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by Jane Allen | March 31, 2009


In California, 135 career changers have qualified as candidates in the October 2003 recall election of Governor Gray Davis. Sorry, folks, the filing deadline for that job opportunity has passed, but there are other options. Here are the stories of three career changers who decided to try something completely different (without entering the political fray).

Linda Cowles, 50, was a marketing manager/business developer/business process engineer in the San Francisco Bay Area until she was laid off two years ago.

"It was tough. There were times when I didn't think I could handle it. I sold my house after 14 months of unemployment, moved to Mendocino County in Northern California and opened a horse tack store with a friend - The Horse 'N Hound in Redwood Valley. The partnership didnt work out so I was soon on my own. I started with consignments and reinvested profits in new inventory. I hadn't done retail for 20 years and had never really owned a business. The worst part was being alone in a small town with no friends nearby. But I soon made friends locally and compulsively offered to help others anytime I had the opportunity. My karma got better. Any help I needed started to come looking for me. Whew!

"The biggest boost was when the local riding club asked me to be their president. They, in turn, were THE marketplace. I worked hard to make their tack purchases good ones, and they demanded that their friends check out my shop. I treated them with respect, concern and fairness, and they became the best customers on the planet. Sales climbed.

"My margins are low, but so are my expenses. I make enough to pay bills and grow inventory. Clients drive from Oregon and San Francisco to shop here. I help them find saddles to fit their horses. I have lots of fun, sell eclectic horse and cowboy stuff, joke and have a wonderful time. What have I learned from all of this? Do something that makes your heart sing. Cultivate great relationships. Respect other people enough to ask for their help when you really need it. Share what you have because someone out there needs it. Don't forget to play."

Julia Astashkina, 31, knows about surviving. Her dream as a youngster in Latvia was to live in America. She arrived in Florida ten years ago and began college, ultimately receiving an MBA. With determination, education, smarts and personality, she became a marketing and operations professional in the financial and hi tech industries.

After the dotcom bust, Julia - like so many others - went through serial unemployment. She would find a new job only to be laid off again as yet another company downsized or went out of business. This year, tired of chasing employment in hi tech, she decided to try something different. She accepted a job with Mutual of Omaha recruiting and training sales agents and is managing and reorganizing the large companys marketing program.

"I enjoy working here. There is life and money after technology," Julia says. "I like the relaxed office dynamics, the interaction with clients and seeing how what we do impacts the clients' lives. If you're looking for a stable income and a career change, you should consider insurance and financial services sales. I found that all of my marketing and business development skills are perfectly transferable and useful. Financial services companies like business-savvy transplants from other industries."

Julia's advice for career changers who are "stuck" is, "Expand your horizons - go ahead and talk to people from at least two industries that you haven't considered before. Pick up that phone and ask for help!"

You could say that Mark Schaeffer, 46, has always been a man with eclectic interests (or you might say that he just didn't know what career he wanted). In college he majored in philosophy because, he remembers, "It was the only discipline where you didn't have to claim to know anything." During college, he started a mime company, did some acting and worked in children's theater. He never set a career goal, but did "whatever came up and it worked out pretty well." Until three years ago, he and his wife, Debra Goldentyer, ran a small educational multimedia and video production company. After Debra took a job, Mark didn't want to run the business by himself so he started searching for something else.

He saw an ad for tutors to help teenagers prepare for SATs. He had never taught before. It was a short-term job and didn't pay much, but it sounded like fun. And it was. Mark had found his niche.

"It was great. It reminded me that I know stuff, I'm good with people and Im a good speaker. I started looking for other teaching jobs. Many people wanted to learn multimedia skills then, and it was hard for schools to find teachers because people were working at it - not teaching."

Mark started working part time, teaching multimedia at different schools. Then the economy fell apart. The schools cut back or went out of business, and Mark was underemployed for nearly two years. He believed he'd never have another opportunity to teach and decided he should find yet another line of work. But then he saw an ad for a multimedia teacher at Chabot College in Hayward, California. Mark knew it was the perfect job for him and that he had to try for it even though the competition might be fierce. He was chosen, out of many applicants, to teach and create a curriculum in digital media.

Mark discovered that, "Teaching is what I do best. It fulfills that important question for me: Will this work leave the world better than I found it? If anybody had predicted that I'd find a full-time position teaching digital media - with a regular paycheck, benefits and the whole deal - I would have said they were crazy. And yet it happened. So, if you're looking for a job opportunity that really ought to be there but isn't, hang in there. Sometimes the impossible comes true."


Filed Under: Job Search