Making a career change in the midst of a global pandemic might seem wild at first. After all, the unemployment rate is currently at 14.7 percent—the highest since the Great Depression.
But many people right now are considering taking a job in a different industry, whether it’s because they’ve been laid off from a job in a struggling industry or because the crisis caused them to reevaluate some major life choices.
To understand when switching careers during a pandemic makes sense, I spoke with three career experts. They all agreed that though the weakened economy presents challenges, this situation also offers some unique opportunities for people who want to make a career pivot.
Here’s what they advise if you’re considering making the leap:
Consider the trade-offs
In the face of COVID-19, job predictability has vanished. If your industry has shut down, you have no choice but to pivot. But if the decision to switch directions is coming from you, then you may find employers more understanding, says Jenny Blake, career strategist and author of Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One. “The snow globe of the world has been shaken up,” says Blake. “No one is judging anyone for making a career change.”
This reality may make it easier on some levels to make a big move. Dorie Clark, an expert at self-reinvention and author of Stand Out, noted that in the current economic situation, many people are understandably hesitant to make a career switch. Yet this environment can also potentially create more momentum toward change, she says.
“COVID can provide a forcing function because if you’ve been downsized or furloughed, you have less to lose,” says Clark. “If you are in a boom period, it’s easier to stick with the status quo.”
She added that even in industries that have not been badly hurt by the pandemic, many people are facing a reality that they work in jobs that they dislike, which can force people to ask themselves, “Is this really the tradeoff I want to make?”
Andrew Seaman, LinkedIn news editor for job seekers and #GetHired, agreed. Seaman has heard from recruiters that they will take into account the difficulty that people have gone through during the pandemic when it comes to job search and interviews.”[There will be more] understanding and grace when assessing applicants than pre-COVID-19,” Seaman said.
Weigh your options
If you’re planning a self-initiated career change at this time, there are many considerations to make before taking the plunge. Top of mind for many professionals is how a pivot may affect their income. According to Clark, if your goal is to make as much money as fast as possible, changing careers is not the way to get there.
“The lowest-hanging fruit is doing something similar to what you’ve done before, because hiring managers can envision you in the new role,” says Clark, “If your goal is to change industries or functions, it takes longer to make the case to an employer and find the right fit.”
Clark stressed that if you’re employed and choose to leave your current job, you’ll need to consider the amount of savings and runway you’ll need, given the likelihood that you’ll be without income for some time.
Blake suggested using your own risk tolerance as a gauge to whether a career pivot makes sense right now for you or not. She explained that while some people thrive when making big professional overhauls, others find it more stressful. With that in mind, she said that it’s critical to consider your “inner riskometer”—ideally staying in the “stretch zone,” in which you take on a healthy amount of challenge without pushing yourself off center.
“What’s important is to ask yourself if changing careers now will put you in the panic zone,” Blake said. “The coronavirus itself has tipped most of us from our comfort zone into the stretch zone because of the adjustments we’ve had to make so rapidly and the stress of worrying about our health and that of loved ones.”
Blake reiterated Clark’s suggestion to consider your “pivot runway” if you feel that your life is being shaken up so much that you are inspired to make a change and stretch yourself professionally.
“Do you have six to 18 months of savings, or are you someone who doesn’t know how to pay next month’s rent?” she says. “The length of your pivot runway will indicate if and when you should make a change.”
Seaman emphasized the importance of knowing if the change you plan to make is short-term or long-term, giving the example of a flight attendant who temporarily shifted to stocking supermarket shelves out of necessity when airlines stopped flying. Some types of career changes may simply be stopgap measures rather than a permanent new direction.
“The key is to think of yourself as a basket of skills and understand how they transfer to a new industry that is hiring right now,” says Seaman. As an example, he explained that if you’ve worked as a server in the restaurant industry or an associate in a retail establishment, this may be the time to look at opportunities in customer service roles where you can capitalize on your relationship skills.
If your goal is a longer-term switch, Seaman emphasized that “informational interviews are the secret weapon to transition to a new industry.” He also suggested that as you increase your knowledge in your targeted industry—sharing and commenting on articles from the industry’s key publications can be a way to build your thought leadership in a different field.
Time your pivot
According to Clark, many people assume that it’s harder for an older or more senior-level person to switch careers. She argued that while it may sometimes be more challenging, it’s not because of age.
“It’s because of the debt level more senior-level workers have ensnared themselves in,” Clark said. “A 22-year-old doesn’t have a mortgage or dependents. If they need to make some cutbacks or move to a different city, they have the economic and self-identity flexibility to do it.”
Clark also pointed out, though, that if a 50-, 60-, or 70-year-old has humility and identity flexibility, it doesn’t have to be more difficult to make a career change.
The bottom line is that in certain situations, the pandemic may be the catalyst you need to make a change. Whether you’ve been laid off, have felt stuck in a job you hate, or feel called to do something more with your life, you can set yourself up for success even in the current global crisis period. The key is to recognize if and when it’s right for you to change course, and use a well-timed pivot to take back some measure of control in today’s uncontrollable circumstances.