I celebrated my 25th birthday in quarantine – a few weeks after the pandemic hit the US.
I spent some time that evening ruefully thinking over the New Year’s resolutions I had eagerly established for 2020. There were such grand plans for my career this year! I would proactively invest in leadership development. I would make use of my company’s tuition reimbursement program and take online classes to earn an MFA in creative writing. I would shake up the status quo of my job and find new, exciting ways to bring research to life.
And then, COVID-19. My plans – like so many companies, projects, and budgets – became frozen in place. The energy that I was putting toward aggressive career growth suddenly became spent maintaining my sanity and getting through each week, each day.
I don’t take for granted how lucky I am to still be employed and to be part of a company that encourages self-care and development. But the fact is, COVID-19 has forced most young professionals like me to be patient and still, more focused on waiting out the pandemic than on growing in our jobs. And in the formative years of career development, hours spent not cultivating growth can seem like a dangerous waste of time.
I’m co-president of my company’s early-career employee resource group (ERG), an internal organization designed to help employees network, find advancement opportunities, and develop skills. Ever since the arrival of COVID-19, our group has been striving to understand how we can help young professionals stay grounded and on track. We feel stuck, and many of us are asking the same question:
How can you grow your career when the world is upside down?
In speaking with my mentors about this topic, one piece of advice has consistently resonated: Don’t underestimate the power of small actions and improvements.
It’s true that 2020 will be a difficult year for young professionals to make huge strides. The state of the economy has lessened opportunities for raises, promotions, and new positions. But small, consistent steps in development can lead to long-term results. We can use the “down-time” of the pandemic to prepare for when big opportunities DO arrive.
Here are some ideas for what those small actions could include.
Optimizing Your LinkedIn Profile
Use your time in quarantine to maximize your presence on this popular networking site. This could include beefing up your About and Experience sections, adding Volunteer Work and Accomplishments, and asking people in your network to write a Recommendation for your profile.
Taking Online Courses to Sharpen Your Skills
From data analytics to public speaking to blogging, there are many free online courses available through LinkedIn, edX, Coursera, and other platforms. Set aside time each week to work your way through courses, and be sure to showcase your certifications on your resume and social networking sites.
Joining Professional Organizations
Explore clubs related to your industry at the local, regional, and national levels. In lieu of in-person meetings, many are holding webinars and virtual events. If the organizations you are interested in don’t offer free membership, do some research to see if your company provides membership at no cost to employees.
Follow Thought Leaders – Especially in the Career Fields You’d Like to Explore in the Future
Forging connections on your social media accounts will help you stay informed on industry news and best practices. New connections may even lead to job opportunities in the future.
Start with Small Action Steps
The steps introduced above are easy, even during the strange times we’re experiencing. Whether during your lunch break, a slow afternoon, or a rainy weekend, take a few minutes each week to invest in your career.
Remember to stay patient with yourself as you ride the ups-and-downs of COVID-19. It may not always feel like it, but small actions are making a difference in who you are and what you can achieve.
About the Author
Elizabeth Saulsbury is a senior marketing research analyst at Cox Automotive in Atlanta, GA. A storyteller at heart, Elizabeth is passionate about connecting people and businesses via the written word. She received national recognition for her work when she was awarded Quirk’s Media’s Outstanding Young Researcher award in 2019.