Chicago Business: How to give your career a reboot

How to give your career a reboot

By: Lisa Bertagnoli April 10, 2013

Looking to reboot your career? Arlene Hirsch, 60, a Chicago-based psychologist and career counselor, has some tips. Ms. Hirsch, 60, whose practice involves steering newly divorced women back into the workforce, recommends getting practical.

“People are thinking, ‘What should I do,’ but the real question is ‘How?’” says Ms. Hirsch.

Overall, she tells clients to view a career as climbing rocks, not a ladder. With rock climbing, “you gain a foothold and then the next foothold, and some of the steps are lateral,” Ms. Hirsch says. “And when you go lateral, you open up a new landscape.”

Here, four career conundrums and Ms. Hirsch’s advice for dealing with them.

1. Recent grads without a (career) clue.

The problem: Young adults a few years out of college “are having difficulty gaining a foothold in the job market in any kind of meaningful way,” Ms. Hirsch says. She partly blames the “disconnect” between college and the working world: “The assumption is that if you have a college degree, you can get a job and build a career,” while for most liberal arts majors, that’s just not true. “Education has to be part preparation and part learning for learning’s sake,” Ms. Hirsch says.

The fix: “The one thing I hear from people in their 20s is ‘I don’t know,’” Ms. Hirsch says. An assessment test such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, The Five Factor Personality Test or the Enneagram, can help a job seeker begin answering that question by identifying strengths and areas of interest. “The idea of testing is to give you a framework for understanding how to make the decision,” she says. “It a tool to get the discussion going.”

2. Laid off and still looking.

The problem: Debilitating feelings of worthlessness as a job search drags on and on.

The fix: Regain momentum, starting with a resume that tells a positive story. “What comes through in resumes is how people feel about themselves,” Ms. Hirsch says. She helps clients rewrite resumes to focus on “motivated skills” — successes that make the job seeker feel valuable — and also assiduously (and honestly) cover resume gaps. Volunteering and consulting gigs can help fill those gaps, she says. Overall, she counsels long-term unemployed executives to stop feeling like a victim. “You have to lose the idea that something’s owed to you,” she says.

3. Middle-aged divorced women who want or must return to work.

The problem: “The disconnect between what the job market says you can do and what you know yourself to be capable of,” says Ms. Hirsch, whom divorce lawyers frequently call upon to write career-reentry plans for soon-to-be divorced women.

The fix: Don’t automatically think your skills are obsolete. One client, an IT specialist, worked with mainframes before she left the workforce to be a stay-at-home wife. While doing research for the client, Ms. Hirsch discovered that yes, mainframes are growing as obsolete as land-line phones, but companies still use them, and still need experts to maintain them. The lesson: Some skills might need updating and maybe even a short stint in school, “but do real research to find out,” she says.

4. Retired—and bored.

The problem: Re-entering the workforce without retreading old career ground

The fix: Consulting. (Work around non-compete clauses or conflicts by approaching your former employer first, or waiting until the clause expires). Consulting, rather than a traditional job, enables retirees to set their own hours. It also helps them return to the early days of the career, before career advancement became the order of the day. One of Ms. Hirsch’s clients, a geneticist who ended up as an academic dean, found post-career happiness as a researcher. “It’s like going back down the ladder,” Ms. Hirsch allows, “but not in a humiliating way. You don’t have to worry about rebuilding a career.