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posted: 10/27/2013 6:54 AM

Career Coach Q&A: Mid-career transition, job change fears

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Joyce E.A. Russell, The Washington Post

Career Coach Joyce E.A. Russell answers questions from readers. Excerpts:

Mid-career with unexpected transitions

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Q: I am mid-career and have been working for the same company for close to 20 years. I recently found out that when my current project funding is up in two to six months, my services will no longer be needed. Unfortunately, because of government cuts, my whole industry is in retrenchment. To further complicate matters, I have some serious health issues that make it difficult for me to search for a new position (advanced cancer). On the plus side, I may qualify for long-term disability. But I feel like I have more to offer.

A: I am so sorry to hear about your health issues. I would imagine that dealing with these issues is certainly stressful enough, without having to worry about job issues.

You sound like you are still very interested in working. Full or part-time? Of course, some of this may depend on your health, I am sure. One thing to think about if you have to leave your firm: Are there competitor firms that you might apply to given your extensive experience in your industry? Can you see if any of them are hiring, even for part-time or consulting work (if appropriate given your background)?

Is this a time to also think about what else you might do? Maybe consulting work, teaching, etc.? It might be a good time to meet with a career coach to see what other options you might have, especially if you decide you need to work part-time.

Job Market

Q: I am a federal contractor and have been for the past 10+ years. I wish I was in another field as the current uncertainty with the federal government is too much. I am sure I am not alone and that makes the thought of finding a new job even harder.

A: There are many people in your situation, which is very tough. I think this does suggest that you may want to evaluate what your options are at this point and in the future. Given your skills and 10-plus years experience, there are probably many things you can do for the private sector. While we hope this type of shutdown does not occur again in the future, it is important to be prepared and to identify what other types of firms can you work with, whether it is a time to go back to school, and so on.

Taking whatever job is available?

Q: My partner has been building his own business for the past year after being laid off. Unfortunately, it is not bringing in enough for us to meet the bills. He is considering taking any job to get us by, instead of waiting for a job in his specialized field. (I am also working full time.) Would it hurt his career to take a job in a completely unrelated retail-type job?

A: Given the state of the job market, I don't think it would hurt his career if he does this for a short period of time -- less than a year. If he does this for much longer, with no evidence of job hunting or growing his business, this could be harder to sell to future employers. But, most employers recognize that the job market has been tougher and they are more forgiving of these "unrelated jobs." Could he take courses or get certified in his specialized field at the same time as working in the unrelated field? In other words, can he show he is doing something connected to stay current with the knowledge in his field? This would help the perception by future employers that he is still interested and current in his field.

Career Coaches

Q: You often recommend utilizing a career coach when job hunting (or when reevaluating your career). Could you give some specific resources for finding a career coach? What should you look for when considering working with a career coach?

A: There are a variety of coaches out there that can assist you. Some are executive or leadership coaches who really focus on one-on-one coaching to help a person enhance their leadership skills. These coaches may have a person complete a number of self-assessments (personality tests, critical thinking assessments, conflict measures, creativity tools, etc). But, the focus is on improving their leadership skills.

There are also career coaches who focus more on enhancing a person's career skills. They can suggest ways to network and explore career options within your firm or at other firms. So, they can be helpful for both novices and career-switchers.

Finding a career coach is more difficult. It would be good to make sure they have the credentials to provide the services you need. What is their background? How long have they practiced as a career coach? Do they have any certifications or licenses? These are all important questions to ask since there is not one body that approves all career coaches. You can also start at universities (maybe where you graduated from college if you attended college). Often, they will be willing to help or offer advice.

Joyce E.A. Russell is the vice dean of the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Programs offered by the school. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership, negotiations, and career management.

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