Because it’s become largely impossible to collaborate with others in person, travel to pitch clients and, in some cases, receive a promotion, it’s easy to feel disconnected from work or think of these months as “not part of your real job.” But experience is experience, and this widespread experiment in remote working can translate to concrete skills for tangible career growth.
In cover letters, job interviews or conversations with your current employer, emphasize the skills you’ve built during the pandemic that can help advance your career, says Megan Fasules, a research economist at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Be honest about your experience. Few people will want to hear that you handled everything perfectly during these challenging times, but many will want to hear how you handled it and emerged with strengths that you’re proud of, says Amanda Bates, a career services director at NC State University and career coach with The Muse.
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Here’s a rundown of actionable career skills you may have reinforced over the past few months.
“Communication is king,” says Fasules. “That tends to be the number-one competency overall regardless of a pandemic, but it’s even more so now.” Since most workers aren’t able to interact in person during this time, they’ve had to hone communication skills in other areas, such as email response time and Zoom call etiquette. In an office, communication looks different, says Bates — you can see people, read people, walk up to someone and share information. In the age of COVID-19, verbal and written communication skills are paramount.
And it’s not just about communicating with coworkers — those in client-facing professions have had to get creative in finding ways to connect and be persuasive without typical communication strategies. These skills are “transferable across all occupations,” says Fasules. For example, many health care professionals have pivoted to all-virtual visits via phone or video chat, and that can require additional expertise in communicating, says Bates.
Job seekers can use cover letters and interviews to emphasize their unique communication skills — pointing out how strategies they adopted during COVID-19 will be especially valuable in their own industry. “There’s not a single field out there where communication is not important,” says Bates.
One remote work concern that’s been the subject of countless articles, Twitter threads and podcasts is: How to manage your time when you’re working from home. During a global pandemic — and the stress, anxiety and uncertainty that comes along with it — many have found time management much more difficult than usual. If that’s you (and you’re not alone), there are ways to turn what you’ve learned into successful takeaways for your career.
Take stock of your current work-from-home situation. Do you have kids at home? Are you juggling home-schooling your children and work? Do you have family members to take care of, either in person or via virtual check-ins multiple times per day? Caretakers of any kind are uniquely positioned to use what they learned from this experience for the rest of their career.
Think about the way in which you’ve approached your daily schedule, listened to yourself and attempted to work smarter rather than harder, says Fasules — when you were in “work mode,” how did you focus, and in “home mode,” how did you separate yourself from email and Slack pings? “Many of us were in sink-or-swim mode for so long we didn’t actually realize we were building that muscle,” says Bates.
In your next cover letter, interview or review session, describe how you figured out your own work-from-home “rhythm” — how to set the priority levels of different projects, separate professional and personal time, double as your own manager, solve your own day-to-day problems — and how you’re going to apply those skills in your career, says Bates. For example, she says, in a cover letter, interview or raise conversation, you could point out that during the pandemic, you learned how to meet the goals of an organization regardless of where you are and how to do it in an efficient way, using specific skills.
It’s also important to point out specific examples of how you took on an array of projects during quarantine, despite the other aspects of life you were juggling. For example, Fasules says, an interviewee or current employee aiming for a raise could point out, “I’m still able to be a productive worker while I’m dealing with a three-year-old.” Emphasize what you accomplished during the pandemic to help the potential or current employer see that you could accomplish even more when all of your focus is devoted to one job.
Your remote work experience might also encourage you to ask different questions at the end of a job interview, e.g., does the company have a strict 9-to-5 or at-your-desk policy? Is there flexibility to work from home, and how much? And what’s the work-life balance like for current employees?
When you think of valuable skills for the workplace, conscientiousness might not be top-of-mind, but it’s always been key, regardless of industry. And in times like these, it’s seldom been more essential.
“You get hired for extraversion, and then you get raises for conscientiousness,” says Fasules. She cites research published in 2016, which suggests a correlation between extraversion and starting salary (but not salary growth), while on the other hand, “conscientiousness was unrelated to starting salary growth but significantly so to salary growth.” During a job interview, for instance, warmth and high energy often associated with extraversion could help a candidate’s odds of selection, but researchers suggest those qualities won’t necessarily propel a career forward as much as the intrinsic motivation and organization often associated with conscientiousness. “Figuring out how to prove you are a conscientious worker at the start is tricky and would be very beneficial,” says Fasules.
Try to break down the idea of being “conscientious” — in your view, what makes up that quality? It could incorporate empathy, focus, respect, efficiency or determination, for example. So in your cover letter or interview, instead of saying you’re conscientious, you can show it with examples or by talking about the things that matter to you. For example, if you see empathy as a key ingredient in being conscientious, you could point out how during COVID-19, you threw out typical email jargon and replaced it with genuine phrasing, aiming to check in on the people you correspond with — clients, fellow employees — in a way that shows you truly care how they’re doing.
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