15.6  Managing Your Career During the Coronavirus Crisis

Things have changed in the most extreme way over the past few weeks. Nothing will be the same for a very long time. Now is the time to protect yourself and your career.

On March 19th, 2020 the chief economist with the Bank of America warned investors that a recession is upon us. The expectation is for the economy to “collapse” in Q2, shrinking by 12%. GDP for the full year will contract by 0.8%, according to BofA.
    “We are officially declaring that the economy has fallen into a recession ... joining the rest of the world, and it is a deep plunge,” according to Bank of America U.S. economist Michelle Meyer. “Jobs will be lost, wealth will be destroyed and confidence depressed.”
The “magnitude” of the shock (according to BofA) can be seen in the unemployment rate which is expected to hit 3.5 million by the end of Q2. Today it is at 3.3 million.

Global markets are reeling with airline travel near a complete standstill and businesses, large and small, closing down for the duration of the coronavirus outbreak. The impact to the travel industry alone is more than 6 times worse than 9/11. The oil industry is collapsing with the price of oil dropping 60% since the beginning of the year.

Before the stimulus package was signed the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average were in bear market territory, 30% below all-time high levels just last month.

The unemployment in California skyrocketed in just 2 days last week. Unemployment Insurance claims ran at 2000 per day 2 weeks ago. (This counts people who were laid off only - not people who were in the market already who didn’t qualify for UI, including the people who have graduated from college or will soon and have not yet gotten a job). On one day, Wednesday, March 18th, 80,000 Unemployment Claims were filed in CA - doubling from 40K filed just 48 hours before (70,000 claims were filed on Tuesday, March 17th). The numbers are climbing so sharply and so rapidly it is hard to keep track.

The continuous stock market gyrations reflect not just the panic, but also the reality of the global pandemic and the resulting economic crisis.

This is like nothing you or I have seen in our lifetimes. The impact of Covid-19 will be on the scale of WWI and WWII - by the time this is over. The entire world is focused on fighting a common enemy - trying to find solutions, manufacturing ventilators, creating immunizations, and finding ways to fight the virus for the unfortunate souls who already are infected. Hopefully, our governments will see that it is in their interest to work together. If not, we will sink together.

In this kind of tsunami, it is hard to know what to do to protect the job you have or plan the career you hope to have. During the Great Depression, unemployment reached 24.9%. Right now, the reporting is that we might see unemployment rates rise to 20% or 30%. This will be a huge hit. No recession we have seen in modern history has been coupled with a global pandemic.

Watch for endless layoffs. Watch for people struggling just to get by. I hope I am wrong… but much of the damage has already been done and at best, it will take years to put the pieces back together. "Tesla laid off 7500 employees in Fremont. All of the big auto companies have shut down. In Ohio, with the largest concentration of auto workers, unemployment claims skyrocketed 2567%, reaching 187,780 claims from March 15 through March 21.

We are living in a historical moment that will change things across the globe for years to come. The unemployed seeking work are in an awful position. People who have job promises are in a precarious position, as is anyone who is employed in a company dependent on consumer demand. And we have not reached the bottom yet.

I have been down this road before. I have worked in the career development field for my entire adult life. I started my career with the CA Employment Development Department in 1974, about the same time the unemployment rate hit 12% in California and 9% nationally as a result of the oil embargo and energy crisis.

There have been five major recessions since my career started:
  • 1973 to 1975 - Oil Embargo | Energy Crisis
  • 1980 to 1982 - Federal Reserve monetary policy crisis
  • 1990 to 1991 - Savings and Loan Crisis | Breakup of USSR | Defense Industry Collapse
  • 2001-2003 - Dot-com Bust | 9/11
  • 2008-2009 - Mortgage Crisis
The Coronavirus Crisis is going to exceed the scale of any past recession. Many industries are being slammed like never before.

It will be particularly difficult for startups. A top VC firm, Sequoia Capital, sent a message to startups that they fund, indicating that coronavirus is altering the business climate and warning them to prepare for economic jolts. Sequoia referred to Covid-19 as the “Black Swan of 2020” - referencing the term that refers to unexpected events with “massive impact”. The message from Sequoia is have a disaster plan and be prepared to implement it. “It's now prudent to prepare for the worst.” (AngelList 3.12.2020)

Among Sequoia Capital’s recommendations to startups: 1. Cut expenses and preserve cash; 2. Expect that money is going to dry up; 3. Prepare to survive sales losses - "Deals that seemed certain may not close..." 4. Cut advertising and marketing expenses; 5. "Examine whether your capital spending plans are sensible in a more uncertain environment.”

The clear message is do more with less - less money, fewer people, less capital spending. The advice is relevant for individuals trying to navigate troubled times…

What can you do to preserve your situation?
Over the past four decades I have coached and counseled job seekers through good times and bad times. Being fired, laid off, or unexpectedly unemployed will test you like almost no other experience in life. It causes a terrible loss of identity. It can feel like you have lost your purpose in life. It causes depression for many people and it can create tension between you and your family and friends. It can be one of the loneliest and saddest experiences. A lot depends on your attitude, your coping mechanisms, and your support system.

If you lost your job the things that really matter are Health. Attitude. Finance. Planning.

Stay healthy – your body, mind and spirit
  • Maintain a positive attitude
  • Exercise daily – walk, run, bike, do yoga, find outdoor activities you can do at a safe distance from others
  • Get out of your pajamas, shower, dress, put some lipstick on, and look good daily
  • Connect with friends and family
Manage your finances - get your spending under control right now
  • File for unemployment immediately
  • Develop a budget
  • Cut unnecessary spending immediately
  • Figure out a backup plan – your parents, a loan
  • Keep your eye on the long term - This too shall pass...
Manage Your Career Know what is going on in the world. Maintain constant awareness of what is happening. Right now things are changing hourly making it hard to make decisions. Stay informed using solid sources - NPR, The Business Journal, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Economist, AngelList.

Some industries will expand because of the crisis - your job is to figure out which will fit with your knowledge and interests. Clues are right there in the news… If you only look at the bad news you miss the good news. There are always companies hiring.

Analyze. Analyze. Analyze. What industries will lose in this climate? This list of industries that are losing is already becoming obvious. What industries will be growing because of the crisis? This gives you a starting point for developing a plan of what to do next. Once you figure out what industries will grow - make a list of potential employers in that industry in your geographic territory.

Create a Career Plan
Spend time analyzing your skills, knowledge, interests, goals and values.
  • Create a success timeline
  • Do a thorough self-assessment
  • Develop a back-up plan - Plan A, Plan B, Plan C… just in case
Leverage your connections
  • Get a LinkedIn account
  • Create a high quality resume and a spot on LinkedIn profile that matches
  • Develop and expand your contacts immediately
  • Before you leave a job, create a contact for everyone you work with on your phone – get the names, email and phone numbers of everyone in your world so you can reach them
  • Send an email and make sure your people know what you are interested in – when one person gets a job, they can be your ticket in. Work together!
  • Network! If you apply for a job find someone inside the company who can land your resume on the hiring manager’s desk.
Use the best internet resources for job listings and set up alerts
  • Company websites
  • Salary.com
  • Google Jobs
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
Plan for the worst - hope for the best … Do something to improve yourself

If this crisis goes on for a while you will need a good alternative strategy for weathering the storm. Find the best options for keeping things moving when the world around you stalls out. Teach yourself something new – a new language, new applications, new systems, new technology. Go back to school. Get a degree.

If you already have a degree, apply to go on for a masters degree. When all this is over you will have improved your position substantially. Rather than just killing time you have been improving yourself. Do this immediately before the tidal wave of applications hits your favorite university. School is a safe haven. It gives you cover rather than just being unemployed during high unemployment periods. It is sort of like backing up to take a running jump. You land much further ahead.

Delay graduation if all else fails. A spillover benefit of staying in school is that if you have an internship, this may preserve your position with your current employer until they can hire you as a full time employee. Talk to your employer and create a plan!

Although the global pandemic adds another dimension to the current economic situation, the one thing you have to understand is that if you are reading this, you most likely do not qualify to be permanently unemployed. Creating a measure of control by developing a career plan improves your attitude and prospects for your future.

A positive attitude will lead to action and action can lead you to your success. Being positive is not only essential, it is also much more efficient. If you believe that you can handle things and take care of business you will set goals and map out a plan and proceed with it. Life is more manageable, and other people and opportunities are drawn to you.

You’ve got this!