To switch or not to switch?

02 November, 2020

Evaluating whether to change jobs? Be sure to consider the harsh realities of the pandemic – as well as its unique opportunities.

Over the last few months, many people have asked me if they should stay put or explore a change in jobs. While the present economic situation presents major challenges, the current situation can also offer unique opportunities.

Since a crisis can be a catalyst for change, this could be the right moment for you to make a move, especially if you want to shift the trajectory of your career. However, it is also a very daunting time to switch jobs. That means you need to think long and hard about why you want to quit. And if you’re certain it’s the right decision, then you need to be much more deliberate about the search process. You will need to do your homework well and be more persistent and patient.

So, this week, my message focuses on switching jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. What are some of the pros and cons? And how can you conduct an effective job search in this tricky market?

The downsides: Is this the right time to go job hunting?

Let’s start with some of the practical challenges. COVID-19 has triggered a sweeping economic downturn across the globe. Unemployment is a key concern, with several organisations tightening their belts and thousands of people being laid off. Many jobs have become redundant, as companies scramble to adapt and pivot. According to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), the formal sector in India took a huge hit between April and August, with as many as 21 million salaried workers losing their jobs.

The fact is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question – it all depends on your personal aspirations, situation and risk appetite. As you assess your options, be sure to consider the unique challenges of changing jobs during a pandemic

Given the grim landscape, is this really the best time to switch? The fact is, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question – it all depends on your personal aspirations, situation and risk appetite. As you assess your options, be sure to consider the unique challenges of changing jobs during a pandemic. More likely than not, the process will take longer than you think, and you need to be prepared for that.

Here are three suggestions to help you approach the decision with your eyes wide open:

1. Reflect on your motivation.

The pandemic has caused many people to re-evaluate their professional choices. You might be inspired to find a job that offers more purpose and fulfilment, or provides greater security and stability. Or perhaps you’re disillusioned with your current role and dislike your day-to-day responsibilities. 

Whatever the case may be, be clear about your motivation, so you can weigh it against the likely struggles of a job transition. Frame the trade-off in clear-cut terms: “Am I willing to put up with a long job search in a tough environment in order to…[fill in your goal here]?”

Career coaches also advise thinking carefully about any new issues you’re facing in your job. Is your unhappiness tied to the role itself, or to the realities of COVID-19? For example, if you dislike working from home or leading a mostly-remote team, consider the likelihood of finding a job without these compulsions right now.

2. Estimate your financial safety net.

Are you planning to leave your current job before embarking on the search for a new role? If so, it’s vital to assess your savings and determine your job-switch runway, which could be anywhere from 6-18 months. This will help you decide if and when to put in your papers.

Your personal circumstances obviously come into play here. Does your income pay for rent, utilities and school fees? Are you providing financial support to elderly family members? These key responsibilities need to be secured first. When it comes to discretionary expenses, identify lifestyle changes that could help you economise. Ask yourself: “Are my family and I aware of and comfortable making these sacrifices for an extended period?”

3. Gauge your risk-o-meter.

Above all, the decision must be based on your own risk-o-meter. Some people thrive on making big changes, while others land up in panic zone. It’s important to find a healthy way to achieve your stretch goals, without reaching breaking point. Remember, you’re already coping with the unexpected challenges and stressors brought on by the pandemic. Are you prepared to navigate two life-changing events at the same time?

Based on your self-evaluation, you may decide against transitioning jobs right now. But you can still start preparing for a change, even if it happens later when things are more stable. Take advantage of virtual learning platforms to upskill or explore new horizons. Focus on mapping your skill stack and expanding your professional network. You could even test the waters with a side project.

Consider an internal move.

This is a good alternative for those who feel they’re in the wrong job, but not in the wrong organisation. Many companies are currently in the midst of a transformation. Functions are being merged, responsibilities are being clustered and new positions are opening up. If this is true of your current employer, why not explore the possibility of an internal move? You may be able to find (or even create) a role that satisfies your desire for change, without risking the personal equity you’ve built up at the organisation.

The upsides: Could it be the right time to change jobs?

Despite the uncertainty, many people are keen to switch gears right away. Be clear though on what you are looking for. The global turbulence has created a momentum towards change – which could be useful for those who don’t want to put their aspirations on hold. If your job search is self-initiated, you may even find a more understanding attitude among prospective employers, especially if you bring in-demand skills to the table.

Here are four ways to harness the unique opportunities created by the pandemic:

1. Discover your purpose.

Crisis provides a chance for deep reflection. It’s a good moment to ask yourself some of those big questions: Does my day-to-day work fulfil me? Is my job aligned with my personal priorities and values? Am I making the best use of my talents? In a Business Insider article on this topic, Heather Taylor offers the following advice from purpose coach Mory Fontanez:

First, Fontanez says to look back at your career. Seek out every moment that brought you joy. These may be projects or even one-off interactions in which you were filled with joy focusing on this work.

Then make a list of those joyous moments. Try to think about whether these instances also allowed you to practice a skill set or an innate talent. If the answer is yes, Fontanez says, you have all the clues you need right in front of you.

You can then look for opportunities that match these experiences and harness your key strengths, infusing your job search with purpose.

2. Activate your dormant network.

Job seekers often restrict their networking efforts to “strong ties” – meaning close friends, family and co-workers. The problem is that their knowledge base is mostly the same as yours: you know the same people, and hear of the same opportunities. The value of networking increases dramatically when you reach out to your “weak ties” – people you don’t know too well or meet only occasionally. The information and advice you receive from these sources can help you re-imagine your career or uncover a brand-new job opening.

Now is the time to activate your dormant network. Given the rise in virtual interactions this year, people are a lot more open to re-connecting online. Thanks to WFH, your contacts may also be more available for video chats, making it easier to conduct informational interviews. (Do keep in mind though that everyone may not be equally responsive; some people may be stretched thin or struggling in their own jobs.)

3. Be open to other industries.

While some industries are struggling, others are actively hiring, driven by growth or necessary innovation. Candidates who are flexible will find far more opportunities. Consider rising fields like tech, healthcare, virtual education, essential services or digital entertainment. Do your homework: identify your transferable skills and figure out how you can bring value. Ryan Corbalis, business recruiter at Indeed, says: 

One of the biggest things I’d stress that candidates need to convey is adaptability – this was true before COVID-19, but I think it’s even more the case now. Likewise, I’d say this to anyone looking for a new role but it’s even more important for those looking to change industries or careers: Show how your abilities adapt to this new field and focus on skills more than just experiences because skills can be applied in so many different ways.

4. Conduct your search virtually.

Several recruiters and HR departments have switched over to virtual platforms for the hiring process. Interviews are likely to be conducted online, saving you the time and hassle of making numerous trips to physical offices. In practical terms, this means you can cover a lot more ground without slacking off in your current role. For example, you could easily schedule multiple interviews during the week, which would have been nearly impossible in the pre-COVID era.

If you’re working from home, your job search becomes even easier. Whether it’s a networking call or an interview with a prospective employer, the privacy of WFH is much more suitable than having to make an excuse and dash away from your desk at the office.

Don’t rely on sweeping generalisations, like the pandemic being the “absolute best” or “absolute worst” time to switch jobs. The reality is a lot more complicated, and it’s different for each one of us. We are all in the same storm – but not in the same boat. If you’re debating whether to quit, be intentional about it and set a course based on your boat and destination.


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