Associate Professor in Business & Leadership at University of East Anglia.
You face a very tough job market now — but you can still thrive. Graduates nowadays face a very challenging labor market. Unfortunately, the corona class of 2020, as they are now called, are facing limited job prospects, reduced pay, and a higher risk of unemployment.
It is a perfect storm out there.
Despite tremendous government support, many economies have descended into a long period of economic recession. Youth unemployment in Britain is expected to mark the 1 million mark by the end of 2020. About 60 million jobs are at risk across Europe. Unemployment figures in the US are expected to rise up to 25% as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. About 50 million Americans filed for unemployment since mid-March.
As global Coronavirus cases increased to 22 million, world economies are now facing a health crisis as well as a financial crisis. Since countries implement quarantines and social distancing practices to contain the pandemic (the Great Lockdown), the magnitude and speed of economic collapse are unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes. This is the worst global recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Back in September, I had written on how to prepare for an economic crisis. And here we are in the midst of a major economic crisis. Markets have crashed and jobs have disappeared. Whole industries are being disrupted and remade. Everything we thought was safe (degrees, jobs, government, institutions, global trade systems, world economies, health systems) is crumbling down. Many employees are facing greater job insecurity — including pay cuts, cuts to hours, furloughs, or layoffs.
What happens if you are joining the job market during these challenging times? How will you navigate the crisis? How will you survive and thrive in these times? In this article, I will provide you with 15 evidence-based smart strategies for successfully navigating this crisis.
1. Take a deep breath and cultivate your inner strength. Your morale, health, and wellbeing are of utmost priority right now.
Nothing is more important than your health and wellbeing. First, you need to take care of yourself. Your health and wellbeing are of an utmost priority now, and you need to take good care of yourself in order to be the best of what you can be.
During a crisis, panic does not help you at all. Fear, panic, and stress are not the solution — you need to be wiser. Take a long term perspective and cultivate your inner growth and strength. The job market and the world needs you as a sane, healthy, positive person. As chaotic as it can seem during these times, your inner strength is more important than ever. So, please try to strengthen yourself intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally. Now is the time to be a strong job candidate and a great role model. It’s not the time to panic and focus on what is wrong.
My advice: Try to stay positive and creative as much as you can. Take it one moment at a time. Take deep breaths. Try not to follow too much news — it gets depressing after one hour of news and social media. We have all been there. You need to let it go and go on intermittent fasting on the news and social media. Make sure you spend high-quality time with your beloved ones. Eat healthily. Exercise — keep moving and walking.
2. Stay in top shape. Develop your competitiveness for the job market
Like everything else meaningful in life, it takes a lot of effort and experimentation to get good at job hunting. You do not just find and get a great job when you graduate. You compete against a pool of very competitive candidates — perhaps 100 or more — who want that job as much as you do. So, think of this as a competitive sport like a job Olympics. You need a lot of enthusiasm, grit, and guts to be chosen for a job.
You must be in the finest shape possible, polish and update your CV, send out more than 100 job applications, and also think of creative ways to get noticed.
Are you constantly refining and improving your employability skills? What can you continue to get better at? Are you doing everything you can every day in order to stay in the best possible career shape? Are you constantly adding skills, experiences, and learning to your resume?
3. Go creative: Doughnut CV
Another way to think about your job applications is to get creative. Instead of being competitive, you can avoid the ‘red oceans’ (competitive waters where there is too much blood) and navigate your own blue oceans (uncharted territories you go, find, and experiment with). Here is a fascinating example of an outstanding candidate who has developed a “doughnut CV”.
Doughnut CV (Picture: Lukas Yla)
Lukas Yla, a 25-year-old Lithuanian marketing professional, delivered his resume in a box of donuts. He delivered 40 donut-resumes to marketing agencies and tech firms in San Francisco. He landed 10 job interviews.
Doughnut CV (Picture: Lukas Yla)
Another great example of creativity is to come up with your Video CV. Below is the one video CV that impressed me the most, and I use it regularly in my classes as an example of the ultimate video CV:
In both examples, the job applicants went wild and creative in their job applications. They refused to play the dominant game of the competition. They created their own game where they could excel and perform at the highest level. They used their creativity as a gift, and created a new space of possibilities for themselves and the world. It is time you think beyond any limits, take risks, and be creative in your job applications. How can you use your creativity as a gift? How can you create your own game where you can be the best?
4. Keep a journal to reflect, learn, develop, and make progress
When I finished my Ph.D. in 2009, we were in the midst of a global economic crisis. The job market was horrible at that time and I had to apply for more than 110 jobs during that year. What helped me keep sane during those times was keeping a journal and writing about my emotions, frustrations, and goals. I would write letters and morning pages to myself, where I reflected on my priorities, mistakes, and learning goals. I would formulate the smallest possible actions for making a bit of progress every day.
This journal was my mentor and friend during the most difficult and uncertain times.
Whenever you are overwhelmed, write in your diary for 20 minutes. Capture your stream of consciousness without censoring anything. Put all your anxieties on paper. Make sure you listen to your fears and make them heard. The best way to do this is to reflect and write. Whenever you write things down, you will feel more powerful and liberated.
Be radically honest with yourself about what is going well and not going well in your life. You will start from a point of gratitude and appreciate all the good things in your life. Then, you will think about your gaps and all the things that you need to improve and get better at. Be clear about all the obstacles, frustrations, and difficulties ahead of you. Create solutions for these problems. Keeping a journal will help you tremendously in:
5. Be flexible and adaptable. Pivot as needed
Do not give up your hope and rise from your own ashes like a phoenix.
Realize this: The market does not owe you a job. There is a deep economic crisis going on and you need to be very flexible in your job applications. Be ready to send out more than 100 job applications — it is common during economic crises to apply for many jobs. After the 2008 crisis, when I applied for more than 110 jobs, I got rejections from the majority of them. Although I believed I was an outstanding candidate, I only received 6 interviews at the time. Be ready for the worst, so that you can develop resilience and alternative plans. You will fail many times and that is OK. Do not be too harsh on yourself. When you fail, try to learn your lessons and get up. What do you need to do to move forward?
Be open to emergent opportunities that you have not planned for. If there are no jobs in your area or city or country, be ready to leave that place. Go on new adventures. Apply for jobs all around the world. Wherever you come across an opportunity or an offer, go there and take it.
In the midst of this crisis, you are uniquely poised for change and growth. Use this crisis as an opportunity to take a step back, rethink your priorities, and invest in yourself. For example, Bill Gates takes ‘Think Weeks’ where he removes himself from all types of work and communication. He uses these weeks just to think, pivot, learn, and rest. Gates says his best ideas often came to him during these ‘Think Weeks’.
“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver
6. You can emerge from this crisis with tremendous growth if you take a long term perspective
Dig into some self-reflection. What comes naturally to you? What are your natural strengths? What type of career would leave you feeling energized rather than drained? Identify what you love to do, and brainstorm ways to craft a career that works for your heart, mind, and soul. Develop an abundance perspective instead of a scarcity one. What if you can create your own employment by creating breakthrough value?
Write down the major changes you need to make to achieve your dreams. Write down your big picture dreams and your life vision (think about 10 to 15 years). What is your end game (big vision) and why does it matter? How can you break this vision into 3-month progress plans?
Capitalize on new ways of remote working — including online team platforms, videoconferencing, and collaboration tools. Today’s jobs require working with diverse and distributed teams to work together and solve problems on the cloud. Do not underestimate the power of your digital knowledge. For example, if you are really good on Instagram or TikTok, you can offer value to companies on using these platforms for effective marketing and branding.
7. Sharpen your toolkit, knowledge, skills, and perspectives
Invest in yourself to become the best version of yourself. Invest in digital options to upskill, reskill, or recharge your career. Find free online courses to develop and sharpen your skills that are demanded by the job market. Join webinars, seminars, and professional groups on the Internet. Online courses from Udemy, Coursera, or Teachable allow you to explore the skills needed for the workplaces of the future (see table below).
This is a great time to expand your skill-set and improve your knowledge. You can develop more frugal habits, learn and experiment with new life and work skills, and finish MOOCs in your fields of interest. Find things that are exciting and interesting for you. When the economic crisis is over (hopefully soon) and your life goes back to normal, you will look back and be grateful for what you learned. You will feel accomplished for learning and staying strong in the midst of all the crises and craziness surrounding you.
Be an autodidact: A self-taught individual who initiates and manages his/her own learning and reads voraciously.
Assume responsibility for your own learning.
Go out of your comfort zone and learn outside your discipline. Education, as usual, is dead. Long live lifetime learning.
Be a polymath: An individual whose knowledge spans a significant number of subjects, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to solve specific problems. To be a polymath, expand your horizons and read books from diverse disciplines. Be greedy about your learning. Read widely and diversely beyond disciplines. Read at least 100 books every year (which means 2 books per week).
8. Develop rare and valuable skills that are in demand
Invest 100 hours in rare skills that are rare and valuable in the marketplace. Try to choose a set of complementary desirable skills that you can leverage. String together a few of 100-hour skills that are rare and valuable. What if you develop a unique mix that will help you build develop a 500-hour asset? This will help you build a career moat. A career moat is like a medieval castle — it will protect you from any pressures or competition. You will not have to worry about employability if you have a rare combination of skills to offer.
The secret is this: You need to be oversubscribed with job offers. Imagine you let companies know that you are receiving exciting offers. Set the table so that you will be choosing the companies you want to work with (not the other way around).
Until you have that type of leverage, develop your rare skill set and knowledge. The rareness and value of your skills are what keeps you employed. You might know how to use difficult software or raise funds for a Kickstarter-type project, for example.
9. Establish a system of being creative and productive for yourself
Try to create productive and positive work habits. One of the biggest killers of productivity is distractions, and there are many distractions at home. You can use timers or the Pomodoro technique to schedule your writing or creative practice. Where and when do you work best? Create a work station or a work environment that you feel comfortable with. You can cultivate creative and productive habits in the comfort of your own house.
Remember that creativity is situational, and it can be cultivated. I recommend you to create 20 new and fresh ideas about money, career, work, or your future every day. Write them down. Make this exercise a positive habit. Your brain loves puzzles. Approaching your work from fresh angles is your puzzle right now. Work on it. One way is to take the perspective of another person. Ask yourself: who else is working on this problem? Borrow from unrelated fields, practices, and domains. Surprise yourself.
Change the wiring and conditioning of your mind: What will you discover or develop or write or create during this economic crisis period in your life? Which fresh and creative ideas can you bring to the world? In your own work, you can set the bar high enough so that you push yourself to new heights of creativity and productivity.
10. Create your assets for the future
This is your opportunity to reinvent yourself and create assets for your future. You can use this crisis situation as an opportunity to reinvent yourself. You can focus on re-designing and re-imagining your life and your career. Read new books, listen to podcasts, create lots of ideas, and follow up on your curiosities. Provide yourself more opportunities for:
Forget the career ladder and start creating your own assets. Imagination and asset creation are linked very closely. Imagine and create your own game. It is never too late to follow your interests, curiosities, and passions. Show up for creative work and use random prompts or anchors to get going. Start small — small is beautiful. You can perhaps start a small creative project that you have always wanted to do, but you were terrified.
What does your heart desire? Go for it. Feel free to make mistakes — mistakes are your friend. After completion of your creative task or project, you should share it with the world, so that everyone will see your work and enjoy it. It is very satisfying to share your passions and artwork, to put them out there for enjoyment and benefit of others.
Change is always frustrating and uncomfortable, but it is the only way forward. You need to embrace failure. J. K. Rowling was rejected by at least a dozen publishers before she was able to publish Harry Potter. Star Wars was rejected by many major studies until it became a household brand and franchise worth 70 billion dollars. Do not expect any short term rewards or returns.
Do not be discouraged by failures and rejections. Celebrate your failures and use them as learning opportunities.
You need to develop more grit and resilience to get back up after a failure.
This is a marathon and you are playing the long game. If you really want to get lucky in the long term, you need to provide yourself with more opportunities for failure. Here is the formula:
Consistent Small Actions + Smart Moves + Hard Work + Play Your Game
Some of the most successful leaders or investors — as well as innovative start-ups — emerged during periods of economic crises. This is a good time to change your habits and make a better version of yourself.
Learn from great role models. An inspiring success example is Flynn Blackie, who has built his business empire at the age of 17.
11. Think and act like an entrepreneur
The economy is shifting from knowledge work to entrepreneurship.
Being able to operate in complex and chaotic domains is becoming one of the most critical competencies in today’s environment.
Many of the jobs created come from small businesses and startups — they are the ones who are disruptors. We see evidence that entrepreneurship is already becoming the new mainstream career — it is actually becoming less risky and more rewarding than a stable desk job.
In the world of our parents, it made sense to work in traditional jobs at big companies — it was the safest route that provided security for life. However, that world is now gone. In today’s world, it is safer to become an entrepreneur and you need to think and act like an entrepreneur. Steady jobs carry silent risks that make you vulnerable to economic shocks and disasters. So, for the first time in history, it has now become risky to follow the route of traditional employment. You need to learn how to be anti-fragile, and this starts with putting an end to the dependence on a regular salary. Now, you need to take control of your career, money, and future.
Now, everyone with a laptop, cell phone, and Internet connection can start their own business instantly. You do not need capital — we have entered the era of the $100 Startup. You can start your blog, YouYube channel, or podcast in a couple of minutes. You can use crowdfunding to bring your fresh ideas, inventions, and innovations into life. You can implement your ideas very quickly in this new era. You do not need approval from institutions. You can navigate this brave new world just by following your passions and curiosities, and sharing your fresh ideas with the world. New tools and economic forces have emerged to make it possible for you to create art and make millions of dollars; to generate real inward success (personal happiness and health) and outward success (fulfilling work and wealth).
12. Find your blue oceans and establish your own game
In order to develop your niche, you need to go and find your own blue oceans. Travel the road less travelled. Avoid the crowds and the competition. Navigate uncharted territories and find your own space where you can establish your own game. Either strive to be the best in your specific topic or field; or create/invent the category where you will be number one in the world.
Our educational systems are still stuck within the industrial age, although it is now over. That is why you need to disrupt your education and yourself. Go beyond the curriculum and assume responsibility for your own learning. You need to be resourceful, resilient, and creative. Entitlement is your enemy — you need to take initiative and be open to learning and developing your skills.
Traditional education is dead. The career ladder is broken. We live in what Taylor Pearson calls ‘Extremistan’. The worst thing you can be in Extremistan is to be mediocre. Reinventing and disrupting yourself is the only way forward.
A digital revolution has occurred where each individual is now an entrepreneur and an artist. We do not need organization charts, hierarchies, factories, standardized exams, or large production floors. Nor do we need cable TV, mass-market, and broadcast advertising. We are now experiencing a borderless, democratized, digital ecosystem where each individual can have a huge impact.
We live in a world where ideas can change people’s lives. This means all of us can create our own game. Indeed, creating your own game has never been so crucial. You can now design games, create your own podcasts or YouTube channel, or raise funds on Kickstarter. You can write a book and share your voice with the world. You can create your own lifestyle brands on wellness, health, or productivity. You can create fresh and exciting digital products (training, courses etc.). You can use crowdfunding to kickstart your ideas and projects.
In this video, Tom Peters offers 44 strategies to cope with an economic recession.
13. Take up some hobbies and interests
This is probably the biggest time and opportunity in your life to pick up on your hobbies. Yes, these are gloomy times and it is difficult to keep your sanity. It is natural that you experience anxiety and freak out. You need to stick to activities and hobbies that keep you sane. What do you love doing? What are your top activities and hobbies that you want to take on? Make a list and try some of them. Taking up a hobby will be one of the best decisions you make in this period. Which activities and hobbies could increase your happiness and creativity? Writing, reading, blogging, gardening, knitting, solving puzzles? Or else?
For example, I prefer doodling to increase my happiness. It soothes me and helps me to slow down. Doodling does not require much time or resources. Just a pencil, a notebook, and 15 minutes are all you need. I have been doodling every day. After one year, I have realized that I have finished hundreds of doodles. Before I knew it, a book has emerged from my doodles.
My book: Self-Making Studio
This book is now sold in 14 countries across the world. So, never underestimate the value of a hobby. Your hobbies can be very powerful if you take small actions consistently and sustain them over a period of time. What activities and hobbies increase your happiness and creativity? Schedule time for them. Do yourself a favor and turn your hobbies into projects.
14. Use your imagination to escape boredom and surprise yourself every day
We are going through tough times. To perform well in such a difficult period, you need to invest in your imagination. Spend time every day for learning new things that excite and surprise you. Be a hunter and learner of the most interesting things. Provide yourself more opportunities for pure-play, exploration, and adventure. Similar to Bill Gates’ think weeks, schedule time in your calendar for learning and exploring new things.
We are living in one of the most interesting times in history. If you have a laptop, a cell phone, and an Internet connection, you can instantly become an entrepreneur and build your own company. You do not need capital. You have access to all the world’s knowledge at your fingertips.
You can teach yourself anything that you want. You can master and teach any field. You can become an artist, an entrepreneur, a coach, a teacher, or a consultant. As you learn new things, you can share your passions, curiosities, and creations with the world. Use your imagination to create your own creative assets and share them with the world. Follow what is most interesting and refreshing for you.
Time spent on learning, experimenting, playing, and exploring is not wasted.
We are living in a digital economy where attention matters the most. Attention is the new gold — it is the most critical, cherished, and sought after thing. Whoever captures attention rocks this new world. Therefore, manufacturing curiosity, surprise, and virality has become the most strategic success factor for individuals. Become a master storyteller to thrive and shine. Tell your own stories, create your own personal brand, and connect with your own fans and tribe.
15. Remember that the world needs your creativity, contribution, and curiosity
Create your own adventures and games you wish to play. This requires a fierce and fearless imagination, which you must cultivate. This is the best time in your life to establish your own creative game. To create the future that you want, you need to establish your own game instead of playing the game of others (i.e. your organization etc.). Playing your own game means you need to create your own assets for the long term.
There are fascinating things that only you can bring to the world. Fresh, exciting, and original things. What are they? How can you take a small action now towards making these happen? How can you continue taking small steps every day? How can you continue your adventure every day without quitting and without breaking the chain (of creating)? What will you bring to the world out there? Everything you need is within you. Find the strength within you rather than looking to the outside world for answers.
Think about where you will be after 10 years and act according to that vision. You can be as big as your dreams and ambitions.
So, dream big dreams, be specific in your vision and capture your wishes and desires in your diary. When you are setting your goals, always leave an open room for X objectives(unknown goals). X objectives are goals that you cannot see right now, but that will emerge as you navigate uncharted territories. How can you compound your skills and assets for the long term?
I know that things are rather scary and uncertain during these times. You will feel rejected, disappointed, and alone at times. You might be feeling anxious and stressed about how the future will play out. However, you still have a world of options and actions available to you. Some of these include:
Make sure you take a small action about each take-away. Make sure you give yourself a lot of opportunities for experimentation, failure, learning, and development. If you play the long game, you will have the opportunity to live up to your full potential and do work that matters to you.
Hang in there. Eventually, you will grow stronger from these difficult times.
Dr Fahri Karakas
Fahri Karakas is the author of the Self-making Studio.
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