New year promises exciting changes

Dear Joan:
Secretarial work has been my full time career for 25 years. The last seven years has included word processing and office management. I've been with my present employer almost four years and the last employer 11 years, with three promotions within the department.

Along with being concerned with the possible negative effects of my many hours at the computer, I have grown tired of secretarial work and would like to change careers. I have thought of securing a job that has more physical activity where I'm not stuck at a desk. I'm thinking along the lines of a non-clerical or minimal word processing position in a restaurant/hotel (banquet/catering) or a health care facility (non-nursing). I'm well organized, detail oriented, conscientious, dependable and willing to accept responsibility.

At age 43, is it too late to change careers? How do prospective employers view this? What's the best approach to changing careers? If my new career would not work out, could I easily get back into secretarial work at a later date?

You may be the right person in the right place at the right time. Secretarial jobs have long been thought of as the "ghetto" of the workplace-a dead end, low-paying, undervalued segment of corporate America. Trend watchers, such as John Naisbitt (Megatrends author) and statistics keepers (The Bureau of Labor Statistics) are reporting a seller’s market for secretaries, who are moving uptown at last.

If your attempts to move to a different career don't pan out, you probably can get a secretarial job for more money than you're making now. These experts tell us that there will be a 45 percent increase in the demand for secretaries through 1995. Employers will be looking for 305,000 secretaries every year for the next ten years. For experienced secretaries like yourself, salaries have risen by ten percent a year, while the national increase for all jobs is 7.2 percent.

Your experience and work record are ideal for a career move. If you have a fair amount of computer experience, you may have the information management skills that companies want. In the article, "No More Excuses for Not Training Secretaries" (Training and Development Journal, August 1989), author Carol Moseley Henneback states, "The new information technology has eliminated the jobs of many middle managers, who once processed the flow of information to headquarters. With computers, the boss can now access that information directly; the new middle manager is the secretary who controls the technology."

Although the hospitality and health care industries may appeal to you, many positions still pay relatively low wages. Because of the increased demand for white-collar workers who have your skills and track record, you might consider a move to a management position in an office environment. Henneback points out that the number of women in management doubled between 1974 and 1984 and that 90 percent of those women began as secretaries. With your office management skills, you may be closer to a higher level job than you think.

If getting out from behind a desk is a major factor, start noticing the physically active jobs in the industries in which you have experience. The transition will be easier if an employer knows you are familiar with the kind of work they do. Consider outside vendors you contact, other departments in your company and competitors.

Your age shouldn't be a barrier, if you sell yourself as a "mature, stable and experienced" individual. Your biggest barrier will be the perceptions of some employers, who will undervalue your past experience. That's why it will be vitally important to play up past results and accomplishments on your resume and cover letter. Take every possible opportunity to play up your contributions using- management terminology- rather than underplaying them out of modesty.

Finally, don't overlook the possibility of staying where you are and growing into a bigger job. If your company has promoted secretaries in the past and your boss is the type who will let you take on more responsibility, share your ambitions with him or her and craft a plan to realize your dream. The time is now-go for it.

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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