NJNY_CoverA best-selling author and renowned speaker, Alexandra Levit has written several books, including the popular business world survival guide “They Don’t Teach Corporate in College.” Her latest book, “New Job, New You,” is designed to help career-changers take tangible steps to achieve their dreams. SmartBrief Senior Editor Mary Ellen Slayter recently spoke with Alexandra, who is a member of our SmartBrief on Workforce Advisory Board, about what it takes to get motivated for such a big change.

MARY ELLEN: Many people stagnate in careers they don’t love because they aren’t sure how to make such a big change. What’s the first step?

ALEXANDRA: Even confident people stay in unsatisfying jobs because they feel safe, and because they’re afraid of making a bad decision. But in the quest to uncover a source of meaningful work, though, your worst enemy is inertia. Make an effort to do one thing, such as e-mailing a networking contact or attending an event, that moves you a bit closer to your big-picture goal. If you’re not even sure what the big-picture goal is, then take time to do a self-assessment of your values, how you like to work, and what you’d be compelled to do even if you never got paid. Research careers and industries that map to your skills and interests. Hit the Internet, set up informational interviews, take relevant coursework, and arrange to visit a company in your chosen field.

A lot of older workers feel anxious about competing with recent grads. What’s your advice for combating those fears?

At the end of the day, employers are looking for the people with the most skills, who are seasoned in coping with a variety of work environments and situations. As someone with tenure, you will beat out the new college grads in these areas every time, and hopefully this knowledge will increase your confidence. When going on interviews, prevent unconscious age discrimination by showcasing your enthusiasm for the job and your field. The employer doesn’t really care how old you are — she just needs to know that you’re there for the long haul.

Then, of course, there’s money. Worries about how to support their families during the transition period often hold people back. How do you recommend people deal with those issues?

Before making a blanket decision that you can’t afford to change careers, think about the situation objectively. Planning is everything, so go online and talk to people in your prospective industry to determine how long it will take you to get up and running in your new career, and how much you will need to spend on additional schooling, training, and other professional development activities. Assess how much you can expect to earn in your first few years in the field. Also, take into account health care expenses. If your current employer provides medical benefits, calculate the costs of continuing that coverage with COBRA. Then, begin reducing your spending and paying down your debt to create a

What are the three most important things career-changers can do to stand out in this job market?

  • The most-effective candidates target prospective companies carefully, using the Internet and their networks to learn about organizational culture, history, financial performance and recent news. By the time the interview takes place, they are able to have an intelligent discussion about the value they bring to the position, and the employer can easily envision them starting tomorrow.
  • People who change careers successfully don’t let a lack of concrete experience in a given field slow them down. They have taken the time to hone transferable skills like project management, budgeting, sales, and marketing, and in applying to jobs in a new field they focus on those rather than the specific industries they’ve worked in.
  • Like everything else in this world, job offers are often made as a result of relationships. Networking one-on-one with people in your new field should begin way before you actually intend to get a job in that field. When interacting with people in your target industry (via third-party association events, for example), listen more than you talk and encourage them to genuinely like you. Since realistically your experience might not be a perfect fit for them, your personality has to make up for it.

Are you looking to change careers? Post your questions for Alexandra in the comments!

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