Demand for jobs has skyrocketed while job loss mounts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With competition at an all-time high, job seekers have their work cut out for them—especially women, who accounted for all job loss in December 2020 according to an analysis by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC). BIPOC and LGBTQ+ candidates and those with disabilities face even greater challenges.
Savvy seekers have started to adapt and have found creative ways to highlight the transferable skills needed to reenter the workforce and stand out from the crowd. I loved the way Sydney Williams, global director of brand marketing for GE, put it when she published her ‘Mom Resume’ to underscore the invaluable skills motherhood requires: “If we shift the way we evaluate, prioritize, develop, and protect the skills we learn outside of the office, moms would have a fighting chance.”
Motherhood or not, breaking out of a siloed career path starts with skills you can develop throughout your life. I recently interviewed a candidate for an HR position who had no prior HR experience. But, she positioned her experience as an entrepreneur who built her business on her relationship skills and explained how they were relevant to the role.
Be intentional about skill-building
Be intentional about seeking out the skills you need to prepare you for your dream job. Waiting for your manager to recognize your skills to advance in your career, or suggesting upskilling to you, puts you at a big disadvantage for your professional development and long-term growth.
Initiate conversations with people holding positions you’re interested in pursuing. I sought out guidance and support from Gavin Fraser, now CEO of Small Planet, in my early career. He really understood my ambition to lead a company one day and he helped me cultivate skills that I needed to become a CEO. Under his wing, I worked intentionally across every facet of running a company from P&L management through marketing to client services.
Be a helper
Helping others can help yourself, too. Younger professionals looking to advance or explore new avenues can build up their leadership skills with community involvement. Participating in your community’s volunteer programs, local churches and temples, and schools can teach you a variety of skills from project management, marketing, sales, and beyond. It’s important to remember that your career isn’t linear and the skills you acquire throughout your life will set you up for success and open a variety of opportunities.
You never know what you don’t know. Your career is your responsibility. This includes the responsibility of speaking up to understand your areas of improvement in your current role, ultimately setting yourself up for success. This is one of the hardest parts of career development. No one wants to come off as unqualified, uneducated, or unprofessional, but you’ll miss out on opportunities if you don’t ask for guidance. Raise your hand when you have questions about how to do something or when you want to learn how to do something new. Keep an eye on key skills employers are looking for in new candidates to get ahead of the game. I read several leadership books before I started my first CEO position and have worked with a career coach whose guidance was instrumental to my current success.
This isn’t confined to your workplace. Staying curious can open your eyes to new paths and new opportunities. Explore new (and free) courses from a variety of universities and colleges.
It’s not just on you
I offer this advice to job seekers because I am passionate about helping people, especially women and diverse groups, grow in their careers and land their dream jobs. But the responsibility of creating a diverse workforce doesn’t only fall onto individuals themselves. It’s important that management think progressively about hiring, especially given the challenges presented by COVID-19.
This brings me to my last tip, one for managers and management.
Inclusivity is key. Management should cultivate an inclusive, nurturing, and positive environment for everyone to create space for learning. Management has a responsibility to enable its staff to grow and it’s important for key leaders to identify standout individuals that have the potential to succeed them.
Hiring managers should take this moment to reevaluate outdated hiring practices. Given the number of people who have lost jobs because of COVID-19, the competition to re-enter the workforce will be fierce. Many have not been able to work for the past year and hiring managers should think creatively and openly about the applications they receive.
Additionally, because of institutional racism and gender bias, many BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and female candidates have not received the same opportunities to land advanced positions. A LeanIn.org and McKinsey Women in the Workplace Study found that for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 60 black women are.
This situation is a glaring sign that job seekers and employers are in dire need of new talent procurement processes. We need to challenge conventional thinking about climbing corporate ladders in order to create access for people, especially women and diverse candidates, to forge new paths to success.
Cathy Butler is the CEO of Organic.