Switching careers: Use your talents and experience to adapt

Competition for jobs remains fierce and you have to do a lot these days to stand out from the crowd. A snazzy resume and a charismatic personality will only get you so far. Hard work, a willingness to take that extra step, and patience are also necessary, said Ronald W. Chan, author of Behind the Berkshire Hathaway Curtain: Lessons from Warren Buffett's Top Business Leaders, in a telephone interview with WalletPop. These were some of the common traits he discovered when he interviewed some of Buffett's closest lieutenants.

Another important lesson: be persistent. He had to be while putting this book together, flying all over the U.S. to interview the CEOs and founders in person. He also heard it from Don Keough, ex-president of Coca-Cola. Said Chan, "He said keep swimming. It's hard work. But you have to be adaptive enough to keep swimming forward."

This month, Don Currie, a CEO of a consumer products company, and Matt Granados, a college student, share their stories of how they switched careers and kept moving forward.

Switching careers: Use your talents and experience to adaptDon Currie: leveraging experience
Like many Americans, 2008 was a year for career reassessment for Don Currie, a CEO of a consumer products company. The former Army Infantry officer felt he had "topped out" where he was, and feared the industry's prospects were heading south.

"The economy had significantly changed consumer behavior, consumer demand and therefore the dynamics of my industry, consumer products, for the foreseeable future," he told WalletPop in an email interview. "As a result, I suspected that there would likely be an abundance of consumer products CEOs and CMOs looking for the limited number of opportunities available."

While working on some consulting projects he had lined up before exiting his post in November, Currie started casting around for the next opportunity. Given how bleak things looked two years ago, he felt he had to "really open my mind to consider things that, on the surface, I might have previously rejected."

Good thing. An account manager at Robert Half International, a company that he had used while he was a CEO to find full and part-time talent, approached him about joining their team of staffing experts.

"While almost completely dismissing the possibility of actually going to work for a $4 billion global staffing firm, I nevertheless agreed to a meeting, more as a means of networking than securing my next career," recalled Currie.

After eight weeks of interviews, shadowing other executives at the company and soul searching, he discovered he liked the part of the firm that specialized in providing senior-level finance and accounting people to clients on a part-time, project or contract-for-hire basis.

The 49-year-old joined Robert Half Management Resources in December 2009 as division director of the Orlando office. His experience as a CEO gave him instant credibility with most of his clients, who were fellow CEOs, CFOs and controllers. He was also making use of one of his core strengths – being able to identify, manage and "deploy talent. I am a people person with a fair degree of intuition about people, their motivation and gifts."

An added plus: he feels he is still running a company, this time without having to worry about "non-revenue producing aspects of running the business." Said Currie, "dump your pride and keep an open mind. Seek to understand your gifts, what you do best and what your calling is. Then go for it."

Matt Granados: finding a new path through mentors

Since Matt Granados was 15, he wanted to run his own hospitality business. So when it came time for college, the Philadelphia native enrolled in Penn State College's hotel and restaurant management degree program. He also interned at Atlantic City's Borgata hotel casino & spa and, the summer before his senior year, he sweet-talked himself into an internship at Steve Wynn's company.

All that planning came to naught. He discovered the life of a casino executive was not for him. "The casino industry is way different from when Wynn went into it," said Granados in a telephone interview with WalletPop. "They're publicly traded companies. The market is saturated. The executives were leading the Las Vegas life and I realized they were working harder than everyone else. They were not spending time with their families. It was not what I wanted."

Meanwhile, as graduation neared in 2009, all his hospitality contacts dried up as many were laid off because of the recession. Thrown for a loop, he turned to his mentor at the LEAP Foundation, a summer mentoring program for high school and college students co-founded by dentist to the stars Dr. Bill Dorfman. (Dorfman was just recognized by the Guinness World Records for raising the most money for a charity through head shaving by an individual.)

With the help of his mentor, he pinpointed his talent for sales. "I am very attention-hungry and determined and persistent," said Granados, now 23. "Ideally, I am very motivated by reward, whether it is money or positive attention. I used to own my own DJ company and got paid a lot. When I went hourly at these internships, it made me angry. I may be working harder than the next guy and not make more money. I would rather take full commission than a salary."

After six months of trying to secure a loan to start his own sales and marketing company, Altimaxx, through traditional means, he lined up less than $100,000 from private investors. Thrilled with his new career, Granados says he couldn't have done it without the help of mentors at LEAP.

"Get a mentor," he advised, "even if you offer to work for free, just to be around the person. Make sure you can trust them and make sure you and the mentor have the same common goal. You have to be on the same page, what is best for you."
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