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Publish Date: 9/20/2006

Become an insider to make a successful career change


Dear Kate & Dale: I worked as an engineer in the auto industry for more than 10 years before I was laid off. I never enjoyed engineering work. To that end, I enrolled in an MBA program, and specialized in finance. I have two problems: Iím completely typecast as an automotive engineer, and the finance jobs all require experience. Ė Chuck

Dale: As for being typecast, after spending 10 years in the cast of an automotive-engineering team, you are an auto engineer until you prove youíre something else. If you tell people you never enjoyed that role, your image only gets worse Ė youíre a malcontent auto engineer. After all, a finance manager is going to meet you and think, "Being an auto engineer sounds pretty cool to me. And now this guy thinks being in finance is going to make him all tingly and fulfilled?" To understand the dilemma, all you have to do is picture yourself in your old job, and a finance person coming to you and saying, "I want to be an auto engineer, please, please, please."

Kate: We have a maxim for our Five OíClock Club clients: Outsiders never get hired. Yet, the majority of clients do manage to change careers. They do so by becoming insiders. Use your connections to get to know the finance people in the auto industry. Attend meetings of local financial executives. Read their publications. Do volunteer work on the finance committee for a nonprofit group, for instance. Get to the point where you can write a proposal to a prospective employer showing how you could add value to his or her company. Even so, you might have to take a half-step career change, such as working as an engineer for a smaller company and getting an agreement with the owner that you will spend part of your time in finance.

Dale: Managers hire employees because they need help. When you come in as an outsider, you are saying, "Take a chance that itíll be the right field for me this time; become my mentor and maybe in a year or two, Iíll be as good as the experienced person you could hire instead of me." What are the odds? You get hired to give help, not get it. The burden is on you to acquire the knowledge and experience that will enable you to find a place to make that true.

Follow-up on working with a bullying boss:

Kate: We love to pass along success stories, and we recently got one from Eunice. She worked for a screamer whose irrational temper made her "get ill just thinking about work," but who paid her well enough that she thought a new job would mean financial hardship. Hereís the update.

Eunice: I quit my job and moved to a company in the same town. I did not have to take a reduction in pay. Plus, Iím second in command. Iíve been relearning cost accounting, which is difficult, but I have a boss who respects me. Everyone can see the difference in me. They say Iím much calmer. It was like getting a divorce Ė I had to admit that my old boss was a man who will never change or admit that he was wrong. Thanks for all your advice. If itís OK with you, Iíll let you know how it goes from here.

Dale: Corporate people often talk about lateral moves as a kind of failure, that you wasted a job change without getting a promotion or raise. But you, Eunice, show how a new job at the same pay can be a triumph. When you work for a demeaning boss, your self-worth declines and your actual worth can fall in tandem. Thatís why we say leaving a bad boss is often harder than leaving a good one.

Kate: Thatís why your move was anything but lateral; it was a reversal in the direction of your career. Congratulations. And yes, please keep us all posted on your continued success.

Kate Wendleton is the founder of The Five OíClock Club, a national career-counseling network (www.fiveoclockclub.com). Her newest book is "Mastering the Job Interview and Winning the Money Game" (Thomson Delmar Learning). Dale Dauten is the founder of The Innovatorsí Lab. His latest book is "Better Than Perfect: How Gifted Bosses and Great Employees Lift the Performance of Those Around Them" (Career Press). Please write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 888 Seventh Ave., New York, NY 10019, or e-mail dale@dauten.com.

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