How to turn a job loss into a career change

For nine years, Evert Lamb worked as a graphic designer and art director in the marketing department of a travel company. But in mid-March, as the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were hitting the travel industry, Mr. Lamb was made redundant at his job.

Instead of seeking similar roles, Mr. Lamb’s goal is to move out of marketing into a more hands-on sector of design. “What I really want to do is develop the products that actually matter,” Mr. Lamb explains. “Not selling the product, but building the product.” Mr. Lamb is just one many Canadians using their job loss as an opportunity to pivot career paths into a more personally fulfilling direction. Mr. Lamb’s role at the travel company was broad, covering everything from designing apparel to video editing, interior design, logo development and branding. So his challenge now is deciding on his next move. “That’s where the fork in the road is for me – what industry to go to. But definitely not tech.”

Knowing your dislikes is just as important as knowing what matters to you in a job, according to career coach Kathryn Meisner. This is often the first step she advises when coaching clients through a career change. She has seen common priorities emerge around work culture. “I’d say the top three are usually working from home, flexibility in work hours and having good managers,” she says.

Ms. Meisner has noticed that many career changers she works with nowadays are generalists, such as Mr. Lamb, who have skills that are valuable across several industries. “It’s a blessing and a curse they don’t necessarily need a specific industry,” she says. Instead, Ms. Meisner advises these clients to focus their search on finding a company culture that suits their priorities.

While our instinct may be to hit the internet, Ms. Meisner advises tapping one’s network at this step and setting up virtual coffee chats. “You can spend hours scrolling online and Google can only tell you so much, but talking to humans is where you can explore new careers and simultaneously also job search,” she says. And don’t forget about personal contacts. “My clients often think, ‘My good friend isn’t in the same industry as me. How could she possibly help me?’ But people know people.”

While interacting with your network, Ms. Meisner encourages career changers to “lead with skills” as opposed to relying on job titles from a résumé. “Instead of saying ‘I have 10 years of experience as a travel agent,’ say ‘I have 10 years experience in building client relations, business development and sales,’” she advises. “You have a lot of power to change someone’s lens of how they view your skill set.”

Now is a good time for making connections outside of your network too, according to Karin Lewis, an employment counsellor at the non-profit organization JVS Toronto. “Some people are a little less busy than they were a few months ago and they might have time to chat,” Ms. Lewis says. “Get on LinkedIn and reach out to lots of people. You might get two or three out of 20 responding.”

To make the most of these interactions, approach them with some focus. “Don’t bombard people,” Ms. Lewis advises. “Just ask a couple of intelligent questions, like what they think about the market right now.” These casual conversations are also a good opportunity to assess the value of further education in your career change. “Some people just throw money into the first course that they come along to, and very often it’s money not well spent,” she says. She advises verifying that courses and programs of interest are held at registered colleges. Provincial resources such as Ontario’s list of approved private career colleges can be helpful here.

Ms. Meisner is also wary of further education. “I think most people assume that ‘Oh, I’ll just go back to school,’” she says. “But I want to hear from people in the industry, which education, if any, is valuable. And if it is, which schools and which programs. You probably don’t need a degree or a diploma.”

While there can be pressure to emerge from the pandemic with a new career, Ms. Lewis encourages job seekers to have some self-compassion. “Making a change, when it comes at you quickly and when it’s during a crisis, isn’t always an ideal thing,” Ms. Lewis says. “If you’re having to pay bills, it might be worth going back to what you can get into easily while you plan your career change.” Making preparations such as polishing up a résumé and LinkedIn profile and reaching out to folks in industries of interest are all steps that can be taken while working at another job.

Ms. Meisner says that some of the clients she coaches are still employed but are preparing for their next steps in light of their roles changing or in anticipation of layoffs. Like Ms. Lewis, Ms. Meisner shares reassuring words for clients eager for change. “I’ve said this pre-pandemic, but your next step doesn’t have to be your last step,” she explains, adding that career changes don’t necessarily follow a linear trajectory. “It may be a stepping-stone.”ANDREA YUSPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAILPUBLISHED May 12, 2020

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