At Bergmeyer, we have been collaborating on strategies to help our clients and partners move forward. This has given me an opportunity to look back on my path, and the lessons I’ve learned while pursuing a career in design and architecture.
I graduated from Northeastern in 2007 with a major in architecture and minor in graphic design and followed up with Master of Architecture degree. I was working as an architectural designer for about a year after graduating until I felt the effects of the recession…a layoff in August 2009. I still remember the feeling. Like a punch to the gut, it was devasting. After coming to grips with my new reality of unemployment, I got to work searching for my next gig. Every day, I was taking steps to find work, building up my portfolio, reaching out to my network, and trying to maintain a positive mindset. Things soon clicked, and for about five years, I led the marketing efforts for a Providence-based firm. My next move came in 2014 when I landed my unique position at Bergmeyer. I work with teams through branding, strategy, and graphic design to support projects in the built environment. My sweet spot is the space between branding and the built environment, for projects seeking to meet clients’ business objectives.
Recently, I was on a panel discussion with Lynn Burke, the senior co-op coordinator for Northeastern University’s School of Architecture, and other graduates of the 2008 recession. We shared our experiences in the hopes that it might help address the uncertainty of future prospects from the graduating class. For me, personally, the 2008 recession was a catalyst for a shift in my career.
The economic recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has been an opportunity for all of us to pause. For those looking to develop their career, it’s also an opportunity to re-evaluate your prospects, an introspection that may not have come if you continued in your daily grind. Use moments like these to be thoughtful about your future. Use sensemaking and personal narrative to connect the various experiences of your life into one evolving narrative. If you can rework your past skills and experiences into your future self, you can establish a basis for growth, and a future self that adapts your personal experiences in a new light.
With your newfound availability, go and volunteer your time. There are so many organizations that could use support, either within your industry, your community, or local charities. You can make a direct and positive impact and the benefits are vast. You’ll make new connections. You’ll learn new skills. You’ll feel good by doing good. (And, bonus, you’ll also improve your job prospects.) When you give back to an organization, opportunities can open for you.
Through the recession, I was volunteering with Common Boston, an initiative of the BSA, where I designed the identity and event brochures. The relationships that I developed over my years of volunteering with the BSA connected me with several leads when I was looking for a job after a layoff, and were still present years later when I was looking for my next career move. Don’t underestimate the social and emotional benefits volunteering can have on your mental health.
Whether you’ve been laid off or furloughed, or recently graduated and haven’t landed your first job, there’s no shame in being unemployed. Tell everyone you know, macro scale and micro scale. At a macro scale, share it on social media and announce it to the world. You never know who might be listening or resharing, in turn, spreading the word even further. At a micro-scale, share it personally with individuals. Reach out with personal messages to your college professors, your former coworkers, family, friends, acquaintances… anyone. If you’ve built meaningful and genuine relationships with the people around you, they will be there to help you when you need it most.
I reached out to every professor that I developed a close relationship with, every committee member I volunteered with, my former coworkers at previous co-op positions I held, my classmates, even my realtor was on the lookout for me and she told her broad network about my search. After two months, I heard from my friend and old classmate Julie, who connected me to the opportunity in Providence to lead marketing efforts for her former employer. When you give yourself more at-bats, it doesn’t matter how many times you strike out, it just matters when you get a hit.
Be yourself (and build your brand)
In a tough job market, there are lots of applicants vying for the same jobs. There are the obvious things you need to do, like polishing your resume, putting together your portfolio, and scouring the internet for job posts. But how do you stand out from the crowd? Position yourself differently by developing your personal brand.
Much like a corporate brand, a personal brand is the sum of your personality, values, and actions, and the perception of those characteristics by others. Whatever you love, talk about it. Write about it. Share your point of view. By sharing your thoughts on the topics you care about, you’ll start to build a reputation. In sharing your message, choose the platforms that highlight your strengths – the internet is your oyster. If you’re a great storyteller, start a podcast or YouTube channel. If you’re a writer, post articles on your blog, LinkedIn, or Medium. If you want to spread your voice to a wide audience, find them on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, or TikTok. Having a website where you can establish a home online and bring all your content together wouldn’t hurt either.
Sharing my own thoughts through Twitter and my blog was uncomfortable at first. Did anyone even care what I have to say? Who knows. Whether they did or not, these platforms became an outlet for me to share my passions and develop my voice. Just one piece of content, seen by the right person, has the potential to change your career.
With massive unemployment across industries, career opportunities seem like they are at a standstill. But they don’t have to be. Instead of looking at the same job sites as everyone else and competing for the same handful of jobs, take the necessary steps to create new opportunities and position yourself differently. Be patient with the process, be introspective to your own interests, be helpful to others, be connected and maintain relationships, and most importantly, be yourself by bringing out your most unique qualities. This extraordinary moment in time has the potential to dramatically shift your career to where you never could’ve imagined.