Opening New Windows in Your Life

Career & Job Advice from Joyce Lain Kennedy of Careers Now



I want to make a fresh start after a mass layoff at a place where I'd worked for nine years.

I thought that getting into a different field would be easier than it's turned out to be.

I know about using transferrable skills when you're trying to get hired in a new field, but that hasn't done me much good.

Is the problem me, or is it the crummy job market?

-- J.D.R.

It's both.


After nearly a half-decade of a good economy in which employers had to scramble for the best talent, they're now able to cherry-pick in a candidate-rich market.

And consider the super-risk-adverse mind-set of today's typical employer. Fear of failure is why business is up at pricey management consulting firms during this financial crunch when other parts of company budgets are way down. Decision-makers worry about sinking their ships with wrong decisions or bad hires.

In avoiding the unknown, employers are most comfortable selecting new hires who have successfully and recently done the same job for which they're being hired. The risk is modified. If things do go wrong, a bad hire can be more easily defended up the food chain: "It wasn't my fault that the new guy didn't work out -- he'd done the same job with good references over at ABC competitor."

Less reassuring to risk-adverse employers are the "I think so" candidates who say, "I think I can do this work because I've done some parts of it elsewhere."

These background conditions are part of the reason you aren't finding a job in a field, industry or function new to you. The other part of the reason is likely your approach.


Facing the competition without experience in places where you want to go demands a smartly crafted marketing approach. A successful approach means the creation of customized documents (resumes, cover letters and related job letters) that spell out specifically why you'd be the right choice for the position. The approach also requires that you prepare a smooth interview presentation echoing the specific reasons mentioned in your documents.

Yep, it's a lot of work to give employers reasons to overlook your inexperience. You cannot expect an employer to do the matching up for you. All the platitudes such as "expert at communications," or "team player," or "strong people skills" only work if you relate them to the job a given employer wants done.

Your resumes (targeted to each potential employer) must do more than merely identify transferrable skills. Help employers visualize the contributions you could make despite your lack of experience. Emphasize powerful achievement statements and downplay unrelated experience. And rehearse until you can clearly explain in your interview performances what, from the employer's viewpoint, you bring to the table.

Would-be career changers, forget about mass campaigns of generic documents and generally pleasant interview performances. These too often are wild goose chases in today's ultra-competitive job market.



I want to change careers, but I think I need new training. Money's a big problem. Ideas?

-- S.S.


When you need to update your skills or learn new ones, check out community colleges (even though they're jam-packed these days).

Attending workshops, taking online courses, or even joining a Webinar over a lunch hour could be attractive to employers.


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