What Did You Do During COVID? It's A Question You Can Expect To Be Asked

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Professional Development

When this COVID situation is all over, there will be lots of people looking for jobs.

It has started already, and now (early May 2020) I am fielding a few inquiries each week: people who have lost their jobs, people on reduced hours as well as people whose hours have increased.  No matter their situation, they are all wanting to know how they can get a new/better/different job.

So, here are my thoughts on that.

Already, we are being told that the key to our nation’s recovery will be training, training and more training.  Short courses are plentiful, many are free and longer ones are being deeply discounted.

A while ago I wrote an article entitled Pieces of paper that say more about attitude than skills.  As its name suggests, it was talking about how bits of paper are important because they speak about a person’s attitude.

I think that still applies and as an employer, I do look for a personal commitment to learning in potential employees.

Now with COVID, there is another question we will be asking.

Actually, I think it is even more relevant because when COVID has passed, employers are going to be faced with larger piles of applications.

I can guarantee that any employer who cares about the quality of their staff will be asking one question.   Chances are they will look for the answer to the question within the application itself – in the cover letter or the resume.

What’s the question?

What did you do during COVID?

Pieces of paper matter.  And those pieces of paper do speak to attitude.  But there is more than just that now.  COVID has splintered us into pretty clear groups:  those who kept their jobs, and those who did not.  What I want to know is this:

If you were fortunate enough to keep your job, then, I ask:

What did you do while you kept it to assist those around you?  Did you join the Care Army, volunteer an hour a week to chat over the phone with isolated older Australians, help out kids with free homework sessions, or something else?  Stuck at home, did you do any extra PD, or anything new?

If you were not so fortunate and found yourself with less work, then, I ask:

What did you do?  How did you fill those times?  It won’t matter if you could not afford to do a Masters degree at Harvard; what matters is that you did something with what you had.  And, there is much to be had.

There will be people who object to the very question and argue that it is irrelevant to their ability to do the tasks on the Position Description.  They might be right, but they are not the ones who will be getting to the point of being employed.  Why?  Because they cannot compete with the likes of Alice.

Introducing Alice

I met Alice when she reached out to me on Linkedin, in late April.  We are both part of a professional group, and she was asking me for more information on a topic that I commented on in a group post.  Alice lost her job in early March, will not be getting JobKeeper and so is on JobSeeker instead.  She has never mentioned it, but I expect she is not in a position to spend much on education and training at the moment.  We got to chatting, and since late March, she has completed many of the free offerings that are available.  She is participating actively in professional discussion groups, and actively networking – not to sell her wares, but to engage with people and to learn from them.  Aware that she won’t have much to show for this, by way of certificates etc, she asked my advice on how to capture what she was doing in a way that could help later.

I suggested she keep a reflective journal – just record what she is doing and learning every day, and the details of people she comes across who might be helpful in some way.  She told me she would do that.  I did not expect her to.  A week later, I received a draft of her journal so far.  Clearly structured, clearly reflecting on her professional reading and discussion.  The cost to her has been nothing in terms of dollars.   I expect we will stay in touch since I am interested in her thoughts, and suggested that her journal could form the basis of a very neat research project, which could be a very novel way to introduce herself to potential employers.  Oh, and she has joined an online group to mentor older people in the use of social media.

Introducing Alan.

Compare that to Alan, who rang me during the week asking if we had any jobs going.  He is currently employed by a training organisation and wants to move into delivering TAE.  I asked if he had the Dip VET or TDD.  He said he’d get them if he got a job that needed them.  I asked what he’d been doing during COVID.  Work was about an extra hour a day, but mostly he’s just streaming shows he cannot remember.

We joked about that for a while; then, he asked if I’d like him to send me his CV.

You see, this says a lot about Alice and Alan.  I am not judging either of their personal choices, and I do not mind a streaming binge from time to time.  I am, however, saying that if you are going to want to stand out from the crowd in a few months, then what personal choices you do during #theseuncertaintimes will really matter professionally.

To be honest, beyond the absolutely essential qualifications for any job, I really don’t care if someone has any extra bits of paper.  But I do care about their attitude.

I want go-getters, self-starters and people who are not just keen to learn more, but people who are able to be humbled by the knowledge that there is always more than they can learn.  People who, despite how good they are, wonder if they can be a bit better.  And, now that the opportunity and need are staring us in the face, people who care about other people and see that helping other people in day to day life is a wonderful opportunity to learn.

I want people who are prepared to invest themselves in exploring that question, rather than those who resent it even being asked.  I want people who are resilient enough to engage in a journey of self-development no matter how tedious, boring or just plain uncomfortable it might seem.  I want people who look beyond their own discomfort; who look in their neighbour’s bowl not to see if they have more, but to make sure that they have enough.

I want people who are resilient.

Training builds resilience.  So does getting out of bed when we don’t have to.  So does rolling up our sleeves and mucking in when we’d rather not.

And that is what the answers to What did you do during COVID? tell me.  Not only do they show me that someone else believes they have certain skills and abilities, they tell me if this is a person who possesses the attitude and appreciates the humanity that I will be prepared to pay for, and invest in.

Bryan West (Founder of Fortress Learning), 15 May 2020

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