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When people think about a career move they often think linearly, searching for a position in their current field because it’s known and comfortable. Even friends and family may have the same expectation, according to Karen Sheehe, PHR, SHRM-CP, certified career and retirement coach for Samaritan Business Consulting in Lancaster. But a complete change? That’s different.

“Career reinvention doesn’t just affect the person, it affects everyone around them. The reinvention part takes a good look at our skills and what we’re exceptional at. All of us struggle a little bit with that.”

The struggle to which Sheehe refers is the ability to define ourselves by our strengths and talents. Some of this is may be because we’ve been taught that articulating them is akin to self-aggrandizement and promotion. But in this case it’s exactly where you need to start and while difficult for some, once they begin, she says, it’s fun to see the skills expressed and think through how to use them in other places.  In a reinvention you’re transferring your skill sets and experiences to a new field, industry and environment.

Reasons for reinvention are as individualized as the people who undertake them. Some have gone through a downsizing and realize they won’t be able to replicate their current position and salary, others are searching for meaning, have a revelation or want to follow a dream and still more are late career or retirees who may be financially secure but prefer to continue working in a meaningful way.

Sheehe isn’t just talking the talk either; she’s been through a career reinvention herself. For 20 years she was an engineer in the utility industry. When she determined a change was necessary she employed a career coach and returned to university for her Masters in human resource development while continuing to work full-time and raise three children with her husband. 

Reeducation or further education isn’t always necessary dependent on the outcome being pursued. “A lot of late career workers have a great base of experience and are able to transfer their skills,” Sheehe says. “It’s just how to they talk about them, how they have the transitional conversation about how their skills would work in a different environment.”

And while reinvention may be easier for younger workers as they’re less likely to have started families or have mortgages the prospect of a dramatic life upheaval can be daunting for anyone and shouldn’t be approached in a slap-dash manner.

The process Sheehe follows begins with assessments that describe personality preferences and interests, and she uses those results to help clients be more introspective about what is appealing and to define their goals. Do they want to work for 10 years or two? What are their needs and what’s important?

To help, add one word to any question you ask yourself such as: What do I like most about my job? What about this industry is attractive to me? What are my greatest successes? Add “why”. Answering this question in regard to a career change in addition to “what” will prompt you to look at your values, motivations and interests and then help target you toward those careers that align with those insights.

Sheehe believes personality factors into this a great deal because what is intrinsic and important to one person may not be of interest to someone else.

She encourages people to research, explore and experiment. Focus on a plan to learn more about the options before you step away and make sure you’re comfortable with your choices and decisions. What Sheehe emphasizes time and time again is “This is hard work, it’s a lot of leg work. People don’t have a good sense about the amount of effort it will take. Even though unemployment is low depending on your age, skill set and experience, it’s still challenging.

 “This is the era of inquisition. You’re out there being curious. If you’re able to take a day off work, see if you can shadow someone within your industry of interest or lunch with a network colleague.” For many “making the ask” is difficult and an example of the hard work to which Sheehe refers.

And if you’re stymied and don’t how to begin deciphering into which other industries your skills may transfer? One resource is O*NET . As the nation's primary source of occupational information O*NET has data on hundreds of occupation specific descriptors and details the mix of knowledge, skills and abilities necessary by task and activity. Searches can be done by career clusters, industry, growth, skills, interests and more.

Sheehe would recommend searchers who need help with the transition avail themselves of a career coach where possible. Some companies provide outplacement coaching for those involuntarily separated. For those without access to paid services and unable to afford counseling on their own there are organizations that may be able to assist. Samaritan Counseling Center is one. As a not-for-profit those who can’t afford the full service cost may be able to access aid through their foundation to help pay a portion.

Taking the time and right approach can make this risk-reward pivot the best decision of your life.