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OMG, I Lost My Planning Job. Now What?

Five veteran meeting professionals share advice on how to stay marketable during the coronavirus economic downturn.

As the COVID-19 pandemic drives the U.S. unemployment rate sky-high—14.4 percent in April and 13 percent in May—laid-off meeting professionals and recent graduates hoping to get into the field have some tough days ahead. What can job hunters do to be ready when the economy gets back on its feet? Five meeting professionals weighed in on the question during the Navigating the New Normal Summit, hosted virtually by Meeting Professionals International earlier this week.

Education was among the main suggestions from the panel. “Take advantage of the fact that there are a lot of free certifications out there,” said Elizabeth Sage, CMP, associate director of events and tradeshows at life sciences company Illumina Inc. She pointed to Cvent’s certifications, which are free through August but usually cost $395 for advanced certification and $295 for the mobile certification course. She also noted that “some aren’t free but might be worth the investment,” such as the Digital Event Strategist certification from the Professional Convention Management Association. “Now is the time to really build up your resume in lieu of work experience,” Sage said.

That is advice Michelle Robinson, CMP, not only gives job seekers but is taking herself. The senior meeting planner, meeting & travel services, at Nestlé Purina PetCare Company, is currently taking advantage of Cvent’s offer and recently earned an Inclusive Event Strategist certificate from MPI. “Use this time to get as much education as you can,” she said. “Look at LinkedIn and Glassdoor for opportunities out there now and figure out how you can level your education to meet those demands.” She noted that jobs such as “on-site crisis communications specialist” or “event technologist” might be what the industry is looking for in the years ahead. “Put yourself into a position to be marketable, but agile. You don’t want to get stuck in one realm of the industry.”

Flexibility was also the guidance from Thomas Egan, director of sales and marketing, Gaylord Texan Resort and Convention Center, who has seen the industry’s ups and downs over his 20-year career. “I have experience after the events of 9/11 and 2008-2009, where those events and the responses to them created opportunities for individuals who were willing to take risks, try something different, or operate in an area that maybe didn’t seem to be their path,” he said. “As our industry evolves, opportunities will present themselves that weren’t here before; one could be a great catapult for the balance of your career and shape it in a way that you never thought.”

How do you find those opportunities? “Be bold,” says Colleen Connor, CMP, vice president, head of conferences, at Cetera Financial Group. “Don’t be afraid to ask for 15 or 30 minutes from anyone in your extended community about what they do. It’s a great way to introduce yourself and get your name out there.” She echoed others on the panel who suggested that volunteering and staying involved with industry associations is critical. Amy Ledoux, CAE, CMP, says she’s often been asked if someone who lost their job can still be a committee member; her response is yes, and “it’s more important now than ever.”

Ledoux also offered advice to those who remain employed through the downturn. “Help to be the eyes and ears for industry colleagues” who have lost their jobs, she said. “You know what they’re good at, and perhaps how they can transfer those skills. Be an advocate and a support to them. Even if you can’t help them find a job, reach out. Being disconnected during this time is the hardest thing. Stay connected with those folks and let him know that you’re thinking about them and that they’re still part of the community.”

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