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Career Transition: From Retail to Real

By Nick Reddin

Career transition is truly one of the most challenging subjects to write about. To completely retool one’s self is time consuming and never ideal. It is a very difficult transition to pull off if you have been in the workforce for any great length of time. It can also be problematic for those who have held “fun” jobs during college or for people who have backpacked through Europe for the last nine months but now want to get serious about a real career.

The harder transition to make is the one where you have been in the workforce for a very long time. Basically human resource departments are a lot more understanding about an ex-student who takes time off after four-plus years of college to see the world or work at some ski shop in Colorado on a whim than someone who decides to switch careers.

The first thing to do when you start considering a transition is to ask yourself some thought provoking questions.

  • Am I really ready to begin my career?
  • Do I really know what I want to pursue?
  • What are the pros and cons of pursuing this career?
  • What interests me in this career?

As difficult as it can be to answer these questions, your responses can be very telling. Be honest.

Something that stands out to recruiters evaluating résumés is tenure. Tenure in your job is very important. You want to make sure that as you move into this serious phase of your career you know why you are pursuing what you are pursuing. Research statistics show that anywhere between 67 percent and 77 percent of people working are willing to quit their job for something different. The interesting piece of that statistic is different does not equate better.

One of the toughest obstacles for people to overcome in the work place is apathy. Make sure that what you are pursuing is truly of interest to you. If it is not, it is only a matter of time before you become a clock-watcher, biding your time. You will be counting down the days until football season or wishing for something new and different because your career is now boring you. So be very careful in assessing how you are going to spend your career.

It is time to address the harder transition. This is the one where you are a well tenured employee. You have been in the workforce for a very long time and for some reason have decided you are no longer engaged at work and want to move up and out – not to a new company, but to a new career.

Before I go any further, let me say that desperation or anger towards your current employer is not really a good reason to make this move. If your industry is dying out or your margins are shrinking, then making a quick decision to pursue a new career may have a lasting effect. The most successful people that transition from one career to the next did not do it on purpose. Typically some type of situation or motivation come together and next thing they know they are working in an entirely new industry.

For those of you that are not in that position and need a strategy, there are some things you will need to do. As I mentioned earlier, you need to check your motivations. I would even suggest making a list of the career categories that interest you. No more than six or seven. Assess your list by making a pros and cons sheet with the goal of narrowing it down to the three most likely industries.

Once you have those industries down, it is time to look at yourself and your skills. You need to figure out what transferable skills you bring to each of those career categories. It is essential that you are truly honest in your assessment of your skill base and what would be beneficial to your next career.

You may find you need a specialized certificate or training before any recruiter would be interested in talking with you. Don’t forget to include this as part of your selection criteria for your pros and cons list. For example, if you want to work in Human Resources they are going to want see an SPHR (Senior Professional in Human Resources) or PHR (Professional in Human Resources) certificate. Without that certificate you would not be considered a viable candidate at any level.

As you can see, the planning process of career transition is key. When you look across your listing of career categories what trends do you see? Is there a common theme? Are some of these total “dream” scenarios? Do you like to work fast paced or slow paced? Do you like to work in a team environment?

Cross reference your on-the-job desires with what you want in a work environment. Then measure those against industry trends – is that industry growing or shrinking? How accessible is it to where I live? Am I willing to relocate to pursue any industry?

Career transition is as much about intuition and gut feeling as it is science. Think through as much of it as possible and lean on some type of system. Objectively analyzing the roadblocks and objectives will be a big part of successfully making the transition. Bring as many trusted people into your thought process as possible and pitch to them why you think you would fit in your next career. Ask for honest feedback and helpful guidance.

One last thing to keep in mind. Most jobs, including career transitions, are gained by networking. With the plethora of networking tools available from Linkedin, Facebook, and MySpace, make sure you do not overlook people that can help you get connected. At the end of the day your network may be the biggest factor of all. With their help, you may be able to track down and talk to people in your chosen career category, gaining you information and valuable insight you might not have otherwise had access to.

With the right plan and the right people, your next career may be right around the corner.