Over the past eighteen months we interviewed 50+ individuals, over the age of 40, who had successful careers and left them to start over. We identified experiences these successful career changers had in common.
In phase two of our research, we analyzed the career changers’ strategies for change and found these prevailing themes:
Creating a portfolio of careers
Turning a hobby into a paycheck
Developing collaborative relationships
Transferring dependable strengths
Taking advantage of community resources
Case Study: Harvey – From Survival Job to Career
After 25 years working in the family meat packing business, Harvey Nagle decided to venture out on his own. He sold his share of the business and purchased a popular restaurant franchise. It was the early 1970s and he was 42.
The first five years in business were prosperous which inspired Harvey to build a second restaurant. He broke ground the same time the country was sinking in to a major recession. High inflation forced the Federal Reserve to slow the growth of the money supply and increase interest rates which at one point reached 20%. Caught off guard by crippling overhead, increased competition and poor management decisions, Harvey was in a free fall. At the age of 58, the once successful restaurateur had lost his business, home and savings.
Harvey was facing unemployment without a financial safety net. He didn’t have the luxury to grieve his job loss or anguish over his career path. He was open to any job that would pay the bills. Through the classified ads, he found a job as a courier delivering mail in the Chicago area, often arriving home at mid-night. After a few months, he obtained a job as a fence salesman for Sears. Even though he wasn’t a fast talker, he found he enjoyed sales and excelled at it. He was a good listener and could easily gain peoples’ trust. He wasn’t daunted by rejection. His success at Sears gave him the confidence to look for more lucrative work in sales, an area he felt played to his strengths.
Through networking, Harvey eventually landed a job with Temple Box Company selling custom boxes and paper products business to business. His boss had extensive industry experience and a reputation for being a tyrant. In spite of the boss’s boot camp style, Harvey realized he was getting an invaluable education. His enthusiasm for the “box business” grew as did his aptitude for sales. He had a supportive family, grateful customers and a promising future.
By age 65, Harvey had been in the paper goods industry for six years and loved his work. He moved to Hero Container Company as a paper goods broker with much broader inventory. With over 100 accounts he was making an excellent income. He even began getting calls from headhunters.
Today Harvey is 82. He is financially secure and has slowed down a bit. He no longer drives the grueling 60 mile commute to Hero. Never the less, he still writes off his home office as a business expense and receives modest commission checks in the mail from loyal accounts he continues to nurture. He laughs and calls these checks his “pin money,” but each deposit, no matter how small, is a reminder to Harvey that if you are open to possibilities and willing to take a little risk, the perfect career is out there.
The Survival Job
Survival jobs help bridge the gap between careers. Career counselors may want to encourage financially strapped clients to consider a survival job, while in career transition. It relieves some of the financial stress and allows the client to make rational decisions based on research, not desperation. Survival jobs have many advantages and can be a strategic next step to building a new career.
The Advantages of a Survival Job
In addition to earning a modest income and healthcare benefits, a survival job allowed Harvey to learn new skills and refine old ones. Ultimately, being successful in a survival job helped restore his confidence in his ability to be a contributing member of the workforce. It also helped him clarify his career goals.
The Down-side to Survival Jobs
The disadvantage of a survival job while preparing for a new career is that it limits the time you can devote to making a career transition if your energy is directed to making a living wage. As a courier, Harvey started out early in the morning and worked late into the night to earn enough money to make ends meet. There wasn’t enough time to look for more meaningful work, and he was generally too tired to focus on his career. He also found the courier job demoralizing. This was clearly a dead end job; nothing he would have considered if he hadn’t needed the money. Working with an abusive boss at Temple Box & Paper was also an assault to Harvey’s ego, yet he was willing to accept short-term discomfort for the long-term gain.
Advice to Share with Clients
Here are some important considerations career counselors will want to pass on to clients.
Select a survival job to learn a new skill or enhance a skill that may be needed in a future career. For example, if you take on a clerical job, look for opportunities to learn new software and databases.
Apply for survival jobs that relate to an interest or hobby. If you have an interest in fashion, working retail may give you an opportunity to share your flare for style with less talented clients.
Don’t take on a survival job that will zap your energy. Look for jobs that have weekend and evening shifts. This will allow you to return to school, participate in an internship or build business connections during the weekdays.
Make sure your resume is a good fit for the survival jobs you are applying for. If the job requires a high school diploma or some college, you may need to remove your master’s degree.
Keep up your spirits. Look for anything positive you can take away from the job. Are you saving gas on a short commute? Making new friends? Remind yourself that the survival job is temporary, a place holder in the workforce as you prepare for a new career.
Terry Pile, MS, GCDF
Career Consultant and Coach
Terry has a private practice, Career Advisors, and is president of Restart Enterprises, the resource for mid-life career changers. Terry has a master’s degree in education from Indiana University and a certificate in career development from the University of Washington. She is certified by the Center for Credentialing and Education as a Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF). In addition, to consulting and training, Terry writes occasional feature articles on career issues for newspapers and e-zines. She has published five electronic books on career topics through Get to the Point Books, www.gettothepointbooks.com.
David Lingle,MA, MS, MBA
David has had several careers: soldier, educator, software developer. He is currently, CEO of Restart Enterprises, a resource for mid-life career changers. A former IT executive, David has contributed to the success of large companies such as Hewlett-Packard as well as several technology start-ups including Isilon, Appliant and Adaptis. David received a Bachelors and a Masters degree in Mathematics from Southern Illinois University and a second Masters Degree in Computer Science from The State University of New York at Stony Brook. In 2004, David received an MBA from the University of Washington's Executive MBA program.