Very quickly the world has changed with the onset of COVID-19, commonly known as coronavirus. In a matter of days, the virus has spread globally and will soon be a public health concern in the U.S. The anxiety about economic disruption is now affecting the markets. On top of that, mixed and often bad information on the effects of the virus and how to prevent its spread require our attention and evaluation.
For those seeking new jobs and career mobility, there will inevitability be some changes that need to be made in strategies and approaches particularly in terms of networking and interviewing.
I’m based in Washington, DC and I’m already seeing caution by organizers of major meetings and conferences planned for the coming months. If you had planned on attending an event, be watchful for changes in plans including cancellation, postponement or moving to online and virtual formats. In your preparation going forward, here are a few things to consider whether you are in DC or elsewhere:
Harness the Power of Virtual Meetings
Whenever possible and particularly if you think traveling will create some risk to you or others, seek meetings through Skype, Zoom, or other virtual platforms. Even today, many have not embraced virtual means to convene and meet. There is no better time to learn than the present. When an opportunity presents itself to meet, be ready to recommend virtual means. Remember though, that meeting virtually requires all the same preparation that a meeting in person does, including appropriate dress, hair, make-up, background (remember, their screen and speaker sees and hears more than just you) and whatever else is needed for you to look your best. And, understand that the tech might not work the way you had hoped, so practice how to use it. If you have the chance, do a “dry run” with your conveners to make sure everything is working. And there is always the telephone.
Make Networking Adjustments
We often think of networking as seeking out conferences and events that involve large numbers of people like career fairs. At the last career fair I attended in January, people were jam packed in solid lines: staying clear of another’s sneezing or coughing was a challenge. I suspect that in the coming months larger events might be postponed, scaled down, or moved to virtual set ups. As such, think about other ways of reaching out. Hiring will not stop because of COVID-19, and in fact, hiring managers might have more time on their hands because they are not dealing with career fairs! So when an event is cancelled or changed, reach out to the planners and ask about smaller events that might be offered, or the chance to meet with someone virtually or even in person.
In Person is Still an Option
Regardless of the trajectory of COVID-19, it is unlikely that in person meetings will put individuals at risk. So having coffee at a Starbucks or another venue, provided you are not dealing with large crowds (and you are both healthy), is still an option. Don’t overreact, but still take the opportunity to meet with people in small groups and comfortable settings to explore career opportunities and have informational interviews.
Finally, commit yourself to a stricter hygiene regiment. We all are all careless at times when it comes to washing our hands, and placing them on places where germs are prevalent. Consider how your elbows or knees might work over your hands in opening and closing doors. Try a fist bump instead of a handshake. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a few simple things to do to keep yourself and others healthy:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Stay home when you are sick.
- Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
Other important advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is here.
Exigent circumstances require creative approaches to seeking objectives. It is difficult now to predict how COVID-19 will impact global communities in the coming months. Hopefully, it will be a short-lived health emergency. But rest assured, we will be faced with another virus or another situation demanding a change in how we engage with others. Creative and cautious approaches now will prepare us for what comes.
David J. Smith is a Washington, DC based-career coach. He is the president of the Forage Center for Peacebuilding and Humanitarian Education and an official member of Forbes Coaches Council. He also teaches at George Mason University and is a member of PCDN Global's Career Advisory Board. He appreciates the assistance of Lena Choudhary, JD, MS, RN, a nurse educator at Montgomery College and a community health nurse in writing this piece.