August 9, 2022

The Search: The Big Switch, One Step at a Time

PITY the company that is looking for a whiz at HTML5, the up-and-coming Web language. Or the business seeking people to develop mobile applications or a social media strategy. There aren’t enough of these types to go around, and positions remain vacant despite the urgent need.

Why, then, is the unemployment rate at 9.1 percent? Partly because there is so much less need for real estate agents, desktop-computer hardware designers, administrative assistants and others. The skills mismatch between demand and supply is acute.

At this point, a frustrated mortgage loan officer who has applied for hundreds of jobs may be wondering: Should I just give up and become a skin care specialist — one of the fastest-growing job categories listed by the Labor Department?

Switching to a new career is a drastic step. Before you pursue it, ask yourself: Is your skill becoming obsolete, or is it just in a cyclical funk? Construction managers may be having a hard time now, but they will eventually be in demand again. A government-sponsored site,, projects growth for various professions.

Also, do you consider your career to be your true calling, or is it something you chose almost at random? A dead-end job search may be a perfect jumping-off point to explore other industries that lead to fulfilling work.

Are you at the beginning of your career, or do you have many years of experience? Is your life flexible enough to accommodate at least a temporary salary drop, and do you have time to attend school again?

If you make a career switch, you may face a decline in salary because “you’re moving away from your core expertise” — one that probably gives you more earning power, said Katy Piotrowski, a career counselor in Fort Collins, Colo. But she said she had seen some people reach their former income levels or surpass them, particularly after several years.

 For midcareer people, it’s risky to make a wholesale career switch, said John A. Challenger, chief executive of Challenger Gray Christmas, the outplacement firm. Unless they are at the beginning of their working lives, he said, many people can’t afford to give up the time and the income required to develop entirely new skills.

Rather than changing your function, consider changing industries, he said — for example, an accountant at a manufacturing company could apply for an accounting job at an energy business.

As you explore another field, become familiar with its distinct vocabulary. This will lower the resistance of hiring managers, said Pamela Mitchell, author of “The 10 Laws of Career Reinvention.”

“I recommend that you read the industry trades and you follow the blogs of a particular industry because they’re not translated for the general public,” she said.

If you do think you want to make a big change, there are ways to explore the possibility without upending your life, Ms. Piotrowski said. And it helps that skills acquired in one industry can often be transferred or modified to be useful in another.

Your goal is to find out where your skills and interests are needed, Ms. Mitchell said. And be aware of both local and global trends. “You need to be reading your local paper and your local business journal,” she said. Use these to find out which businesses are opening, closing and expanding.

Suppose you are in a field that isn’t hiring and you want to explore an area that is in demand and interests you. Join user or industry groups in that field and connect with professionals there and on LinkedIn, Ms. Piotrowski said. Ask them: “If you were in my shoes, what would you suggest I do?”

Determine whether you need training in the new field. Going back to school for another degree is costly, and pursuing a skill that requires a shorter-term certification program is often more realistic. “I’ve seen hundreds of M.B.A.’s who are not able to use their degree, and they wonder why they got it,” Ms. Piotrowski said.

WHEN you feel ready to begin, don’t just run off and start a goat cheese farm, Ms. Mitchell said. “Start with mini-reinventions,” she advised.

Try to find a part-time job or internship in the new field, Ms. Piotrowski said. It may be for as little as three hours a week, she said, and you may not even be paid, but it will provide valuable real-world experience.

Offer your help without pay on short-term projects, Ms. Mitchell said. Then show those projects to prospective clients in the hope that you will reach a point where you can start charging for your work.

Say you want a job in that white-hot field, HTML5, which is changing the way Web sites are designed. After you gain proficiency in it through classes and gather information and connections via industry professionals, offer to create a Web site for a small business — at no charge.

You can then add that to your résumé, and it can be the first entry in your HTML5 portfolio — leading eventually, perhaps, to your first HTML5 job.


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