Careers

Disrupted dreams

What comes next after being laid off during a pandemic?

Pre-pandemic, Christiane Tarantino was busy. She was juggling grad school, working as a teaching assistant and holding down a part-time job as an administrative assistant at a community centre. Tarantino was commuting over an hour downtown six days a week and sometimes pulling 14-hour-long days. She was exhausted. 

That’s why, last March when her university announced the transition to online classes and her supervisor informed her that she was being laid off, Tarantino was a little relieved. She thought of it as an unplanned break, one that would allow her to focus on finishing her master’s thesis and offering more support to her students.

But then the pandemic continued. Tarantino’s time off from work stopped feeling like a break and started feeling more like a prison. “I think like so many other people, I really bought into the idea that this would be temporary,” she says. “That’s how I cushioned the blow of being laid off.” 

Tarantino is not alone. The Financial Accountability Office of Ontario reported that more than 350,000 people were laid off in Ontario throughout 2020, the highest number in Canada. Others suffered cancelled internships while also combatting restrictions enforced by provincial lockdowns that have effectively transformed the job market. Many have had their career trajectories diminished or disrupted, leaving them wondering: what should I do next?

First, acknowledge that it is a disappointing situation, advises Wincy Li, senior manager of career education at Ryerson’s career and co-op centre. But don’t allow the disappointment to keep you down forever. “Remember that just because you didn’t get it this time, it doesn’t mean that you’re never going to get that opportunity,” Li says.

Tony Nguyen understands being disappointed. As a recent graduate of George Brown’s hospitality program, he’s had to accept the drastic effect that the pandemic has had on the industry. In a report published by Destination Toronto, it was found that Toronto alone lost $8 billion due to travel restrictions that prevented tourists from visiting the city and it will take time for the industry to bounce back. 

Nguyen found himself at a loss of what to do. His internship at a prominent hotel was cancelled a few weeks into the first lockdown and he felt like all his hard work had been for nothing. “I had just finished school and had all these amazing opportunities lined up,” he says. “I felt like I was finally doing something right and COVID just swept it all up.” 

Li always reminds students that career goals rarely move in a linear fashion and encourages them to keep an open mind about where their journey will take them. “Ask any role models you have,” Li says. “I’m willing to bet that most of them didn’t set out to do what they’re currently doing.”

After allowing himself some time to adjust, Nguyen began seeking out alternative ways of immersing himself within the hospitality industry and enhancing his skills. He partnered with a couple of friends and is in the final stages of launching his own bubble tea shop, something he would have never imagined himself doing prior to the pandemic.

“At first, I needed a long term way to pay the bills,” Nguyen says. “But I’ve found myself enjoying creating the menu and designing the store. It also allows me an opportunity to provide hospitality services, just in a different capacity. And it never hurts to be your own boss!”

Tarantino also opted to be flexible in her initial job search, leading to her working as a cart girl at a golf course for three days and later as a merchandiser for an alcohol company. But this eventually came to an end too, as she faced her second lay off in less than a year. 

She switched gears and turned her attention to securing a role within human resources and enrolled herself in continuing education programs, earning certificates in human resources and government policy. She also updated her LinkedIn profile and tailored her resumes to fulfill specific job postings, instead of just using a generic resume detailing all of her experience. 

Li invites others to employ Tarantino’s strategy, as too often she sees students who cram everything into one resume instead of focusing on relevant experience. It’s always best to speak directly to the job requirements, she advises. 

Sometimes Tarantino finds herself still disappointed at losing out on certain opportunities, like not being accepted into any of the PhD programs she applied for, but she tries to remind herself of everything else she’s accomplished. “I did get a masters during a pandemic!” she says. “I just have to keep looking forward.”

Ultimately, Li wants to offer young people struggling with confusion and disappointment a reminder: “Trust in your ability to learn, trust in your ability to be resilient, and trust in your ability to find a way.” 

About the author

Reporter at Youth Mind

Olivia Matheson-Mowers is a former reporter for Youth Mind. When she’s not writing, or playing with her cat, Daisy, you can find her curled up in her heated blanket watching seasons 1-6 of Dragon Ball Z and complaining about seasons 7-9.

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