An Expert’s Guide to Building Career Resilience

Meander
8 min readJan 16, 2023

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We’ve emerged from the confines of our pandemic office bedrooms into a bold new world of working: semi-remote, fully remote, flexi-time, four day work weeks… the list of ways employers are handing autonomy to employees keeps growing.

But we’ve also seen other things: mass layoffs, demands to return to the office, companies struggling to accommodate the remote shift … there’s no shortage of ways our careers can be interrupted or straight-up halted.

Wherever you’re at professionally, it’s a good time to think about creating a buffer against unpredictability.

That’s what Career Resilience is all about, and we have our own resident expert in Najim Zaytoun, who’s giving us his top tips.

Najim is a psychologist and learning consultant with experience of professional adversity at its most extreme: he was let go from his role as a Senior Learning and Organisational Development Specialist at Klarna, the global payments solutions provider, as part of the company’s mass layoffs last year.

In this article, we’ll get his take on bouncing back from adversity through a series of best practices that not only help you overcome your mistakes, but help you build your career upon them.

What is career resilience?

First, let’s define career resilience by what it isn’t.

It’s not somehow immunising yourself against hardship. That’s crazy. Humans don’t work like that.

It’s not even about learning to take criticism well. Sure, that can be part of your resilience toolkit, but that’s not enough to build continual resilience in your career.

Najim sees resilience as a positive force as opposed to simply a neutralising one:

‘It doesn’t mean being immune to adversity — it is how you bounce back from negative experiences.’

Hardship can take on many forms throughout our careers. We might:

  • Be fired
  • Get reassigned within a company
  • Be kicked off a project
  • Lose a client
  • Fail to meet quarterly or annual goals

When times are tough, your resilience skills are the ones that will allow you to benefit from professional adversity.

To sum up: a resilient career is one that is actively boosted and buffered by adversity. We take learnings from our trickiest situations so that we come away stronger.

So how do we build a resilient career?

How to build career resilience

Najim suggests six foundations of resilience development that will see you move through “negative” outcomes in a proactive, growth-driven state of mind.

1. Build a strong network

Just like our personal lives, a strong network is crucial in times of adversity.

“From psychological research we know that one of the major contributors to resilience in general is having a support network. The stronger your network, the easier it is to bounce back.”

Through our contacts we can find out about opportunities we might miss. Maybe a colleague hears about an expanding department in your company and it’s a perfect fit for you. Maybe you’re ready to move on from your current role, and you hear about new opportunities before they hit the job search pages.

Empathy and reassurance go a long way in tough times, and Najim is very clear on the importance of these soft skills when growing your network. ‘[When adversity arrives], you won’t feel alone, and what’s more, you’ll have improved access to opportunities.’

But what’s the best starting point for growing your network beyond your coworkers?

Najim recommends using professional networking sites such as LinkedIn to increase your professional connections. In addition to connecting with colleagues, clients, and friends, he suggests engaging authentically with posts that are relevant to your career or interests.

What does engaging authentically look like?

  1. Following thought leaders in your field or area of interest
  2. Commenting/reposting things that resonate with you.
  3. Following #hashtags so LinkedIn’s algorithm can serve you up more of what you want to see
  4. Joining groups you can navigate to for a constant stream of information and discussion

Beyond LinkedIn, meetups and professional networking events are excellent ways to meet people working in your industry. By signing up to a few industry newsletters, you’ll be inundated with invites to webinars, conferences, and Q&A sessions.

This is a pretty good example of how tech can exponentially increase your network. A little interaction each day can see your professional visibility rocket, and the same goes for the number of opportunities you encounter.

Finally, by joining conversations and sharing what you’ve learned, you’ll be remembered by your network as someone with insights in the field. It’s likely you’ll then be the one approached when a relevant opportunity arises.

And interacting with posts is a key tenet of Najim’s next piece of advice: “Never. Stop. Learning.”

2. Embrace continuous learning

“When you invest in learning, you’re investing in yourself over the long term. It’s the ultimate resilience strategy in my eyes.

There are two big upsides to a focus on constant learning:

At Your Current Job

If you keep growing in your current role, you’ll be able to work on new projects. You’re providing massive value to your employer or your clients. “This decreases your chances of being let go from a position, but it also opens doors to more opportunities.”

Looking for Your Next Job

Hiring companies are going to love your commitment to professional development. You’re demonstrating self-motivation, willingness to improve, adaptability, curiosity… How many companies etch these words on their “team values” page? You’ll fit right in.

And who knows? Maybe you discover a new skill or topic that sets you on a whole new path — careers aren’t linear anymore! More discovery means more opportunities to find your true excitements in life.

3. Try something new

Tied into lifelong learning is trying new things and learning new skills. While it can be tempting to stay in your comfort zone, truly resilient professionals ensure they have many strings to their bows.

Why? Because when times get tough, there will always be more opportunities out there for those who can provide the most value to their potential employers. And a curious mindset is one that will be most open to new things and potential new skills.

A good starting point can be skills related to those you already have. If you’re a UX designer, coding might be a great way to help you understand the restrictions and requirements of the engineering team. If you’re working in sales, a course in digital marketing techniques will boost your customer acquisition knowledge.

4. Make meaningful goals

None of this means anything if you don’t set yourself a reasonable starting goal and venture out.

Incremental goal-setting is also a form of resilience — you can identify pretty quickly where something isn’t working and adjust your goals accordingly. There’s no point setting a lofty goal that can spiral out of control. We’d all love to hit a 300-day streak on DuoLingo, but a better starting goal might be three days per week while you form the habit.

Najim says this is further complicated by our shifting priorities on a given week or day. “Everybody has their own definition of success, which means that everybody’s path looks different.”

Being clear with yourself from the outset about what success looks like to you will help you to outline the goals you want to work towards.

5. Reflect on your experiences

“Not knowing how to handle a situation is a clear sign that you may just be outside of your comfort zone. But this is also exactly where the most significant learning happens! So if you feel like you’re not coping well, rest assured that this means you’re making progress.”

Mistakes are not the problem: repeated mistakes, however, can be a nuisance. By reflecting on the things that go wrong in your week (and, of course, the things that went well!), you can sketch out how to do something differently.

And these reflections don’t need to be epiphany-scale gamechangers every time. Sometimes it can be as simple as making small changes to your working habits to test what makes you most productive.

In matters great and small, taking stock of what did or didn’t work well for you in the past gives you a greater understanding of what you want from your working life when you start looking for future opportunities. Reflect before, act, and reflect after.

With the right mindset, resilience boils down to adversity + time.

6. Get feedback

Reflecting on your own actions and mistakes is a little like giving feedback to yourself. But in this case, we’re talking about good old fashioned feedback from co-workers, clients, managers, and mentors.

These groups of people offer a unique perspective on your performance, attitude, strengths and weaknesses, so don’t shy away from constructive feedback!

People spot things that you can’t spot in yourself — and that’s not just about mistakes. The best managers see potential where you can’t, and encourage you to pursue it.

Oh, and here’s another thing about feedback: SEEK IT OUT. Don’t wait for a weekly 1:1 or — God forbid — your annual performance review for a solid assessment of your abilities.

Complete a project one week and ask for feedback immediately. This doesn’t come across as bothersome to your boss: you’re being proactive and performance-focused. No one’s going to frown at you for that. No one you want weighing in on your performance, anyhow.

Summary

That’s six tips for resilience! Six launching points to get out there and arm yourself with knowledge, feedback, and goal-setting so that you can start to see adversity not as a stress-provoker, but as a heaping bowl of growth potential.

Build your network, educate yourself, badger your coworkers for feedback, and reflect, reflect, reflect. You’ll be the most resilient person in the office.

And the office will be so much better for having you in it.

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Meander

Meander is a mentorship platform that helps you make better career choices and grow in the career you are passionate about.