Hiring Squad

Uncharted Territory

Meredith Bove
After 10 years in the workforce, Meredith Bove (above) decided to switch careers from IT to public relations, in order to spend more time with her family. (Alexey Tolchinsky)
By Andrea N. Browne
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, June 23, 2006; 6:00 AM

When Washington's Meredith Bove learned she was pregnant in January 2005, she knew changes were inevitable.

An excited mother-to-be, Bove, 30, realized her 50-hour work week and the unstable nature of her job as an internal consultant for a global telecommunications company would no longer work. With that in mind, she hired a career coach while on maternity leave in August.

With 10 years in the workforce, Bove wanted stability. For her, that meant a desk she could call her own, a set work schedule so she could spend more time with her husband and growing family, and a steady group of clients. After some thought, Bove eventually decided switching careers was her best chance.

She interviewed for jobs in management consulting and at nonprofit associations before accepting a position as an account director at McLean, Va., public relations firm SheaHedges Group, in February. Now, Bove says she loves her new situation and is doing rewarding and meaningful work.

Bove's experience is not uncommon: Many professionals find themselves at a crossroads during their career and considering substantial changes. Some make the choice willingly, looking for new opportunities with anticipation; others find themselves unhappy or unemployed, making change a matter of necessity.

What's Your Motivation?

Transitioning to a new field can be challenging. To make the process run more smoothly, experts say, fine-tune your strategy based on your motivations for seeking a change. Most workers are in one of the following categories:

·  Unemployed and looking. Whether laid off or bought out, unemployed workers are in the same boat, their job stability at an end -- or nearing one. In such a case, says Katherine Ponds, senior vice president of transitions practice for employment consulting firm Right Management, don't panic.
Instead, she says, take time to determine what your professional goals are, then decide whether it's best to immediately respond to vacancy announcements or contact a recruiter based on what's most effective given your targeted job openings. Asking family and friends for job leads is another option.

Those considering buyout offers have a little extra leeway, adds Ponds, as they can investigate these questions at length before accepting or rejecting the offer.

·  In search of balance. Many workers find themselves wanting better work/life balance. This is common in the case of professionals eager to take the time to start families, but is also increasingly a desire for executive-level workers who are ready to take a step back from the boardroom and put personal obligations ahead of professional ones.
The strategy for making such changes happen varies according to the situation: While most workers will have to make a strong business case to employers for why they can make a successful switch to a new career, upper-level professionals can find themselves working to convince employers that they're not overqualified. "It is important not to 'dumb down' your resume," in such cases, says Ponds.

·  Unhappy or bored. When workers are unhappy with their jobs -- feeling underutilized, stuck, or otherwise disengaged -- they "do a lot of introspection about what direction they want the rest of their lives to go," says Darwin Flinn, vice president of corporate services and business development for Poughkeepsie, N.Y.-based human resources consulting firm Career Soar Inc., as the thought of spending years doing something unbearable often spurs a desire for change.

To break the cycle, suggests Dana Law, president of Hueytown, Ala., organizational performance consulting firm Sankora Executive Solutions Inc., workers should try an assessment test, such as the Strong Campbell Interest Inventory, to determine which career field suits them best.

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