Looking for work is hard. It’s always been difficult, and COVID-19 makes it that much more so. Employers are bombarded with applications. Many jobs are part-time or short-term contracts. The situation seems bleak, if not impossible.
But be assured that some sectors are hiring. If you are looking for a digital role, your skills are in greater demand than perhaps in any other field at this time. Recent ICTC research shows that digital tech has largely been spared the devasting economic impacts of the pandemic.
In fact, some information and communication technology segments, such as video game development and digital services in support of remote work, have grown during the pandemic.
According to ICTC’s revised employment forecast (The Digital-Led New Normal: Revised Labour Market Outlook for 2022), increased demand for employment in the Canadian digital economy will total 102,000 between Q1 of 2020 and Q4 of 2022. By Q4 of 2022, the digital economy is expected to have recovered from the initial shock of COVID and will include over 2 million workers, representing roughly 10.5% of all employment in the Canadian economy.
That’s the macro perspective. Now here is a more personal perspective.
Reality of a Career Transition
As ICTC’s Calgary Workforce Development Specialist, I work with clients in career transition through several ICTC programs across the country. I deeply empathize with the unemployment stress our clients face—the financial anguish and sense of powerlessness take a toll on relationships and mental and emotional health.
As a Facilitator for our career-transition programs, I try to add as much value as possible while being sensitive to where our clients “are at” in their job search. It’s a delicate balance to strike, as some clients feel frustrated and stuck in their efforts. What can combat this is a shift to a growth mindset and maybe a different approach.
Let Me Explain
Many job seekers take a “spray–and–pray” approach to their job search (sending out a ton of resumes, praying for a response). Unfortunately, in most cases, they never hear back.
It’s understandable that this can sap motivation when the ultimate goal is to secure work and anything less feels like failure.
My message here is to see the job search as a process where each step leads to the next. But start by re-examining this quantity-over-quality strategy. Consider making a shift in thinking that acknowledges and builds on your existing and past experience in the marketplace.
Workers in transition from one industry into another face some challenges, including “imposter syndrome.” This entails feeling inadequate for the intended new role, or worse, feeling like a fraud—even despite having achieved impressive heights in their former career.
Yes, starting a new career direction will require an element of “fake it till you make it,” but you are not an imposter! It’s understandable that a new start can make you feel vulnerable, but you can feel that even if you’ve been in the same job for a while. What can help counter this negative feeling is to do a crazy amount of research, come up with good questions, and to not be afraid to make mistakes.
Simply Talk to People
Recruiting practices, work conditions, and the skills employers value today may be different from what they were when you last looked for a job, but networking has, and continues to be, the best way to land a job! All the research and all the career advice point to the importance of networking. If you are only sending resumes to job boards, you are spending most of your time on the least effective method of finding work.
But some of our clients say, “I hate networking!” And they proclaim that they are introverts. They say they don’t want to risk feeling even worse by subjecting themselves to one-on-one rejection.
My reply to them is that while some of our program participants are pros, not many actually say they enjoy networking. It’s obvious that “networking” is a loaded word and one that gets tossed around all the time. Maybe networking is better understood simply as “talking to people and building genuine relationships.” Not only will this boost your confidence; you will feel like you’re making progress while learning about the industry!
You may even want to record yourself on video (even on your cell phone) and practice projecting competence and positivity.
Consider segmenting your approach into two broad categories: exploratory networking and strategic networking.
Start by reaching out to family and friends and previous colleagues. Do some “just checking in” calls: “How are you? How is your work/business faring in these crazy times?” These are messages of kindness and authenticity that don’t reference your need to find work. We need to check in on each other in these difficult times and these calls are often very appreciated.
Whatever you’re facing during the pandemic, whether it’s job loss, depression, a death in the family, illness or loneliness, this simple act of reaching out carries a lot of weight. You can be more candid and vulnerable in these exploratory discussions.
I also reassure introverts that sometimes they are the best networkers because they are often the best listeners and have the best questions, which is key to any interaction!
Then you can try strategic networking. This involves meetings with “high value,” “high asset” people with influence who may be strangers to you now. But save these meetings until you practice a bit and feel comfortable with the process.
Be clear with your purpose. Do your research. Ask thoughtful questions and be ready to tell your story because these professionals are typically busy. Catalogue accomplishments: reflect on your career and highlight milestones. You will need to drive the conversation and maximize the opportunity.
Strategic networking isn’t so much about you but them and what you can do for them. It’s a subtle shift that makes all the difference. Shore up your confidence and realize that you deserve the career you want! Practice how you will introduce yourself to someone and be proud of what you have achieved to date.
LinkedIn is constantly making updates as the platform’s engagement and usage surges. Think of LinkedIn as the largest Organizational Chart in the world. What a great tool to look for hiring managers and conduct research on companies, salaries, and people.
Be “findable” on LinkedIn. As recruiters search key words to fill a posting, your profile needs to be complete and professional to reflect you and to showcase your skills.
Employers and “Unicorn Candidate”
Our program participants often say that they don’t meet all the criteria listed in a job description. In many cases, they get discouraged and claim they are not the “unicorn” the employer is seeking.
So to employers, I urge you to consider hiring “the Wildcard,” someone who may not have exactly the “correct” number of years of experience in the field or may not seem like the “perfect” fit. By expanding your search criteria to include career-change candidates with less direct industry experience, you stand to benefit from a pair of fresh eyes, a wealth of innovation, creativity, and perspective from other fields. This can lead to important synergies for tech companies.
Companies that can look past seemingly minor technical skills gaps invariably can gain other skills that often far outweigh the perceived initial shortfall.
Celebrate the “Little Gems” along the path to a new career. Whether that is having a successful virtual meeting with a contact or completing a Coursera online course. Pause and pat yourself on the back for the good things that are happening.
The methods you used in the past to find work may no longer hold value in today’s market. With so many moving parts in the COVID-19 era, it’s important to shine the light on continuous learning, change management skills, and resilience. Ultimately, the people I see who are successful in securing work are those who are open and positive.
A friend of mine says that one plus to come out of the pandemic is gaining what she calls “COVID-clarity” in her life priorities. I would add that what COVID has reminded me to do is to place more importance on community.
Have a “helping mindset” and supporting others whenever possible is paramount. When nothing is normal these days, I urge you to break out of your “normal” by appreciating the value of the social capital of interacting with others. Fostering virtual relationships when seeking work is essential these days, but it’s also critical to our mental health.
Sashie Steenstra is the Workforce Development Specialist at ICTC Calgary. She created and facilitated the work readiness curriculum with internal teams for EDGE UP (Energy to Digital Growth Education and Upskilling Project) and Arrival to Fintech Ready, and facilitates sessions for various ICTC Capacity Building and Innovation programs. She was recently awarded Career Development Practitioner of the Year  by CDAA – Career Development Association of Alberta.
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