The Career Connection: Keep Your Day Job! The Importance of Testing the Waters Before Switching Careers
With the warm weather of summer come the soft breezes and dreams of doing something different for a living. These dreams are sweetened by the notion of, perhaps, being your own boss and calling the shots. These thoughts of switching a career, of course, are heightened after a particularly bad day at work. Toward that end many people would certainly enjoy taking a hobby or interest one step further and actually get paid to do what they love.
There are many examples of such people, to include writers, photographers, artisans, skilled craftsmen and handymen, or people who volunteer their time who all fall under this heading. Meanwhile, either quitting or losing your day job might offer you an opportunity to convert your talent into a paying profession. Certainly, the competition for these kinds of jobs is fierce, but if you have a special gift, this might afford you an opportunity to just go ahead and give it a try. Naturally, most professionals who teach these special skills advise aspiring individuals to perfect their skills in their spare time to see if there is an audience or market for a possible paying job. If you are suddenly laid off, however, you might just use your situation as an opportunity to convert your hobby into a true vocation.
No firm and fast rules exist for advising people how to make this transition, but common sense offers some guidance. For example, if photography is your passion, you might think about offering your services for a small amount of remuneration or even volunteering them if there are no volunteers to shoot the pictures at a special event, such as an anniversary party or special family dinner. Taking on a wedding might be a bit too ambitious, but certainly shooting pictures at the prenuptial dinner might offer a chance to show your skills. Writing might present the same opportunity. You could offer to write a piece for a magazine on a topic that interests you like travel or dining out. With limited financial resources taking extravagant vacations or indulging in fine dining might not be the best idea. Nevertheless, many local publications would welcome the assistance of someone submitting a story or two in order to fill their pages, and most publications would be glad to review a good “human interest” story.
For the vast army of do-it-yourselfers, there are ways to showcase your skills. During your unemployment you might want to take on a project in your home or offer to perform work for a relative or close friend who knows you and trusts you to do a good job. Allowing others to see the kind of work you perform, be it carpentry or plumbing or any kind of remodeling effort, gives you a way to demonstrate the skills you would bring to other projects and prospective paying clients. Starting slowly and building a small clientele, where your reputation spreads by word-of-mouth could lead to real opportunities that turn your hobby into a full-time profession. Moreover, by concentrating your focus on small, remodeling and rehabilitation work, you don’t run the risk of competing directly with established builders and contractors who are much more dependent on the whims of the housing market to make a living and might make exceptions to perform large-scale remodeling projects when the housing market is in a slump. Even if you do not intend to become a skilled tradesperson, just taking on a large home improvement project around your own house will allow you to work with your hands and see the fruits of your labor. Furthermore, the work will not only be satisfying, but it will also let you attack a project that might be too expensive to undertake by hiring an outside contractor, especially if finances are tight and the luxury of adding a room or converting an outdoor porch to an indoor one is out of your budget range.
Finally, there are those rare individuals who prepare for the possibility of periods of unemployment by taking steps ahead of time to hone their skills and get ready for the day when they might take those outside hobbies and interests and make a break for it. Many years ago, I encountered a gentleman who was laid off from his job as the CFO of a large, U.S.-based manufacturing business. Our firm was contracted to evaluate him for a comparable position at one of our client organizations. He seemed like the ideal candidate; he was bright, urbane, skilled in analyzing complex financial data, and a genuinely humble and nice person in spite of all of his success. Naturally, we gave our client the firm green light to extend him an offer of employment – in fact, the sooner, the better.
However, there was one little hitch. Our outstanding job prospect didn’t want to go back to Corporate America. Quite the contrary, as if he were having a clandestine affair with another woman, he snuck away early from work three days a week, just before everyone left for the day. Only he wasn’t meeting some steamy dish for drinks, he was taking English literature courses at a small liberal arts college near his office on the outskirts of the city. By the time he got his pink slip, because the company was acquired by an even larger, global manufacturing concern, he was ready to realize his lifelong dream – teaching the classics at a small parochial high school in the same picturesque, little town where he and his wife of 30 years had been raised. As my client fumed, this individual took his severance package and spent another 20 years teaching young men and woman to appreciate the value of reading good books. While not a typical example by any means, it is an instructive one, nonetheless.
The moral of the story is “Be prepared.” If you really are considering a major change in careers, start small. First, if necessary, get specific education in your desired field of endeavor so as to have the proper training and credentials. Next, identify your market and perfect your craft slowly. In the meantime, keep that day job until further notice.
About the Author
Stephen A. Laser, PhD has over 30 years of experience as a business psychologist. He founded and manages a Chicago-based consulting firm specializing in advising clients on hiring employees. Over the past 10 years, Dr. Laser has been a guest speaker to various groups of unemployed individuals, typically over the age of 40, and previously taught university courses in business psychology.
Dr. Laser is the author of Out-of-Work and Over-40: Practical Advice for Surviving Unemployment and Finding a Job. He is a regular contributor to The Weissman Report, has written articles for top media outlets and industry publications and has been quoted as an expert by BusinessWeek.com, CBS MoneyWatch, Huffington Post, Black Enterprise and the Chicago Tribune. For more information, please visit www.laserassociates.net.