Leaping to a Career Sea Change

By Doug McPherson

The economic seas are raging. The stock market’s waves are crashing both high and low on the shores. Economic indicators toss about like a small boat. Consumer confidence swirls around and around.

Turbulent times, to say the least. Amid all the chaos, the two words steady employment fade into the squall. And further out to sea – the ripples from September 11, 2001.

The past months have been enough to make some take a closer — much closer – look at their career goals.

“I do see more anxiety and apprehension in this economy,” says Gordon Gray, head of career services at CU. “Undergraduates are going to grad school to wait for the economy to improve, and former students are going back to grad school for better credentials.”

Gray says another factor is at play.

“Since Sept. 11 I see fewer people interested in making a lot of money and climbing the corporate ladder. More people are interested in service jobs like teaching, working in the Peace Corps, nonprofits and just volunteering — a lot more interest in poetry versus accounting,” he says.

So, is it time to re-evaluate your career? Are your thoughts about starting that business getting more serious? Time to make the leap as a photographer? Looking at going back to school for that teaching degree? What about an MBA?

Tough and scary questions, no doubt. But knowing the steps to take for a career change might ease some of the fear.

Laying a Proper Course

Anne Gottlieb Angerman, a career coach and strategist in Denver, says the first and most important part of making a career change is to stop and take time to know yourself and create what she calls a career vision. To do that, she recommends career assessment.

“There are all kinds of tests out there, and you usually get what you pay for,” Angerman says. “Our research has found that the Strong-Interest Inventory and the Myers-Briggs are two good ones.” She also recommends the Highlands Ability Battery – a four-hour test with a two-hour feedback session geared to help determine your natural abilities.

She says that to create a career vision (and thereby find work that fits) you should consider the following: abilities and skills (abilities are natural, skills are learned), personality traits (introverted or extroverted), passions and personal goals.

“Abilities are usually set by age 16 or so,” she says. “And people who are using their natural abilities are happiest. Those who aren’t have the most stress.”

To enhance your skills, Angerman says going back to school is the answer. “Many schools now have specialized certificate programs designed to get students into a new career quicker,” she says. “A lot of schools offer paralegal programs. Another area that’s growing is massage therapy training. Take a class or two in something you might like and see what you think.”

Mary Banks, a career development and employer relations specialist at CU’s Leeds School of Business, agrees with Angerman about returning to school. “The power of education can change your life and career,” she says. “I would tell anyone to consider returning to school. A two-year hiatus can open doors, and the education will be with you for the rest of your life.”

Banks calls an MBA a good return on investment. Many people come to the program from relatively low-paying jobs, she says. On average, MBAs from CU make $74,000 a year right out of the program.

Work with a passion

Money is certainly important, but Angerman says the older people get the more passion plays in career choices. “People in their 40s and older tend to use their passions as their guides,” she says.

Greg Stroh (Comm’90) is a good example of what Angerman is saying. Although he’s only in his mid-30s, Stroh has found passion in his work.

Before he found that passion, however, he spent time in sales with WorldCom, the telecommunications giant, and then with Anheuser-Busch.

After those two jobs Stroh decided to take the plunge and started Izze Beverage Co. in Boulder in 2002. Stroh, whose family once owned Stroh Breweries, says he has always wanted to work in the food and beverage industry. But when it came to starting his own business, he admits he was fearful.

“Of course failure was a worry and whether or not I’d have enough money, if the product was right and if it would sell and if I even had the right skills to start a company,” he says.

He believes the skills from his previous sales positions helped and he leaned on what he has learned about sales, production and distribution, too. But more than that, he says his passion has helped pull him through.

“I just believe that going with something you’re passionate about and comfortable with is key,” he says.

Another CU alum, Stan Zemler (Geog’75), relates to Stroh and says he relied on his transferable skills to move from the government sector to the private sector.

“When I decided to make the move [from director of planning for the city of Boulder to president of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce], I had to look at my skill set to make sure I could do the job,” Zemler says.

Take baby steps

Gray says transferable skills are key when deciding to change jobs or careers. “Many skills are transferable from one area to another,” he says. “And everyone has marketability.”

But Angerman says it’s important to realize that career changing is a process and can be difficult. “People often underestimate how much of a transition a career switch really is. You have to take baby steps, one at a time,” she says. “No job is perfect so you have to be flexible.”

If times get tough during the career change, Angerman advises that you don’t go it alone but consider joining a group or getting a coach. She says true happiness in a job is achievable. And that happiness, many have found, can be a heavy and safe anchor when the seas grow rough.

For help from CU, go to www.cualum.org, click on “Links” and then on “CU Career Services.”