Archive for Monday, September 25, 2006

To change careers, become an insider

September 25, 2006


Q: I worked as an engineer in the auto industry for more than 10 years before being laid off. I never enjoyed engineering work. To that end, I enrolled in an MBA program, specializing in finance. I have two problems: I'm completely typecast as an automotive engineer, and the finance jobs all require experience. - Chuck

A: Dale: As for being "typecast," after you spent 10 years in the cast of an automotive-engineering team, you are an auto engineer until you prove you're something else. And if you tell people that you never enjoyed that role, your image only gets worse - you're a malcontent auto engineer. After all, a finance manager is going to meet you and think: "Being an auto engineer sounds pretty cool to me. And now this guy thinks being in finance is going to make him all tingly and fulfilled?" To understand the dilemma, all you have to do is picture yourself in your old job and a finance person coming to you and saying, "I want to be an auto engineer, please, please, please!"

Kate: We have a maxim for our Five O'Clock Club clients: Outsiders never get hired. Yet, the majority of clients do manage to change careers. They do so by becoming insiders.

Use your connections, Chuck, to go to the finance people in the auto industry and get to know them. Attend meetings of local financial executives. Read their publications. Do volunteer work (on the finance committee for a nonprofit group, say).

Get to the point where you can write a proposal to a prospective employer showing how you could add value to his or her company. Even so, you might have to take a half-step career change, such as working as an engineer for a smaller company, getting an agreement with the owner that you will spend part of your time in finance.

Dale: Managers hire employees because they need help. When you come in as an outsider, you are saying, "Take a chance that it'll be the right field for me this time; become my mentor and maybe in a year or two, I'll be as good as the experienced person you could hire instead of me." What are the odds? You get hired to give help, not get it; the burden is on you to acquire the knowledge and experience that will enable you to find a place to make that true.


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