Advancing Your Career in a Pandemic

Career Advancement

The global COVID-19 pandemic may not seem like the best time to accelerate your career, but some characteristics of this unusual time actually lend themselves to career-boosting activities. Whether you are still working from home or are back in your workplace, this article offers suggestions for pumping up your career.

Learn to be more strategic. Strategy skills are beneficial in many careers – and they are also helpful in career planning and job search. Robert Bradford, who runs the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning, asserts that 11 critical skills comprise strategy mastery: the ability to use the left (logical) and right (creative) sides of the brain, ability to develop a clearly defined and focused business or personal vision, ability to clearly define objectives and develop a strategic action plan, ability to design flexibility into plans, keen awareness and perception, committed to lifelong learning, able to take time for oneself, open to advice from others, able to balance creativity with realism, patient, and nonjudgmental. In an article on how to learn strategy, Chris Bolman suggests reading, observing, doing, and mentorship as the best paths to gaining strategic skills. You can also, of course, find courses that teach strategy.

Join professional organizations. If you’ve never participated in an organization dedicated to your profession, this is a great time to join and benefit from the networking and professional development opportunities. Organizations may not yet be offering in-person events, but many provide a robust online presence in which you can attend webinars and engage in discussion forums with people in your field. See a list of life-science professional organizations here. Also, look into organizations that focus on skills rather than specific professions; Toastmasters International, for example, teaches communication, public speaking, and leadership in an inexpensive, self-paced program.

Reach out to help others. Rachel Montanez points out on Forbes that “helping others activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by sex and food.” Reaching out enables you to add folks to your network. You will likely benefit from good old-fashioned karma; by helping others, you will attract good things to yourself. Becoming a mentor can help you focus on your career field as you impart wisdom about it to your protegee.

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Become a collaboration rock star. When the pandemic hit, suddenly the vast portion of collaboration moved from the face-to-face world to the virtual world, often requiring significant growing pains and adjustment for users. Since a significant portion of work-life is predicted to remain virtual, those who master the technology, tools, etiquette, and functions of collaboration will shine. Blogger Alexandra Nemeth

advises spending time during the pandemic “to get better at using tools that foster virtual connection.”

Fill your skills gaps in a big way. The pandemic provides excellent opportunities for learning, with many training organizations offering bargains and freebies at this time. The crisis also may mean new skills will be needed in your field. If you are still working from home, Montanez suggests devoting what was once your commuting time to learning (and if you are back at work, you can still learn during your commute via audiobooks). Would mastery of a new language open doors for you in your career? Go for it! Would a certification make you more promotable and marketable? Do it! Consider becoming a subject-matter expert in a new area. Think about specific life-science activities to build and promote your skills; Karin Bodewits suggests on the Science Magazine site creating graphical abstracts, “self-explanatory visual summaries of the main findings of your research,” as well as applying for fellowships, grants, and awards.

Consider how the pandemic might change your career field. Some career fields, such as retail, education, aviation, and personal services will never be the same, even after the pandemic. Fortunately, as Karla Talanian of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council notes, “the life sciences industry has suddenly become the hope and inspiration of the world.” Talanian observes that all approaches to fighting the virus “require a skilled life sciences workforce.” But, of course, some corners of the life-science field benefit more than others from the current situation; Talanian cites clinical research, clinical operations, medical affairs, and regulatory affairs as continuing to be in the highest demand. If you’re not in one of those areas, you may want to assess the status of your own area and consider whether a switch to a high-demand area would be feasible and desirable. “Many companies are and will be changing in a lot of ways — some for the better, some for the worse,” search-firm CEO Paul Sturgeon writes. “Now is the time to be open-minded to change and to not miss out on a positive career move because of this virus. With chaos comes opportunity.”

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