Changing careers? Plan ahead

Dear Joan:
I am going to be making a career change in the near future and need your assistance. I have attempted to qualify myself for the new career through volunteer opportunities and related course work. I am in the process of revising my resume and would like to know the best way to present the skills/knowledge I have recently developed through volunteering and course work (the courses are not part of a degree program. Although, I do have a bachelor's degree.)

My present position is unrelated to the field I desire to enter, so I feel it is very important that the new information is stressed in my resume. Where and how should accomplishments gained through volunteer efforts be presented? What about a course taken in Desk-Top publishing?

It seems everywhere I go people are thinking about changing careers...especially mid-career professionals who have been squeezed out by the recession or who decide their first career isn't satisfying. Unfortunately, many of these people are approaching their career change blindly; they apply for jobs in the new career without researching the requirements first. Your volunteer experience and course work are a step in the right direction but you need a broader marketing plan.

Career changers make several common mistakes:

1.      They rely on their resumes too much and don't actively network (Make the most of your volunteer work by networking with fellow volunteers.)

2.      They expect employers to "give them a chance" or provide "training" without first taking the responsibility to get some related job experience on their own (like the volunteer work and course work you've done).

3.      They don't finish their degrees (or never start) and then find that a degree is a minimum requirement no matter what field they want to switch to.

4.      They go back to school for a degree in that field and expect that the doors will magically open when they graduate. (Sometimes they even find out the new degree was unnecessary.)

5.      They aren't creative about finding related work experience or aren't willing or able to do work-related projects for free.

The first thing to do is to develop a marketing plan for yourself.  Step one is to find at least three people who are already in the field, who can fill you in on the job requirements you must have. Also, start a scrapbook of want ads in the field, so you can watch for requirements in different industries. If career changers did this before they decided to switch careers, they would know what they were getting into and would be able to get some related job experience while they were still employed in their old careers.

Next, don't be too quick to assume that your old field is totally wasted experience and has no bearing on your new field. Try to identify things in common between your past jobs and your new career field. Who has seen your work and is well connected? What past experience can you use as relevant experience in the new career? Who might have some projects you could do that would give you valuable experience?

For instance, if you worked as an administrative assistant for a temporary agency and now you want to be in the communications field, think of the opportunities to blend your past and present. For instance, offer to update some of the temporary agency's marketing materials for free. You get the experience, they get a valuable service at no cost and you get a valuable reference (and maybe even a job!).

Instead of a resume, consider writing a letter instead, with the goal of meeting the person face-to-face for advice and information. Load the letter with examples of accomplishments. You don't even have to mention that they were volunteer and you didn't get paid for them.

Listing courses such as desktop publishing doesn't mean much, unless you demonstrate how you've used it. For instance, in your letter, you could say, "Completely revised marketing materials for a temporary agency -using a desktop publishing system-which resulted in calls from several new customers and compliments from existing customers."

In other words, consider your volunteer experience the same as you would work experience and market yourself to employers by meeting them, asking them for advice and finding ways to show them what you can do.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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