Job pro questions voluntary career change


Published: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 31, 2006 at 12:45 a.m.

Q:

You gave the 55-year-old woman re-entering the job market good advice to find out what she likes to do and go after it. I agree to a certain extent, but, as a 23-year job placement specialist, I wish you had given some of the other side of the coin: "Doing what you need to do vs. doing what you want to do."

There's an entire army of so-called "life and career coaches" making a killing on naive midlife career changers. These people tell their gullible audiences, "Go for your dream! Give it all you've got! You can do it! Don't allow the naysayers to discourage you!"

These coaches are in the media all the time because they speak an uplifting message that plays well to the midlife-crisis crowd who are questioning their "true calling in life."

What these coaches won't tell you is that for every dream chaser who succeeds, there are 99 who don't. Those who fail are left in a worse situation than they had been in previously: deep in debt, family and personal lives in shambles, and now facing an even tougher time finding a job in their skill area because interviewers won't hire them when they discover that they wasted the past year chasing something they would rather do than the job they are interviewing for.

I have interviewed hundreds of dream chasers during my years in placement. What coaches should be teaching is that pursuing one's dream is fine, but only when you are in a life situation that allows you to assume the high risk of failure and also the ability to take a massive cut in income for years until you have established yourself in your new field.

Midlife is not the time to do that when you have mortgages, college tuition, orthodontia bills and other expenses of a family to support. Pursue your dream only if you are independently wealthy or your responsibilities are minimal, such as early in your work life or later when the nest is empty. Otherwise, grow up and do your best in your established career field until you make it to one of those categories.

Changing the environment - company change, not career change - often is all that's required for career satisfaction and happiness. That's where a good headhunter or placement specialist can be a big help.

However, what I advocate is not going to be heard because I am the naysayer these coaches don't like - my views won't sell positive-thinking CDs and videos.

Neil P. McNulty, McNulty

Management Group,

Virginia Beach, Va.

A:

I hope your views will be seriously considered when voluntary career changes are up for discussion. In my observation, the vast majority of people who initially are persuaded that they're not too old to run away and join the circus, after intense investigation, ultimately don't change careers. Or they do change careers and experience the difficulties you describe. The challenge to switch is much more rigorous than is typically presented on television talk shows and in magazine cover stories.

Moreover, contrary to the folklore of "Do what you love and the money will follow," the money does not always follow your art or your heart. As I've said, "You can't sing opera if you can't hit high C."

The point is well taken about the difficulty of explaining how excited you are to go back to work at your old lemonade stand after a year of voluntarily trying (and failing) to launch a new career. So why not just try something new and quit sooner if it doesn't pan out? I have no recent studies on the issue, but anecdotally, I'm hearing that employers are increasingly saying don't bother to apply if you've had more than two jobs in five years.

If your career field left you - not the other way around - and you're involuntarily required to look for something different, the game changes and that's another column.

But to people who fear they'll go postal if they don't escape to something different, remember that some career changers do land upright and live happily ever after. They're the ones who get the publicity. Try to stack the odds in your favor by considering all the angles, negative as well as positive.

E-mail career questions for possible use in this column to Joyce Lain Kennedy at jlk@sunfeatures.com; use "Reader Question" for subject line. Or mail her at Box 368, Cardiff, CA 92007.

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