It’s a tricky time out there, whether you’re looking for a job right now or are lucky enough to still have one.
With unemployment rates hovering at record highs and massive corporate layoffs still happening, finding a job that matches your expertise might feel more difficult than ever. And for those still employed, fears of unexpected layoffs can be just as exhausting. Add in the side effects of working from home that have started creeping in now that most office jobs have been set remotely for over five months, and rethinking a career is inevitable.
“When you’re in the office, many forms of communication happen informally, implicitly and coincidentally,” said Victor Cheng, a former McKinsey & Company consultant, career coach and the author of several business books, including The Recession-Proof Business. “This occurs when you run into somebody next to the proverbial water cooler, on the way back from lunch, or crossing paths in and out of conference rooms. None of this happens by default when working remotely.”
In a recent interview with Observer, Cheng shared his thoughts and advice on some of the more pressing workplace issues facing managers, employees as well as job hunters. His remarks have been edited for clarity.
Observer: Which industries still have jobs?
Cheng: I’ve seen increased customer demand in groceries, grocery delivery, restaurant delivery, home improvement, PPE manufacturing, plexiglass manufacturing, face masks, virtual office and cloud-based software technologies (like Zoom).
A down economy reduces jobs overall but shifts jobs around within the economy a lot too. Customer priorities shift during a major economic shock. Employer priorities shift to adjust to these changes. Job openings shift as a consequence of this, too. The key to find where the jobs will be in the economy (as opposed to where they used to be) and to pay attention to what’s selling well now, which companies are growing, and what problems customers complain about today that weren’t a big deal a year ago.
How should I get started on finding a side hustle?
The key to finding a side hustle is to pay attention to what problems are becoming higher-priority to consumers because of the pandemic and recession. You want to look for side hustles in areas where the economy is heading, not where it used to be.
How can managers make remote collaboration more effective?
The key to working remotely with a team is to recognize what forms of interactions are needed and to have an explicit process for that.
If you need to onboard new team members, you need a new ritual to accomplish that function in a virtual world. Having them introduce themselves at a Friday lunch in the cafeteria is no longer an option. If walking over to a colleagues desk to get a quick answer to a question is no longer possible but the function is still necessary, then that function needs a virtual replacement. Tools like Slack and text messaging can be used for that purpose (if there’s an agreement on how and when they should be used.)The key is to focus on processes and functions that still need to be replicated in the new way of working and finding a digital alternative.
What’s the right way to communicate your concern about possible layoffs or demotions?
I think expressing concerns in a clear and direct manner is the easiest. Managers and executives already know that these concerns exist within the economy overall and within their company specifically.
In a crisis, when there’s a lack of information, people will mentally fill in any information gaps with their fears of the worst-case scenario. Quite often their fears are much worse than the reality.
If your leaders aren’t proactive, simply say, “I’ve noticed that many of my colleagues are nervous about losing their jobs. I was wondering if you could tell me or perhaps tell the team as a whole how the business is doing, what’s going on, and what our plans are to navigate these difficult times.”
Is now a good time to ask for a raise? How should I do it?
Now is a terrible time to ask for a promotion or raise. Now is an opportune time to present your boss with a proposal to solve a major headache for the company. If that excellent proposal happens to include a raise or promotion for you, that’s no big deal.
If you only ask for a promotion without combining it with something of value for the company, it will be perceived as a zero-sum game. It’s a much easier to sell a win-win solution. Offer something the company really values as the “headline” of your proposal. The promotion for yourself is a footnote to the proposal. This is the way to get a promotion in a down economy.
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