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How Women Can Design a Crisis-Proof Career

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

Many of us are eager to make connections, make sense of what’s going on, and gain support on how to manage the stress of COVID 19 and its economic impact. About a third of the professionals I work with are seeking to understand how best to support their teams and carry them through the crisis. Another third are those coping through adaptation or feeling completely panicked. Finally, there are those trying to figure out how to hold on to their jobs, articulate their essential value and strategically position themselves for the future. In the midst of this overwhelming global crisis, some of us are not just trying to manage fears about illness or the stress of isolation, we’re also trying to crisis-proof our careers and stay professionally relevant. Whether you are lucky enough to have job security or are concerned about lowered salaries, being furloughed, or have just involuntarily re-entered the job search pool, here are three things to consider as you “crisis-proof” your career.

Articulate Your Value

One client is an engineer in electronics who works with a number of large tech companies, but today focuses on helping startups. She has a broad set of technical skills, 20+ years of experience and is extremely good with people.  In an interview, simply listing those skills is a good start, but her significance is elevated when she conveys her value by detailing how she bridges the gap between the visionary founder and their tech teams.  She uses her engineering background to connect the nuts and bolts of a product while establishing an overarching structure for leaders to hold their team accountable. This narrative is what distinguishes her value.

What are your skills, your superpowers, the areas you are really good at and enjoy doing? 

Consider this question fully and draw from both industry-specific and broader life skills. Once you have that list, think of how those abilities come together to make you exceptional. You will show and articulate your value with confidence, not because you’re arrogant or overconfident, but because it’s based on fact, not opinion, truth not bluster. 

The clearer you are the easier it is for leaders, managers, and teams to understand what you are about and how best to leverage your value. Articulating your value with clarity and confidence is not arrogance, it’s considerate.

Speak Up

Technically articulating your value is speaking up. However, there is more to share than just where you excel. Speaking up happens when you say what you mean and mean what you say.  It’s how you make your needs and values clear to others. It is the simplest way to effect change and one of the most effective tools you have to shape your life, your career and bridge the gaps that hold you back.

Examples of speaking up include: sharing your ideas and concerns in meetings, asking questions that no one else is asking (like whether layoffs are imminent or how long salary cuts will be in effect), setting a limit when you can’t take on another project or join your fifth hour of zoom meetings in a day. Speaking up happens when you inquire about promotions, raises, and opportunities. Importantly, it’s claiming recognition when something you’ve done led to a major success or advancement for your team or organization.

Now more than ever, women need to speak up about their stress and clarify what the expectations, objectives, and goals adjusted for current circumstances. It might mean doing a bit less but doing it exceptionally well, rather than do it all poorly and feeling guilty and deflated. Professional women need to speak up about fluid schedules that have them working well into the night. They need to come together and discuss how they’re feeling, adapting, and what they can honestly and realistically execute on.

Build Your Social Capital

Beyond a certain point in any career, achieving success is not a meritocracy. Working longer, harder, putting your nose to the grind and hammering out project after project is not sufficient to rise professionally -or in the current climate- keep your job. Fair or not, these are the facts that we need to understand, accept and work with. So, what does it take to keep your job or reach that next rung on the proverbial ladder? A combination of talent, hard work, and great social skills. 

Many of my clients describe social networking in their professional space as awkward and challenging. I even had one woman get mad at me for suggesting it. As an introvert, I understand it can be uncomfortable to initiate new relationships or build on existing ones. As an entrepreneur, leadership coach, and business owner, I can attest to the importance these connections have for your career.

Humans preferentially support, elevate, and sponsor people they know and trust. We rely on close personal relationships to build that trust. Think of the last time you hired a skilled worker, were you more comfortable hiring someone who was recommended to you? How eager are you to share the names and skills of people in your network who you know personally? Now consider what that means in the current economic and professional landscape. 

We will work harder to hold on to team members we know and trust. We see them as essential because we understand them better. Whether promotions or layoffs should be completely impartial is not what matters. What matters is that the human factor always kicks in, and those of us with strong social ties and deep connections will do better than equally talented women who are not networked.

If you don’t have a strong social network, it’s never too late to start. Make time to connect with and build authentic relationships with your colleagues, leaders, and extended professional networks. Send two-liner emails like this one (this is an actual email I sent out to a professional connection):

“Hi [ ],

I hope this email finds you well. How are you holding up?

I'm working on the whole balancing-work/life-being-a-teacher-and-not-losing-it thing.

Would appreciate hearing from you,

Alessandra Wall, Ph.D.

Share something personal about how you’re managing this time during your next virtual meeting.

 If you’re in the job market join LinkedIn, send messages to your connections while also establish new connections with professionals in your space. A simple: “How are you doing? How are you being affected by everything that’s going on?” is often enough to start a conversation. For new connections ask for insights in their field and on the current crisis. People are quick to answer and often glad to be asked for their opinions.

It Always Matters, Today It Matters Even More

To succeed in any economic climate, we women need to be confident about our value, quick and clear in our ability to describe what it is we have to offer, brave enough to speak up, ask for what we need and share our ideas, and open to nurturing our social capital. 

With the ongoing economic tensions and the likely long-term impacts of shelter in place, it’s even more important to lean into these soft skills. These skills are behaviors and attitudes to practice, refine and adapt so that they feel right for you. "The most important thing you can do for your career, in good and bad times, is learn to articulate your value with clarity and confidence. It’s not enough to have a great resume or be able to list your skills. Articulating your value means knowing exactly how those skills work together to make a significant impact for your current or prospective employer. "

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