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The “Pandemic Proof” Career: 3 Tips to Remain Employer Competitive in a COVID-Era Economy

Written by Jennifer K. Henry on Oct 13, 2020

Related content: Strategic Partnerships, Technology

Today, in a time of immense job loss and financial hardship, there’s plenty of uncertainty around how to plan for career progression or predict which skills will be in demand, or even irrelevant. The uncomfortable reality is that we’ll never know exactly what the job market of the future holds. However, we do have a grasp of economic trends that allow us to anticipate skills demand and provide us with a strong indication of the ways in which the workforce is shifting.

Two weeks ago today, I had the privilege of sitting down with Microsoft’s Yachica Gonazlez at the virtual ASU+GSV Summit to discuss what it takes to pandemic-proof careers and remain employer competitive during a COVID-era economy. For the past few years, 2U has worked with Yachica sourcing talent for her openings at Microsoft, and in return, she invests time with our boot camp students. Mostly recently, Yachica served as a judge in our Next Level Contest, an online pitch competition hosted by Trilogy Education, a 2U brand.

We hope the following tips and tricks serve as helpful guidance for all working professionals looking to secure meaningful employment—both in today’s choppy labor market and the eventual post-pandemic world.

Tip #1: Identify the in-demand skills in the market and take the necessary steps to acquire them.

The skills required in the job market have been shifting over the last 20 years, mainly due to the growing adoption of automation and artificial intelligence. Because of this, there’s been a growing need for our workforce to have advanced tech skills, and this technological demand has been further accelerated and punctuated by COVID-19. If you are striving to stay ahead of the game, you must pay attention to how technologies are transforming your industries and acquire the necessary skills to work strategically with these advancements, rather than trying to avoid them.

There are many avenues you could go down in order to obtain these skills, but the main one Yachica and I touched upon in our discussion were tech boot camps. Boot camps offer working professionals of all backgrounds and experience levels an accessible, affordable, and market-driven pathway to gain the digital skills that employers need. Tech boot camps are an especially great option for adult learners looking to change careers, secure promotions, re-enter the workforce, improve employability, or diversify their skill sets.

But of course, tech skills are not the be-all and end-all: soft skills are equally as important to ensure your career is pandemic-proof. Technology is limited in its creative and empathetic capabilities, which are crucial to collaboration, problem solving, management, and leadership. Social and emotional intelligence is a job requirement in almost all industries—but if you want to really stand out in your job search and in your workplace, develop the skills to build, collaborate within, and lead diverse and inclusive teams. If you don’t have this sophisticated skills set yet, invest ample time and energy into building it. It will only make you all the more valuable to employers.

Tip #2: Acknowledge your unique value proposition to employers and learn how to communicate it effectively.

Another important aspect of remaining employer competitive, whether that be in your current position or future positions you may seek, is truly understanding and communicating your value proposition to employers. This self-assessment can help you best identify the role you want to have and the culture you want to work within, which can better support you on your journey to long-term employment, success, and happiness.

Working in Talent Acquisition at Microsoft, Yachica has interviewed countless candidates, but the individuals who stand out are those who showcase their value and uniqueness. She mentioned that in interviews, many candidates tend to focus too much on the job description and presenting themselves as a jack of all trades regarding the hard skills that are required—when really, recruiters assess social and emotional intelligence just as much as credentials. She said that even when screening resumes, recruiters don’t look for gaps in hard skills, they look for social and emotional attributes that exhibit how and where candidates could fit in.

When communicating your value proposition to recruiters or employers, Yachica and I agreed that an important thing to demonstrate and articulate is a growth mindset and an aptitude to learn. By exhibiting openness to feedback, working professionals can exemplify their ability to be agile and adaptable—and continually sustaining or increasing this adaptability can ultimately result in successful careers both now and in the future. The world is changing fast, and the future will belong to those who grow with it.

Tip #3: Once you complete this self-evaluation, brand yourself effectively and authentically.

Oftentimes when people consider branding themselves, their mindsets are narrowed to only consider how they’re viewed on social media. In reality, professional brands are all about showcasing your unique talents and focusing on how to represent those talents to others. A good way to determine your brand is by asking yourself: if you left your job today, what would your company or colleagues miss, and what would your new employer gain? This way, you discover the attributes that make you exceptional.

One specific suggestion Yachica and I discussed was to develop a brand statement, which is designed to succinctly tell the story of who you are: it marries your past accomplishments to your current skills to the future experience you’re seeking. Yachica said that on average, recruiters typically spend about 10 seconds scanning resumes. A well-crafted brand statement often draws her in and piques her curiosity to find out more about the candidate. Again, soft skills are essential to employers, and they cannot be gauged from a chronological resume that solely dives into hard skills.

The best brand statements specifically, passionately, and authentically communicate your personality and unique ambitions. To accomplish this, don’t draft a one-size-fits-all statement—this description is meant to attract recruiters, employers, and companies that are the right fit for you.

Effective self-branding is actually what brought Yachica to Microsoft. She had tried applying for Microsoft for about five years with no word back, but when she started branding herself outside of her 9-5 job—such as by networking, participating in speaking engagements around recruitment careers in her community, and elevating connections on her LinkedIn profile—she slowly built a reputation as a subject matter expert in the recruitment industry. In the end, a Microsoft recruiter approached her directly for a position she hadn’t even applied for before. Yachica’s success in branding herself didn’t come from a place of merely checking boxes or going through the motions—she was doing things that were authentic to her, and it organically drew the attention of high-profile recruiters.

Even before the pandemic, we were sailing in uncharted waters, unsure of the direction of the labor market or the skills that would be needed to meet the demand of employers. COVID-19 has certainly rocked the boat, causing even more unexpected ripples—but it has also brought with it tailwinds of opportunities for working professionals to build stronger careers or even explore roles outside the industries with which they’re familiar. Pandemic-proofing your career takes grit, perseverance, and self-exploration, but consistently doing this work can help you cultivate long-lasting skills and professional self-awareness, which can only make you that much more resilient now and in the future.

If you’re interested to hear our entire ASU+GSV session, you can watch it here.

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