The Great Reinvention: How The Pandemic Is Reshaping Careers and Futures
Craig Fisher was let go along with 300 staffers from one of the U.S.’ largest staffing firms in late May. Faced with answering an increasingly common scenario—Craig sprung quickly into action, pivoting to his “side hustle” (TalentNet Media). His transition period included taking on HR tech consulting projects and hosting recruiting conferences, and redirecting to video events due to shifting to remote work. More recently, he accepted an offer to be CEO of a much smaller HR tech startup. Fisher states: “It’s been a very good year thanks to COVID wrecking the Recruitment Process Outsourcing space when hiring halted in the Spring.”
While Craig’s story isn’t uncommon, he also represents one of the fortunate ones, having pivoted rapidly into a related, yet emerging segment of his existing profession. It’s becoming the norm for many professionals to reinvent themselves in some fashion due to career disruption related to COVID-19. Approximately 12 million Americans are set to lose unemployment benefits by the end of the year when the CARES act provisions lapse. Regardless of collar color, the pandemic’s “new normal” has accelerated all kinds of change where a mixture of opportunity, reinvention, and recalibration of professional skills and goals are met with professionals seeking to navigate these unchartered waters.
Recession or Reinvention?
Rishad Tobaccowala, a well-established innovator, thought leader and serial “reinventor,” is no stranger to the concept of reinvention or recession, having worked, lived, and reinvented himself and his roles with a significant player in the advertising industry for decades. Rishad succinctly captures the catalyst of financial insecurity as a contributor toward the great reinvention: “People all over the world at all income groups will feel far more financially insecure after COVID-19 than before it. The Millennials burdened with student debt and facing a constrained market for employment will feel particularly vulnerable and older retirees are facing lower retirement balances, zero to negative interest rates on savings and the possibility of higher inflation as 6 trillion dollars in the US flows through the system.”
Tobaccowala’s emphasis on financial insecurity however, is only part of the picture. While portions of the population face uncertainty, the stock market is hovering at all-time highs. Opportunity paradoxically co-exists with setbacks on a sector by sector, company by company basis. Why is it that companies like Amazon can’t hire fast enough or other companies are built to weather the storm (think Uber) while others fight for their lives? (see Hertz). Author, professor, and entrepreneur Scott Galloway refers to this as “the culling of the herd” in his new book, Post Corona: From Crisis To Opportunity. Spoiler alert, the members of Galloway’s herd will re-emerge even more robust than the pre-pandemic period. Companies with the smartest scale, the best data, and the most digital will be well positioned for a post pandemic world.
To The Reinventors, Go The Spoils
Some professionals have pivoted seemingly overnight when facing the great reinvention. Alex and Kelsey Carroll’s sporting events company dried up overnight when lockdown put an end to sporting events. Instead of packing up, they rapidly pivoted their business to creating and manufacturing standing sanitation stations, netting more than six million in the first four months of business. But doing such a profound pivot in such a short timeframe is no easy task. Kelsey recounted some of the challenges when it came to their team: “Bringing all our employees along for the ride…we asked them to build an entirely new business with us—one they did not originally sign up for. Add the fatigue of COVID and having our decisions impact so many people and everyone’s emotions—it’s been a tough balance.”
While the Carrolls’ prosperous pivot may be the outlier, there are scores of everyday professionals reinventing themselves in ways less dramatic but no less profoundly. Thomas Crampton, a former colleague of mine, shifted from a career in marketing brands and services to one that serves. His new venture, Common Pass, is designed to help people share their COVID-19 status for more responsible and safer global travel. Thomas states, “I dedicated myself to team-building digital tools for the public good. From a dozen of us on a zoom call in February, we have now built a privacy-preserving digital platform aimed at reopening international borders.”
Reinvention For The Rest of Us
Still, for the majority of professionals, a million dollar pivot, book deal or break through business success may be out or reach or never the goal in the first place. When Executive Coach Jen Hogan landed her dream job at Delta Air Lines last September, little did she know that her dream job of working in aviation would be severely disrupted by a global pandemic. When the world changed, she opted to change with it, taking a voluntary severance package and setting up shop as a sherpa for executives looking to grow professionally and personally through her LLC, Sakura. Hogan elaborates, “I would never have had the courage to set up my own business if it weren’t for the pandemic effectively taking away my security. What was left to lose? Go big or go home…”
The reality of reinvention is that it’s hard work and can feel daunting at times. And it’s a topic that I am observing as a timely trend but one I am living as I, too, have been working to reinvent my professional trajectory as my career hit pause as a result of the pandemic as well. A recent conversation with the aforementioned Rishad Tobaccowala affirmed that I was doing two difficult things as part of my reinvention…
- Focus on transitioning to a different industry
- Thinking through what comes after the transition
Both are critical steps because they require a combination of short-term and longer-term planning—something that is key to reinvention as you have to work for tomorrow but know where you want to be five years from then. And that longer-term future could look very different. While today’s pandemic has disproportionately impacted front line or blue-collar, it could completely shift how future corporate white collar employers look at staff. Just as Uber vs. Hertz underscores the risks of owning assets (cars) vs. offsetting the cost of car ownership to the drivers—corporate jobs could one day face a “gig economy” of their own. As companies move to a more blended remote/office model where employees have more flexibility, job security or benefits could become more scarce. Why own employees when you can rent?
Regardless, just like some degree of remote work will carry over—the ability to reinvent is likely here to stay as a mandatory soft skill vs. a nice to have in the era of the great reinvention.