On the Job

When Changing Careers, It's All in How You Market Yourself

By Kenneth Bredemeier
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, January 18, 2008; 12:00 AM

American workers routinely switch jobs and often it's not difficult to jump into a similar job in the same professional field. But switching careers, especially after amassing a substantial track record in something different, can be trickier.

Here's one worker's plight:

I have been unhappy in my current position for years and have begun an active job search. The problem is that I've been in healthcare contract management for nearly 15 years, most of my professional career. I am now trying to change paths, but have been unsuccessful for a number of reasons (pigeon-holed, current salary and it's all I really know). I feel that I'm still young (37) and could be a valuable resource for any company. What advice could you offer to help make my transition successful, plus maintain my current $80,000 salary?

Beth Brascugli De Lina, a human resources consultant with HRM Consulting Inc. in Murphys, Calif., says that when a worker wants to switch careers, the key is to understand one's "transferability of skills," and then be able to successfully market one's self as capable of handling new roles and responsibilities.

She says that community colleges and vocational counselors can often advise job seekers on how their skills in one job, such as in the healthcare industry, would be useful in other careers.

The trick, she says, is for the worker to "analyze himself as a commodity. He has to package himself in a way the potential employer can see that his skills can be transferred to the new employer."

She says that the longer one stays in one industry the more workers can get pigeon-holed as just being useful to that industry, rather than in other industries that need the same skills or managerial competence. So in looking elsewhere, De Lina says that this worker needs to identify his abilities and how they can specifically relate to a new job.

Workers switching career paths often have to take a pay cut if they're starting over in another field, but not always. Workers can and do get pay raises, too. She says this worker could do well by signing on with a job recruiter who could match his skills with current job openings. Best yet, their fees are routinely paid by the hiring companies.

Kenneth Bredemeier has six years of experience writing about the workplace. On the Job, a column addressing real worker questions about office relationships, corporate policies and workplace law, is written exclusively for washingtonpost.com. To submit a question, e-mail onthejob@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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