Looking for Work in a Time of Crisis

COVID-19 has wacked economies for six across the world. In Australia, the unemployment rate is 5.2%.i Although government support and rebatesii will hopefully prevent catastrophic job losses, the expectation is the unemployment rate will jump to over 10%iii before the end of the COVID-19 crisis.

Data from Seek suggests job ads are down by 65% compared to this time last year. And, even in sectors where demand has increased in response to the COVID-19 crisis – such as in logistics, and transport – the overall advertising rate is still down compared to last year.iv And sectors employing PhD graduates are all down too. Education and Training – down 78%; Science and Technology – down 59%; Government and Defence – down 53%; Healthcare and Medical – down 39%.

In times of crisis we all become more conservative. And this is happening now. Many companies have put freezes on new hires. I’ve also heard that even internal transfers are being avoided. Even though many companies can operate just as efficiently, and effectively with a distributed workforce (i.e. one that’s entirely working from home), they are reluctant to take new people on or move them into different teams or roles.

So, if you’ve found yourself looking for work at this time. What can you do?

Firstly, I think the adage of earning or learning holds true. So, if you are not earning money, you should be learning. The academic tendency is to look for formal training that results in a certificate or formal qualification. That’s okay, but learning can be in many forms. So, think broader than that. Don’t do just do an online certificate in MS Word – write a book using the skills you’ve learnt. Or just start writing the book and see if you can teach yourself. Don’t just do a course in social media – set up a new account in channel you know nothing about and create and post content. Don’t just do a tutorial in video-editing using your mobile phone – make a YouTube channel and commit to making a video a day.

Secondly, the informal job finding pathway will be essential. That is, who you know is even more important than keeping an eye on job ads. Why? Because getting approval to bring a new person on will be easier than getting approval for the recruitment process AS WELL AS the new hire. So you should be keeping in touch with your network.

Looking for work in a crisis –

Access the support that is available

to you (it is not a sign of weakness).

And those are the two main things. But on a day-to-day basis, what can you do?

1. Use support. Making use of support is not a sign of weakness or failure or that you’ve failed or done something wrong. Support is there because things happen. Make sure you use it. From the special support implemented due to COVID-19 (mentioned above), through to your friends, and family. And of course, dedicated phone services (see the end of this article if you or someone you know needs help).

2. Create a routine. Of course, the routine should include time spent networking, looking for jobs, and sending in applications. But it so also includes self-care time. Exercise, meditation, music, mindfulness, craft, kids, and partners are all good things for self-care.

3. Segregate your work environment. Keep a separate area where you do you work (earning or learning) stuff. That way, you can get up and leave it and it doesn’t feel like it is taking over your kitchen, lounge, bedroom, etc. It also means, that when you get the urge you can got back to it.

4. Start a project. As mentioned above learning should include practical application of what you are learning. Not just the course itself. Thus, start a project that is a practical demonstration of your new skill, or an existing one. For example, you might start a blog, vlog or social media channel. The topic could be your area of expertise as it relates to your ideal employment. But you could decide on something else. The idea is to have something to focus on that will continue to keep you interested. You might choose to paint or garden or cook. Diarising, documenting, and reporting on your project will be a useful way to engage with the wider world – including maintaining and growing your network.

5. Volunteer. In times of crisis there is undoubtably a need to communities to come together and support each other. Volunteering can help you build new skills, keep connected to the workforce and society in general, as well as provide an on-going purpose. The volunteer work you do does not have to be related to your industry. Nor does it have to be in a traditional volunteer role. If you have word-processing skills, consider how they might be applied to helping someone write their memoirs. If you have survey skills, think about how they might be applied to quality improvement within a nursing home. If you can write a website, maybe you can help build one for yourself or a friend.

6. Build a bridge. Being unemployed for an extended period of time is not financially sustainable for most people. So, do a budget and work out what your current lifestyle costs. Workout how long it will take for your financial reserves to run down to a level that is no longer comfortable for you. Adjust your budget as you see fit. But, most important of all, implement the budget. Restrict the spending to what’s in your budget.

7. Have a life raft. Most job seeking processes take 3 months. But, in times of crisis it could be 6 months or longer. So, it is important to know what your life rafts are. These are things that you will use or implement as a measure of last resort. For example, it could be that you’ll work anywhere doing anything (e.g. cleaning, flipping burgers, delivering advertising material, and driving share cars). It could be that you’ll move house, perhaps moving in with your parents or into a share house. Make use of your budget at this stage too. Use it to estimate when you’ll jump into your life raft. There’s no point having a life raft and not knowing when you’ll get into it. So, you might jump into your life raft in stages. Looking for any work when you’ve got 2 months living expenses left. Moving in with your parents when you’ve got one month’s expenses left.

As always, if you need help – please ask.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling to cope, there are people who care and are ready to listen:


Dr Richard Huysmans is the author of Connect the Docs: A Guide to getting industry partners for academics. He has helped more than 200 PhD students, early career researchers and established academics build their careers. He has provided strategic advice on partnering with industry, growing a career building new centres and institutes as well as establishing new programs. Richard is driven by the challenge of helping researchers be commercially smart. His clients appreciate his cut-through approach. He knows the sector and how to turn ideas into reality.

To find out more, call 0412 606 178, email (Richard.huysmans@drrichardhuysmans.com) or subscribe to the newsletter. He’s on LinkedIn (Dr Richard Huysmans), Twitter (@richardhuysmans), Instagram (@drrichardhuysmans), and Facebook (Beyond Your PhD with Dr Richard Huysmans).


iABS, https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/6202.0, accessed 9 Apr 2020.

iiJob Keeper and Job Seeker payments, https://www.business.gov.au/risk-management/emergency-management/coronavirus-information-and-support-for-business/jobkeeper-payment, accessed 9 Apr 202.

iiiRoy Morgan, http://www.roymorgan.com/findings/8363-roy-morgan-unemployment-and-under-employment-march-2020-202004080900, accessed 9 Apr 2020.

ivABC, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-04-09/coronavirus-employment-jobs-advertisements/12134446, accessed 9 Apr 2020.