Post-COVID-19: Should you just change careers?

change careers

Business isn’t that hard to understand; that’s why Kanye’s a billionaire.

Unless you’re a Sam Newman-level crusty white guy, we all know diversity isn’t just some feel-good gesture. It makes your company perform better financially because there is less inbred group-think and backslapping. Don’t take my word for it, ask McKinsey.

But what about diversity (*puts on guru robes, lights incense*) within yourself?

So many people are just good at one thing. Butcher, baker, tax advice maker, whatever. You can be great at it, but there’s plenty more where you came from. You don’t stand out, and you can be replaced by a younger, cheaper, hungrier version of you in the corporate Hunger Games of 2021.

CFOs are salivating like bulldogs at that prospect right now.

So let’s look at why career-change people are more interesting and valuable. Just in case you’re thinking of a COVID-19-inspired career change, given your industry maybe doesn’t exist any more. Should you wait around for things to go back to the good old days of January 2020, or cut your losses and run?

The skills you take for granted could make you a standout in a different field. I’ve tracked a lot of career-swappers over the years. Here are a few.

Engineers get stuff done

Many of my friends are qualified as engineers.

There are two sorts of people in working world: those who get things done, and those who talk about getting things done.

Engineers work out a plan to do something, and then make it happen. While others are still having meetings on stakeholder engagement metrics or similar report filler. Engineers think clearly and solve problems like it’s no big deal.

As a result, almost all the ones I know got lured away by the sweeter salaries of the finance sector.

Hospitality skills win at sales

My friend Megan is the most successful salesperson I know; an unstoppable force in enterprise software. She tells me she owes it to basic hospitality techniques she learnt in menial hotel jobs early on.

She knows how to listen, watch and make people feel good about themselves. She remembers details about clients and their families. She can deal with high-maintenance people like any restaurant pro.

Most salespeople in her field are guys who just want to talk up tech performance, because that’s the one thing they know. They would look down on hotel staff. Megan defeats them with ridiculous ease.

So many career-switch examples.

I know plenty of accountants and lawyers who don’t do those things any more because they have no interest in tax returns or wills. They are great at general business because they’re trained to take in a tonne of information and make sense of it quickly. They spot the problems before they happen.

It’s a useful test of inner strength. To take that shining career that you slaved toward, that made your parents so proud, after all they sacrificed for you… and put it in the bin.

Worst child ever. But character-defining stuff. If you make a decision that big, you’re going to work pretty hard to make that second career choice stick.

Nat’s next-level career combo

For a championship flex in the skill-combo game, let’s examine my favourite thing from the COVID-19 isolation time: the Nat’s What I Reckon cooking videos.

A metal drummer and YouTube comedian, he outlaws jar sauce, zucchini in bolognese and frozen Hawaiian pizzas, because he respects fresh ingredients and now is the time to learn how to use them.

If you don’t mind some heavy-duty drummer language, Nat is about the funniest thing online right now. But what takes it to the next level is that this heavily tattooed and pierced unit is a proper cook. Watch his knife work. He’s done some pro kitchen time somewhere, and he has a purist’s respect for those recipes.

Let’s check those skills. Is there a shortage of wannabe TV chefs and how-to-cook YouTubers? Online comedians? Metal drummers? No, all infinite over-supply situations, a penguin colony of indistinguishability.

But combine the three and you have an absolute one-off, compelling concept that has deservedly gone viral.

You take your skills for granted

After five years in any career, you under-value your skills because you assume everyone has them.

That is very far from the case.

What if tradies had the punctuality and follow-up skills of, say, real estate agents, instead of showing up in a different month with their mind totally cleansed of every previous conversation?

What if HR managers had the call-it-how-it-is honesty and care factor of nurses?

What if CEOs could charm a crowd like the keepers that host zoo animal shows?

What if we all had the saintly tolerance of dickheads as airline cabin staff?

The world would be a better place, that’s what.

Why not take those miraculous skills and use them somewhere they’ll get noticed?

The COVID-19 career change is not going to be easy

I’m not saying you can step straight into a cool new gig in a different field. Or start a new business that will take off right away. That never happens, and it certainly won’t in the coming dumpster-fire economy.

The COVID-19 career change is a long game, with lots of low-status work between here and your dream. If you want it, may as well start now while all the rules are out the window.

If you do it, bring humbleness and a huge appetite to learn from those around you.

You see a lot of ex-executives who bring the belief that they could do anyone else’s job if they just put their mind to it. This pure arrogance is why so many of them put their redundancy payout into opening up ‘a nice little cafe’ because they enjoy hosting dinner parties. Whereupon they are eaten alive by professional cafe operators.

Be the opposite of that.

I have tested this for you

It sounds insane but downturns are a good time to start your own thing.

I was desperate to get into advertising for a long time. I would have taken a job cleaning toilets at an agency, but that was just one of the many ad jobs I couldn’t land.

So, in a previous market downturn, I set up my own agency. With no actual experience. Like some desert island cartoon, I interviewed myself for the creative director job.

I landed it, whew. (The cat ran a close second.)

The agency went well because of what I learnt as a frustrated salaryman. I could understand how clients thought. My ‘wasted’ years brought perspectives that lifelong ad people hadn’t experienced.

For most creative people, not understanding the cold business side of things is a badge of pride in their uncompromising right-brain identity. Fuck that weak excuse that keeps them enslaved to spreadsheet people for the rest of their lives. Business isn’t that hard to understand. That’s why Kanye’s a billionaire. He’s not a guy who feels any limitations.

After 10 years, I had to get out of advertising because I didn’t want to turn into the grey-ponytail creatives that creeped me out in meetings. So we started our current businesses, in the last financial crisis, and the weird-ass creative skills of advertising really helped with that too. Persuading people is harder than people think.

It’s my edge against the spreadsheeters.

What’s yours going to be when they come for you?

This article was first published on Motivation for Sceptics.

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