My thought leadership speaking tours to the Middle East and Europe were postponed. To convince the organizers to host their events online, I went on a shopping spree and bought all kinds of audio and video equipment just before the first lockdown in Singapore.
It wasn’t just me. Everyone, from students to senior professionals, needed to adapt to the changing environment brought about by COVID-19. Some have had to rethink their career strategies.
With that in mind, here are seven actionable tips on how to take advantage of the challenges created by the current moment to advance your career.
1) Stock up on social capital
‘Your network is your net worth’: I realised the truth of this statement when a former colleague referred me for a managing director role at UBS. I would not have received that referral if I hadn’t accumulated social capital.
So what is social capital? It’s the goodwill and relationships that you have built over the years. It’s like putting money in a bank: every time you help someone, you deposit some social capital. Maybe you buy them lunch, give them a tip on a job opening or share some career advice.
It is a good idea to treat people with respect even if they’re in a junior position. Your social capital grows as the people you help today advance their careers and step into more senior roles tomorrow.
As new jobs open up, you want your connections to think of you when they hear of a position you’d be a good fit for. And you should do the same for them.
When you spend time, money and thought on people, you will be rewarded over the long run.
2) Be an online networker
For so long as Covid-19 remains significant, there will be fewer face-to-face opportunities to meet new people. Knowing how to contact people and build relationships without physically meeting is an essential skill.
Networking online is more important than ever. But be mindful. If all you’re thinking about is extracting value from your network, you will fail. Think long term, be deliberate about how you can help the other person. And be sure to develop an interesting online profile that immediately demonstrates your integrity and authenticity.
One senior executive I know, Matt, is a creative guy with retail and consulting experience. He builds genuine connections through LinkedIn. When he saw his LinkedIn connection Diana was leaving her role at Apple in Hong Kong for an opportunity in New York City, he reached out and congratulated her. Diana thanked him and mentioned Apple was still looking for her replacement. Matt expressed his interest, landed an interview and got the job!
It all started off with: ‘Hey Diana, wishing you well in your next adventure in New York!’
3) Build your external brand
Your employer’s impression of you is usually formed within the first few months of your tenure. Unless you do something dramatic, your colleagues will have a hard time changing their perception of you after that.
One of my LinkedIn followers, Anna, works at a Big Four accounting firm in London. Here’s what she told me:
‘Six months ago, I wanted to embark on a new career but chasing opportunities and sending countless follow-up emails didn’t help. I changed my strategy [built] up my external brand. I started a podcast and blog, then new opportunities presented themselves. Not only that, I was also offered a promotion as my team looked at me in a different light.’
So if you are feeling stuck, consider building your external brand and use that to change your managers’ impression of you.
4) Develop a side interest
With many companies, allowing employees to have flexible and hybrid work arrangements, now is a great time to develop your hobbies.
Channel the time saved on commuting to writing the book you always wanted to write, learning an instrument or developing your thought-leadership on social media.
Side interests will help you grow more creative, expand your network beyond your usual circle and make you happier and more fulfilled. The happier you are, the more productive you will be – and that benefits your employer too.
5) Request an internal transfer
The career paths of bank CEOs tend to have two things in common: most have stayed with the same firm for at least a decade and have served in various roles.
Piyush Gupta, the current head of Singapore-headquartered bank DBS, was with Citi for 27 years, for example, while Citi CEO Jane Fraser has been with Citi for 17 years and McKinsey for 10.
If you have a chance to request an internal transfer, go for it. Don’t worry if it’s only a lateral move.Since you already know the company culture and have your own internal network to tap into, you can focus on learning new products and picking up new skills.
Many of today’s open roles never existed before and companies are having a hard time finding talent with direct experience to fill them. So the next best candidate may be an internal one, and that could be you. Indeed, each internal transfer may bring you a step closer to a C-suite position.
6) Be a Zoom master
Whether you are a C-suite executive giving an important speech or a junior analyst interviewing for a job, you must be able to wow your audience on the other side of the video-conferencing screen. Digital meetings are here to stay, so if you haven’t already, upgrade your equipment.
No matter how great your public speaking, if your audience can’t hear you or see you well, you will miss out. You need to manage your presence on these digital calls. So make sure you’re engaging and full of energy. Create a video bio or CV and watch it. What can you improve? How can you be more compelling?
7) Allocate time to doing nothing
Working from home may eliminate your commute, but it may not leave you enough downtime for yourself.
Don’t underestimate the usefulness of putting your brain in neutral. A carefree state of mind can be a great catalyst for creativity. Set aside some time for thinking or walking. Think about what new skills to pick up, who to meet or simply enjoy nature and let your mind wander a little. You will be amazed what fresh ideas you’ll come up with.
To be sure, you shouldn’t feel the need to implement all seven strategies. If you just take one or two and really focus on them over the months ahead, you will put yourself on the path for career success in 2022.
By Eric Sim, CFA, founder of Institute of Life whose mission is to train professionals to be successful at work and in life. He writes about career and life skills for his 2 million followers on LinkedIn. You can check out his other failure in his visual CV.
All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.
Image credit: ©Getty Images / caracterdesign