12 Career Tips For the COVID-19 Economy

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.

1. How to promote a side gig
2. How to handle a professional review during coronavirus
3. The value of finding “any” job
4. How to network in a blue-collar job
5. Mentoring services
6. How to make your career pandemic-proof
7. Getting attention with writing
8. Dealing with politics of coworkers
9. Low salaries for similar jobs
10. Workplace bullying
11. Becoming a manager
12. When your job won’t survive another shutdown

This week’s focus is on jobs, careers, and entrepreneurship, a topic near and dear to my heart. The Simple Dollar itself was something I started off as a side gig, turned into a full time gig, and then grew into a small business. Before that, I was charting a career path in data science, where I had already moved up the ladder across a handful of jobs before deciding to commit myself full time to The Simple Dollar.

Let’s dig into some reader questions!

Q1: How to promote a side gig

How exactly do you promote your side gig? I read guides on how to do it but they don’t work. I have been trying to get customers for my lawn mowing service but I have been banned from two Facebook groups for spamming!
– Kevin

It sounds like your main method of promoting your mowing business is to repeatedly list information about your business in a community Facebook group until the moderators get tired of it. Honestly, that method probably isn’t reaching a whole lot of customers. Your business is a very hands-on business, so you’ll probably find more success with a physical approach.

If you’re aiming to provide lawn-mowing service to a local community, I’d suggest developing some kind of introductory offer, where you provide the first service at a somewhat lower rate so they can see your good work. Print this up as a business card or a flyer with your phone number and hand them out in that area. See if you can pin a few of the flyers or some of the business cards to every bulletin board in town and keep a bunch with you to hand out to people.

Honestly, the best promotion you’ll be able to get for this kind of gig is word of mouth, and the best way to get that is to just get a few customers and really do your best to make them happy. You can then ask them to tell others, and even give them a few of your business card “offers” to give to their friends. If you mow Arthur’s lawn and do some trimming and he’s impressed, he’ll probably not only call you back, but also might tell a friend or two, and that gets easier if you give him something to share.

I’d also give out some free services to pretty much any community raffle or event that you can. That’s actually really good advertising for you. Give certificates for a free lawn mowing and trimming to any sort of community drawing or charity event.

Online promotion is fine, but you’ll have better success with your time with a more minimal approach than a repeated advertising approach. Perhaps set up a business page on Facebook for your business, then join groups as that business and participate in a very friendly way as that business, not actually directly promoting your business at all.

Never forget that the thing that will grow your business better than anything is a happy customer who has an easy way to tell others about you. You won’t be able to make every customer happy, but if you do your job well, you’ll make a lot of them happy and that’s what you need.

Q2: How to handle a professional review during coronavirus

My job has a six-month performance review cycle. We’re usually reviewed in late January / February and in late July / August. At my February review, my boss and I worked out a plan that was supposed to line me up for a raise after my next review as it would “check all the boxes,” in his words. Coronavirus hit in March and since then we have all been working remotely. We are supposed to do virtual reviews during the second week of August. I have been doing everything in the plan and am pretty sure that I would be in line for the raise if everything was normal, but I have no idea how our company is really doing. My boss hasn’t mentioned it. I am not sure if I should bring it up at all.
– Trace

My suggestion would be to bring it up with your boss to make it clear that you haven’t forgotten it, but be very open to postponing the decision and perhaps even suggest doing so.

In the situation that your organization is handling all of the change really well, your boss may be an advocate for you and still make this happen. If your organization is struggling in any way, however, your boss will be glad of this proactive approach – it shows that you aren’t a pushover, but you have an appreciation of the broader situation.

I think it is a poor idea, in the current economic climate, to push too aggressively for a pay raise. In an environment where lots of businesses are cutting workers, the benefit of a small pay bump is small potatoes compared to handling a job loss in this economy (not that it would get you fired, but that salaries do play a role in these kinds of decisions). You’re far better off waiting until the economy is more stable again.

Q3: Value of finding “any” job

I just wanted to say how much I appreciate that you encourage people to consider *any* job, in any field. The really “out there” jobs can be some true hidden gems. My husband was an office worker for over 20 years until recently, when he switched to being one of the cemetery groundskeepers. He loves it. He’s outside and moving all day; he listens to music or lectures on his headphones while doing so; it pays surprisingly well; and work stays at work. In short, it’s an introvert paradise. “Cemetery groundskeeper” isn’t what one automatically thinks of when job hunting, so it really does pay to consider any and all options!
– Darla

I am very much in favor of finding any job if you’re unemployed (and your unemployment benefits are close to running out). Don’t sit around unemployed losing everything while waiting on the perfect job; instead, find something for your idle hands to do and fill your spare time with hunting for that job you want.

Here’s a great example from my own life that go in line with this idea and with Darla’s story.

When I was in college, my advisor wanted me to stay near campus during my second summer as a student so that I could help with a project of his. It didn’t cover the whole summer, just a couple of key weeks, so I told him that I needed to find some other work in order to stay. He found me a job, all right — one where I worked in the evenings shoveling and sifting dirt and planting what seemed to be an infinite number of little potted plants. I’d go in at about 7 p.m. and work until 3 or 4 a.m. in this little greenhouse room where I would be expected to turn out several hundred labeled seeds in small plastic planters. It might seem like complete drudgery, but I actually ended up absolutely loving the work. I started bringing audiobooks in there with me and I just enjoyed the quiet and the solitude and the work, with just an audiobook reader interrupting the silence. I actually kind of miss it sometimes.

The thing is, I didn’t know it at the time, but the guy I was working for was extremely impressed with my work. He lost funding for the project during the subsequent school year, but I found out that he had written me some of the most glowing recommendation letters you can imagine and talked me up in several places, and that actually led to another job, which actually fed directly into my first career.

Find work where you can. Lean into it. It might just turn into something more than you expect. Maybe you’ll love that job. Maybe it’ll be an unexpected pathway to something great. In any case, it’s still money coming in and it’s still a demonstration of your work ethic.

Q4: How to network in a blue-collar job

How does one go about “networking” in most jobs? I don’t understand what that means for most blue-collar jobs.
– Victor

As you mentioned, the idea of “networking” is a little easier to understand in office jobs. There are a lot of meetings, conferences, conventions and professional groups in your area where you can connect with local people in your field.

With blue-collar jobs, the options are a lot less clear. I think it’s important to establish why you’re “networking.” What is the goal of it? Is the goal to have your foot in the door at a lot of local businesses where you might be employed? Is it to advance yourself at your current job? What you’re really trying to do is identify the pool of people you want to build relationships with, and then you move on to building those relationships.

Once you’ve figured out who you want to network with, it’s mostly all about finding ways to interact with them outside of work itself. Do the people you work with go out for drinks after work? Start stopping in there. Is there a bowling league or a fantasy football team? Join it.

The most effective strategy? Help people. If someone at work is about to move, volunteer to help them. If someone in your work is having car troubles, give them your number and tell them to text you if their car doesn’t start or offer them a ride.

The key thing is to not have that value exchange be one way. If you help someone, don’t hesitate to ask them for help in return, especially when it’s things that are small for them to do but help you out a lot.

You’ll build a lot of relationships this way. It will take time, and you will find that not all of your efforts build to any sort of worthwhile relationship, but many will and those relationships are valuable ones.

Q5: Mentoring services

A friend of mine is trying to get me to participate in a mentoring service. Apparently she has a “financial and professional mentor” that she meets with and she thinks this person would be great for me. I have no interest in this and feel like it is some kind of scam but I don’t know what it is without meeting with the person. Do you know about a mentoring scam or service?
– Daniel

This type of approach where someone is trying to convince you to have someone else as a “mentor” is usually related to MLM schemes.

MLM is short for “multi-level marketing” and is sometimes known as “network marketing.” It’s a type of business where people sell products, but they also try to recruit more people to join the business to sell products. Amway is an example of this, but there are lots of them out there. Some financial services exist as MLM schemes, too.

My advice? Stay away from this. You almost always wind up in a situation where you pay for “mentors” and pay for products to sell, but you find out that unless you are a very gifted salesperson, those products are difficult to sell, and if you’re a gifted salesperson, there are better gigs for you than this.

Q6: How to make your career pandemic-proof

I’m 26 and have been working as an app developer for four years for several different companies. I have been working from home since March but I expect I will return to office work after there’s a vaccine. Working from home has been hard but some of my friends have just failed at it and others are seemingly more efficient somehow. Trying to figure out how to keep my career on track after all of this and to make it safe if something like this happens again. Advice?
– Alex

The biggest piece of advice I can offer to everyone out there is to work as hard as you can to become a self-directed worker. Whatever it is that you need to be able to work in unusual circumstances without direct supervision, develop those skills. I suspect that those are going to be more valuable than ever, permanently. Even after there’s a COVID-19 vaccine, many more companies than before will either be very friendly toward remote employees or require it. It’s also a skill that will be incredibly useful if we have pandemics once COVID-19 is under control. I am working on a long article on this topic as I write this.

I also highly recommend investing time to keep your skillset sharp. By that, I mean use a portion of each day to learn about a relevant technology in each field and, if possible, try to use it in some sort of meaningful project. For example, I’m constantly trying out new frugal strategies and new software, reading new books and improving my writing. The sharper your skillset, the more employable you’ll remain in your field no matter what happens.

I would also suggest broadening your skillset. Don’t overspecialize. Find opportunities to build skills and experiences that complement your main skills and experiences. For example, you might look for opportunities to present your work in written or spoken or video formats. That not only teaches you presentation and communication skills (which is useful), but it can also help get your name out there.

Q7: Getting attention with writing

How did you start getting attention with your writing? It seems that with writing, once you become “popular” it is very self-perpetuating, but getting there is almost impossible.
– Adam

Write a lot. Get good at it. Share your best stuff, but do it politely.

You absolutely have to self-promote, but you have to figure out ways to do it that aren’t annoying or spamming. It’s similar to the advice I offered above about lawn mowing services.

What kind of writing are you hoping to get attention for? Are you writing online? Off? Articles? Books? Essays? If you’re writing online — and particularly if you’re self-publishing, the most effective thing you can do is try to get occasional writing gigs on more popular sites where you’re allowed to include links in your articles back to your own work. For promotion, I strongly suggest being active on your social media platform(s) of choice by participating in conversations relevant to the area you write about and engaging in conversation on the topic, only dropping your own links and materials where it’s directly and specifically relevant. I have found a lot of value in writing articles that directly answer questions I see other people musing about.

If you’re trying to get published in print, you can only win that game by making a lot of submissions, particularly at smaller publications at first, and also by actually networking and meeting people, particularly other writers, agents and publishers.

Q8: Dealing with politics of coworkers

At my office, there are several people who talk about politics constantly. They have, shall we say, strong views and voice them very loudly. My boss is one of them. I agree with them on some things but not others and I think that’s the general consensus here among everyone else. We’re just getting tired of all of the political talk all day every day. Aside from that, I like the job but I am just getting fed up with the aggressive politics.
– Amy

I edited this question a lot so that we’re not talking about any specific political stances, but the general presence of political conversation in the workplace.

I think that politics generally makes a bad area for workplace conversation. I understand that many, many people hold their political beliefs deeply and personally, but the problem with expressing them in a workplace environment is that not everyone there will agree with the stances you are sharing and others will simply find it annoying. Most workplaces require some significant degree of teamwork, and it is hard to create that teamwork if political disagreement is rampant. Such talk builds a rift between you and those who disagree with your stances as well as between you and those who don’t want those discussions whatsoever, and for little gain because people rarely rethink their stances in political conversations and just end up entrenching themselves. It’s just not the right environment for changing minds, because if you fail in that process, you create further damage to the teamwork needed for success.

So, what do you do about it?

The first thing I’d do is start redirecting conversations away from politics as often as possible. If someone starts talking about politics, take the first opportunity to redirect it away from politics toward something work-related or at least something less controversial. Change the subject every chance you get. Encourage others in your office who are bothered by this to follow suit.

If this doesn’t seem to work, I’d have a conversation with your boss about it. I’d start by mentioning that it’s great to be passionate about politics and to have strong stances, but that it is an enormous distraction for people, particularly those who may not agree with the stances being voiced. Mention that people don’t want conflict at work, particularly when they feel that their boss has power over them if they were to disagree, so it creates an environment where they’re distracted and less productive. Others may be being agreeable simply to get along, but the political talk is distracting to them as well. I find that most supervisors respond well if it’s couched in a “this is causing the office to get fewer things done” perspective.

If that still doesn’t change anything, you can talk to people higher in the chain of authority or to human resources.

Good luck!

Q9: Low salaries for similar jobs

My company has just bungled work from home so badly that I don’t want to work here anymore. It exposed a ton of bad practices and they don’t seem to want to change. The problem is I started looking for jobs and all of the open positions have super low salaries, like at the absolute bottom of what’s expected. Obviously because of coronavirus. But what do I do?
– Daniel

If it is tolerable to stay with your current employer, I’d stay with your current employer. You seem pretty unhappy with some management decisions, but is your day-to-day work all right? Are these management decisions really negatively impacting your day to day work?

If you’re in a situation where their decisions are directly and negatively impacting your career and work prospects, then you probably need to leave soon, even if that means taking a drop in salary. However, if you’re just feeling frustrated because of an extremely complex situation, but the pay is good and the work is reasonable, I’d stay put.

Trust me, I understand what it feels like to be frustrated with upper management. There have been many times where I have felt very frustrated with management decisions being made two or three (or more) levels above me. The thing to remember is that they’re playing a game in which you barely register as a pawn, even if that. Your objectives are not their objectives, and getting frustrated with the parts of the board that you can see doesn’t really help you.

If the bosses are doing things that are truly disrupting your career, move on. Otherwise, stay put and focus on the things you can control.

Q10: Workplace bullying

I learned recently that there was a secret channel on our company Slack where people basically just made fun of me and two others at work. It’s just mean comments about us in every way. They talk about our appearance, quote things we put in the chat and so on. I saw a bunch of screenshots of the channel and I just don’t want to work here anymore. Until now I loved the job but now I can’t stand to interact with the people on that channel. I hate sitting down to work now. I just want to quit but I can’t and that makes me hate it worse.
– Amy

Workplace bullying — and that’s exactly what this is — is an awful thing to deal with. Here’s what I would suggest.

First, document the bullying. Save all the screenshots you have. Someone must have given you these screenshots, so ask them for more. Document the date you received the screenshots. Document any and all other behavior that falls in line with bullying. Just write down dates and names.

Once you have that, I’d look through your workplace policies on bullying, if you have any. If you have an employee manual, it’s probably in there. If you don’t, ask an appropriate person if there is one. Find out what the procedures are for handling it.

Before reporting it, I would probably take steps to prepare myself to switch jobs. Get your resume nice and sharp, in case things don’t work out. I would also contact a lawyer and ask their advice — a good step since I don’t know the exact nature of all of the bullying.

At that point, I’d follow the procedures of your workplace and report it, using all of your documentation as supporting evidence, unless your lawyer advises you otherwise. Follow that procedure through and judge the results. If nothing changes or if there is some kind of blowback on you, well, that’s why you prepared to leave and why you contacted a lawyer.

Q11: Becoming a manager

I have worked at a convenience store for seven years. The manager recently quit and the boss asked me to do some of the stuff temporarily and I did it but now he thinks I did great and that it was a “test run” and he wants me to be the store manager. I do not want to be the store manager. I’m afraid if I say no I will be fired. What do I do?
– Danielle

If you’ve worked at a convenience store for seven years, your boss trusted you to do management tasks, and now wants you to become the manager, you must be a pretty good employee. My guess is that you could probably find similar work with relative ease if you were to be fired because you could put that on your application or resume and you’d look like a great candidate. You’d get called in for an interview, you’d explain what happened and they’d have you behind the counter in no time. You could probably easily find similar work at a grocery store or department store with similar ease.

So, I wouldn’t stress the possibility of being fired too badly. It wouldn’t hurt to shop around a little for another job, just in case.

Also, it may be that the owner thinks you want the management job. After all, you’ve been there for years, you took on the management tasks, and you’ve apparently got a good track record. He might just be assuming you want to move up, so the conversation may not be the disaster you’re thinking it is.

If I were you, I’d go meet with the owner and simply explain that you’re not interested in management. I would agree to take on whatever level of responsibility you’re comfortable with and no more. If he’s unhappy with that, as I said, you can find work elsewhere. My guess is that he’ll be surprised and maybe a little disappointed (again, he probably expected you to just become the manager, so now he has to go find one), but that doesn’t mean he’ll fire you.

Q12: When your job won’t survive another shutdown

The machine shop I work at reopened June 1 after 11 weeks of closure. We are a small shop and the owner has told us flat-out that we can’t afford another shutdown. No one was ordering anything during the first shutdown and orders are still below average now.

I am afraid of another shutdown by the end of summer which means my job is permanently gone. I will at least have unemployment starting over so that’s good but I don’t know what to do.
– Daniel

If I were you, I would be looking at other opportunities to put your skillset to work locally. If your business didn’t exist, where would you go with your skillset? Where would you start looking for work? I would be spending every spare moment I could preparing my resume to get work at one of those places.

If there’s nothing local, I would assume that the customers of your business would have to go elsewhere for the items they need. Where would they go? Where do people who need machined parts in your area if they don’t go to your business? What businesses near you do their own in-house machining? That’s the next place I would look.

It is a smart idea to do this now rather than later. Have some ideas about where you would look if your current employer closes up shop and do everything you can to have a sharp resume and good experience and skills to sell yourself as an attractive employee to other machine shops.

In addition, you should make every effort to have the biggest emergency fund you possibly can. Get started immediately on this. You need to have as much money socked away in savings as you possibly can.

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to follow me on Facebook and ask questions directly there. I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive many, many questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

We welcome your feedback on this article. Contact us at inquiries@thesimpledollar.com with comments or questions.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.