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Prepare for downturn by scouting opportunities

Dear J.T. & Dale: I graduated from college and moved to California and worked successfully for a startup that sells marijuana. It’s a thriving business and nobody in CA questions the value of my work experience. However, I’m looking to move back home to the Midwest, where values are a lot more conservative. How should I explain my work history in a way that won’t scare employers away? – Grant

J.T.: There’s no way to hide the experience. Even if your résumé de-emphasizes the industry, people will still figure it out. The solution is to find a list of companies you admire that are located in the area you want to move to and start networking. Your goal is to talk to people who work there and say, “What do you think your employer would think of my background?” and, “Any tips for presenting myself to them in a way that wouldn’t make them run away?” Hopefully, people you meet with will see how professional and accomplished you are and refer you to the hiring manager. Referrals are the No. 1 way people get hired these days, particularly when their previous work circumstances need some extra explaining!

DALE: J.T. is mostly right, Grant. Yes, you need to network – that’s the solution to just about every job search problem – and a list of target companies is a great way to start. But I believe you’d hurt your chances by openly worrying about your marijuana connection, suggesting employers might “run away.” To do so is to underestimate the open-mindedness of Midwesterners. First, they understand that the majority of Americans live in states with some level of legal marijuana use, and that list includes states in or around the Midwest (depending on how you define that region) – Illinois, Ohio, Minnesota and Michigan. Sure, there are going to be hiring managers who’ll regard your last job as evidence of debauchery, but there are just as many who will find it intriguing, thinking your experience could give you insights into contemporary culture.

J.T.: Dale has been out West too long, and I think he underestimates the resistance you’ll encounter. If nothing else, you need to let people know that you understand it’s a sensitive topic. And I’d urge you to do what you can to network your way to meeting with the sort of hiring managers Dale is talking about.

DALE: Finding open-minded Midwesterners will not be a problem. And I want to know how right I am – please let us know what you encounter.

Dear J.T. & Dale: I have a good job, but I’m nervous about the future. I work in manufacturing and have a bad feeling the next market correction is going to hit our company hard. I want to be prepared before I get a pink slip. – Chelsie

J.T.: Start by being aware of the warning signs of layoffs. Companies usually start implementing a lot of operational cost-cutting measures – they freeze hiring and bonuses, eliminate vendors, reduce spending on nonessential items and so on. You’ll also notice the executive team in a lot more closed-door or off-site meetings than normal. And, of course, keep an eye on sales. If the company is missing targets multiple quarters with no clear game plan to turn things around, I’d start preparing for the potential of a reduction in workforce.

DALE: That’s good, but why become better at spotting trouble when you could become better at spotting opportunity? No matter your level or profession, you need to spend some time studying which industries and companies will thrive in the coming years. As they say in investing, “The trend is your friend.” You need to find a sector of the economy that’s going to lift your career. And speaking of investing, there are brilliant investment company gurus providing plenty of information to help. Now’s the time, while you have a good job, to open an investment account and start reading about industry trends and company expectations. You’ll put aside some money, but more important, you’ll use that new knowledge to invest in your career and your future.

Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab. Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St, 15th Fl, New York, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. (c) 2019 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.