How to use challenging times to develop career super-powers

Resilience is a vital skill for overcoming career challenges, a skill you build by adapting to disruptive events like the current COVID-19 situation.

UNSW Business School alumna Kate McCallum has seen her career benefit from adapting to challenging situations. The director of Multiforte Financial Services, an advisory business, says students who develop resilience will be better equipped to tackle uncertainty throughout their career.

Kate has diversified and strengthened her advisory career with value-led strategic responses to business challenges. The passionate advocate for women's financial literacy has adapted her career to include publishing The Joy of Money, a personal finance book for Australian women; and chairing FINSIA and Inspire, which connects women in financial advisory roles.

One life-changing disruption was a conflict between her family values and business goals, as her family moved to a coastal region and Kate had to re-think how she operated Multiforte with its Sydney base. As Kate's business success depends on nurturing deep relationships with clients and with extensive industry networks – how could she still do this while working remotely?

"I had to stop and ask myself – what is my agenda here? What are my goals, my outcomes? What's the best outcome for my business? That way, you're forced to make very conscious decisions," the Master of Commerce graduate says.

Although it scared her at first, Kate strategically decided to cap her client base and incorporate new technologies for video-calling clients, such as Zoom. She also harnessed social media to help build and maintain valuable professional networks.

"I've built connections on Twitter with people who otherwise I'd never have the opportunity to meet. And I keep in touch with people that I used to work with via LinkedIn. I can go to somebody who is very senior in an organisation and say, ‘I need help, who do I talk to?'. My networks are super important."

In fact, effective relationships with your networks – that is, classmates and teachers – can be one of the most potent sources of developing resilience and adaptability, according to research released by UNSW School of Management Professor Peter Heslin and his colleagues.

The research on Developing career resilience and adaptability describes resilience as the capacity to bounce back from disruptions. In terms of study, this means the capacity to keep moving toward your study goals using resources and strategies that you already know.

However, if you don't already have effective resources when a disruptive event occurs, that is when you need to adapt. The research paper notes that successful managers report learning most on the job from challenging experiences. The paper suggests the following strategies could be useful for students to adapt and build resilience.

1. Manage negative emotions

Accepting and feeling negative emotions prevents them from building into stronger, more problematic moods that can lead to trouble (or procrastination!). Here's a list of techniques, but you can also reach out to CAPS.

2. Look for the opportunities

Surprising benefits can arise from challenging situations. During the current global pandemic, Bachelor of Commerce student Valentino Breckenridge says the teachers have established pre-assessment Q&A sessions in one of his courses.

"The sessions work similarly to how consultation sessions run. However, it involves a lot more students rather than being one on one, so I can listen to other people's questions which helps me to determine any gaps in my knowledge," he says.

3. Be honest and strategic about achieving your study goals

Exams are important, but you can't do them properly if you've trashed your physical and mental health. Bachelor of Commerce student Karrie Chen has taken a proactive approach in adapting to the new COVID-19 realities of physical isolation.

"What I've done to adapt to isolation is make a routine for myself. I've identified the times of day I want to exercise, when I want to take breaks, and figure out when my other commitments with UNSW Business Society and work occur. After I plot that down I've identified when I study the best, which for me is night time. So, if I want to watch Netflix I try to do that early in the day, when I have spare time," she says.

4. Keep in touch with teachers, tutors and classmates

A good relationship with your teachers and tutors gives you access to resources and opportunities that can help you maintain resilience and adaptability. These people do their job because they love seeing you understand and develop important knowledge – and it's best if they know if you're overwhelmed.

Connecting in meaningful ways with people who are in the same situation helps build resilience and adaptability, as it can minimise the impact of difficult events – a problem shared is a problem halved, as the saying goes. Offer to help people out or check in with a society – UNSW Accounting Society has useful resources on Facebook, and UNSW Business Society has published blog posts about online exams.

5. Use the resources you have, or find new ones

You already know how to plan for study and find what you need at uni. The move to virtual learning at UNSW Business School means that, behind the scene, teachers are assessing and implementing strategies to help students adapt.

Now UNSW has a number of resources to support students in adapting to the new virtual learning environment, including a website dedicated to Covid-19 that covers special arrangements, financial support and how to transition to online learning.