Considering a Career Change After a Layoff: How to Choose Your Next Steps
Mark Scatamacchia's career was upended in when he was in his 50s.
After 20 years with a foodservice distribution company, where he worked his way up the management ladder, his employer let him go. Mark's first instinct was to try to get a job with a different distribution company, but he was rejected by the major players. He felt depressed and a bit hopeless.
"What am I going to do," he wondered.
He took a moment to reflect on his line of work. "I know in my case, my career moved along by happenstance and relationships," Mark says, "Even though I wasn't really enjoying what I was doing, I was able to be successful doing it."
Out of ideas, Mark decided to see a career counselor named Betty McWillie. Betty had Mark take a series of skills and personality assessments. When the results came in, she laughed.
"Do you enjoy your job?" she asked.
"It's alright. I like the money," he replied.
Betty said Mark’s results shared one common theme: Mark has an analytical mind.
"It wasn't until she said that that I realized she hit the nail on the head. That's exactly what I love to do," Mark says. "Put me in front of a computer with numbers and data, and I'm a happy camper."
Mark used his analytical acumen and Microsoft Excel skills to leverage his first purely number-crunching position. It was a contract job of the type Mark now enjoys and regularly takes on.
In Mark’s case, a layoff turned out to be life changing – in a positive way. Kendra Stellar of Stellar Life Coaching encourages other laid-off workers to view a job loss through a similar lens and to use a layoff as an opportunity to explore what type of work they find truly interesting.
"If there was ever a time where you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, it's figuring out what you're most passionate about while you don't have a job."
Here's how to do it.
Discover your passion
There are many ways to figure out what brings you joy. For Mark, it was taking the Myers-Briggs personality assessment and other tests, then discussing the results with his career counselor.
"The longer you're at a job, [the more] you're very focused on the scope of that job," Mark says. "You're not attuned to the professional world around you. You're secure.”
But when a layoff shakes up your professional life, it can be disorienting. Mark says that working with a career coach helped him find direction.
In discussing his personality assessment and work history, Betty helped Mark see that he possessed skills he could use in other fields, as long as he was willing to get up to speed on technology and industry jargon.
Kendra Stellar takes a different, more intuitive approach. She suggests that people ask themselves, "What is the pain I can't wait to endure?" After all, she says, every job sucks sometimes. Nothing is 100 percent perfect.
If you're working a job in which you find the hardest parts extremely rewarding, you may have found a winner. "I can't wait to get a challenging client who's really resistant to change, then breakthrough," Kendra says.
"The hardest part of being a human being for me is being patient and to meet somebody where they are, but when I breakthrough with someone, I feel like I'm 10-feet tall and bulletproof. Like I'm a ninja life coach. Super-powered."
Once you understand your natural gifts and the type of work you find both challenging and rewarding, you're on the right track.
Understand your target
Now that you understand your gifts, it's time to ask what the market needs.
"The first thing I did was to take my LinkedIn profile and resume, which are basically one and the same, and start keying in on the things that I wanted people to know," Mark says. This meant moving away from what he calls a "jack-of-all-trades" work history to highlight his experience with data analytics.
With Betty's help, Mark came up with his ideal job description and tailored his resume to it. "The key is to look in the job description," Mark says. "Everything you need to know is right there."
"When the client is completely aware and concrete about their career goals and their vocational profile, a targeted job search is launched," Betty says. "Then, explore ideal job descriptions that are a match and that describe duties, skills, qualifications, education, past experience and accomplishments that prove an individual is matched for the job."
Sam Phelps, an executive recruiter at Newcastle Associates, explains it this way: "What we typically see is that people will cross industries by leveraging their core competencies, such as sales, marketing or finance, to change up their industry. A lot of it has to do with presentation."
Another option is a resume builder. LiveCareer's resume builder, for example, has pre-written phrases employers are looking for. Within minutes, you can have a resume targeted directly at whatever industry you're trying to break into.
Get the necessary certifications
Many of the skills Mark needed to switch industries were manifest in his previous jobs. Other skills required certification and experience he hadn't obtained. It's an ongoing process.
When a client lacks the necessary work experience, Betty says, she often suggests volunteering.
For Mark, it's been a humbling experience.
"You can go from a senior vice president of a fairly large company making good money to a data entry guy and realize you can bury yourself in 'I'm too smart for this job.'" Instead, Mark pulled up his sleeves and got to work. "If you don't keep learning the new things, you become obsolete."
It helps that Mark's passionate about his new vocation. "I love analyzing data," he says. "It's like doing puzzles."
That said, learning is a lifelong process.
"I don't plan on data analysis being a temporary thing," Mark says. He's now taking courses in writing and managing databases with the coding language SQL.
"It's not rocket science," he says. "It has to be a willingness to do an inventory of who you are, what you know and where you want to go, and are you willing to do anything that you need to go there?"