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Smart Upskilling During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Barbara Schultz

Smart Upskilling Your Career During COVID-19At the outset of the pandemic, the media inundated our field of vision with several riveting scenes including a barren Times Square, an uninhabited Las Vegas Strip and St. Peter’s Square devoid of visitors.

The images portrayed a virtually motionless planet providing scenes in stark contrast to a formerly bustling world.

Similarly, job seekers faced an employment market, once vibrant but suddenly in a state of downturn.

How can job seekers keep their search energized in the face of such a dramatic slowdown?

Put "Social Distancing" to Work for You

Reflecting on my (very rudimentary knowledge) of Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion seemed a good jumping off point to answer this question. In it, he defined the relationship between a body and the forces acting upon it,

“Every object in a state of uniform motion will remain in that state of motion unless an external force acts on it.”

Newton’s observations concerning motion help us navigate our way out of the morass created in today’s work world. The universe beckons us to keep momentum going, and it will be up to us to be that external force.

The greatest cure for inertia in a state of workforce uncertainty is to remain in motion and to start upskilling.

Take advantage of this time to get better at all things job-related and start the process by establishing a learning strategy.

Conduct a Gap Analysis

Start by conducting a job skills gap analysis. This exercise may take great intestinal fortitude and large doses of honesty to inventory any areas in your Knowledge, Skills or Abilities (KSA’s) needed to compete in today’s job market.

Be specific about any disparities that exist between the skills you possess and the opportunities you are pursuing.

  Take a Retrospective and Prospective Look  

Looking back, were there any areas of knowledge you could have improved upon for enhanced performance in your prior role?

Consider: You may have left your marketing position just as CRM software was being implemented, but never had the opportunity to use it.

Proficiency in Salesforce is an in-demand skill, as evidenced in multiple job postings. Take advantage of courses offered in Salesforce (like in LinkedIn Learning) to fill that skill gap.

Looking forward: What are the future skills needed and how does your “KSA” profile compare?

Perhaps you just left a role as a project manager, but never pursued a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification because it was not a job requirement. As you explore the possibility of a newly enhanced position, several postings indicate a PMP certification is required.

Since a PMP is mandatory, you will need to become certified or change your targeted position.

For help determining your strengths and a new potential direction for your career, read SWOT - Strategic Planning for Your Career.

  Match Skills Needed Specific to Your Job and Your Industry  

For recent graduates, job seekers who are considering a career change, or individuals returning after an extended absence from the work world, you may want to take a deeper dive into the skills needed for a job.

Here are two websites sponsored by the US Department of Labor (USDOL) worth researching:

  • Descriptors for over 1,000 occupations and the KSAs required are available at ONet Center. Navigate your way to “My Next Move” within that site and enter key words that lead to the details of jobs, KSAs and education needed for the position. It’s a great place to start when establishing the baseline for use in identifying any gaps in your skills set.
  • A second useful USDOL site is CareerOneStop containing a “Skills Matcher” section. This tool rates your level on 40 key workplace skills and lists potential careers that match your ratings.

  Inventory Your Soft Skills  

In addition to hard skills, be prepared to demonstrate sought-after personality traits. The great differentiator among candidates will be the personal attributes you offer.

Do you possess the qualities an employer is seeking? If you are unsure of your strengths, consider investing time in one of the assessments available online, choosing very carefully.

Here are the top five attributes employers find attractive in a candidate, according to Zipjob:

  • Honesty
  • Loyalty
  • Determination
  • Personal Work Ethic
  • Eagerness to Learn and Adapt

For more help making a career change, read the articles in Job-Hunt's Guide to Career Change.

Establish an ROI for your Strategic Learning Plan

Take stock of your personal finances and deploy money and time resources wisely. Determine your Return on Investment as you address the KSA gap, and avoid the scattershot approach some job seekers take.

Consider the level of investment you are willing to make and compare it to the expected rewards, i.e., improved compensation and benefits, promotional opportunities, etc.

  Gather Market Data to Determine the Payback  

Data is available to forecast the earning potential for various upgrades to your skill set. For example, Global Knowledge lists the top paying IT Certifications: Among the highest paying are:

  • Google Certified Professional Cloud Architect
  • AWS Certified Solutions Architect
  • CISM -- Certified Information Systems Manager
  • PMP -- Project Management Professional
  • CRISC -- Certified in Risk Information Systems Control

Consider: In the case of a required certification, indicate “Expected Completion Date” on your resume if the completion date is within 90 days of applying for a job. Employers may have a turnaround time to fill the position that aligns with your completion date.

  Research the Funding Available to Supplement Personal Investments  

Explore all avenues of grants available at federal and state levels.

Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) supports education and training for job seekers and offers grants through your local Workforce Development Center/American Job Center. These centers provide screening, testing assessment, and assistance with approved programs.

The training needs to meet the following criteria:

  • The skill is in-demand.
  • The skill is a required skill within your targeted career.
  • The need for the targeted position is not declining.

The curriculum is tailored to a position. For example, certification programs would be offered to an Administrative Assistant, with a possible course of studies including: MS Office and Adobe, whereas a Project Manager would be approved for a grant covering certifications for: PMP, Lean Six Sigma and Agile Scrum.

The grants typically cover the cost of training, certification exams and mileage or public transportation.

Refer to the WIOA website for further details.

  Organize Your Time  

Overwhelmed is the word universally used by job seekers when expressing their reaction to launching a job search. Lighten your load, spend time on activities with the greatest payoff and streamline administrative tasks.

Balance the amount of time spent on upskilling vs. job search activities (networking, applying for jobs, interview preparation and practice, company research, etc.). Unless the job you are seeking requires a skill you are in the process of upgrading, then continue job search activities in tandem with upskilling activities.

Update Your Job Search Skills

The process of talent acquisition has changed dramatically over the past 5+ years. If you are now faced with a job hunt after extended tenure with your last employer, you are likely unaware of the current tools used in today’s job market.

A simple tweak of your resume will no longer suffice to launch a search. Your strategy must now include branding, establishing a value proposition, building a LinkedIn profile and all within the context of applying through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

Become technologically savvy in the most prominent platforms, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. This is a non-negotiable job search skill set. You will need to navigate the features and functions of each, but more importantly, understand how to optimize the use of each channel.

Consider: Not sure how to start building a LinkedIn profile? View people in your industry whose careers provide a great model for where you want to be. Consider their profiles as prototypes to serve as a foundation to build your own.

Notice how others have used the “Headline” and “About” sections, as well as the banner behind their headshot; all great branding opportunities. Get inspired by other’s profiles but do not plagiarize them.

Check out the articles in Job-Hunt's Guide to LinkedIn for Job Search for details and more tips.

Learning Resources Available for Job Skills and Job Search Skills

A wide array of learning resources, including low cost, no cost, and options with free trial periods are available.

In addition to traditional learning, consider micro learning opportunities. Micro learning delivers small, focused chunks of information via videos of 5 minutes or less and is especially effective in building soft skills. This type of learning is intended to supplement rather than replace traditional courses.

Here are six ways to access learning resources for your job search.

  1. Crowd Source Feedback  

Gain insights into topics by simply posing a question to colleagues and job seekers to elicit a response about their experiences. According to Marti Konstant, Workplace Futurist and Author of Activate Your Agile Career, “Consider Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora, and Slack channels as a selection of places to ask questions and interact with professionals regarding career topics. You can engage with a global conglomeration of peers, entrepreneurs, coaches, and a diverse group of subject matter experts.”

Consider: Pose an open-ended question on a social platform: “What is the best on-line class you have taken to improve Microsoft Suite knowledge, and does it include a free trial period?”

  2. YouTube “University”  

YouTube is not really a university, but there is no shortage of experts offering a dizzying array of class material in this visual format.

There is great value in the “show me” aspect of lessons delivered via YouTube videos. Interviewing skills in a pandemic world must include being camera ready for a virtual meeting. The quality of content varies, but gauge the number of views as a good indicator.

  3. Not For-Profit Career Centers  

Local non-profits are primarily funded through community-based grants, providing low cost skill building sessions for job seekers. Check for available centers in your area.

  4. Online Classes  

There is a veritable treasure trove of classes; many include a free trial period. Here is a cross-section of online classes with their respective areas of focus:

  • Skillshare -- blogging, branding, web design skills
  • Coursera -- online degrees, certifications, and classes in multiple disciplines
  • General Assembly -- high tech, business, and marketing skills
  • Google Analytics Academy -- certification in measurement tools for marketers, analysts, and developers
  • LinkedIn Learning -- business, creative and tech skills

  5. Webinars and Podcasts  

One positive outcome of the pandemic has been a proliferation of offerings from career coaches and career experts, with many presented free of charge.

Access them simply by Googling key phrases, i.e.” webinars/podcasts for building job skills" or “webinars/podcasts for job seekers.” If you missed the live show, check for a recorded version on their websites.

  6. Industry Networking Groups  

Industry specific groups are useful to maintain currency of knowledge in areas of market trends, business forecasts, legislative changes, COVID impacts on the sector, on specific jobs, on the state of the physical workspace, etc.

Consider: For any job seeker whose position will include management of risk mitigation relative to COVID-19 (e.g. Health Care, Human Resources, Commercial Real Estate), learning opportunities are widespread and available through on-line classes at Coursera, and the American Red Cross, with a volume of information on the CDC website and in OSHA publications.

Failure to Launch Syndrome

Avoid the “senior-itis” trap. Are you familiar with this phenomenon in which graduating seniors suddenly experience a decline in motivation as the fear factor sets in about the next phase of life? Job seekers have been known to experience similar angst after an involuntary separation hurled them into the abyss of the great unknown.

A sometimes used and often subconscious defense mechanism to protect yourself from rejection is by stockpiling courses, webinars, certifications, etc. to build a veritable fortress of knowledge. While a strong skill set adds to your pedigree, temper it by staying aligned with the market demands for those skills.

Have faith in your “readiness” to pursue the opportunity. Remember, the KSA’s you have acquired are part of what you have to offer, but an employer is going to hire you because of everything you have to offer.

The Bottom Line

Candidates who demonstrate expertise in their profession and industry are only half-way there to securing the job offer. Those who have a genuine curiosity and consider themselves life-long learners will meet the challenge of today’s ever evolving work world and grab the attention of a Recruiter.

Execute your strategic learning plan and future-proof your career (at least for now), then Get Ready! Get Set! Now Go!

More About Job Search During the COVID-19 Pandemic:


About the author...

Barbara Schultz is an HR executive, career coach, writer, and co-author of Adulting Made Easy(er): Navigating from Campus to Career. Barbara has held senior HR leadership roles in entrepreneurial settings and gives a unique perspective to job seekers from a life spent on the "other side of the desk." She is also the owner of CareerStager.com, helping people successfully navigate their careers. Follow Barbara on LinkedIn.


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