The big switch: Eight practical steps to making a career change
Back in the olden days, Pops worked at the same manufacturing plant his entire adult life, waking up every morning at the same time, returning home with the same empty lunch pail, wearing the same faded work uniform. A carpenter was a carpenter for life; a lawyer stayed a lawyer and the town butcher never quit his job to pursue a career in fashion design.
But, alas, those days are long gone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people hold an average of 11 jobs by the time they turn 40. So if you’re in between jobs and contemplating a whole new line of work, you’ve got company. Especially during this recession hangover we’re still nursing.
At Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles, with locations in West Hollywood, Antelope Valley, Glendale, Sherman Oaks and West Hills, the “career changer” is the most common client walking through their doors. “Building better lives one job at a time” is no easy task, but the career counselors at JVS have plenty of tips to help you build yourself a new career. Jay Soloway, director of Career Services, shared some practical steps you can take right now to land that 10th job.
1. Review your history. You know the saying: You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. So think back, way back, to that third, fifth and ninth job and write them all down. For one, it’ll show you how far you’ve come, and, if you’re like most Americans, it’ll illustrate just how many different tasks you’re capable of carrying out. Don’t forget to include volunteer positions.
2. Make a list. Or three. Write down all the skills you mastered at each of those jobs, even the seemingly trivial. That major makeover you pulled on the office lunch room may seem inconsequential, but it may be a clue that you have a future in interior design. On another page, list your interests. The things you like to do when you’re not earning a paycheck. List #3: your values. Write down what matters to you in the grander scheme of life. Being home by 6 p.m. to help the kids with their homework? Having flexible hours so you can choose to sleep at 2 p.m. and work at 2 a.m. if you wish?
3. Find a direction. The lists you made are clues to a new direction, but you have to have the right tools to decode the signs. Soloway suggests using professional career and personality tests (check out careermaze.com as an example) to figure out what your skills and interests are telling you. Career counselors at JVS use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, among other tools, to narrow down the types of careers that fit your personality and talents. Objectivity is an important tool in assessing career choices, and professional counselors, unlike your wife, don’t have any incentive to tell you that you’re the next Joan Nathan.
4. Try on some shoes. You’ve narrowed down your options. Now how do you choose between pastry chef and greeting card designer? Dig in and find out everything you can about your prospective career: which skills are needed, which degrees are required, what is the pay, what the work conditions are like. Simple online research can fill in many of those blanks, but for the real dish, you have to network face to face. Contact professional societies and industry groups such as Public Relations Society of America (prsala.org) to schedule meet-and-greets. Find people on LinkedIn and request a phone conversation. Secure informational interviews with someone doing your dream job, or even better, that person’s manager. Ask questions. Lots of them. And if you’re really bold, ask permission to shadow someone for a day. Most people would be flattered that you’re showing an interest in what they do.
5. Stay busy. Spending days at a time in your pajamas, rotating laptop, Blackberry and TV screens in front of your face will not only drag down your mood, it’ll sully your resumé. Use your free time wisely to show prospective employers that you are active, resourceful and willing to work, even without a paycheck as motivation. Volunteer at your synagogue, a local shelter, school or food bank. Bonus points if you do something that’s relevant to your field of interest. Look for internships, freelance opportunities and other ways to get your foot in the door.
6. Hit the books. To snag certain jobs, like an X-ray technician or an electrician, you’ll have to sign up for a vocational school. For others, you may be able to fill in the educational gap with classes at a community college, an online course, or some how-to books: i.e. Bartending for Dummies, Day Trading for Dummies, Event Planning for Dummies. Educating yourself shows initiative and drive, and even if the most important thing you learn in your creative writing class is that you can’t string a sentence together, at least you can cross Romance Novelist off your list of potential careers.
7. Take baby steps. Going from school psychologist to web designer is quite a leap, so consider making the transition in several steps. Soloway encourages clients to take “stepping stone jobs” that move them one step closer to their desired career. For instance, our psychologist can apply for a job writing content for the LAUSD website to gain some basic knowledge of what makes a site appealing.
8. Recruit cheerleaders. Job hunting, especially for career shifters, is incremental in nature and may take years to achieve the final goal. You’re going to need a cheering section, with verve, and stamina for the long haul. The career counselors at JVS are there to hand you cups of water and granola bars throughout the marathon, Soloway says. But you can recruit your best friend, your daughter, your neighbor – whoever will be genuinely interested – to keep track of your progress and help you focus on the positive.
Changing hair styles is difficult. Changing careers is monumentally daunting. But with the right tools and the right attitude, it’s totally doable. Just look around. Nearly everyone you know has done it at least once or twice in their lives. Or maybe 11 times.