Post-COVID career burnout? Here’s how you can be proactive with your career change and take advantage of the job seekers market.

The significant shock induced by COVID has caused many workers to take a step back and think more deeply about their career. More people are asking what the meaning and purpose is of their jobs, prompting them to consider moving to a company that better reflects their values or to pursue a different career altogether. 

Professor Joe Jiang, Head of Department (Business) at the Graduate School of Business and Law, has done extensive research in organisational psychology and says job satisfaction has taken a front seat for workers. 

“COVID has significantly impacted people’s well-being, and it has unprecedentedly triggered people to prioritise their physical and mental health”, said Jiang.

“Research shows a large proportion of people were already under high pressure and struggled with well-being in their workplace. But COVID has made these well-being challenges times more prominent and started driving them to reconstrue what they really want in future career.” 

So how can workers take advantage of the job-seekers market and make a change that is right for them? 

According to Dr Lena Wang, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Management and a current Co-Director of Centre for People, Organisation and Work (CPOW), being proactive is key to finding the right fit. 

“The concept of “career proactivity” captures individuals’ proactive behaviours that are beneficial for their career development”, said Wang.  

It’s a sentiment Jiang agrees with, no matter where you are on your career journey. 

“Engaging in different types of proactive behaviours that help us explore ourselves and our environments have been found to have a lot of benefits on our career development”, said Jiang.

Know yourself  

LW: “A starting point is to understand ourselves more deeply. Everyone is different, so it is important to know ourselves and to plan for our courses of action accordingly.” 

JJ: “Some people may already know what they want to prioritise in a new career. It is important to keep these priorities firmly in mind when looking for new opportunities; otherwise, it is likely that their career change will not achieve intended outcomes. It’s about exploring ourselves as well as exploring the career environment.” 

LW: “It is important for us to look out for career opportunities that align with our interests and values. By doing so we are more likely to find something that we will see as a “fit”. Person-job fit & person-organisation fit are important for us to achieve positive performance and wellbeing.” 

Play to your strengths and identify areas of development 

LW: “It is also important to match careers on our strengths are areas for development – to pursue something that we are reasonably good at already, but something that also offers us opportunities to grow and further develop – that’s a sweet spot to be in and it can be a fine art to achieve that.” 

“It’s a good thing if people can identify that there’s a gap between their current skill level to the careers they desire. This allows us to pursue opportunities for bridging these gaps such as training courses, higher or different duties in your current role, learning from and collaborating with experienced colleagues, among others.” 

JJ: “To decide which approaches to adopt for skill improvement you need to identify the skill gaps in the first instance, which is something a lot of people struggle with. A small-scale trial we have used to help people identify meaningful skill gaps is to guide them to review a significant number (e.g., more than 50) of latest relevant job advertisements posted by top companies, and to map their current skills against those required in the advertisements. With some analyses and organisation, this technique turned out effective.” 

Lean on tools and networks   

JJ: “If you are not sure what you want and just simply want to try something new, there are a lot of useful career planning tools that could offer useful insights to identify our interests, values, and our unique strengths as well as areas for development.” 

LW: “Engage in a series of career planning behaviours such as exploring career options, doing research in our interested career pathways, talking to mentors/senior colleagues to obtain feedback and insights, networking with professionals who are in your targeted field of careers, among others.” 

Careful planning is key  

LW: “Achieving positive careers requires a lot of deliberate and purposeful thinking and planning, as well as concrete behaviours that put our thinking into actions. If a career change is driven by such a carefully crafted approach, that can be a good move. A career change that is purely out of spontaneity or triggered by some unpleasant events you are trying to escape from, can be risky.” 

“Sometimes we see people jumping into a new job or a new career and regret that they have done it. While we cannot eliminate such incidents, as there are all circumstances happening in our lives that are beyond our control, engaging in our careers in a more careful and considered way is more likely to lead to career success.” 

Dr Ying (Lena) Wang is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Management and a current Co-Director of Centre for People, Organisation and Work (CPOW). Specialising in organisational psychology, Lena’s research focuses on understanding and fostering positive individual attributes and behaviours at work; and advancing organisational diversity and inclusion.    

Professor Zhou (Joe) Jiang is Head of Department and Professor (MBA) at Graduate School of Business and Law, RMIT University, Australia. His research and consulting areas include workforce development, employee wellbeing, career management, mental health at work, workplace safety, diversity and inclusion, knowledge management, socially responsible and sustainable management, and cross-cultural management.

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