Many Houstonians are unemployed, laid off, or furloughed amid the pandemic. Others are literally burned out and ready for a life-altering career change. This expert has advice for both. Photo via Pexels

I've had so many pivots in my professional career; moving across the country, internal promotions, leaving a corporate job to launch my own company, and repositioning myself and my brand in new markets. But I'm one of those people who enjoy lots of change, and as I've continued in my career journey, I've found that those sentiments are not shared by many.

Making a career transition can not only be stressful for a majority of professionals but can paralyze people from making decisions that carry their livelihood alongside them. This is one reason I am fueled to help professionals, to be a support system for these complexities and helping them make decisions based on facts and strengths, not on fear.

As a career coach, it's my job to find a way to piece together years of experience for professionals in order to tell a story of growth, change, and transferable potential to sway key decision-makers for employment and economic opportunity.

Over the past several years, I've seen many trends in client challenges, storytelling similarities and developed a knack for helping people with complex stories make a successful career or entrepreneurial leap.

A new approach to career transitions

But then at the end of 2019, COVID-19 crept across Asia, slowly derailing markets, leading me to shift my focus to supporting my European clients as they began their lockdowns.

Job offers were being taken off the table, hiring freezes were put in place and travel required a two-week quarantine at either end. The fear in each of my clients' voices was palpable, and my resolve needed to be strong. I needed to stay steady, calm, and think more strategically than ever before to help them navigate this unchartered territory.

Within two months, the United States had been infiltrated by the virus, and the layoffs and furloughs began piling up. Now I was working across nations and states going through different phases of impact and needing to understand how to support these entrepreneurs and professionals in navigating through this.

Navigating the nuances of career change

What I realized is that I already had these answers. Navigating complexity has been my place of zen and working with intelligent, hungry individuals like yourselves continued to fuel my ability to innovate strategy and make a significant impact on career transitions.

I began to divide clients into priorities: furloughed and need work, laid off, overworked and need an exit, career epiphany, and entrepreneurs needing to reevaluate their business models.

If you were furloughed, there was a sense of hope, anxious to return to the workforce, and leaving bitterness for many when that call never came. In the state of Texas, 2.5 million professionals have lost their jobs, and only 1.8 million returned to work in 2021 to date.

In Houston, unemployment rates have maintained a high rate of about 8 percent in recent months. At the peak of COVID-19, the unemployment rates spiked significantly to more than 14 percent which translates to a large number of qualified people out of work.

Laid off and evaluating next steps

For those who were laid off, we had to evaluate financials. Was this a three-month endeavor or an ASAP, "my electricity will be shut off in two weeks if I don't find a job" scenario?

That dictated how we approached it. For the longer timeframe, we looked at roles carefully and targeted the best outcomes, tailored branding documents, and profiles and were highly intentional about applications.

In the second scenario, we made mandatory updates to branding and started the rapid apply approach to line up interviews quickly — even if it was going to be a short stint or a less than a glorious long-term option.

Overworked and anxious

Overworked and anxious to leave their jobs, this group had different desperation in their voice. They had previously enjoyed what they did, had an ambivalent outlook toward their employer, and thought things were 'going well.' This all changed when their support staff was sent home on furlough and those hours and that workload was enveloped by their department. These professionals felt blindsided.

How could things go from 'all is well' to 'get me out of here NOW!' in only a few short weeks? The mental, emotional, and physical stresses were and continue to be a leading factor in the rise in depression across the nation from 20 to 25 percent to 40 to 50 percent.

For this group of professionals, we focused on the role they had before the pandemic hit and those areas of fulfillment. We also focused on boundary setting to help support a move to a company where boundaries would need to be upheld to promote a healthier life balance.

Career epiphany clients

Next were my career epiphany clients. These professionals were awoken from the monotony that was once their career. Working from home, having different priorities, and learning to juggle many hats afforded new perspectives. This also meant that these professionals were no longer fulfilled in the direction of their careers, and were prepared to start anew.

This opened up an entire world of possibilities.

Unlike the career changes who had immediacy and trauma associated with their move, these epiphany clients were optimistic and strangely calm amidst the chaos and weight of this decision. Their priorities were no longer focused on one area but encompassed a much more holistic viewpoint.

And so, having the calm on our side, we would spend time working through their work attributes, close values, and defining their innate drivers in life. This work allowed us to choose roles that spoke to them.

Entrepreneurs

In the last group were my entrepreneurs. These business owners were looking at a brand new market and not knowing how to evolve their business model to fit the needs and budgets of their consumers. So many were filled with doubt on how they could ask for more money, or not have to increase their working hours to make the math work.

Our work felt like an enormous puzzle, putting all the right colors together first, then seeking out the corners and edges, until we could work toward the middle and most ambiguous pieces.

Together we redefined their clients (were they the same? Did they have the same needs now?) and how to best serve them. This required them to get out of their tried and true practices, as needs and budgets have also changed and evolved for their customers and clients. So we reverse-engineered into new pricing and service offerings that would provide immense value in a time when people needed it the most.

Each set of variables were unique, but the mindset and fears were so aligned with one another within each of these groups that I could provide streamlined tools that I knew would work to move the dial in their progression and overall success.

Innovative approach to career transitions

Utilizing resources that I already had, meant I just needed to find innovation in my approach. How was I to get professionals and entrepreneurs to learn and apply at rapid speed? How would I get through to them during this stressful time?

The approach was to give more actionable tools for them to leave each call with purpose and a sense of adventure ahead. I utilized a goal-setting sheet to identify priorities and lead from their reality, rather than standard best practices.

We focused on 4 key areas:

  1. Financials
  2. Growth
  3. Roles
  4. Timeline.

I realized that the biggest fears were in the unknown. So if we could start at a basic framework of knowing what they needed in order to pay bills and not disrupt life more, we could then focus on what was in their ideal, their wants, their bigger goals.

But I found that almost everyone trying to envision more money, or growth in roles during a global pandemic, didn't know how to focus on the future if they didn't know what needed to happen now, in the current state.

Everyone's reality was different, yet the momentum and freedom created by writing down their most vulnerable, essential needs, created a release in their energy and made conversation fill with hope. Having created a tangible plan of action had more impact than ever before. I took this momentum and challenged clients to do their homework, speak to their partners, their families.

With every group of transitioning professionals, this worked. My analogies and anecdotes changed and evolved as the year progressed, but this new starting point was the cornerstone to build confidence and momentum quickly.

Building a new path

As we start to see Texas opening up its businesses and mask requirements starting to shift, we will continue to see people in flux.

Overcoming storms, a pandemic, depression rates increasing, and an influx of new residents, the state will continue to find resilience. But professionals need to understand that before letting fear set in, there are steps you can take to release that pressure and build a new path, a new career, and a new story.

Understand and embrace your reality, write it down, uncover what is leading the fear, then take the first step to eliminate it.

Making a transition takes effort, but understanding your options based on your needs, and then your wants, will help create the movement you need to take that next step and keep moving in the right direction.

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Briar Dougherty, CEO and president of Career Organic, an Atlanta-based career coaching company.

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Houston SaaS startup closes $12M series A funding round with support from local VC

money moves

A Houston startup with a software-as-a-service platform for the energy transition has announced it closed a funding round with participation from a local venture capital.

Molecule closed its $12 million series A, and Houston-based Mercury Fund was among the company's investors. The company has a cloud-based energy trading and risk management solution for the energy industry and supports power, natural gas, crude/refined products, chemicals, agricultural commodities, softs, metals, cryptocurrencies, and more.

"We led the seed round of Molecule upon their formation and are excited to participate in their series A," says Blair Garrou, co-founder and managing director of Mercury, in a news release. "Molecule's success in the ETRM/CTRM industry, especially in relation to electricity and renewables, positions them as the company to beat for the energy transition in the 2020s."

The company will use its new funds to further build out its product as well as introduce offerings to manage renewables credits, according to the release.

"In 2020, we realized that electricity — the growth commodity of the 2020s — represented over half of Molecule's customer base, and we decided to double down," says Sameer Soleja, founder and CEO of Molecule, in the release. "We were also rated the No. 1 SaaS ETRM/CTRM vendor. With this fundraise, we have the fuel to become No. 1 SaaS platform for power and renewables, and then the market leader overall.

"Molecule is ready to power the energy transition," Soleja continues.

Molecule's last round of funding closed in November 2014. The $1.1 million seed round was supported by Mercury Fund and the Houston Angel Network.

Houston-based afterlife planning startup launches new app

there's an app for that

The passing of a loved one is followed with grief — and paperwork. A Houston company that's simplifying the process of afterlife planning and decision making is making things even easier with a new smartphone app.

The Postage, a digital platform meant to ease with affair planning, recently launched a mobile app to make the service more accessible following a particularly deadly year. The United States recorded 3.2 million fatalities — the most deaths in its history, largely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

After losing three family members back-to-back, Emily Cisek dealt first hand with the difficulty of wrapping up a loved one's life. She saw how afterlife planning interrupted her family's grieving and caused deep frustration. Soon, she began to envision a solution to help people have a plan and walk through the process of losing someone.

The Postage, which launched in September, provides a platform for people to plan their affairs and leave behind wishes for loved ones. The website includes document storage and organization, password management, funeral and last wishes planning, and the option to create afterlife messages to posthumously share with loved ones.

"Right now, as it stands ahead of this app, end-of-life planning is really challenging. It's this daunting thing you have to sit down and do at your computer," says Cisek. Not only is it "daunting," but it's time-consuming. According to The Postage, families can expect to spend nearly 500 hours on completing end-of-life details if there is no planning done in advance.

With more than 74 percent of The Postage's web traffic coming from mobile users, an app was a natural progression. In fact, Entrepreneur reports the average person will spend nine years on their mobile device. Cisek wanted to meet users where they are at with a user-friendly app that includes the same features as the desktop website.

"What we wanted to do [with the app] is make it so easy to plan your life and the end of your life using one click — as easy as it was for posting and commenting on social media," explains Cisek. "People are so used to reflecting on those behaviors and clicking one button to add a picture ... we wanted to make it that simple," she continued.

Cisek and her team focused on providing a "seamless experience" within the app, which took approximately four months to build, which mirrors the desktop platform.

Though The Postage's website had mobile functionality, the app includes the ability to record and upload content. Whether snapping a picture of their insurance policy or recording a video to share with loved ones, The Postage app allows users to capture photos and videos directly within the app.

After snapping a picture, "the next step inherently is sharing it with your loved ones," says Cisek. Photos, family recipes and videos can easily be shared securely with loved ones who accept your invitation to The Postage so "that legacy continues on," she says.

Since The Postage's fall launch, the company has grown a steady base of paid subscribers with plans to expand.

"We're really starting to change the way people plan for the future," says Cisek.