Developing your career as COVID-19 unfolds

13 May 2020 | Story Ingrid van der Merwe. Photo Je’nine May. Read time 6 min.
Ingrid van der Merwe, head of the Careers Advisory Service, offers some tips to students navigating COVID-19.
Ingrid van der Merwe, head of the Careers Advisory Service, offers some tips to students navigating COVID-19.

Ingrid van der Merwe, head of the Careers Advisory Service at the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Careers Service, offers some practical advice for students navigating COVID-19.

Before COVID-19, when I offered advice on career development, I would encourage students to develop a range of career-focused skills by getting involved in societies and sport, getting work experience or doing community work. Well, none of these are easy options at the moment, so what might you do as the pandemic unfolds? Here are some practical suggestions and food for thought.

We’ve not been here before

It’s good to remind ourselves that none of us have experienced a pandemic of this nature before (unless you’re over 100 and were around for the 1918 Spanish Flu). So, we are living in truly historic times. The pandemic is causing massive shifts in all aspects of life and work. You are living through a historic moment in history.

Go easy on yourself

This is a tough and restrictive situation, but take pressure off yourself if you are frustrated that things are not going according to plan. If you’re worried about not being able to do vacation work this year or start at your first formal job, remember that most students and recent graduates are in this situation too. Gaps in CVs referring to this year will be universal and will be understood by many, including potential employers.


“Take pressure off yourself if you are frustrated that things are not going according to plan.”

What the pandemic can teach you about yourself and work

In the future, you may be a leader in an organisation that has to handle a crisis. With that in mind, there is a lot you could learn by just watching and noticing what is happening with the management of the global pandemic. Think of the world leaders and prominent experts in the media. Which ones come across as calm and reassuring? Which ones don’t? What can you learn from them and their style of communication? What has the approach been of different governments to the pandemic?

Think about all the information about the crisis, or other content in the media right now. What you are drawn to may give you clues about what makes you tick. Are you fascinated by the stats? The human interest stories? How businesses have reinvented themselves in response to changed demand? How musicians have written and performed songs? These could be great clues to what sort of context you may want to work in one day and what topics motivate you.

The pandemic is also a fantastic example of how many situations require cross-disciplinary work. Think of all the fields and experts involved: public health, immunology, virology, manufacturing (respirators, safety equipment etc), supply chain and logistics, mathematical modelling, statistics, anthropology, history, journalism, app development … the options abound! Take some time to consider inter-disciplinary options that may not have occurred to you previously.

Reflect on what you are going through

Do you know that regularly applying the practice of reflecting on your experiences can enhance your employability? In advisory work, we often come across students who have developed great skills through certain experiences, but are not aware of them or had not thought to report them on their CVs?


“Resilience, adaptability and flexibility are all skills highly valued by employers.”

Resilience, adaptability and flexibility are all skills highly valued by employers and essential to have if you are self-employed. If you take the time to reflect, you are likely to find that you have some great examples of how you have developed these during lockdown. This doesn’t mean you must only conclude that you have thrived in all these adjustments. Reflecting on your struggles is just as valuable. Reflection also develops self-awareness and insight, elements of emotional intelligence, which is highly rated in any work context.

Work on your LinkedIn profile and CV

Thinking about how to present yourself and your experience on your CV and LinkedIn profile is a skill. If you are struggling with data, concentrate on your CV. This is good use of time, so your CV is ready when you need it. UCT students can look on our Vula platform for the Careers Service resources without using data.

Through LinkedIn, you can research what people with similar qualifications to you do for a living. Type your degree into the search field and choose “people”. You will see that people with your degree work in very different contexts. Also remember that if you have a good LinkedIn profile, you may be found by an organisation who is looking for someone like you. This is not a myth.

As a careers advisor, I have assisted many students to prepare for interviews after they were approached by an employer who found them on LinkedIn. The site also has great tips and guidelines on job searching and networking, as well as tips for improving your profile.

Finally, don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you are struggling. It takes maturity to ask for help, so don’t think it is a sign of weakness. One day we will look back and be amazed at what we went through. But until then, strength to you for coping with this extraordinary situation.

To access our wide range of career development resources, visit the Careers Service page on Vula or visit our website.

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