4 Steps to Help You Make an Impact With Your Career in the Post-COVID “New Normal”

Alexandra Nemeth

Content Marketing Manager at MovingWorlds.org

If you’re rethinking your career trajectory as a result of COVID-19, you’re not alone. As leadership and career development expert Herminia Ibarra shared in Harvard Business Review, “Unexpected events or shocks disrupt our habitual routines, jolt us out of our comfort zones, and lead us to ask big questions about what matters and what is worth doing.”

What we decide is (and isn’t) worth doing will directly impact our collective futures. As we begin the process of recovering from this crisis, we have a unique opportunity to go beyond the status quo and shift towards a more equitable, just, and sustainable “new normal.” To make that a reality, we must decide to bring our unique talents and strengths to careers that strengthen rather than erode these ideals. 

As an individual, your career is the single biggest lever you have to affect positive change. If you know that you want to do something more meaningful and contribute to the greater good, but aren’t sure what that is yet, here are 4 steps to help you get started:

  1. Reflect on what is important to you
  2. Explore multiple paths
  3. Use design thinking to take first steps 
  4. Learn future forward skills

Reflect on what is important to you

As leadership coach Liz Peintner shared in this episode of ‘Getting Ahead by Getting Away’, “If you understand what you value, and truly understand what is important to you, then it becomes much easier to live a life that is fulfilling.” Taking the time to introspect and determine what your ‘internal compass’ is will help you make decisions more easily, and with more clarity. If you jump directly into taking action (without taking the time to self-reflect first), you may find yourself in an equally unfulfilling role – just at a different company.

Career coach Jacqui Beaver elaborated on this in our roundup of advice for career changers, sharing that “Career planning can sometimes feel like a game of pin the tail on the donkey. If you want to pin it smack-bang on your “career bullseye” you need to take off your blindfold so you can see what’s important in your life and career. Thinking about a career change is your opportunity to press pause, reflect and clearly connect the dots between who you are, what you do and what you believe. This will help you build a more coherent life, one where your career choices feel aligned to who you are as a person, giving your work a sense of meaning.

There are a number of tools and exercises that can help you reflect on what your core values and motivations are. The first step we suggest you take is developing your own personal ‘purpose statement.’ A good purpose statement should answer the questions: Who are you inspired to impact? Why do you want to make an impact? How will you use your unique talents to make an impact? For additional guidance, check out this webinar about how to uncover your unique purpose drivers. 

The Designing Your LifeGood Time Journal’ is another great tool you can use to start noticing patterns in the kinds of activities and tasks that are most fulfilling. You can use it daily or weekly to track where your time is going and how you feel about it, then reflect on each activity and identify how engaged you felt and whether it brought negative or positive energy. The most important thing is carving out time and space to really think and reflect – grab some sticky notes and a journal and try an exercise like this one from Liberationalist to see what you discover.

By starting with a solid understanding of your own values and needs, you’ll be able to find roles that truly fit you, rather than the other way around. 

Identify opportunities where you can make the biggest impact 

This stage is all about ideation. Try to think broadly – just because you’re on one path right now, doesn’t mean that you have to stay on it. Marketers can do more than market. Sales people can do more than sell. Financial analysts can do more than analyze. As you research possible future roles and companies, let your values and transferable skills (rather than your previous experience) be your guide. The career change that Global Fellow Thais made from marketing in the private sector to operations in the social impact sector is a great example of what’s possible when you broaden your realm of possibilities. 

As career coach Penelope Robson shared in this article about career change mistakes to avoid, “People often rush to closure without thinking of their options more broadly. This often comes back to the beliefs and assumptions they hold, and unwillingness to experience the feelings of uncertainty that go with not knowing where to go next. If you can reframe these unhelpful beliefs, you can turn problems into actionable challenges and open up space for new, unexpected solutions!” 

To help you explore new options, we recommend identifying your strengths (learn how to do that here) and then looking for ways you can apply them in different contexts. As you think through different scenarios, easily track and compare them using the Designing Your Life odyssey planning worksheet. For more guidance on short-listing the different paths you can take, download our free, 11-step guide to creating more impact in your career..

Use design thinking to take the next step

In the MovingWorlds Institute, we’ve found that changing or accelerating your career is actually a series of incremental steps, rather than one big scary leap. Trying to have everything figured out before you ‘take the leap’ can lead to analysis paralysis, and prevent you from taking action to achieve your career goals.

Once you’ve thought through possible options, you can use design thinking to start narrowing them down. (If you’re not sure about what design thinking is, you can learn more in our popular blog post, Human-Centered Design vs. Design-Thinking: How They’re Different and How to Use Them Together to Create Lasting Change). 

Prototyping is one of the most effective techniques for test-driving your options before you make a big decision – something may seem like a great fit on paper, but you won’t know until you try it yourself or talk to someone who has. Pick the smallest thing you can do to get the ball rolling – whether that’s reaching out to someone in your network to learn more about their job, posting your resume on a job search site, or signing up to volunteer in a space you’re interested in. 

MovingWorlds Institute alumna Heather’s experience is a great example of this. Heather took on a stretch social impact project to clarify her purpose and ‘test’ a potential new career in fundraising. The experience confirmed she was heading in the right direction, and today she works full-time at a fundraising consultancy firm.

For more detailed guidance about how to use design thinking to advance your career, check out this webinar facilitated by MovingWorlds Institute Director, Cole Hoover and then use this guide we published in FastCompany for more guidance on next steps.

Continue building your skills and network skills

Those of us working in social impact need to adapt to the world around us faster than ever before. Not only in response to a seemingly never-ending onslaught of crises – be they political, social, economic, and/or environmental – but also to work more effectively with diverse people and organizations in an increasingly interconnected world. One of the best ways to set yourself up for success on this journey is to adopt a growth mindset and NOT go at this alone. Take the time to find a mentor who can guide you, support you, and keep you accountable to your growth goals. We have a full guide, complete with templates, to help you find a mentor for your life-long learning journey here

Once you have a partner in growth, it’s time to start taking action. Learning comes through practice. Set some SMART goals (these examples of SMART goals for your career can help you get started.) Become an intrapreneur at your existing organization. Engage in a virtual learning community of practice with other professionals also looking to grow. Learn what it takes to scale social enterprise projects. Volunteer your real skills in stretch experiences to further develop your know-how and build your network.

We can’t usher in a truly “new” normal if we don’t change our old ways of thinking. Change is hard. Change is also essential. To orient your career for impact in the new normal, remember to: 

  1. Reflect on what is important to you
  2. Explore multiple paths
  3. Use design thinking to take first steps 
  4. Learn future forward skills