Nov. 23, 2020

Kind Mind| Pandemic possibilities: Paving a career path (while maintaining wellbeing) during COVID-19

By: Simone Côté

Kind Mind is a health and wellbeing column committed to sharing stories of recovery, transformation, healing and hope. Columnist Simone Côté is a recent Master of Arts in Education and Society graduate from McGill University whose Master’s thesis focused on art and wellness.

The ongoing reality which today’s youth find themselves in is unsettling and increasingly stressful. Throw in a pandemic, and we’ve arrived at the present day.

Statistics Canada says youth employment continues to lag behind in Canada’s COVID-19 economic recovery. Unemployment remained high in September, with its rate currently sitting about ten per cent lower than what it was in Feb. 2020.

Recent research from Elsevier publishing highlights the negative psychological consequences are of particular challenge for college students, who were already facing mental health issues pre COVID-19. Consequences such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, difficulty sleeping and stress eating, they note, have only been exacerbated as a result of the pandemic.

Along with online learning difficulties, health concerns and social life changes, a new survey research published by the Journal of Medical Internet Research also found financial concerns are increasing student stress level.

Financial uncertainty includes not only less jobs available for students, new grads and young people more generally, but also less access to opportunities and networks that may lead to paid work. School closures and lockdown procedures executed in the spring have jeopardized many students’ ability to participate fully in their academic programs and maximize their university experience, for which they pay a hefty tuition for.

No further financial assistance from the federal government has thus far been announced for students and new graduates who may not qualify for the new Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB). While countless workers faced with COVID-19 job insecurity were able to collect the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), with many now receiving CRB or Employment Insurance, in many cases, students are being left behind.

Although the youth of today are arguably the most well-educated cohorts to date, the decline of stable, non-precarious well-paid jobs and influx of university graduates poses a threat to the status associated with obtaining a degree, leading to skills mismatch, overqualification and lack of stable benefits.

Whether you qualify for the CRB, Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit (CRCB) or the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit (CRSB)getting into the habit of seeking out employment opportunities as a young person can help us discover where we might fit in the workforce and see ourselves in the long run.

While there’s no one quick fix or solution to unemployment during these unprecedented times, here are some tips to help ease into the job searching and career building process.

Connect, connect, connect

McGill University’s Career Planning Service (CaPS) note in their "How To Find Jobs guide" that the majority of available jobs are not publicly advertised.

The 2014 recent CaPS destination survey at McGill highlights successful job seekers found opportunities through networking.

If you are a current student at university, take advantage of office hours and other events where you can connect with professors, peers and other professionals who may be able to mentor you, offer advice and/or speak to their own career journey.

If you are a current student, look into work study programs to see if you’re eligible for university jobs. Work study programs are a great opportunity to build connections and pursue work in your area of interest.

If you’re a current student, you’re also likely to have higher priority for acquiring work on campus. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your professors to offer research or admin support.

The Government of Canada has recently rolled out a recruitment campaign for graduates interested in administrative services; procurement, project management and real property; or access to information and privacy analysis.

Recruitment for the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP) is also ongoing. If you are a student interested in a career in public service, be on the lookout for student and graduate employment opportunities announced by the Federal Government.

In conducting my own searches, I’ve also found that grocery stores, cafes and call centres are also frequently hiring during the pandemic and would be great places to look for immediate part-time/ temporary work to support nances.

Creating applications is something to get used to as you enter the world of work. Not to fear — submit an application even if you think you’re not completely qualified. Sometimes job qualifications are not the be all and end all and can be negotiated. Whether you get an interview or not, it’s good practice to apply.

Asking colleagues and professionals in your field — even friends — to review your application can make a huge difference! Make the time to ask others to give feedback before submitting your applications.

A job is a job: Part of the routine, not your whole life

A friendly reminder that although financial stability is extremely valuable, having a job is not the goal of life. It’s one part of our lives, amongst many others. Your worth and value as a human being is not tied to how much money you make or what your job title is.

Though finding work may be a top priority right now (and rightly so), it’s important to establish a balanced routine that will continue to motivate you to persevere, find a good fit and think about building your career. The 2014 CaPS destination survey also states that it can take up to six months for recent undergraduates to secure employment.

Whether you have the luxury of time or not, holding onto the idea that getting any job will fix our lives does a disservice to ourselves. Making job searching a part of your day-to-day routine is important along with engaging with selfcare, keeping up with friends and family and resting. And while it may seem obvious, letting your family, friends and other colleagues know that you’re looking for work is a great way to expand your ability to find opportunities.

Some weeks or months may feel impossible, but if we get too hard on ourselves, we may close off our ability to get creative with our searches and expand our understanding of what work could look like for us as individuals. If we are in a position to do so, it’s completely okay to take a break so we can rethink where our skills, passions and experience lie, what kinds of jobs or experiences would serve our goals and where we can work in the meantime to support ourselves during the process.

What is your desired industry?

Personally, I've found the "Quick Guide to the World of Work" from McGill's Career Planning Service very helpful in understanding the world of work and redefining my own job search process. Check out the diagram to see what sector you might find yourself in!

Building a career

When entering the workforce as a young person, it’s entirely possible (and normal) that we may take a job that doesn’t work out, for a variety of reasons, pandemic-related or not. Although it may take weeks or months, soon enough, shifts begin to happen. When we get in the habit of seriously considering our skills, strengths, experience, passions and areas of development, we get a clearer picture of our skillset, ability and life goals.

As much as this can be a daunting task, it can also be exciting to learn more about ourselves. It’s less about “having it all figured out” and more about “who am I?”. In my experience, practicing this kind of reframing of thoughts from a more fear-based mind to a more inquisitive mind helps me gain greater understanding about what I bring to the table and, more importantly, what the table is exactly.

A useful tool for practicing this reframing is researching and connecting with others who are where we think we want to be career-wise as they can provide great insight into how we might see ourselves reaching similar goals. Not only does this help us to expand our network in our desired field, but through conversations we can learn about the kinds of jobs that intersect with our skills and passions, let people know we are looking for work and even possibly receive suggestions and resources for moving forward.

Personally, I’ve had many positive experiences reaching out to people in different areas I might liketo edge my way into. I’ve found that, generally, people are more than willing to share their stories and give advice. If you’re a current student, consulting with your school’s career counseling services, info sessions or workshops may also be helpful.

Things take time, mind the grind

Being unemployed during a pandemic is rightfully overwhelming; know that your feelings are valid. Though, it is my belief that no matter the situation, there are ebbs and ows to anything in life. Some days we may not be motivated to do anything and would do well to listen to those signals from our bodies. If we wake up exhausted, maybe we need extra sleep. If we feel sad and defeated, maybe we need a boost of joy by engaging in things we like to do.

There’s power in getting to know what makes us joyful, what feeds our spirit. If we expect ourselves to be on all-day every day, we may start to feel stuck and unhappy. Breaking up our routine through simple spontaneous activities can make a world of difference for our mind, body, heart and soul.

When working from home I personally find it helpful to set timers. When the timer is set, I do my best to focus on the task at hand for that period of time. When the timer goes off, this positively reinforces that I have accomplished an amount of work (whether large or small) and allows me to take a break and check-in with myself (do I feel like I’m in a groove? Set another timer? Could I use a longer break?). Timers are great because they are less structured and rigid than having a set routine for each day which, after a while, may feel constricting, monotonous and unpleasant.

As a recent graduate, I can relate to a lot of the anxiety and fear surrounding securing employment and starting a career as a young person. If there were a final piece of advice I could offer, it would be to find ways to train your mind to be exible about work. Not all amazing opportunities in your field of interest will be paid (at first), or will be stable, full- time employment. Having the patience to understand this is half the battle.

Knowing it can take months for recent graduates to secure employment in their field of interest, it’s important to be extra kind to ourselves and find ways to cultivate joy.

Finding positive ways to keep our minds relaxed and motivated is a lifelong journey. We must prioritize our health and wellbeing no matter where we’re at in our lives. And let me let you in on a little secret - no one has it all together! So be patient, be kind and rest when you need it, whenever you can.

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