by Meridith Levinson

Career Advice: Pursuing a New Professional Direction

Nov 15, 2010

A reader recently sought advice from Senior Online Editor Meridith Levinson, about switching careers.

About a month ago, I received an e-mail from a sales executive who had read my then-recent story on long-term unemployment and who hoped I could answer a question about a career change she was contemplating.

The sales executive told me that, after a layoff two years ago, she had begun pursuing a Master’s degree in an entirely new field (Integrative Medicine). Though she’s close to completing her Master’s program, the sales executive says she has started pursuing jobs in her old field because she needs to get back to work for financial reasons. The job search challenge she’s encountered is that recruiters are not contacting her for positions for which she believes she is well-qualified because, they apparently say, her experience is not recent.

The sales executive asked me if she should note her pending Master’s degree high-up on her resume so recruiters can see that she’s not been idle these past two years. Her question was based on advice one of my career coach sources had proffered in my article on long-term unemployment: The career coach advised long-term job seekers to add whatever work they’ve been doing during their unemployment to their resumes so that recruiters and hiring manages can see that they have been active.

This was my advice to the sales executive:

…if you’re committed to a career in integrative medicine, I would try finding work in that field, rather than in your previous sales field. I make this recommendation for a few reasons: If moving into integrative medicine remains your true next career goal, a job in your former sales field won’t help get you there. You’re better off getting some kind of job in integrative medicine. Doing so will provide you with some practical experience, which, combined with the Master’s degree, will then help you build a strong résumé for moving into integrative medicine. Getting some kind of a job in integrative medicine will also help you build contacts/a network in the field.  And it will help you pay the bills (though it may not pay as much as you’d make as a sales executive).

If you were to note in a cover letter or on your résumé (in say, an executive summary area) that you’ve spent the past two years pursuing a Master’s degree in integrative medicine, I’m concerned that it wouldn’t make much difference to recruiters trying to fill sales executive jobs in your former industry. They may see that you’ve spent the past two years pursuing this degree, but they may conclude that it’s not relevant to your old field. Recruiters want to see that job seekers who’ve been out of work for a long time have somehow remained active in the field in which they’re pursuing work—whether through consulting, continuing education, part-time work, etc.

A question for you: Is there a place where your former field in sales and integrative medicine meet? Do doctors of integrative medicine need special equipment? If so, that may present you with an opportunity to combine your education in this new field with your professional background in sales. You could try to find sales jobs where your customer is a doctor of integrative medicine/integrative medical practice. If such an opportunity exists, you could make a very compelling case to recruiters about your ability to combine your past professional experience as a sales executive with your newfound knowledge of integrative medicine.

What advice would you have given this sales executive? If you’ve moved from one field to another, how did you manage to make the switch?