Know thyself. This simple advice should be the mantra of anyone in the midst of a mid-life career change. Of course, the path to self-enlightenment is often fraught with anxiety.
"If you're not worried, you're not in career transition," suggests Helen Scully of Scully Career Associates. She was addressing an overflow audience at a job fair seminar, "Conducting a Mid-Life Career Change," put on by California Job Journal. Scully and Robin Wortley Hammond, head of CJJ's Career Services, presented a seminar full of tips on handling dramatic - if not traumatic - career changes.
Assessing Your Assets
While the seminar covered a wide range of topics - from resume details to healthy eating habits - the speakers frequently reiterated how important it is for mid-life workers in transition to pinpoint their skills and aspirations.
"You have much more [to offer] than you think," Wortley Hammond prodded the audience, stressing that anyone who cannot come up with an effective list of transferable skills is "not thinking creatively."
The speakers presented a list of typical assets offered by people in mid-life: a rich base of work experience, networking contacts, advanced social skills, self-awareness of natural talents, organizational and time management skills, emotional maturity, and a strong work ethic.
Conversely, the greatest obstacles those in transition face include: a lack of focus, appearance of desperation, frustration with the employment process, discrimination (or perception/expectation of discrimination), self-doubt or self-limiting beliefs ("I'm too old . . ."). Other obstacles include poor job-seeking strategies and skills, lack of money or time, inadequate research which leads to unrealistic expectations, and a poor utilization of job-searching resources (including the Internet).
"You have to take responsibility for your career/job search. What do you like to do and why?" Wortley Hammond challenged the audience. Conducting an effective personal inventory of likes and skills will give the career seeker the proper direction vital to success.
"Do you want to stay in the same industry or change? Is your industry growing or dying? Do you want to use the same or different skills?" she asked. The answers will be the building blocks upon which the resume is crafted.
Creating an Effective Resume
Refuting comments to the contrary, Wortley Hammond stressed the need for every resume to communicate a clear and concise objective. Those who advocate eliminating this element, she said, are simply being critical of objectives that are so vague as to be meaningless. "You have to have some idea of what you are shopping for," Wortley Hammond emphasized.
She also cautioned the audience against trying to cram too much into a resume.
"A resume is not a list of everything you have ever learned or done." Rather, writing a resume is "a method of prioritizing."
One of the keys to creating a good resume is choosing a suitable format. Is your recent experience relevant enough to use a chronological style in which you list your most current experience first? Or should you use a functional style, which details your experience in terms of skill sets? The functional resume is the more challenging format to write, according to Wortley Hammond.
Content is critical. Prioritize the experience, achievements and training that best support your job goal.
Finally, organize the information to highlight those qualifications that are most applicable to your objective. For example, if you have in-house training that is relevant to your job goal, list it. Otherwise, omit it. "It's assumed you haven't listed every detail," Wortley Hammond explained.
Mid-life career change does not carry the stigma it once did, since job transition is more acceptable in today's world. Interruptions in work history are not uncommon, she counseled. "It's okay to have been out of the job market. Maybe you were taking care of a sick relative, or raising kids, or whatever."
It is, however, important to go back at least ten years when listing your work history. "I am surprised at the number of people who put a lot of effort into identifying their basic skills, but have nothing about their previous jobs," she noted.
SIDEBAR: Resume Strategies for Career Changers
In addition to resume content, the seminar covered basic strategies and resume formats for various transition scenarios.
Same company, different function. Don't overlook opportunities to move within your existing company. Tenure and recent accomplishments will be key. On the downside, you may have to wait for in-house job openings. A combination of a chronological/functional resume may be required if you are changing job function.
Same industry, same function. In other words, doing your current job for a different company. Your recent experience, repertoire of skills and qualifications, and industry expertise should speak for themselves to support your objective. A chronological resume with strong career profile is your best bet.
Same function, different industry. You would be transferring your current job functions and general expertise to a different industry. You must identify how your job function skills translate to the new industry. Then be prepared to sell potential employers on your qualifications and transferable skills. A chronological resume will put the most emphasis on strong qualifications.
Different function, same or different industry. You would most likely be using new or different job skills, so you need to identify the skills and qualifications that apply to your objective. You must then demonstrate how those skills and qualifications will transfer successfully to the new position. This is a harder sell if you are changing industries as well. A functional resume with strong qualifications or a career profile indicating industry expertise and/or transferable qualifications is appropriate.
Re-entering a prior career. Wortley Hammond noted that it is quite common for people who have successfully transitioned into a new career to later want to re-enter their old profession. This can be particularly difficult for people in the technology fields, where skills can quickly become outdated. In many of these cases, the emphasis needs to be on one's ability to quickly update skills, learn new technology and think analytically.
Leaving the military. Writing an effective chronological resume covering several years of military experience can be challenging, said Wortley Hammond, since job titles and ranks do not readily translate into private sector equivalents. A functional resume, on the other hand, can emphasize areas of responsibility and expertise which require the same skills as those employed in private industry. It is critical to identify and highlight administrative and management roles as well as any training or coursework that may relate to your present job objective.
The Importance of Attitute
Scully concluded the seminar with a few words of wisdom. Stay fit, eat healthy and remain positive, she said, since attitude will have a big impact on your success.
"If you are hopeless you are helpless," Scully remarked. It's okay to be worried, to feel "a little bit at sea and off balance. It's a creative time. Your soul has awakened again."
It's a trying time that takes courage, she counseled. "You must be willing to commit yourself, to take less than a perfect guarantee . . . and go for it."