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October 11, 2023

How to Get “Unstuck” From A Professional Rut

Post By:
Mayra Barragan
In-House Contributor
Managing Director
Launch Ventures, LLC
Guest Contributor:

It isn’t just you. The post-pandemic ripple effect on the job market has taken its toll on employers and employees alike. Industry cycles across the board have been interrupted, and many of us have found ourselves feeling “stuck” as a result of these changes.

Take my industry, for example. Recruiting is typically cyclical.

The first quarter is usually the busiest time– there is a flurry of activity because people get their annual bonuses (which may not have gone as planned), so they start poking around and putting out feelers to begin the process of switching jobs.

The second quarter is still somewhat busy from the first quarter spillover, and then things begin to cool towards the end of May and the beginning of June.

The third quarter is the slowest period because it’s summer and everyone is out living their best lives; they’re on vacation, enjoying summer break. The kids are out of school, and nobody wants to interview or think about work.

The fourth quarter is where things pick up again; hiring managers don’t want to lose their recruiting budgets, and candidates like the idea of starting fresh in a new role before the new year, so there’s an  uptick of hiring in the fall. CPA firms are also ramping up before their busy tax season.

But that was all B.C.… Before COVID. 

Everything has changed since the pandemic; the cycle has been completely off, and it seems as though everything I know to be true about recruiting has all gone out the window. Last year, navigating recruiting was like working in the wild, wild west-- we simply couldn’t keep up with demand. And then in January 2023, out of nowhere, everything simply halted (at least, in the finance & accounting space). Employers started cutting their vendor lists, hiring came to a full stop, and recruiters like me were all in limbo. 

For the first five or six months of this year, the biggest challenge was figuring out how to pivot during the lull. In the second half of the year, things finally started to pick up and employers were ready to hire again… great, right? 

Except for one tiny detail: candidates weren’t responding to the opportunities. They weren’t ready to interview. This is because of the aforementioned third quarter cycle: the kids were out of school, they were on vacation, and so on. They weren’t in the mindset for transition.

This type of timing mismatch isn’t exclusive to recruiting; you might be facing a comparable struggle in your own industry. I know how frustrating and disheartening this can be, especially over a prolonged period of time. But it doesn’t have to be. 

Here are two things I did this year to bust my professional rut.

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Step 1- don’t play the blame game.  (Easier said than done, I know!)

If you’re like me, your identity is far intertwined with your results. I pour my heart and soul into what I do, and if I’m not succeeding (even when external variables are at play), I blame myself first.

Because the first half of the year was SO slow, my brain tells me I’m not working hard enough and I need to do more- I need to “hustle.” So like me, you might find yourself working at a desk 12 to 14 hours a day, yet getting absolutely nowhere. While the extra hours might temporarily make you feel better, they come at a cost.

Naturally, enough time working this outrageous schedule began to affect my mood; my normally sunny disposition was on a MUCH shorter fuse. I just wasn’t myself. But the effects weren’t just mental- this schedule resulted in physical effects too.

The long hours took a toll on my sleep (or lack thereof). My body was constantly in pain, especially throughout my neck, shoulders, and back. 

Does any of this sound familiar to your own experience? 

Step 2- learn how to adapt.

I’ve had to learn how to deal with a new industry landscape and you can, too.

In order to deal with it, I had to first acknowledge that things just weren’t working like they once did. When it comes to recruitment, the cycle is off– maybe it will normalize, maybe it won’t. Either way, I needed to acknowledge this fact and accept that I had very little control over it.

Next, I had to acknowledge that I was feeling stuck- it was the only way to embrace flexibility in my problem solving. When I identify a problem and recognize change is necessary, my instinct is to jump into action. I tackled my professional rut in a bifurcated approach: one for practical application, and the other for my mental health.

When it comes to shifting towards more practical approaches, I leaned on the tools in my tool box. Personally, I’ve often been the type of recruiter who pinpoints a very specific candidate, whether they are seeking interviews or not. I would search for exactly what the employer wanted and invest time in convincing those candidates to consider their options.

But given this new change in the job market, I realized I needed to shift my focus to candidates who are ready to interview.  These days, I am taking full advantage of LinkedIn and their “open to new opportunities” feature by targeting candidates who I know will be enthusiastic to interview.  

As for my mental health, my approach to this was a bit more… extreme.  I’m someone who has always been inspired, motivated, and excited by travel. In order to bust my mental rut (and the work schedule I inflicted upon myself!), I decided to leverage my work-from-home abilities and change my environment by spending 5 weeks in Sweden, while working remotely. 

I spent my days exploring somewhere new, and my evenings working east coast hours…the magic of leveraging time zones! For me, adventure and exploration is where I find my inspiration. This “extreme” decision was just what I needed to reinvigorate myself. 

While multi-week travel is far from viable for everyone, consider what you can do to refresh, recharge, and reboot- and then do it! We all get stuck in a rut from time to time. Whether it’s a shift in your industry, a stall in your business, or something else entirely, the A.C. (After COVID) effects can be felt by everyone in one capacity or another. And so, I’m here to tell you, you are not alone!

But you can begin to see the light at the end of the rut if you accept that change is the only constant, identify old strategies that no longer serve you, embrace new approaches, and make time for the things that bring you joy, light you up, and inspire you!