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Archive for Monday, November 19, 2007

Don’t cast your net too wide

November 19, 2007

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Q: After 15 years as a trial attorney, I am seeking to change careers, but I'm having difficulty getting my foot in the door. I updated my skills and then applied for jobs as a change-management analyst, corporate-compliance manager, contracts analyst, proposal writer, proposal-development coordinator and program manager, among others. - Regina

J.T.: First, you seem to have adopted the "spray and pray" approach. Instead, I'd back up and really focus in on one or two career paths.

Dale: I know it's counterintuitive, but here's how it works, Regina: You increase your odds by decreasing the number of jobs in your target. You need to start developing a network, and that means working your net, as in fishing. Let's extend that metaphor: Say, you're going to weave a net and you have a given amount of rope. If you make the net too big, it's just a lot of giant holes, and the fish don't even know it's there. In a job search, your time is the rope, and if spread it too wide, it's just giant holes.

J.T.: You can start by picking a skill to leverage. For example, I recently met a former lawyer who's now a magazine journalist. When I asked her why she opted to switch, she said that her favorite part of being a lawyer was researching facts and persuading others to see a point of view. Being a reporter gave her the opportunity to leverage this skill.

Dale: Then, once you focus on a skill, you next begin to leverage existing contacts. People are suspicious of those leaving successful careers, and especially suspicious of lawyers. People see your past career and wonder: "Will she be argumentative? Legalistic? Sue me if I make a joke?" Many businesspeople think of lawyers as the bully on capitalism's playground.

J.T.: That's why the best way to transition into a new career is to find people who know you and your capacity to consistently deliver outstanding work, and ask them to help you find opportunities. I know you're trying to move forward, but sometimes the best way to move forward is to tap into your past successes.

Jeanine "J.T." Tanner O'Donnell is founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell.com. Dale Dauten's latest book is "(Great) Employees Only."

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