Editor’s note: This story was originally published in December 2018.
After 10 years in human resources at a nonprofit, Laura Niebauer Palmer figured she wouldn’t have any problem finding a new HR job when she and her husband moved from Chicago to Austin, Texas.
Then she started reading the job postings — which asked for advanced training and experience with programs she didn’t use — and realized her old skills weren’t marketable for a new position.
“My heart sank,” Palmer said. “I was like, “What am I going to do? How am I going to bridge this gap?’”
So how is it that 10 years of experience could become a detriment rather than a strength for a job candidate?
Many longtime workers are falling behind on the skills required in rapidly changing industries, according to Alvin Nesbot, the New York City market manager for Manpower.
“People who are just joining the job market — maybe within the past three to five years or so — are making moves a lot faster than people who have been working for 10-plus years,” Nesbot said. “There are those people who have worked a lot longer who have stayed in a lull and gotten stagnant.”
And it’s not just another co-worker who’ll offer the skills you’re lacking — at least, not a human one. It’s estimated that half of the work activities companies pay people to do could be automated by 2055, according to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute.
Read on for strategies for making a change after years in the same role.
How to Make a Career Change
If you’re a bit unsure about what’s happening outside your cubicle walls, here are five strategies for avoiding — or escaping — a dead-end job.
1. Network for a Job
Leaving your comfort zone to network may seem intimidating, but it’s a great way to find out what is going on in your industry. It’s part of the reason it’s so important to maintain networking relationships even after you have found a job.
Being around your peers is not only helpful for finding contacts for the next job but also for discovering what credentials and terminology are becoming more prominent within your field.
If in-person networking isn’t an option, consider setting up or attending Zoom events — just remember to keep your camera turned on and stay engaged in the conversation.
“You have like-minded people to bounce ideas off,” Palmer said. “Also, it’s very eye-opening when you’re around a bunch of people and they’re having conversations about topics you don’t really know about or are using acronyms that you’re like, ‘Wait, what does that mean?’”
And if the thought of a networking event makes you break out in hives, try one-on-one networking with former colleagues, Palmer suggested.
“What I would have done differently is definitely caught up with people who had left the company,” she said. She added that by asking about the transition to new roles, you’ll get a better idea of what technology and skills are in demand outside your office.
2. Update Your Resume
If your resume touts WordPerfect expertise and includes your AOL address, it’s probably time for a resume makeover. (Also, stop wearing that sundress over a T-shirt.)
Reading your resume with a critical eye is essential for identifying skills or programs that are no longer relevant for your position, according to Nesbot.
“What you were doing seven to 10 years ago is not going to be relevant or as important as what is going on today,” Nesbot said. “Are there things making [your resume] look dated?”
Starting over doesn’t mean you have to forget your past experiences. Instead, take some time to compile a comprehensive list of training and accomplishments, Nesbot suggested.
“Sometimes we don’t look at our resumes in a while, and we realize there are things we’ve been doing that we haven’t highlighted,” Nesbot said. “Include any certifications or training that you’ve done to help set you apart from any other candidate.”
Once you have your list, compare it to current job postings and craft your resume so it includes recent credentials and popular terms within your industry.
“Make sure you have buzz words that are going to stand out to whoever is reading your resume,” Nesbot said.
3. Find a Mentor
Once she got to Austin, Palmer ended up at a staffing agency looking for work. The agency placed her in a temporary three-month position to fill in for a woman on maternity leave.
Palmer used those months to take advantage of the in-house training department to connect with someone who could provide long-term career advice.
“The biggest part that helped me develop was the mentorship that I had with my boss,” she said. “I learned so much from her; my confidence rose 100%.
“You can’t replicate that with a course.”
At the end of her temporary gig, the company offered Palmer a full-time position in the HR department.
4. Volunteer for Experience
Rather than repeating past mistakes, Palmer said, she took the opportunity at her new job to question what she really wanted in the next five or 10 years — and it turns out, it wasn’t HR.
After spending some time figuring out what she really wanted to do, Palmer decided to work for free in exchange for the experience she was lacking rather than pour money into additional education.
“I volunteered at two organizations, and one of them specifically was something that I wouldn’t have been able to land a job at because I had no experience,” Palmer said.
Because she was volunteering her time, Palmer said the organization was more willing to invest in training her for the position.
Thanks to that experience, Palmer was able to snag a part-time job at a small company. That allowed her to spend time with her young son and to write articles sharing her expertise — including some for The Penny Hoarder.
5. Apply for Jobs Before You Need One
Even if you’re happy in your job right now, it doesn’t hurt to start investigating what’s out there.
After all, the best way to discover if you’re growing or stagnating in your career is to find out if someone will hire you — and there’s always a chance you’ll find your dream job in the process, Palmer said.
You can pursue professional development on your own if you’re seeking a new career. Here are five online certifications that can help you sharpen those all-so-important soft skills.
“Look at the jobs right now and actually apply to them and go through interviewing,” Palmer said. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that to see where your skills are — if they’re lining up with what is currently needed in the market.
“But you also might land a job that you didn’t even know you wanted.”
Why You’re Not Job Hunting — But Should Be
Reevaluating your skills every few years takes some work, but the rewards are a more fulfilling career with greater chances for growth. Admittedly, that can be hard to do when you’re happy — or at least satisfied — with your current position.
Your salary and benefits might tempt you to stay put, but you’ll suffer in the long run if you’re too scared to change, according to Palmer. Part of the reason she stayed at her first job for so long was the generous paid time off and health care coverage.
“It’s hard because you’re trying to balance furthering yourself but also realizing if you further yourself, you’re taking a risk,” Palmer said. “ But if you’re looking to grow in your career… you need to challenge yourself.”
Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor with The Penny Hoarder. She likes all kinds of change, but pennies are her favorite.