How to Bounce Back

setback At the far back of Nicole's closet is a set of uniforms untouched for years, worn when she was a promising young bank teller eagerly gaining additional experience on the bank's sales platform. Next to them are the dresses she wore as a teacher, a job she took to pay her son's way through private school while she also worked at the bank. When she was diagnosed with endometriosis, a horrible disease that begins in the female reproductive system, her career withered away, and was replaced by countless nights of agony, pain and discomfort. Nicole's story seemed like it was over ... but it wasn't. If you're suffering through or recovering from one of life's great setbacks, be it a health crisis, prison time or other personal issue, your story doesn't have to be over, either. The right mindset, a good strategy and taking advantage of the vast array of resources available to you can help you get back into a career and regain financial stability.

Change Your Outlook

The right mindset begins with a positive outlook. "It's both a crisis and an opportunity," says Dr. Lynn Levine, a highly accredited career counselor with 28 years of experience. "The crisis is the economy is difficult, people need to become self-supporting and they may have families to support. The opportunity is after a significant gap it is a chance to revisit yourself." Revisiting yourself involves a lot more than just thinking about what your dream job would be. It's an opportunity to discover your personal qualities and abilities and, if you desire, re-invent yourself. You should take a close look at your vocational interests, personality characteristics, personal values and aptitudes. Good career counseling and career choices, notes Dr. Levine, finds the common ground between these four areas. This deep analysis is best left to a professional, and the good news is that no matter how challenged your past or limited your finances may be, professional career counselors are available to help you. If you have the resources to hire a career counselor, make sure they're licensed by the state they operate in and have training specifically in the area of career development. A good place to start is, the Web site of the National Career Development Association. The NCDA maintains an online index of people that have earned their Master Counselor designation, a title that encompasses a range of certifications, including a state license. If the expense of a professional career counselor is not an option, every state maintains a network of employment counseling centers with staff trained to aid you in good self-assessment ... and much more. These centers can be found by searching your state's Department of Labor and Workforce Development website, or by stopping by your local civic government outlet such as the Freeholder's office or town hall.

Resume Update

For some, a career counselor's guidance through the self-assessment process will focus on re-engineering their resume to make a successful career jump, particularly if time out of the work force has been minimal. Every day, technically trained professionals jump into careers where their experience isn't an exact match because they've acquired a lot of transferrable skills that are more workplace-related than related to a specific job. Transferrable abilities run the gambit from organizational skills to communication experience.

For most people looking to rejoin the work force, further personal development is the prescription. Dr. Levine sees gaps of time in a resume as space that needs to be explained or filled, and believes the best solution for filling that space is furthering your education or doing an internship. Besides the world of online degree programs and private colleges, there are many affordable and free outlets for career training. The depth of support these free resources offer might surprise you. One such free outlet is the Newark Housing Authority's Welfare-to-Work Employment Center, located in Newark, New Jersey. The program, run by Joseph Campbell and Evette Jackson, serves people aspiring to pursue a career that need more foundational skills before they can attend some of the state's vocational and secondary-education programs in a one-on-one setting. Living success stories from the program abound, with many graduates having overcome obstacles to pursue careers and college training. The program's success has spurred more of its type throughout the state of New Jersey, and the idea is catching on in other states, as well.

Vocational Training

When shopping for a good vocational school, it's usually better to go with a school that has been in existence for at least a number of years, provides certificates from nationally accredited organizations for course completion, has a good word-of-mouth reputation and produces both academically and socially-trained candidates. Some schools even go a little further. C. Eugene Edwards, Executive Director of Worldwide Educating Services, gleefully rambles on of his school's successful graduates as he points to each one of their pictures on a wall outside his office. "We work with you, if you risk losing welfare benefits because of your attendance and don't have money for transportation, we'll give you for transportation to get you here until you can get your bus card...We had Bank of America and Wachovia come here and open bank accounts. The majority of our people never use bank accounts...when you start to write checks you look legitimate and you start to change," says Edwards. Vocational schools typically provide courses in necessary aptitudes through programs like ESL and Driver's Education, along with training that provides a fast route into high-demand careers. While high-demand careers are going to vary somewhat by what region of the US you're located in, universally in-demand training offered at vocational schools typically includes CDL training, customer service representative training, security guard training, accounting, internet technologies and certificate courses in the Allied Healthcare field (including medical assistant, certified nursing assistant and licensed practical nurse). The U.S. Department of Labor maintains an index of jobs with the fastest predicted growth over the next 10 years, and your state employment counseling center website should provide a local snapshot of what jobs are in demand in your county.

Overcoming a Criminal Record

A criminal record can be a challenge to overcome when it comes to getting a state-education assistance or a job, but it's not impossible. Just ask Algorice Frazier. Ten years ago, Frazier was sentenced to a 13-year prison term with five years mandatory. It wasn't the first time Frazier was sent to jail, but it was his last. Algorice turned his five years behind bars into an academic learning experience, taking every class he possibly could ... even though he didn't know what he would do when he got out. He passed his GED. He took 30 credits offered through a community college and made the Dean's List. Pathmark, one company that has earned a reputation for giving ex-cons a chance, hired him part time. From Pathmark he jumped to serving under an accountant at Teen2000, and by the end of his first year out of prison he was working as a tax counselor at H&R Block. The following year he was promoted to office manager and was helping his parole officers with their taxes. Today, he's the head of his local PTA, a proud husband and father and works in the Alumni Association of the Community Education Center counseling and educating others who are coming out of prison and challenged by re-entry into society. The same state-funded educational resources available to those on welfare and unemployment are also available to parolees seeking to further their education, though for certain offenses an alternate route like DVR (Division of Vocational Rehabilitation) might be necessary. Parolees are encouraged to check with their parole officers and research support groups available to them to explore available resources. Opportunities like a one-time record expungement are possible through pro-bono legal services, and tax breaks for employers and federal bonding insurance covers every ex-inmate working their way through a career. Tax breaks also boost your attractiveness to an employer if you are trying to re-enter the work force and are financially challenged.

Additional Resources

Many resources are available to struggling families and individuals to help them gain employment. Dress for Success is an organization that provides free clothing, accessories and toiletries to people looking for work. The Urban League pays for daycare or a private babysitter while you search for a job, go to school or work. Of course, welfare, Medicaid and food stamps are available to those in need, and programs like Paycheck Plus continue your needed financial benefits for up to eight months after employment while transportation and medical benefits may continue for up to two years. Lastly, check with you local hospital to find out what support groups are in your area if you are a survivor of a bad health condition or continue to struggle through one. Networking helps you cope, recover and find work. An aggressive undertaking to document the full range of resources available to those in need is scheduled to be launched on in the coming months. Worldwide Educating Service's Erica Streeter-Adams, assistant to executive director, offers sage advice that no job seeker re-entering the market should forget. "Entry-level jobs are not remedial work. They're an opportunity. We cannot have a microwave mentality toward work." You may have to start lower than you hope, but you started ... and there's always opportunity to grow.

New Beginnings

Today Nicole proudly wears her scrubs to school every day that her health will permit. She's on public assistance, but not for long. She's invested her time in studying to be a medical assistant, and her dedication has paid off in her choice of multiple externship opportunities or her choice of further-funded education to become a nurse or even a physician's assistant. She has discovered that even in the midst of impairment there's great opportunity. So can you.

Next:One Man's Story of Personal Reinvention >>
Read Full Story