DEAR J.T. & DALE: I recently turned 30, and it shames me to admit that I’ve worked only low-level, customer-service jobs. I was hoping you could point me in the right direction. I have a college degree, but so does everyone else! I’d love to be a social worker. Friends and family tell me I’d be good at it, but they worry that it would be too hard and competitive. – Lisa
Dale: There it is, the old family and friends advice: “You’d be good, but …” These are the same people you’ve been listening to for nearly 30 years. Stop asking the wrong people. Who are the right people? Admirable professionals working in careers you aspire to.
J.T.: I know that your family and friends care about you and don’t want you to fail, but Dale is right: You should be talking about the career transition with social workers. Set up half a dozen informational interviews to learn from those doing the jobs you are interested in. Then you can ask them what they think it would take to make the shift.
Dale: Instead of merely dreamily saying, “I could see myself doing that job,” put yourself in a position to really see the job – all of it. Talking to people doing the work is a start. Ask your future colleagues if they will let you “shadow” them. Perhaps there is a way to volunteer at a facility that employs social workers. See the job. See the people. See yourself getting there.
J.T.: Doing so will help you begin to build a network, which will be invaluable as you begin to look for jobs.
Dale: Do it right, and it will be neither hard nor competitive. Instead, you will be on a career path moving toward a clear destination. Then, instead of beating yourself up about having spent years in low-paying jobs, you might begin to see those years for what they were: an exploration. You might even be grateful that it has taken you till age 30. After all, there are plenty of people in your age cohort who have been progressing in a career they no longer want and now can’t figure out how to leave. Meanwhile, you’ll end up being a standout among those entering your new field because you’ll bring a maturity and energy that will be refreshing to your new colleagues.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I am looking for a part-time job because my husband had a serious injury and I need flexibility. I have a master of arts in writing and have worked in public affairs. Job postings aren’t much help in finding this type of position. Any suggestions? – Beverly
Dale: There was a trend for a while for auto dealers to mail out a car key to people, along with a picture of a car, and say, “If this key fits this car, it’s yours for free.” Naturally, there were thousands of keys mailed out.
J.T.: Your point?
Dale: I’m trying to find a fresh way of saying that a response to a job posting is (1) a long shot, and (2) has to be an exact match.
J.T.: I get it: Responding to postings that aren’t for part-time jobs is like trying the wrong key. Here’s the right key: Eighty percent of jobs are gotten via referral; it’s probably higher for part-time work. So you need to go on the offensive, Beverly. Create a list of companies in your local area that you’d like to work for, and proactively network with people who work there. You need to meet employees so you can share your experience and how it could be used to help them.
Dale: Good idea, but when people make a list of companies, it’s often a who’s who of the biggest, most impressive employers in town. Fine, but the bigger the company, the less likely it is to be flexible in its hiring. Therefore, when making up your list, be sure to include smaller companies, especially family-owned and entrepreneurial ones. These are the ones most likely to be grateful for someone with your expertise who is available at a part-time salary.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com. com. Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.