Sneak Peek: Career Survival Guide w/ Kathy Simmons

The New World Business Order

Earlier this week, the BlueSteps team sat down with renowned career coach, Kathy Simmons, to talk virtual job search, how to stay connected in our new digital world, and even... a little science. As the team puts the finishing touches on a guide that will help you navigate the waters of your career during Coronavirus, we thought there was no better time than to shine a light on Kathy's advice and help you find where the opportunities lie.

BlueSteps: Will this crisis present more opportunities for candidates to progress internally?

Kathy Simmons: There was a great quote that Chris Swan made [in our webinar last week] which said “when things are going well it’s a lot harder to tell who is doing a good job, when things are going poorly, it’s a lot easier to see who is doing a good job.” So, what I’d say is that the opportunity is to step up! Prove that you can be flexible. It’s those types of things that will ensure that you’ll come across as promotable in the future.


BS: Are there hidden opportunities within a downturn (such as specific industries/functions whose products/services have a heightened demand right now?)

Kathy: In terms of hidden opportunities during a downturn, I think the companies who are doing well right now are offering a virtual solution. I mean, look at Zoom! Suddenly everyone is talking Zoom meetings, which didn’t happen before. Also, anything that is distance learning and anything that can be done from home is having a moment. As for within your own company, the more creative you can be within your own company and by doing things virtually while working together and collaborating-- THAT is presenting opportunities. Coming up with content or blog articles or even coming up with a tight agenda for a meeting you’re hosting. Coming up with shorter, tighter meetings that get the same point across. Those are the things that people take note of!


BS: When the economy begins to rebuild and the job market strengthens, how should candidates approach their job search? Is there opportunity for those who were laid off, to get rehired at the same companies?

Kathy: I think there are definitely opportunities to get re-hired at the same company. What makes this different than the Great Recession is, this crisis is literally existential. There’s more of a focus on public good this time around than perhaps you saw in other situations. I can’t think of anything that’s had the impact of this. If you look at financial downturns, some people were impacted more than others. This is universal. People across the board are impacted by this. I think now there is a genuine concern for the welfare of the employees. They’re more likely to rehire people who don’t have to be taught and re-trained. I think it will be an easier time to be rehired.


BS: Interim roles: are there more opportunities surrounding interim role and how should candidates approach their search? Are there specific recruiters they should reach out to?

Kathy:I think there are more opportunities in interim. Any time there’s an air of uncertainty, people are going to be more comfortable hiring for the interim. You know, if they don’t know what the future is going to bring or if they don’t know if they’ll have the budget, but they still have to get the work done—that’s where interim is in demand. The number of jobs people have in their career has increased in the last 15-20 years. It’s the idea of owning your career. You really are responsible for owning it—because the old model, that maybe our parents or grandparents had, you know, cradle to grave at a company, happened until the 70s, 80s. The job search strategy we should abide by is look for the work, not for the job. That might mean you get a full time job but it also might mean that if you go to a company and present yourself as a solution you could be primed for an interim role.

You know there are two fundamental questions that every company asks and this won’t change. The questions are usually “can you make me money?” or “can you save me money?” so you should look at your career as a potential revenue stream. If you have sales or marketing skills, look at the revenue side. If you’re looking for opportunities in manufacturing, it’s about getting smart and cutting costs. What I think has happened is there is more of a sense of urgency. Even before the current crisis, technology and other changes have made us go faster and faster so companies were treating most work as project-based focused on a specific problem; a mandate that you came in to work on.

There’s a big difference between being a great candidate for a few opportunities versus a good candidate for a lot of opportunities. You want to be the first one every time.

 

BS: What are the main challenges you’ve seen executives deal with in a remote working environment?

Kathy: Well I think the biggest challenge is maintaining your focus. If you’re not used to working at home, that can be really difficult. I think what makes it more difficult is if you’re home with roommates or family and suddenly you have a different environment than you’re used to. Creating a space that feels like work versus feeling like everyday is the weekend is difficult. I think that’s the biggest challenge people are facing. Loss of space, loss of focus. The wonderful thing this has done for us has gotten us creative about the way things are done now as opposed to the past. Most of the coaching I do is through Zoom or Skype or phone, but it’s wonderful to see what other tools are coming out to simplify it. 


BS: Are there any tools you would recommend to increase efficiency and productivity?

Kathy: Skype, Zoom have been really helpful!  But also, I do think there are a couple of other coping tools I can speak to as someone who already worked from home. Keep a regular schedule. If you continue to get up at the same time every morning, just as you would if you were going to work—I think that’s important. I’ve heard people say they struggle to get out of their pajamas. I’ve found for me, I need to change out of my bathrobe or I don’t feel like I’m working all day! The other thing is mental/physical health. Something that I’ve done for the last few years is my virtual trainer. One of the things I do in the middle of my day is work out with my trainer and that has really helped me stay healthier and more focused. I think it’s important to go outside if you’re in a place where you can do that safely. I’m fortunate that I’m not in an urban area so I have a lot more space and can get out a bit more. I think it’s maintaining the same time schedule, getting exercise, getting fresh air, getting up and getting away from the screen! Your hours get blurry when you work from home and you can look up and see it’s after dinner time and you’ve been at “the office” all day. If you were at work you’d at least be going out for lunch.

BS: Working from home while simultaneously looking after/homeschooling kids, is now a reality for millions of parents across the globe. What are your thoughts on this? Are there any strategies parents can use to juggle both roles effectively? And how do you deal with an employer who isn’t understanding of the challenges that come with this.


Kathy: I’ve not had anyone specifically ask me about this but what I can say is….I do a lot of neuroscience based coaching. One of the things I think that’s important in this is, our brains have been wired so that we’re far more likely to perceive threats. We have three times more receptors in our brains to perceive threats than opportunities—which was great when we had saber-tooth tigers chasing us—but in this environment it’s beginning to manifest itself in people getting hooked on feeds and looking over and over at all of the horrible things that are going on. The problem with that is when you get in distress—in fight or flight mode—there’s a lot of physiological changes that happen to your body like your blood goes to your extremities so you can fight or run and it leaves your frontal cortex—the reasoning part of your brain—so you can’t make decisions.

One of the ways to combat that is to do some mindfulness practices and trying to see the gift in it. It’s hard for people to balance kids and their work but the gift is that they’re having time with their children that they wouldn’t have otherwise had.  You can really combat the cortisol and the other stress-related hormones that start happening and increase the feel good neurotransmitters if you just keep reminding yourself that this extra time together is a gift.

BS: What challenges will leaders face as their teams transition to remote working?

Kathy: I think it certainly depends on the leader. For leaders who are ‘command and control’, it’s certainly very challenging. I think that it can also bring out the best in a lot of those leaders. To me, the best advice is… you need to be authentic. You have to acknowledge that this is a difficult time for everybody and that we’re all in this together. A lot of times leaders are afraid to be vulnerable. In reality, if they can be more vulnerable, it’s bringing authenticity to the situation and people really resonate with that. We’re all working together to find a solution. It’s about being focused on getting solution-focused rather than blame-focused. Rather than looking at whose fault it is, let’s be solution oriented together. That’s the mark of a true leader.


BS: What are your top  tips on boosting employee morale in a virtual environment?

Kathy: If you’re not physically connected, it’s all about sharing. Maybe hopping on an early morning Zoom meeting with your team to check in on the day. Something I’ve started doing with my friends from high school, we’ve been getting together on Zoom meetings on the weekends and we’re more connected than we’ve been in years.


This is the perfect opportunity, or a good opportunity, to make those networking outreaches that are not self serving. If you can do those kind of check-ins, sincere, authentic, “Can I help you in any way?” you are starting to build stronger relationships and a stronger connection. There is always an opportunity. In Mandarin the character for crisis is the same as opportunity. So, if you think about it from that standpoint than this is an opportunity to build relationships as well. It doesn’t have to be face to face and maybe it’s because we’re seeing their common humanity, but it’s a great time to connect on any level.  

 


Interested in Kathy's advice? Want to speak to a coach about your next career move?

BlueSteps Members are eligible to work with our group of world-class coaches who provide a suite of executive level career services. These services are accessible after candidate’s join BlueSteps and submit a request for a complimentary consultation from an Advisor. Several of our Advisors have excellent advice coaching on virtual interviewing, digital networking, and anything else that might get you to the next level in the current climate. These services are one-on-one, come very highly rated, are customized for each candidate and are available at an additional fee. 


 

*This article/interview has been transcribed from a verbal interview and edited down for length and comprehension.

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