Figure Out What's Next

Career Change Roadmap 2010

career change mark miller non-profit purposeful living Dec 23, 2009

by Mark Miller

photo by Maria Thalassinou

How to get started on a new career? A new free guide answers 12 key questions.

Pollster John Zogby posed this question last summer to 4,000 Americans: “What will be the historic legacy of Baby Boomers?' The responses were startling.

Forty two percent said boomers had “ushered in an era of consumerism and self-indulgence.' Another group (27 percent) gave boomers credit for helping to “bring lasting change in social and cultural values and ending a war.' After that, the answers ranged from “nothing really special' to “other' or “not sure.' The loose translation: “Boomers might have done some good things back in the 60s and 70s, but where have you been lately?'

The Greatest Generation. . . the Silent Generation . . . And now, the Over-indulgent, Self-Centered Generation? It doesn’t sound too good—and it’s an unfairly harsh judgment, from my perspective. Still, many boomers are itching to re-write those poll results in the new decade just beginning.

Older boomers are hitting retirement age at a time when a changed economy means that all traditional bets are off. Even before the economic crisis began, many boomers already were refocusing their energies on second careers—and many are looking for work that will help them leave a positive legacy for future generations.

That trend has only intensified as the country faces intense, simultaneous crisis and upheaval—a depressed economy, national security and environmental threats, and the need to revamp our health care and education systems.

“The needs in the country and in our communities are more stark and present and in the news,' says John Gomperts, president of Civic Ventures, a non-profit think tank focused on civic engagement. “People are alert to the fact that there are serious problems, and they are concerned.'

Thinking of making a “work with meaning' resolution for the New Year?

Civic Ventures recently published a free guide to getting started on encore careers that matter.

“Until now, encore careers have been a do-it-yourself project,' says Marci Alboher, senior fellow at Civic Ventures, and the author of One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success (Business Plus, 2007). “But we have tracked a lot of pioneers who have done it successfully, and the guide reports back on what they have learned.'

The guide offers practical advice on a range of questions you’ll want to consider before starting down the encore career path, including:

  • Setting your expectations properly
  • What you need to know about job hunting these days
  • How to prepare for the possibility of earning less money
  • How to update your job skills
  • How to finance an encore career

The guide also surveys several of the most promising encore career sectors, including health care, education, green jobs and opportunities in government. Be sure to check out the free WhatsNext Career Change & Life Balance guide.

WhatsNext talked recently with Alboher about the fundamentals of an encore career:

Q: Marci, has the recession affected the way midlife career changers are thinking about encore careers?

A: There’s a huge group of people who are motivated to do this—and they haven’t changed their direction just because the economy has been so difficult. They’re asking themselves, “At end of the day, what do I want my life to be all about? They want to find a way to live working lives with meaning, not just find a place to go everyday. Of course, in this economy it is hard to find work of any kind—but it’s not necessarily any harder to launch an encore career.

Q: Some of the “work with meaning' fields are among the fast-growing job sectors, right?

A: Absolutely. In fact, any sector that focuses on the aging of our population is doing well—health care, education focused on retraining and lifelong learning are all great examples. Green jobs and government roles also look promising. Though we might not see increases in jobs in all these areas immediately, which is where training comes in.

Q: Do mid-life career changers need to upgrade their skills before starting their job hunting?

A: The new year is a great time to take an honest look in the mirror, and ask yourself where you are falling short from a skills perspective. Are there any areas where you need some training? It’s a good time to be honest about how you want to invest in yourself.

Q: What advice do you have for career changers who want to take a leap into an unknown field—say, a transition from the corporate world to the non-profit sector?

A: People often don’t think carefully enough about what they want to do versus what they think they should do. It’s important to experiment with things you’re interested in. One of the most important things is to show up—go to a one-day seminar in the field you’re considering. If you think you might like to work for a non-profit, get a first-hand feel for it first. Consider volunteering—try before you buy. This is a tried-and-true approach for both the employee and the employer. Try to arrange an adult internship, or work part-time for an organization.

Q: People who have spent most of a career in the business world often assume that their skills will be in high demand in the non-profit sector. Is that the case?

A: It surprises me how often someone who has made this transition says, “Wow, if only I’d known five years ago what a culture change this would be. When people have extensive experience in the business world, they tend to think that their transferable skills and knowledge are all that matters. But you can’t underestimate the importance of understanding the different culture and values of non-profits, which can be worlds apart from those in a business setting. Joining a mission-driven organization can require a big intellectual adjustment. So, start by getting to know the culture. Expand your network, go to events, intern, volunteer—get to know the kinds of people who work for non-profits.


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