Career Center Blog

May 1, 2011

Taking your new career for a 'test drive'


One of the many repercussions of the Great Recession in the overall job market has been a rapid reshuffling of workers in newly defined roles. For instance, the recent slow thaw of the job market is giving a glimmer of hope to those who have clung to jobs that they didn't particularly like but were too scared to leave during the economic crisis. Also, many people who have worked in some of the hardest-hit sectors, such as construction and manufacturing, are giving up hope of seeing those jobs return and are seeking work in other fields.

With this change comes a natural fear of "starting over" -- a daunting challenge for any professional, especially those who have been in the workforce for many years and may not have time to learn a new set of job skills. However, a new book by career expert Dr. Laurence Shatkin suggests that many job seekers may already have the necessary connections and experience to start a new career but are unaware of new ways to apply their talents.

In The Sequel: How to Change Careers Without Staring Over, Shatkin discusses the phenomenon of the "sequel career," which is basically the transference of a person's current knowledge and skills from one career to the next. He identifies seven major career groups -- management, teaching, advocacy, standards-enforcement, communications, sales and brokerage -- in which job seekers can reinvent their careers without the need for lengthy and expensive retraining. "Like a movie sequel, it carries over much that is familiar from your first effort," he writes.

But no matter how experienced a worker may be, a career change is not something that can happen overnight. Shatkin recommends that job seekers looking for a change take their new careers on a "test drive" to see if it's something that they truly enjoy. If correctly navigated, this experimentation phase can also be done, he writes, without the need to make a radical break with the job seeker's current employer.

Here are three pathways that Shatkin suggests that can enable you to kick the tires of a new career before making the plunge:

Volunteer -- One of the least disruptive strategies is to volunteer your own time to organizations that represent your particular work interest. If possible, try to find a volunteer role that may also improve a specific skill that may help you in your new career. "You can gain experience doing new work as a volunteer and can chalk up accomplishments that can find a place on your resume," he writes.

Request new job assignments -- If you already have a job, see if you can request assignments that are outside of your normal job description as a way to build up experience. However, Shatkin advises to tread lightly on this subject: "It's a good idea to consider how your boss will react to this kind of request," he says. "He or she may feel threatened by the possibility of losing you or facing competition from you."

Work on the side -- Moonlighting is always a touchy subject, and rightfully so. You never want to let a second job affect your performance at your current job. "Be careful not to choose an activity that will compete in any way with the business of your regular employer," Shatkin warns. "Competitive activity will endanger your day job and may violate your terms of employment, exposing you to the risk of a lawsuit." However, if you are able to start a blog, do freelance work, consult or take on a part-time job that affects only your own time, this will give you practical experience in the new field you seek.

Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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