Navigating a Mid-Career Online Job Search after COVID-19

By Lenore McMackin, OSA Fellow

The tag line from an OSA Industry Development Associates (OIDA) webinar held on 23 April was “don’t let a crisis go to waste”.  This resonated for me as it could also be the tagline for my own career over the past year.

After 10 years running a startup commercializing computational imaging technology at, I closed the doors.  Under any circumstances that would have been a difficult decision. The employees, customers and investors all had to be taken care of and the technology needed a new home.  However, intensifying the decision process was the opportunity to bring back together my family that had been separated for years by jobs in two different states. 

So this decision meant my moving to a new area where I had no pre-existing professional network to tap for either new employment or new startup opportunities.  For someone edging beyond a certain age, this sort of thing may bring on a midlife crisis.  So to start to answer the question of “what do I do now?”  I took a look at the usual tools available for building a new network in a new place:  in-person meetups, local seminars, conferences where shaking hands, handing out business cards, and exchanging LinkedIn pages is the norm.  SPIE’s Photonics West in 2020, the last conference I was able to attend in person, now seems long ago. 

Before the Covid-19 crisis, online employment procedures included resume polishing, job board searches and cover letter creation: a lot of work and, statistically, without a high probability of success.  But when shelter-in-place orders and social distancing shut down the non-virtual world, the internet blossomed with possibilities.

A particular bright spot to networking while staying at home has been OSA’s commitment to continuing to bring benefits to its members by quickly switching to online events.  I’ve watched OSA Technical Group webinars -- freeform surface, neurophotonics, metasurface design, polarimetry -- to learn something new while being able to interact with the speaker in real time.  I took part in the virtual 2020 OSA Biophotonics Congress and even CLEO which moved  online and included free registration.  What an opportunity!

While the "OIDA Webinar Series: Wading Through the Supply Chain Trenches: Targeting a V-Recovery" led by Gray Williams, President of Productivity Specialists, LLC provided specific tactical advice for repairing supply chains disrupted by Covid-19, it also had lessons for me even though I don’t manage supply chains. Williams mentioned a few steps to start the crisis management process:  gather critical data and model supply and demand recovery profiles, update those models constantly and find that critical path back to profitability by focusing only on priorities.  Meanwhile, thoughtful leadership communicates the positive aspects of such intense activity, turning what might be a sense of fear into action oriented excitement and persistence!

These crisis management skills can be applied outside work, too. Whose job search wouldn’t benefit from taking stock of their current situation, projecting a path forward, focusing intently on priorities and then iterating as necessary.  It was enough to knock me out of my career comfort zone and provided an exercise in defining my own future by understanding what I know, my skills and experience, and more importantly, what jobs would make me excited to get up in the morning versus the ones not worth my time to hit the application send button.  The result?  I scored several completely on-line video interviews even while sheltering-in-place.  Which leads to my next crisis question-- should you take a job when you’ve never actually met your coworkers in person?  Let me know what you think.


Posted: 18 May 2020 by Lenore McMackin, OSA Fellow | with 0 comments

The views expressed by guest contributors to the Discover OSA Blog are not those endorsed by The Optical Society.


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