry-level positions in your desired field through freelancer platforms like Upwork. It might be easier than you think to land gigs there without much experience. Doing things like this allows you to begin to build a portfolio of your work and accomplishments so that you can include them on your resume when it is time to begin applying for full time gigs in your new realm.

Be Prepared for Obstacles

Even with the best of plans, things are bound to come up that you did not expect. Be willing to roll with things and change on the fly. If unexpected issues arise, do not just abandon your plan and forget everything you were working toward. Take a minute to regroup, and then assess your next steps. Go back to this list and see what you can do as a next step to continue moving forward toward your goal. What you see as a potential roadblock could be an opportunity if you look at it the right way.

Go into this new, uncharted territory as a long-term adventure. It might take 6, 12, or even 24 months or longer to get where you ultimately want to go. But you have to chart your course and make adjustments as surprises come up. You can still end up where you want to be in the end, you might just need to make a detour or two along the way. That does not mean you should stop the trip. It just means that you might have to find other ways to get there.

Conclusion

While these tough economic times have been hard on a number of people, that does not mean that you can’t use this as an opportunity to make a career switch. If you properly plan your change and do the things necessary to get there, you can successfully switch careers during a pandemic. There are still many jobs out there that are in high demand as well as potential business opportunities if you are looking to go out on your own. Do your research, plan your path, network as much as possible, and find a way to gain the new skills you need to be successful. It will take a little hard work, but it will be worth it in the end. Go for it and have some fun along the way!