Six Secrets of Career Changers

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career changeMany of us dream about changing careers. But what separates the dreamers from the doers? Do successful career changers possess certain traits or do certain things? I recently met with two career changers to learn more about what worked for them during their transitions to new careers.

Barry Kleiman left a 25-year career as an Equity Trader after being downsized in June 2008. It wasn't very long before he realized that the job as he had known it no longer existed and he wasn't going to land on The Street again. He started working with Career Counselor and Coach and President of CareerCounsel, Linsey Levine, in September 2008, and became a small business owner in March 2009.

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Pamela Tucker had spent 10 years as a marketing and communications consultant for financial services firms; while working with Linsey, she unearthed her passion for fashion and the retail industry and she landed her job as manager of Gift Cards and Credit Services for a nationally recognized upscale retail store after a nine-month career-transition journey.


Realistic goals

Before embarking on a career change, it's important to examine the path ahead of you. You need to take an inventory of your interests, skills, values, and abilities and review them in the context of what is transferable to a new career. You need to determine whether your new career target requires retraining or an advanced degree. A career change takes time, support from others, patience, flexibility, and sacrifice. Many career changers need to keep their current job while working on their new career in the evenings and weekends. Others need to sacrifice their savings in order to tide them over until their new career becomes a reality.

Kleiman's initial exploration of career change included an assortment of career assessments and exercises and then research into several positions that surfaced as viable options for him based on transferable skills and compatibility. But each one was ruled out for different reasons -- including length of time necessary to generate adequate income, potential for age discrimination, unacceptable lifestyle change, or undesirable geography. He also looked at entrepreneurship, but the expenses associated with starting a business from scratch seemed prohibitive.

"As I felt I was running out of options, my career counselor suggested I explore franchising, and my response was Dunkin Donuts? I don't think so," recalls Kleiman. "She referred me to a franchise consultant and I started getting educated about franchising and examining business models he felt had the potential to meet my goals, needs, and expectations. During my exploration process, I became interested in the role my franchise consultant had and I came upon The Entrepreneur Source, a 25-year-old consulting firm that had been franchising for 10 years."


Relevance

You can't expect to be taken seriously in a new career if you don't have the business chops to back up your new profession. In many cases, you will need to re-train or gain relevant experience on a part-time, volunteer, or internship basis in order to make your dream a reality.

Tucker enrolled in a Retail Advancement Essentials certificate program at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City to gain knowledge of the retail industry and make new industry connections. Kleiman went through several weeks of intensive training over a five-month period at The Entrepreneur's Source Performance Enhancement Center and also at their annual conference. He met with other franchisees from all over the country to swap best practices and learn from each other.


Research

Research on company targets and key decision makers at those companies is critical during a career transition. You don't only want to look at positions that are available right now. You also want to look at ways to create relationships with employers before there is a job opening. If you can build that relationship before they need to fill a position, you increase the chances of being considered for an opening if one presents itself in the near future. If you build the relationship before you need it, you become a warm lead rather than a cold call once a position is posted.

Tucker partnered with a career-research service to obtain lists of New York City-based retail and apparel companies and she targeted managers in the strategy area at those firms. She wrote customized letters that included information about those firms. She received a call back from someone who was impressed with her knowledge of the company and that led to an interview. She ended up meeting with the CFO, who said they didn't have any jobs at the moment; but at the end of the conversation, he mentioned that the company was working on an initiative with gift cards. Tucker did research at home and at the library to put together a proposal on the threats and opportunities/outlook for gift cards and sent it to the CFO.


Persistence

A career change takes an enormous amount of persistence, and at times even a thick skin. You need to hear a lot of "nos" before you can hear a yes. The more doors you knock on, the greater the likelihood that someone will grant you a meeting or give you a valuable piece of information. Not everyone will return your calls immediately or agree to meet with you right away. Some won't return your calls at all. The key is to keep trying.

After two weeks and no response from Tucker's proposal mentioned above, she found an article in Women's Wear Daily about gift cards and called the CFO to mention it to him. He set up a meeting for her to present her idea to him and other staff members. The meeting was well-received but still she didn't hear back. "Several weeks later I saw a job posted for a manager, Gift Cards and Credit Services position. I contacted the CFO who first thought I was too senior for the position. I convinced him otherwise and I landed the job," Tucker says.


Confidence

Because many career changers experience periods of self-doubt during the transition period, it is important to surround yourself with people who believe in you and can boost your confidence. Rejection and factors that are beyond your control are often part of the process -- but that shouldn't make you abandon your goals.

Kleiman launched his business April 1, 2009. He commented, "the market had cratered in March and there was no credit available for business buyers. The economic armageddon made people even more risk-averse than usual. I struggled more than I had anticipated at first. I was doubting my decision and I responded by doubling my efforts which has paid off. I am seeing the results that made me choose this to begin with as well as deriving a lot of satisfaction from helping people change their lives. The lifestyle change (flexible hours and no commute) I have with this business model is also paying the intended dividends -- being able to attend more of my children's activities."

Tucker remembers getting many nos before she got a yes. Some people she met with were skeptical of her intentions to change careers and asked why she wanted a job at a lower level or with less salary. They expressed concern that she would get bored and leave for a higher paying job in her previous industry. Others seemed uncomfortable with the fact that she would be one of the older people in a more junior role. She kept at it, feeling sure this new career path was right for her and that she would find a place in the industry.


Collaboration

Both Tucker and Kleiman agree that their career coach, Linsey Levine, was instrumental in their success. Says Tucker: "Linsey served as a guide and an objective person to assess my skills and keep me on track."

Adds Kleiman: "Linsey helped keep me focused, kept the process moving forward, helped me to think outside the box at possibilities I wouldn't have considered on my own, and didn't allow me to hold myself back. She held me accountable to my goals and helped me deal with some of my fears as well."

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