Exploring Career Change During the Pandemic

career change pandemic

By Yvonne Milosevic

For many people, the start of a new decade had sparked the desire to explore new career paths in 2020. Then, the coronavirus pandemic struck. Suddenly, we were sheltering in place, working from home, or unemployed overnight. Those conditions might seem incompatible with nurturing your professional development. But, as professors Carter Cast of the Kellogg School and Herminia Ibarra of London Business School point out, you can still find ways to explore career change during the pandemic. Here’s how to do it.

Test Your “Provisional Self”

Cast recommends you get started by what he calls “testing your provisional self.” This was also an essential step when creating the Odyssey Plan we talked about in an earlier post. The idea is to try out some of the different skills or responsibilities of the new career in a low-risk way before going all-in on a career switch.

You can still explore new possibilities while in your current position, says Cast. For example, you might join a company task force or volunteer to lead your company’s annual charitable campaign. “It’s kind of like putting on a new suit and seeing how it fits,” he explains.

You can also use this time to fill your skills gap. Or, to hone a talent you didn’t have time to master before. Explore a new career field through webinars. Watch the trends in the industry in which you hope to work. Consider offering to work on a project for a company with which you want to start a relationship.

career change pandemic

Professor Ibarra of LBS has studied career change for the past two decades. She says doing something on the side is the most common path to career reinvention. But projects don’t have to be limited to the sphere of your desired new career. You can make surprising discoveries about yourself when you get involved in community volunteer efforts, or crisis initiatives at your organization, she says.

“The point is to do new and different work with new and different people,” Ibarra explains. “That process represents an opportunity to learn about yourself, your preferences and dislikes, and the kinds of contexts and people that bring out the best in you.”

Take Time to Reflect

Considering a career change during the pandemic means taking ample time for self-reflection. “Unexpected events or shocks disrupt our habitual routines, jolt us out of our comfort zones, and lead us to ask big questions about what matters and what is worth doing,” Ibarra notes. Thinking about an uncertain future feels unsettling. But it’s essential to process your emotions about the change.

Before you can shift into “Version 2.0” of your career, you need to discover what motivates you, as well as where your blind spots are, says Cast. The goal is to “start synthesizing what you’re feeling,” and the Kellogg professor thinks journaling can help that process.

“You capture what’s on your mind. You capture new ideas. You capture things that are worrying you. You capture things that are joyful. You capture areas of gratitude. You capture fears, new ideas you might want to pursue,” Cast says. “Test out the process of journaling and see if it takes.”

Whether you are planning to make a career pivot during the pandemic or laying the groundwork for an eventual move, be open to exploration. That way, when COVID-19 is finally behind us, you’ll be ready to stretch yourself professionally and take that next big step in your career trajectory.