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3 lessons I learned from making a big career change during the pandemic

The chief revenue officer of Ethos says that even though the substance of her interview and onboarding wasn’t all that different, her mindset had to be.

3 lessons I learned from making a big career change during the pandemic
[Photo: hyejin kang/iStock]
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I made a major career change during the largest pandemic in history.

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After nearly a decade at Zillow, I recently joined Ethos as their chief revenue officer. I went from helping people purchase homes to helping families get life insurance from the safety of one.

I didn’t know what to expect, but found that the recruitment process was surprisingly normal despite the circumstances. Reflecting now, I realize that I didn’t prepare for remote interviews any differently than I had before. I didn’t negotiate salary or benefits differently, or ask different questions.

During the process we connected on a variety of expected topics, with a heavy emphasis on leadership style, management philosophy, and experience scaling organizations. The Ethos team was very thoughtful about their questions, but it never felt like that was a product of the often increased formality of remote interviewing. I doubt very much their preparedness and consideration would have been any different in person.

The mechanics of the onboarding process weren’t hugely affected either. I was set up with all necessary credentials by the IT lead, and I went through a full onboarding program with two other recently hired colleagues that consisted of presentations from leaders across the company. I was shipped a laptop and ready to get started.

Looking back, I realize that even though the substance of my interview and onboarding wasn’t all that different, my mindset had to be. For people navigating career moves in this pandemic (and companies evolving with the “new normal”), the real change isn’t in process, but in mindset.

Making your move in two steps

No matter what has informed your decision to make a career shift during this intense period, there are a few things to keep in mind that I found helpful.

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Step one: Don’t assume it can’t be done. Yes, some companies are experiencing layoffs, hiring freezes, or even closing their doors altogether, but many others are still growing and great opportunities do still exist. Some industries are busier than ever and need to keep up with new demands. Still others are finding that they need to pivot and digitize, and may be looking to hire people with different skill sets than they had in the past.

Step two: Change your own thinking. Don’t limit yourself to your “normal” scope of work or what you may consider your expected trajectory. New opportunities are emerging in unlikely places as the pandemic has accelerated the timeline for adopting and implementing new technology and business practices.

You may be exactly what a company’s been looking for, in an industry you never considered part of your career path before.

Focus only on what you can control

As a relationship-oriented person by nature, the idea of not just interviewing for but actually accepting and starting a new job in a new city during a quarantine seemed risky. Or at the very least, awkward.

I would normally have spent hours with my new team, sharing meals, and getting to know them better. But this time, we’ve built trust and confidence in each other purely based on our virtual interactions.

The biggest thing to remember is to focus on what you can control. Zoom interviews or meetings are awkward for both parties, so there is no use pretending they’re not. It comes down to the little things—remembering to look at your computer’s camera so you can make “eye contact” as much as possible. Slow down and pause when speaking to allow for others to respond—cross talk quickly devolves into noisy feedback on most video chat platforms.

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Relationships can still develop, even from across video screens. Embracing it just requires a little flexibility and the ability to go with the flow as much as possible. For example, I try to have a higher percentage of one-on-one meetings rather than group gatherings, and I make sure some portion of the conversation isn’t about work.

Foster real, lasting change

Companies are also being forced to change their own mindsets around remote work, and this, for one, widens the talent pool considerably. Being freed from the logistical challenges of relocating actually made my transition easier—lessening the urgency to move my family from Seattle to Austin—and could do the same for others, ultimately benefiting both companies and candidates. In fact, a recent survey conducted by Hired found that the #1 benefit of hiring remotely was the ability to find more diverse candidates.

Obviously, the world has been grappling with a lot more than a pandemic. Worldwide protests have once again called for a recognition of ongoing civil rights abuses, the positive out of which is the prospect of real change in how we collectively view conscious and unconscious prejudices. Businesses have also redoubled their diversity and inclusion efforts to ensure their leadership teams accurately reflect their workforces and communities. The talent pool is now wider and deeper, and there is no excuse for not considering all candidates.

By now, everyone is pretty tired of the term “the new normal,” but it’s the truth. Many parts of our experiences over these past months will become a way of life going forward. Intense periods of change can be intimidating, but seizing new opportunities amidst that turbulence sets you up well to adapt to and thrive in whatever “normal” becomes.


Erin Lantz is the chief revenue officer at Ethos.