Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Bringing the job market and marketplace into focus – Part 9: transition positions as a foot in the door

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on September 2, 2010

This is my tenth posting in this series on career change as a route into new job opportunity in a contracted job market. It is also my 106th posting in my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development (see postings 89 through 97 for earlier entries in this series.) This is also the most contentious posting I will have put in this Guide, or anywhere else in this blog as a whole. It is also one of the most important of them, or at least I see significant reasons for making that claim. That is because transition and stepping stone positions can make all the difference between looking and landing the job you seek. But this can involve taking steps that trample on our egos and our self-perception as to who we are as a professional. So this is about both finding and securing transition positions as a step in landing your more desired job, and it is about breaking out of your career self-image comfort zone and building a new and more inclusively supportive one.

The single biggest challenge in making a career change is in identifying and expanding comfort zones so you can develop and follow through on a more effective and wider reaching search, and with an effective focus and with a positive attitude. Your attitude and any ambivalence you may bring with you will show and in every meeting or interview so this is very important if you are to present yourself as that best possible candidate of all who are under consideration. And transition positions can help you get into that right interview for you to take your next intended career step. But this does mean setting aside some deeply held and largely unexamined assumptions. That is what this posting will focus on.

I want to start this posting with a specific example from my own experience to bring it out of the abstract. I have never worked as a paid career coach or councilor but I have worked with a fairly significant number of individual colleagues in helping them with their searches and I have given quite a few seminar talks and small group presentations on this. The specific example I would cite here comes from that experience.

I was talking by phone and exchanging emails with an engineering graduate who was having real problems breaking into her field with that first job in her specialty area of training. The candidate I am thinking of here is very bright and highly motivated and would make a great addition to the staff of a hiring company but she had trouble presenting herself in interviews and she did not have that all important on the job experience that employers look for in a best candidate. (She had not, for example done summer internships with businesses as a student.) And she was a few years out of college now and working in other fields to make ends meet while she looked for the job she really wanted. I suggested she look into intern opportunities, perhaps working that way half time to get her foot in the door with workplace experience to add to her resume and professional recommendations from her field. I thought she was going to explode! She was a professional and deserved to be fully paid for her work, and I was just insulting her to suggest that she settle for anything less. Fine, but how do you get the experience you need to be a viable job candidate when you have to have a job to develop that? How do you start when you are a few years out of your training program competing with new graduates for those entry level positions, many of whom have internship experience? It was a while before this candidate spoke with me again. She never did try a transition job approach for breaking into her chosen field and she never has landed that job of her dreams.

Transition jobs, and even intern position transition jobs are not a step down and they are not demeaning. They are a way to gain real world experience and to network to contacts who can help you find more full time and compensated positions and they can be a great way to develop a network of contacts in your target job and career field who can give you professional recommendations as coming from someone who has actually worked with you. And a willingness to pay your dues forward this way shows a level of enthusiasm for working in that field, and perseverance and dedication that can only impress a hiring manager. Landing that job of your dreams means standing out not just as a good candidate but as the best and this is one way to accomplish that. And remember in this context that while technical and related skills are always important, attitude and interpersonal skills, and personal enthusiasm and reliability can be even more important – and even in technical job searches. The hiring manager who will make that hiring decision is looking for someone they and their team members can work with and who they can rely on, and both as a team player and as someone who will make that extra effort as needed. Think of willingness to successfully go through a transition position as proof of principle for that.

As an exercise I would suggest you think through in detail where your skills are needed, and in the general field your target job would fall into. Where in this universe of potential employers would you find opportunities to work part time, or as an intern or volunteer? Consider nonprofits and non-governmental organizations (NGO) and for-profit businesses and certainly where they are socially responsible and appreciative of projects that support societal needs and values. Look for opportunities that they may already have available, and network into these organizations to find who you should talk to, and not about landing a full time paid job from them – about offering value to them and to their mission. And do your research as the more focused and specific you are in your presentation as to what you want to do, the more receptive they will be, and if not in directly helping to find opportunities with them, then in networking you to others they know of who may be in a better position to help you. And consider government run, mandated and supported programs too. Throw a wide net here and tap into your network for ideas as to new directions to search in for transition positions that can help you as stepping stones in your search for your desired target goal job.

This exercise is not easy and it isn’t something you can do quickly. If you take this path you continue doing this one until you land that transition position. And then you work at that as a reliable, efficient member of the team who can really be counted on to be there and to do the job. And use this as an opportunity to gain hands-on experience and to cultivate on the job networking contacts. For that I recommend you review postings from Social Networking and Business, and definitely including the four postings listed towards the top under the heading Jumpstart Your Networking.

The next posting in this series is going to look into interviewing for a career change, and in preparation for that I recommend that you review the Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development, postings 46 and 51 on unemployment gaps and dealing with them more effectively.

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