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Making a Career Change...Fast

By Marty Nemko

Rick, a client, has been a construction manager for 20 years. Now he thinks he wants to manage a security systems company.

He said, “Marty, you’ve changed careers a dozen times. I’m struggling with doing it just once. How would you go about making this career change?”

Here's what I told him:

First, I’d check to be sure I really would be happier managing a security system company. I’d start by googling such terms as “security systems” and “commercial security” and read articles that seemed interesting. In addition to googling the Web, I’d click on the News tab at and then insert my search term. That would link me to mentions of security systems in hundreds of newspapers.

If a career in security systems still sounded interesting, I’d search on for a book or two that intrigues me about security systems.

If after reading the book, I were still interested, I’d use the Yellow Pages to find the most professional-appearing providers of security systems. I’d avoid biggies like Brinks or ADT because of the difficult of getting through their voicemail jail. I’d phone a few smaller companies, tell the operator I was contemplating that career change and whether there’s a nice person who might offer some advice on how to do it.

Whether or not I got that person or their voicemail, I’d say something like, “I’m a construction manager who’s interested in changing careers and am fascinated with security systems but have no experience. Am I delusional to think I might be able to transition into the field?”

If he told me I wasn’t too crazy, I’d ask questions about his experiences in the field and what advice he might have on how to break in that wouldn’t require a long back-to-school stint: What should I read? Where could I get my feet wet? What organization should I join? What should I attend? Could I call back if I have questions?

If, after speaking with a few such insiders, I were still interested in the field, I’d craft a short self-training program based on those insiders’ advice: As long as I felt like an imposter, I’d keep learning. I would not, however, cave and enroll in a university program. You’ll learn more of value more quickly and less expensively using the method above.

As soon as I felt I had a decent knowledge base, I’d answer any ads for managers for security system companies listed in the Chronicle and on job websites, including the security companies’ sites. I’d also write to or leave voice mail for the presidents of all the local small security systems companies explaining that after 20 years as a construction manager, I was interested in becoming a manager in his industry. I’d explain that I have been mentored by (insert name.) I’d conclude by asking if he might be willing to talk with me about an upcoming opening or offer advice as to where I should turn.

If no one in the field would hire me, I’d start my own related low-investment business. For example, I might start a consultancy doing security audits for businesses. That sort of business requires only a small investment.

Of course, there’s no quick route to becoming a brain surgeon or an airline pilot, but for a surprising number of careers from fundraiser to personal coach, manager to film producer, the approach presented here may be the shortest distance between your current career and a new one.

Advice I’d Give My Child

Are you sure you’ll be happier in a new career? Sometimes your problems move along with you, but if you really think a career change will make you happy, do it the fast way. For many careers, all it takes for a smart woman like you to succeed is a little book learning, mentorship, short courses, and the chutzpah to dive in. Sure, you won’t be a superstar when you first start out in the career, but you’ll probably reach stardom sooner using my quick-change approach than by enrolling in a degree program.

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