4 ways to prepare your career to recover from coronavirus

April 23, 2020, 7:30 PM UTC

With layoffs in the U.S. climbing to levels not seen since the big recession more than a decade ago, unemployment in the stratosphere, and more uncertainty ahead, no one’s career is safe from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even if you’re still working in the same job as before the virus struck, that might change. As of the first nine days of April, more than a third (35%) of employers were considering furloughs within the next 60 days, according to a Mercer survey of more than 400 companies, while about one-fourth were planning layoffs.

The same study says that 48% of employers now have hiring freezes in place. Dept. of Glass Half Full: That means, of course, that a little over half are still trying to fill job openings. And, although no one can predict when the economy as a whole will bounce back, everyone can agree that it’s going to happen.

When it does, will you be ready? Here are four ways to prepare now for the recovery that’s (eventually) coming:

1. Start learning some new skills

One way to figure out which skills your industry will need in the future is to study the requirements in job ads. Since companies try to hire for tomorrow as well as today, keep a list of “which skills employers ask for, over and over again,” says Allison McLean, a career counselor at online coding school Springboard.

Look, too, at what might have changed at the company where you work now. The pandemic has reshaped the landscape for so many businesses that this is the moment to “think about how the business model of your industry has changed, and is likely to continue changing over the next six to twelve months,” says Nicholas Wyman, CEO of the nonprofit Institute for Workplace Skills and Innovation. He adds that almost everyone “needs to upgrade their digital literacy, and master the platforms their companies use now.” Luckily, classes in virtually every tech skill employers want are available online, at sites like Coursera and edX.

2. Get in touch with recruiters and former employers

Right now is a good time to contact recruiters in your field because, pandemic or no, they need to “keep building their ‘pipeline’ of potential candidates,” says Allison McLean at Springboard, a former recruiter herself. “Make sure they know who you are, with a clear, concise idea of what you’d like to find in your next opportunity.”

That next gig might well turn out to be at a company where you worked in the past. “As an economic rebound starts up, organizations will need people who can be productive quickly,” says James Sinclair. That means alumni, who already know the ropes, often have an edge.

Sinclair is CEO of a firm called Enterprise Alumni. As the name suggests, EA creates and manages alumni networks for employers like Google, Procter & Gamble, Nestle, and Marriott. One of his biggest clients is already preparing for a recovery by contacting former employees, including recent retirees, and asking if they’d consider returning. “If you’ve ever worked for a company that you loved,” Sinclair says, “they may want you back.” It’s worth asking.

3. Expand your information-gathering network

Already stepped up your virtual networking game since social distancing started? Great! Now do more of it. When it comes to being ready for an economic recovery, says Allison McLean, “I really can’t stress networking enough—especially if you now take the time to set up informational interviews with people on LinkedIn and elsewhere who can refer you to others” who know where hiring is happening, or seems poised to recover.

Another way to keep an eye on who’s hiring now, and who will be adding headcount as time goes on: Check out this LinkedIn newsfeed. Another site, called Candor, keeps a crowdsourced, alphabetized tally of companies that shows who’s hiring and who’s got a freeze on—for now.

Staying in touch with people you already know matters a lot, of course, but McLean also recommends seeking out ways to explore new groups who share your interests. A global list of Slack communities, for instance, could introduce you to contacts in a wide variety of specific fields, industries, and regions.

4. Accept the idea that the future will be different from the past

Hard as it is to contemplate, the “new normal” may not seem normal at all—especially if a job loss means having to move on to a different role, or even a whole new career.

Virginia Buckingham, author of a new book called On My Watch, knows firsthand what that’s like. She was head of the Massachusetts Port Authority (including, crucially, Boston’s Logan Airport) on September 11, 2001. In the aftermath of the terror attacks, Buckingham lost her job and, over the next several years, “had to rewrite my story, and apply my core skills in entirely new situations,” she says.

“Let go of any preconceived idea of what your [post-recovery] career will look like,” suggests Buckingham, now vice president of corporate affairs at Pfizer. “It may well look completely different.” If that turns out to be the case, she adds, “Be patient with yourself. Your path forward will come at its own pace.” Good to know.

More must-read careers coverage from Fortune:

How to write a professional bio
—How Fortune 500 companies are stepping up during the pandemic
—3 ways to put your best foot forward on a video job interview
Everything you need to know about furloughs—and what they mean for workers
An internship during the coronavirus pandemic is a crash course in adaptability
—WATCH: 401(k) withdrawal penalties waived for anyone hurt by COVID-19

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