Typically, the start of a new year brings with it the promise of new beginnings. The financial year restarts, most have used the holiday period to rest and refresh before returning to work ready and motivated, and many businesses will begin strategising and acting on their plans for the year ahead.
But this new year began with many of the same challenges that we had hoped to leave behind in 2020. Just as most professionals switched off for a well-deserved break, it was as though the door at the end of the tunnel was suddenly slammed shut. New strains of the virus emerged in the UK, which altered Christmas plans and shook up the tier system. Now we are starting this year the way we spent a large portion of the last one: in a national lockdown. These necessary actions have dealt another unfortunate blow to many businesses across all industries, and have undoubtably impacted the way that most of us will approach 2021.
With all of this in mind, there is no better time for professionals to think about what career moves to make in the year ahead. At the start of 2020, 18% of UK adults surveyed reported making a New Year’s resolution to pursue a career ambition. Given the lessons of last year and the challenges we are still facing, we imagine that an even higher percentage of UK professionals will be considering what career decisions to take this year. The following are some key areas to consider for those making a career transition and advancing their career in the current climate.
Just as the workplace has become increasingly digital over the past year, so has the job market. Technology has influenced every stage of the career journey, from search, to the interview process, to thought leadership and establishing an industry profile. Failing to take the following factors into consideration would therefore be remiss of all those considering a career transition in 2021:
The way that roles and opportunities are found continues to evolve and change. This largely occurs virtually, with thousands of new roles listed across sites such as LinkedIn, Exec Appointments, and aggregate sites such as Indeed and Adzuna each day. LinkedIn in particular has become a major player for job searches. 50 million companies choose to list their opportunities on the site, and there are over 14 million job listings available. The encouraging news is that these listings do result in real placements. According to LinkedIn’s statistics, 40 million people use the platform to search for jobs each week and three people are hired every minute for roles they applied for via the site.
Most sites now allow you to upload a CV, which can then be scanned for keywords and matched to available opportunities that might be a good fit for your skills and experience. Some of these opportunities may not be roles you might have initially considered yourself right for, but actually fit the criteria set by the listing recruiter. Do not discount the possibility of finding your next opportunity on these sites. Equally these sites are a great way for you to consider whether you are promoting the skills for your most desired role or indeed what recruiters and the future market requires.
Just as digital is influencing the process by which professionals find opportunities, it is also impacting the hiring process itself. In recent years, we have seen the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI) tools in the recruitment process to automate tasks such as CV screening, answering applicant questions, conducting interviews, and onboarding new staff. More and more tools enter this space on a regular basis, and they are becoming even more of an asset as many of the population continue to work remotely.
If you are undergoing a career transition, it is possible that your CV or Executive Profile might pass through an AI-powered keyword check, or that you might interact with a chatbot as part of your screening. Ensure you are prepared for these interactions just as you would if you were dealing with a real person. With the increase in technology usage, you will want to take time to check and recheck spelling, grammar, and punctuation before sending messages. Also be sure to keep an especial eye out for autocorrect-generated errors. Read over and double-check responses to ensure you convey energy as well as professionalism in all of your communications, because much conversational nuance and emotion can be lost in the translation to digital.
Depending on your industry, social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram are proving to be vital alongside the most popular platform LinkedIn in supporting you being found and selected for a new career challenge. Your online presence can be the determining factor that secures that desired role, or an asset that attracts new opportunities to you passively. Most people are found online well before a recruiter or HR manager ever sees their CV. Personal digital branding has become a huge tool for establishing your industry voice and story. Social media has created a valuable ecosystem for professionals to share insights, interact with other key opinion leaders, and engage in discussions about important industry topics. Any hiring manager who visits your profiles will be able to see the content you share and the types of subjects you express an interest in. Keeping this in mind and ensuring your profiles and content are a good reflection of who you are professionally and what you want to be known for, will help to attract new opportunities to you and enable you to remain front of mind in the candidate pool. It is therefore essential that you keep your online profile updated and current so that you are visible above the inevitable noise created by your competition.
Whilst LinkedIn and other sites are useful, the vast majority of more senior opportunities are usually secured via referrals and recommendations. Networking is the way to establish and build those essential connections. However, the coronavirus pandemic has completely reshaped the way we do a lot of things, and networking is one of them. Instead of exchanging business cards at conferences or shaking hands at events, we now must connect with one another virtually via Zoom, Teams, and other platforms. The rollout of the vaccine provided us with a glimmer of hope that in-person events might soon resume, but the introduction of the most recent lockdown is a devastating setback. It is unclear once again when we may be able to return to in-person networking. Instead, professionals looking to build their networks should consider attending some of the many available virtual events, joining relevant LinkedIn groups, or connecting with peers or desired contacts on social media.
This continuing struggle has led some people to reach out to contacts that they hadn’t spoken to in years or share their experiences and feelings with those that they may have rarely spoken to. Don’t be afraid to reach out. A robust network of contacts can help you more readily research the market and find open positions, including those that haven’t yet been posted. The more you make others aware of your ambitions, what you have to offer, and how you can help solve future challenges, the more likely you are to stay on others’ radar and put yourself in opportunity’s path.
Interviews are arguably the most daunting part of the hiring process but are often the deciding factor. These face-to-face conversations are where your CV or online profile comes to life and you are no longer just a name on a list. As the candidate, you get to share the skills and experiences that set you apart. On the other side of the table, the hiring team is evaluating your answers, tone, demeanour, and body language to determine if you are a good fit for the role and organisation. But with the continuing restrictions from the pandemic, these conversations are largely taking place virtually, often as panel-led discussions. Approach these virtual sessions just as you would an in-person meeting. Dress and present yourself professionally, and be sure to utilise a clean, simple background with minimal distractions. Take time to prepare and practice fielding sample questions you expect to be queried about. Body language translates differently virtually, and some people’s communication styles may change. Sometimes, individuals at all levels forget to take the time to ensure pre-installed platforms are working on their device properly prior to interview sessions or fail to test that both their video camera and microphone are functioning. With most of us having operated from home for over nine months now, interviewers are expecting candidates to know how to conduct themselves professionally and competently in a virtual setting. Regardless of any past interview experiences, a candidate’s interview preparation in 2021 should take these new challenges into consideration.
Regardless of the motivation behind your career goals for this year, there are some key things to keep in mind given the trends and circumstances that have presented themselves. If you are actively seeking and applying for new opportunities, think about what values are most important to you. Remote working has changed how many candidates look for a role and has driven many companies to hire based on values fit first and culture fit second.
When looking to promote yourself, think critically about your CV or online profile. Take into consideration how it is being found and assessed. Are you using the right keywords? As mentioned previously, many HR teams have begun using automated tools to scan and filter candidates. If you use certain online job search sites, their systems do the same. If there are specific roles or companies you are interested in, your CV should be in alignment with the requirements for these. You need to ensure that your CV and online profile highlight the right skills, so that these tools will pick up on them.
However, before you can highlight these skills, you need to know which capabilities are being sought after by your target industry or company. Researching trends is one way to stay current. Seeking out learning opportunities is an even better method, as this approach helps you catch up with current trends and gain the necessary skills for future trends. Reskilling or upskilling helps to make you a more compelling candidate during a career transition. Even if you are not actively searching for a new role, reskilling or upskilling helps you stay current in your industry and helps guide your organisation into the future of work.
It is without question that COVID-19 was the defining topic of 2020 and continues to be as we enter 2021. It has presented many challenges and obstacles, and completely reshaped life as we know it. The pandemic and lockdowns continue, but the introduction of the vaccine has hopefully placed us nearer to the end of it. We are not yet out of the woods, but there is a chance we will clear the major hurdles at some point this year. When that happens, anticipate being asked to reflect. Whether it be a job interview or a thought leadership opportunity, expect people to want to know about your COVID story. What challenges did you face, how did you solve them, and what have you learned along the way? The answers to these questions will provide great insight into your capabilities as a leader and your preparedness for any future challenges.
Whether looking for a new opportunity or working to establish yourself as an industry voice, investing in your own professional development is always a good investment. Keeping an eye on the key trends impacting the job market and developing the right mindset and skillset will help you stay at the top of people’s minds or give reason for you to get onto their contact list, which will allow you to claim your place in the future of work.
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