THE BLOG

Writer Kerry Hannon Wants to Tell You How to "Tweak and Update" Your Job Skills

08/04/2010 07:38 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011


With unemployment at an all time high and people being laid-off left and right, many are at a loss at what to do. This is especially true with those in the book publishing industry, an industry that is so difficult to break into in the first place.

What can you do if you've just lost your job? For this, we asked Kerry Hannon, author of the book What's Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job . She is a nationally acclaimed personal finance contributing editor and retirement correspondent for U.S. News & World Report. This book helps people who have grown tired of their old careers or been displaced by today's economy follow her lead and develop a career that really fulfills them.

Kerry Hannon, so many people in the book industry are at a career cross roads. What advice would you have for those who are having a mid-life career crisis?

You're in good company. Perhaps you've worked in the same field for twenty-some-odd years and run out of fresh challenges. Maybe you feel you have talents that are going to waste. Or there's something you've always wanted to do that's calling louder and louder. Or, like millions of others, you're simply worn down by the corporate routine. There must be something out there that's more meaningful and more rewarding, right?

Each person I interviewed for What's Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job faced a different set of challenges. But these success stories reveal common threads. Many of these men and women were spurred to discover what really matters to them and transform their work (and, in turn, personal) lives by a crisis or loss that starkly revealed the fleeting nature of life. In some cases, it was the loss of a job. For others, it was the loss of someone they loved, or a personal health crisis.

In reality, if you've lost a job in the recent economic tumult, this is the perfect time to move into a job that means something to you. With the cushion provided by a severance or early-retirement package, grab hold of your chance to try something new.

Here are my top tips:
• Go slow. Don't do anything rash. Yes, this is the time to get excited about work once again, to feel revived and passionate about making a difference not just in your world but a difference in the world around you. But take your time. To succeed at a second act, pause and plan. Do your research.
• Don't ruin your hobby. You might love to garden, for example. But as a career, it's less than idyllic.
• Set a flexible time horizon for your venture to make it.
• Prepare for setbacks. It's not all-smooth sailing, but if you've laid the proper groundwork, you'll get through the rough patches.
• Add the essential skills and degrees before you make your move.
• Apprentice, moonlight or volunteer beforehand. Opening a restaurant might not be as romantic as it sounds!
• Reach out to your networks of social and professional contacts to ask for help and guidance.
• Downsize. Plan your financial life in order to be able to afford a cut in pay or the cost of a start-up. That means trimming back debt! Getting financially fit is not an option.
• Be confident.

What can someone do who is no longer an industry "spring chicken" who has extensive experience, wants to stay in the industry, but is told they are "over-qualified"?

To my ears, that's another way of saying you're too old and want too much money. Don't let age get in your way. When it comes to starting a new job, whether it is in the same field or a new one, be forewarned: age discrimination is real. There's a perception that people over fifty will be just passing through as a transition into retirement. "Employers are loath to hire someone who they think will be out the door in a few years," says Marc Freedman, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Civic Ventures, a nonprofit organization whose programs and research focus on social careers for baby boomers.

You need to be willing to prove that you still have what it takes. "The issue is not age, but personal health, energy level, and an entrepreneurial spirit," The Transition Network executive director Betsy Werley says.
• Play up your experience. Think Marketing 101. You're the product. Your pitch: You can hit the ground running, have the polish of a pro, and bring a deep well of knowledge to your new employer.
• Be humble. Let an employer know you're happy to handle jobs at any level because you love this business. Period.
• Feel positive about what you have to offer. Workers over fifty tend to be self-starters, know how to get the job done, and don't need as much handholding as those with less experience.
• You have a network. You have a lot more resources to draw on than people in their twenties and thirties and your future employer will reap those benefits big time!

Check out these great job sites for older boomers
• WorkForce50.com
• Seniors4Hire.org
• RetiredBrains.com
• AARP.com
• Encore.org


Why is this book so important for those in the industry right now to read? Are any of the examples of those who have changed careers similar to the experiences of some of our readers?

What's Next? is all about reinvention and inspiration--magical words for creative folks in the publishing world.

This industry is undergoing a major transformation. No need to tell your readers that, but the message here is to go with it. Don't fight it. Seek out the new and take the time to figure out how your unique abilities can be tweaked and upgraded.

During the course of the three-plus years that I traveled the country meeting career switchers, I interviewed many whose jobs simply no longer exist anymore, some who lost their jobs due to downsizing in their industry, and others who took an early retirement package.

Sound familiar? The winners who made a successful career move all used their turn of events as an unexpected opportunity to reinvent their career or pursue a long-held dream. They started a new path.

Think of it as solving a puzzle. You have to be nimble, willing to try new things, and curious. If you're not tech-savvy, for example, and up-to-speed on social media and viral marketing, take the time to get comfortable with it. It's not going away.

Five ways to steer through job change:
1. Network. You never know who can help you. Head back to your alma mater, for example. Reach out to potential contacts through alumni publications, alumni career center websites, or regional associations if there's a chapter near you.
2. Ramp up your skill set. Lots of community colleges offer affordable courses.
3. Look inside. A second career is often a spiritual quest. Get in touch with your true goals. Don't underestimate what a transition will bring. It can be a blow to your ego to not be the top dog and begin anew. Some people can't handle this psychologically.
4. Be practical. If you'd like to get a graduate degree, start by taking a night class and be accountable for what you can handle. This will help you be clear that this is the direction you want to go before you get in too deep financially.
5. Consider hiring a career coach. If you know you need a change, but are unsure of what to do, a career coach can help you set goals, outline steps to take you there, and motivate you to make it happen. There are more details in What's Next? about ways to go about finding someone who is qualified.

You're a journalist but you're also an author. Have you had personal first hand experience of being at a career cross-roads?

In the late 1990s, I got a call from a photographer friend who needed a writer to help with a book about an American Indian trading post. I have spent most of my career covering business and consumer news for national publications, including USA Today, Forbes and U.S. News & World Report, the experience of profiling three female weavers at a Navajo reservation located at the Four Corners -- the juncture of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico -- was a sort of epiphany.

There was a peace and contentment among the weavers as they pursued their traditional craft, and their sense of serenity stayed with me long after I finished the 1999 book, Trees in a Circle: The Teec Nos Pos Story.

Back in Washington, I quit a well-paying and prestigious job with benefits at USA Today to become a freelance writer. It helped that my husband, Cliff, a freelancer for years, had recently landed a staff job at CNN and backed my decision.

I didn't abandon consumer-oriented journalism, but I eventually landed a steady gig with U.S. News, writing a feature about people who change careers to gain more personal fulfillment.

Where can we get a copy of your book?

What's Next? Follow Your Passion and Find Your Dream Job is available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Chronicle Books and independent bookstores nationwide. It's also available on Kindle and as an e-book. Check out my website, www.kerryhannon.com for where to buy the book and more.