The pandemic has waylaid plans and potentially derailed the career trajectories of many professionals across various industries. As the world collectively recovers from this crisis, there is an opportunity to reset career goals and emerge with a sharper focus on how to achieve success in this new environment.
“The pandemic has created a feeling of paralysis, and people don’t feel they can push forward with plans at this time because things are constantly changing,” said Nicola Simpson, an executive career coach based in London. “But we should recognise that within this experience there’s an opportunity to build one’s resilience.”
That means approaching your career goals differently in 2021. While the pandemic hasn’t necessarily changed the process of career planning, it has forced many professionals to be more intentional and proactive about reaching their goals, according to Jaclyn T. Badeau, CPA, CGMA, career coach and founder of Badeau Consulting LLC, based in Lexington, Kentucky, in the US.
If you’re in the process of assessing and setting your career goals for 2021, try incorporating these tips for shaping a path forward after the pandemic.
Re-evaluate your priorities. Self-reflection is always the first step in mapping out a career path; the only difference this year is you have to consider how the pandemic may have affected your personal priorities and professional prospects. Take a moment to consider how your priorities may have shifted as a result of the pandemic and whether your goals need to be realigned.
“You first need to understand what your strengths and weaknesses are, what you really want, what gives you happiness and meaning, and what you want to build and focus on,” Badeau said. “You have to start there before you can plan out your career.”
Perhaps the shift to remote work made you realise you appreciate the increased family time and you want to build that balance into your post-pandemic life. Or maybe you’ve been yearning to return to the office and want to increase face time with customers and colleagues going forward. Uncertainty in the marketplace may have you concerned about your career resilience.
Whatever realisations you’ve had over the last year, now is the time to integrate your new priorities into your 2021 career goals.
Resist complacency. The pandemic has affected every industry in some way, meaning it’s very possible that your role is not as secure as it once was. Simpson recommends every finance professional make a habit of vigilance by assessing industry changes, observing shifts within their organisation, and keeping an eye out for any signs that their role could be at risk.
“The technological advances have not diminished,” she said. “If anything, employers are probably ramping that up and thinking about that as a route for cost savings, so we’re going to be seeing consolidation in jobs and roles.”
If you’re concerned the pandemic has accelerated the automation of some of your skills, this is a good time to consider how you might be able to leverage yourself into a slightly different role or into a broader role.
“None of us can afford to relax into our careers,” Simpson said.
Depending on your role, you might consider some professional development, learning a new skill, or searching for a job at a company that seems more likely to weather any instability caused by the pandemic.
“Think about how those changes could impact you and how you can use it as an opportunity to learn something new and pivot, or switch to an organisation that perhaps sees more value in a person-to-person contribution rather than machines,” she said.
Divide goals into small steps. Breaking large goals down into manageable chunks is always a good idea, but it’s especially crucial during a time of recovery and lingering uncertainty.
“A lot of people are looking forward 20-plus years, and while having dreams and visions is great, you have to back up from there,” Badeau said. “Your goals should be a little shorter right now.”
Badeau recommends keeping your longer-term aspirations but walking backward from there and considering what steps you can take over the next few months to get closer to those goals. Make sure those goals are aligned with your priorities, the values of your organisation, and how you see your role evolving in the future.
Then break down your goals into the smallest steps possible. For example, if you’re hoping to get a promotion in the next year, your first steps could be as small as updating your LinkedIn profile or reaching out to someone who is in a role you aspire to.
Enhance emotional intelligence. Badeau argued the pandemic has increased the importance of emotional intelligence, and those who want to move forward in their careers should enhance their empathy, flexibility, and people skills.
“You have to have the technical skills to be successful in our profession, that's a given, but to really be competitive and have that career path, you have to exhibit emotional intelligence,” Badeau said.
In order to enhance emotional intelligence, Badeau recommends practising listening more effectively, identifying your emotional triggers through self-reflection, and making an effort to understand other perspectives.
“Let’s not overcomplicate it; we already have a complicated life and profession,” she said. “To help enhance your empathy, you should listen more and articulate what you’ve just heard to make sure you’re really understanding their perspective.”
In order to identify your triggers, Badeau recommends keeping a log and writing down your strongest emotion every day. Beside it you can write what made you become aware that you were having that emotion, whether it was clenched fists or crossed arms, and then reflect on it, look for patterns, and form strategies for dealing with those triggers.
Form thoughtful connections. Even in the disjointed landscape of remote working, it’s important not to ease up on networking, according to Simpson.
She recommends looking for opportunities to build those relationships by participating in events put on by professional associations and seeking out creative and inventive ways in which you can connect with your peers.
The intellectual stimulation you get from talking with others who are doing the work you’re doing, or the work you hope to do, can not only renew your motivation but also help you forge a path towards your career goals.
Badeau agreed, saying everyone should aim to have at least one hour of thoughtful connection a week, and one social connection a day, which could be as simple as talking over Zoom or chatting with your barista.
“Those interpersonal connections can help not only build relationships, trust, and your career path, but also increase your happiness,” she said.
Badeau added that you should voice your goals to your manager, mentor, and anyone who could help to achieve them, and then actively seek out feedback and do the work to gain any necessary skills or experience.
“You’ve got to own your own career,” Badeau said. “A coach or supervisor should be an advocate as well, but they can’t want it more than you.”
Visit the Global Career Hub from AICPA & CIMA for help with finding a job or recruiting.
— Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at Andrew.Adamek@aicpa-cima.com.