Second Career Strategies

Title:Second Career Strategies

Author:Robert Lindsey. All rights reserved.

After conducting an honest self-assessment, you should have a better awareness of who you are, what you want and how your capabilities and interests might best relate to the world of business. You have also avoided the major error of those who seek just a job and don't plan for a career. For many seeking employment, the want ads or an employment agency become the sole source of information about jobs. There are better ways, and we will show you!

In a planned career campaign you research, evaluate, and direct your efforts to predetermined goals. Your plan should include: assessing yourself and where you "fit" in the job market, preparing financial goals, developing career goals, examining job hunting strategies, executing a resume and letter writing campaign, networking, mentoring, interviewing, and negotiating. When you first consider seeking a second career, or are graduating from school, or separating from the military, begin your planning at least six months out. Even in today's relatively favorable job market, it may take another six months before you land a job! Planning is vital to a short and successful job search, and timing should be a critical part of your plan. A plan can, and will, enhance your chances of not only finding a job, but finding the "best" job in the quickest period of time.


Finding where you "fit" into the job market is a critical, initial step in your job search. Don't sell yourself or your qualifications short, but don't waste time researching a career path that is not appropriate because of a lack of training, education or experience. If the career path you desire requires additional training or education, do it as soon as you can, before leaving your current job, graduating, or departing military service. You'll never regret the choice to improve yourself and your skills. Know the job classifications you're qualified to pursue; clarify them or change them as necessary.

The job market is so vast and complex it is best to approach it with a simplified view of classifications. Think of job classification more in terms of education, training, knowledge, responsibility, experience, and authority levels. Jobs are often classified into three markets or categories. These are:

  • Unskilled
  • Skilled or Semi-skilled
  • Professional

Unskilled - labor is the largest job market and requires the least amount of education. Repetitive tasks on production lines are typical of unskilled labor. Upward mobility is possible but requires a company willing to train internally. Responsibility in unskilled jobs is usually restricted to meeting standards established by the company. Pay can be minimum wage or higher.

Skilled & Semi-skilled - markets are generally associated with either the trades (electricians, plumbers, carpenters, masons, pipe-cutters, mechanics, etc.) or clerical occupations. Many skilled jobs require a great deal of responsibility, technical ability and knowledge. If you plan to enter the trades, study labor unions. In some states labor unions have gained a monopoly organizing the trade occupations. Knowledge of unions will also help you with the membership process when trying to get a job where unions are organized. While unions are experiencing an overall decline in the United States however, they usually still provide good pay and benefit packages. If it's a non-union, or "right to work" state, then it's a more competitive market and wages will tend to be lower.

Professional - The market is designed to accept those people who want specific positions in an organization as opposed to a job in general. Entry-level management positions are training levels used to progressively advance college graduates or new hires into greater areas of responsibility. Professional positions require:

  • Upward mobility in a chain-of-command or into a staff function
  • Significant leadership, supervisory or management skills
  • A college degree or high level of technical knowledge
  • Adding profits, stopping losses or fixing costs
  • Above-average people skills

While pay and benefits vary, they are usually good. However, the skilled trades in many cases have caught up with many professional jobs in overall pay. Many entry-level professionals don't make comparable wages for several years.


As you start your job search remember the following principles: First, the "perfect candidate" principle dictates that in a hiring situation, the employer measures you and your skills against an "ideal" candidate. Your cover letter, resume and interview will he judged against this ideal candidate. The employer is looking for someone within specific guidelines. Therefore, you should stress the qualifications the employer wants, and ignore the ones you're missing. Never volunteer any information about yourself that doesn't fit the employer's ideal. Concentrate on the employer's major concerns - nothing more.

Second, the "weeding-out" principle is the process of eliminating candidates perceived as being wrong for the job so as to make the most efficient use of the interviewer's time. Given fifty applicants for two positions, the employer disqualifies eight applicants before giving any interviews and, during the interviews, weeds out six more candidates. The two positions are filled by the applicants who denied the employer any reason to disqualify them. Do not reveal too much information! Don't give a company a reason to weed you out. Do convince the employer you have the qualities desired, but not the liabilities.

The greatest adherents of this principle are the Human Resource or Personnel Departments. They sort though hundreds of letters and resumes weeding out inappropriate applicants. If you send your correspondence to (or if you are being interviewed in) a personnel office, they usually can't hire you but they can disqualify you. Remember to write directly to the person who is making the hiring decision. If you are inevitably interviewed by a human resource/personnel specialist, as you very likely will be, maintain your enthusiasiasm and positive interest, but as stated above, be careful about revealing too much and maintain your discretion.

The "Perception" principle states you are what an employer perceives you to be. It's not how smart, likable or valuable you are, but how you're perceived that matters. An employer will make their decision based on the perceptions of you formed in your brief interview and other encounters, and on little else.


  1. Do Research:

    Scan newspaper, magazine, internet sites, and radio/television want ads to determine which abilities/skill sets your prospective employers are looking for. Look for any specific projects or client specific experience for which your background is a match. Identify all the elements of a potential employer's want ad that match your capabilities. Search in trade magazines and newspaper articles highlighting contract awards which may indicate the projects a company will be working on and for which your experience may be a good match. Pursue jobs with companies where you have the strongest match of skills and experience to enhance the odds of a successful job search. Companies only want to interview those applicants who most precisely match their requirements.

  2. Prepare for Interviews:

    When you are invited for an interview, be sure to do your homework in advance before you meet with the interviewer (See Interviewing Techniques & Tactics). Prepare thoroughly for interviews by researching the company at the library or using an on-line service. Check out the company's Website or Homepage on the Internet. Network, network, and network! Utilize your personal, social, military and business contacts to gather information. Find someone who knows the company and ask about the company's projects, background, corporate culture, etc. A referral to a company from a friend or insider in the company or a related business goes a long way. Also, your research will pay off when you can answer interview questions like: "Why do you want to work for us?" and "What do you think about our company?" You will also know what questions you want to ask an interviewer, specifically about salary, benefits and working conditions.

  3. Interview the Company!

    Interview the company at the same time they interview you! Make sure you understand the details of the technical work that they may want you to do for them. Ask about their management style to see if you'll be comfortable working in that corporate environment. Ask if it's an individual or team-oriented contributor corporate system, if it's the latter, ask to talk with some of the team members to find out how the system works and if you'll be comfortable with it. Show you're prepared - bring a list of well thought-out questions with you to ask the interviewer.

  4. Be Familiar with Your Accomplishments:

    Identify your specific work-related accomplishments that will boost your marketability with the specific company that you're interviewing with. Write down and review your list of accomplishments, so that they come easily to mind when they ask you - "What can you do for us specifically?" Role play interviews with a friend or family member to practice interviewing and answering tough interview questions, specifically about your accomplishments. Think in terms of projects you worked on and what specific accomplishments you achieved and roles you played. Always mention if you saved a previous employer time or money, improved a process, or you were rated the best in your group. Emphasize anything you did or were a contributor to that increased efficiency, delivered more productivity, and/or created a profit! Your accomplishments show a track record of the type of work of which you are capable. What you did for someone else in the past, they'll hope you can do for them in the future.

  5. Learn Emerging Technologies:

    Staying abreast of new technology trends has become essential. Employers today are looking to hire individuals who will help them stay abreast of new technologies, and, frankly, understand emerging technologies perhaps better than the employer themselves! Even if you have to go back to school or take a certification course that you pay for yourself, don't rely on just what you know and what you've learned from past employers, get out there and learn new technologies. Take advantage of free or inexpensive training seminars and training programs available from vendors of new technologies. There are lots of one or half-day programs offered around most major cities. There are also sources available on the Internet and through on-line services. Participation in technical and professional associations will also expand your knowledge of the types and the ways others are using old and new technologies. Besides, colleagues you met at a meeting can be added to your network of contacts to search for a new job or for information on a company in which you're interested.

  6. Communicate Effectively:

    Cultivate your communication and inter-personal skills. Interviewers feel that the way you communicate with them in an interview will be the way you communicate with a colleague, boss, or client, so prove that you can do it well. If communicating is not one of your strengths, improve it by taking classes or joining Toastmasters (an excellent networking opportunity as well!) Also, there are many free or inexpensive one-day seminars and classes on business and technical writing, making presentations and communicating with others. If you feel this is your weakness, invest the time and money to improve your communication skills before you start your job search.

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