Changing Careers During the Coronavirus

The job market just went from great to awful, but there may be some opportunities for those that want to make a wholesale switch.

Thanks to the coronavirus and its economic havoc, more than 3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, five times the prior weekly record. Economists predict the unemployment rate could be 10%, 20% even 30% by the summer.

And yet, for anyone thinking about switching careers, now might not be as bad of a time as it may seem. Experts say that while the virus is certainly wreaking havoc over the short-term, it likely won’t change what the general skills and roles needed in the future. “The tendency when things are uncertain is to hunker down, but that’s not necessary the best thing to do,” says Val Olson a career coach for Korn Ferry Advance. Some steps:

Test Drive Working at Home: The unprecedented circumstances of the virus may help millions of answer some questions that any aspiring career switcher would have to answer anyway. For instance, all career switchers, Olson says, have to take time to figure out what really matters to them personally and professionally—including working from home or from an office. The coronavirus of course has forced millions of workers to test and compare. “The good news is you may actually have time to re-evaluate and figure out what steps to take to see if you’re ready to make a switch,” Olson says.

Assess Your Skills: The virus doesn’t change the fact that career switching can often take months, or years if special skills or certifications are needed. It’s unclear how long the coronavirus-related job market meltdown will last. In the meantime, aspiring switchers still must determine what skills and traits they already have. Once they’ve inventoried those, people can leverage them in a field that also values those skills. For example, an architect may discover that she is not just good at making blueprints but any type of plan. That type of skill could translate into something far from architecture, such as school guidance counseling, Olson says.  

Reskill on the Job: The virus most likely won’t impact the skills needed by employers in the near future, either. The world is decidedly short of people with skills in technology, manufacturing, and healthcare. Even if the specific roe changes, the underlying skills may not.

On that front, many employers are actually open to people reskilling people and even helping them switching careers. For instance, recently Amazon announced a $700 million program to re-skill 100,000 of its U.S. based employees in areas such as healthcare, machine learning, manufacturing, robotics, and computer science.

Indeed, the idea of retraining employees is increasingly on the minds of leaders at organizations big and small, says Melissa Swift, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and leader for the firm’s Digital Advisory for North America and global accounts. Organizations with reskilling programs are betting that helping their own career switchers will be far cheaper than the cycle of laying off workers that don’t have the skills needed for the future and replacing them with new recruits who do. 

Anticipate 2021: The one thing that the virus may impact, experts say, is what certain industries may look like a year from now. For instance, retail, which was already going through a major disruption before the pandemic, almost certainly will look different a year from now than it did a year ago. Olson says that an aspiring switcher, before making the leap, may want to research how an industry is changing before jumping into it. “You’d like to be in something that is going up rather than down,” she says.