In the course of a few short months, COVID-19 has forever altered our daily life and work, the aftereffects of which will be felt for a long time to come. Many UChicago alumni are faced with an uncertain professional landscape. Many businesses and employees have made drastic changes either to meet immediate needs related to the novel coronavirus or just to stay afloat.
So, we've turned to some of our creative, innovative, and successful alumni career coaches to share their helpful, inspiring, and actionable advice for those facing a world of uncertainty:
How can I use this time to "hit the reset button" on my professional growth?

The downtime many of us are experiencing during the pandemic is a great time to hit the reset button on your career trajectory. This is an excellent moment to spend some time evaluating what is and isn't working in your professional life.

Here is an exercise: spend a few days keeping a running list of what you do each day. Before you switch to the next thing, take a few minutes to jot down how engaged you felt in the activity and how energizing you felt the work was. If you've been feeling really depleted at the end of every day, this exercise can help you notice what activities are draining all of your energy--this can be a great wake-up call to consider identifying how you can incorporate more activities that energize you (and identify ways to move the draining activities off of your plate!).

- Caroline Ouwerkerk, AB'09 


Develop a routine or some rigor in the following areas:

  • Disciplined reflection on past jobs and your career trajectory: What were the highlights and low lights? What strengths/skills have you developed - any surprises? When were you the happiest?  

  • Take advantage of on-line learning/professional development opportunities. Many classes/programs/workshops/conferences are being offered virtually at discounted pricing or for free. Perhaps, there is an area of interest (dare I say, fun) that you've always wanted to explore? Perhaps there are some skill development opportunities that you could invest in to support your current job/industry?  

  • Cultivate your own learning opportunities - both on subject matter interests and career development itself (e.g. reading, podcasts, TedTalks, etc.).

- Mimi Darmstadter, AM'90


As an executive coach, I'm finding my clients are resetting in two ways. First, they're figuring out how to navigate during this highly disruptive crisis we're all in. Second, they're starting to think about the "next normal" - what they want their life to be after the crisis is resolved. This weird time is providing people with the opportunity to "re-curate" their lives but clarifying what is truly important, what is necessary but not important, and what really doesn't matter at all. 

- Gail Golden, AB'73 



How do I maintain, or even grow, my professional network during a time of social distancing?


Virtual coffee chats and Zoom networking meetings are now more acceptable formats for speaking than before so take advantage of that. Now is a more natural time than ever to reconnect with old friends and former colleagues, to see how they're doing in these unprecedented times, which can then lay the groundwork for job/career related questions, as many people are understandably re-evaluating their priorities in these times.

- Michelle Antonio, MBA'97 


One great place to start is through online communities and programs. There are numerous online courses and mastermind groups on nearly any topic you can imagine, many of which offer associated communities for participants in Facebook, LinkedIn, or Slack groups. For example, I offer an online course on beating Imposter Syndrome, and I'm about to launch a group program for social impact job seekers that will combine individual work with weekly group meetings, but there are so many other similar opportunities no matter what your niche is. You can make really deep connections in these groups and learn a lot of valuable information in the process. Also--consider asking your employer if they'd be willing to pay for the online course you're taking--two of the students in my Beating Imposter Syndrome course had their employers reimburse them as part of their professional development!

Before you do any of this, however, be sure you're clear on your goals for networking--are you doing it because you feel like you should? Or are you trying to get clarity on a particular topic? Do you just want to meet people? Or something else altogether? Understanding how networking fits into your personal and professional goals is essential so you can be sure you're heading in the right direction. 

- Caroline Ouwerkerk, AB'09 


What is one thing I can do today to build towards my professional future despite the uncertainty and disruption of a global pandemic?

"Active Inquiry" is the key item. That means two things. The first is to ask ourselves what matters most to us, how we can contribute, and how we can leverage our strengths to find the greatest possible fulfillment from our work. The second is to inquire openly of our friends and colleagues as to how we can turn the pandemic situation into an opportunity for growth.

- David Brendel, PhD'99


Build your resilience. Learn to manage your emotions so they don't cripple you. Practice "bricolage," the ability to make something new out of what you have on hand. Focus on your purpose. Resilience will not only get you through this miserable time, it will also be a formidable tool for mastering the challenges that lie ahead. 

- Gail Golden, AB'73 

Tune up your LinkedIn profile! Make sure you're maximizing every inch of the page, even if you're not currently looking:

  • Develop a really compelling LinkedIn blurb that captures your personality and what you have to offer the world. Look up the character limits and make sure you're including as much detail as possible. Think about capturing who you are, what you care about, and why. Make sure you include keywords that match jobs you're interested in, so you show up more frequently in searches.

  • If you are connected with a small number of people, aim to gradually increase that number by a few people each week. You're looking to have at least 500 people in your network; after that level, you start to show up in search differently.

  • Be sure to follow organizations of interest to you on LinkedIn. Many smaller companies will advertise new job opportunities through a post to the company LinkedIn page, so you may come across some less-advertised opportunities as well!

- Caroline Ouwerkerk, AB'09


How will recent events alter "business as usual," and how can I prepare for that change?

Aside from the superficial realities that we won't be seeing each other in person or shaking each other's hands as much, there will be fundamental changes in how we work and conduct business. Since many of us will be staying local and working much more from home, we will decrease travel and commuting time. That will free us up to do more healthy things such as sleep adequately, exercise, cook healthy meals, and spend more time with friends and loved ones. Enhanced physical and mental health will empower us to become more efficient, creative, and joyful in our work.

- David Brendel, PhD'99 


We may be entering a new normal where nothing is normal for a while. So stretch your adaptability, change management, and creativity muscles. Expand your toolkit, mess with your routine, introduce new changes and experiences into your repertoire. Keep one foot in the present, contributing as best you can on the job while keeping one foot in the future - cementing a process for ongoing career/job exploration. This requires discipline and investment of time and money.  

- Mimi Darmstadter, AM'90 

Alumni Career Programs

About Our Contributors:


Michelle Antonio, MBA '97


  • Helping business professionals think through a potential career change and defining their longer-term career goals
  • Guiding alumni that want to improve their job search execution skills (e.g., networking, developing a job search plan, interview skills)


David Brendel, PhD'99


  • Executive coaching (works with managers and C-suite executives across a wide range of industries including biotech, pharma, healthcare, law, financial services, technology, engineering, higher education, manufacturing, and others)
  • Leadership development (coaching and training individuals transitioning to new strategic roles that require a new skill set, including strategic thinking, executive presence, effective verbal and nonverbal communication)
  • Career coaching (assisting clients to make effective career transitions that draw on their core strengths and enhance their quality of life)
  • Executive coaching certification program (co-leads a coach training program that certifies individuals through the Center for Executive Coaching and puts them on a path toward certification from the International Coach Federation)
  • Philosophical counseling (structured dialogues with clients that helps clarify client values and worldview, enhance self-awareness, and use this knowledge to grow clients' personal and professional lives)


Mimi Darmstadter, AM'90


  • Leadership around and management of employee life cycle issues (recruitment, onboarding, performance management, individual development and planning, workforce engagement)
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Verbal communication skills (with an emphasis on effective, generative conversations)
  • Difficult conversations
  • Career transitions for seasoned professionals (with an emphasis on vision, value proposition, leveraging professional strengths)
  • Work/life integration (with an emphasis on the working mother client population)
  • Stress management

Gail Golden, AB'73


  • Executive Development: We design and deliver leadership programs to help you achieve your goals.
  • Team Development: We facilitate and accelerate team building and new leader integration.
  • Organizational Development: We help define and design organizational structures that cultivate success.
  • Board Development: We help companies identify and assess leadership challenges and opportunities.


Caroline Ouwerkerk, AB'09


  • Career coaching for young professionals, 2-12 years out of college
  • Navigating feeling unfulfilled or stuck in your "good" job
  • Career discernment/figuring out your next step
  • Navigating self-employment/entrepreneurship
  • Nonprofit/mission-based/social entrepreneurship job search
  • Leadership training/development
  • Life design
  • Career design/exploration
  • Interview preparation and mock interviews
  • LinkedIn Strategy
  • Resume and cover letter review and development
  • Managing imposter syndrome/career confidence


For more from UChicago's Alumni Career Programs, visit our webiste or contact:

Sam Constance

Assistant Director, Career Development