Every unemployment filing, furlough, and closed business reflects a personal experience. As the statistics pile up, we’re committed to sharing stories of how COVID-19 continues to shape people’s lives and livelihoods—how they’ve coped, what they’ve learned during the crisis, and how they’re moving forward.
Along with the rest of the world, India has felt the profound economic impact of COVID-19, with the country’s unemployment rate reaching staggering highs of over 23% in April and May. Among the many sectors affected as the pandemic surged was food and beverage, with a high-profile example being global spirits brand Diageo. As of August, the company reported a write-down of over $1.5 billion due to coronavirus disruptions—with India accounting for half of impairment charges.
According to Divesh Dhawan, however, the warning signs began flaring as early as February, during which time the 36-year-old, Bangalore-based B2B sales and account management lead felt his job at Diageo might be in jeopardy. Having eventually been laid off, Dhawan continues trying to move forward, from job searching to taking on passion projects and pursuing more education. Here, he shares his story, which has been edited for clarity and length.
What was your professional life like prior to COVID-19?
Professionally, I’ve been working for almost 12 years now. I’ve always been on the sales and account management side of things within the research advisory, analytics, and alcoholic beverage industries.
Life has been a rollercoaster since late February onwards. Before the last week of February, the organization I was working for had a reorg, and my role—which was global—became redundant. And within that last week, I lost my dad to cardiac arrest; that just threw off my mental framework entirely. COVID-19 struck and every organization in every country was impacted. I figured it’s possible for movement within the organization, but all the internal openings where I was interviewing or interviewed unfortunately had to be put on hold because of the situation. The money had to be fed back into the businesses, so everything offer-wise went down the drain.
I was left with no option because of the impact of COVID-19 and the freezing of internal movement and external hiring. It was like a perfect storm with things happening one after another.
What were the signs that your job may be impacted?
I was one of the only members based out of India, and most of the staff was based out of the New York and London headquarters. I knew in a way that things would evolve, change, or reorganize, and my role or overall team might get impacted. But I was pretty sure that some kind of internal movement would be possible. I did a few interviews, but suddenly the whole freeze came in a few days. I knew things would be different in my role going forward, but I was also hopeful that I would move internally because there were roles that I was looking forward to in terms of fit and qualifications. Everything went into a standstill because of COVID-19 and eventually I had to leave the organization on May 25.
I would say, from the perspective of notice, the organization was pretty considerate. There was a redundancy package that I was allocated, and there was a two-month notice. From the organization’s perspective, it was beyond their control. When a large portion of your business comes to a standstill, what do you do? It was pretty unfortunate, but I’m figuring out my next career move. Honestly, now it is not hitting me as bad as it was initially. I’m enjoying having this white canvas and I’m just trying to paint it the way I want.
How is your job search going?
The hunt is on. Sometimes there’s a mismatch between what the company is offering in terms of what they have in the budget for the role and what my last salary was. The difference is as huge as 50% of the base salary, which is almost like me going back two years. I don’t think I need to make the decision quickly just to take it and dilute two years of hard work. There have been cases where I’ve given interviews and I wasn’t the right candidate in terms of moving ahead and they found somebody else, which is fair enough. There have also been cases where things have started progressing and discussions start happening; but they have been very clear that until Q4, things are not going to improve, so they’re not looking to fill that position by then.
But I’m also very passionate about inclusion and diversity. I’m trying to work with the leadership of a training company on their agenda around leadership with respect to inclusion and diversity as to what they can do. I’m trying to help another market research firm as a sales leader in terms of helping them deal with new business acquisitions. I’m trying to do different things.
What kind of resources are you using to job search?
I’ve been a sucker for relationships since my college days. I’m a networking person so that’s what I thrive on. That’s what has really helped with respect to finding my life purpose and gaining whatever success I’ve had in my account management roles. So, I’m speaking with a lot of individuals within their organizations so they can refer me if there’s a good fit. At the same time, I’m also using a lot of the standard job sites, like LinkedIn Jobs, Indeed, etc. to find new opportunities. But at a mid-to-senior level, things are a bit limited because organizations are cutting people and costs so they don’t have open roles. The opportunities are limited but I think there is healthy conversation. I keep it very simple. Every week, I set myself targets that I need to apply to 3-4 jobs, and speak to 3-4 people about new opportunities. That is helping me keep my sanity in place and not getting depressed, frustrated, and irritated about what’s going to happen.
How are you dealing with stress and anxiety? Have you picked up any activities?
What’s really working for me is chanting for 15-20 minutes every day. Then, I try to complete my 10,000 steps every day. Then, I do 15-20 minutes of a full-body, high-intensity workout. That lets me vent out all of the negativity. That, along with the networking and job search, and I’m taking a certificate course in data sciences just to upskill because that is the way forward. I’ve had a lot of exposure to data sciences because of being in the analytics industry for a while, but I never sat down to study it. It was more like seeing it in a project and having a bird’s-eye-view. All of this is how I’m trying to not waste my time on things that are not in my control and managing all the energy to do things which are.
What have you learned as you’ve navigated this pandemic? How has this changed your perspective on your career?
One thing I’ve realized is the moment you get the first signal that things might not be OK in your current team or role, start looking out for other options—don’t wait for things to settle down to start. It’s just too unpredictable and this pandemic is the perfect example.
The second thing is it made me realize how much I took a lot of things for granted, be it professionally or personally. It was like thinking something was relatively easy to do, but once you start doing things yourself, you start realizing the importance of people doing it for you and because there’s areas where you’re lacking. I sat down one day and said OK, let me find out the top 10 common interview questions and let me see how I can answer them. I thought that if somebody asked me these questions right now, I could just talk to them. But when I started talking, it just wasn’t coming through; there was no story or conviction. I sat down to gather my thoughts such as, in 12 years, what was my biggest achievement? I gave some thought to it and tried to structure it. That showed me that there was a lot of room for improvement.
What does the future hold?
My first priority is finding a secure job, as I’m someone that likes a bit of stability in life. At least for the next few years, I would like to continue and grow within that job. I’m also working on upskilling myself so that’s never going to stop. Those are the two things, from a clarity point of view, on what the future should hold for me. Let’s see when opportunity strikes, which I’m telling myself will happen soon.
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