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nine to five
THE QUESTION

I’ve spent the last 12 years in retail, eventually working my way up to management positions. I’m burned out from working in customer service and I want to change to a career with more stability and income, but I have no idea where to start. I have no degrees or education past high school and I don’t have the funds or time to go back to school. I feel lost. Where should I start to find a new career path?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Jermaine L. Murray, talent recruiter and career coach, JupiterHR, Toronto

As someone who has spent a lot of time in retail, I would tell you to first identify where you want to go. This research will play a big part in determining what your transition path will look like. A good place to start is by making a list of the companies that you have an interest in or companies whose products and services you know well. Then, start stalking their job boards.

You should look at jobs that use your core skills like communication, customer service and product knowledge. From there, research the different roles you’ve found and identify the gaps you have in your skillset. Think about how those gaps could be addressed. Networking will play a big part in determining how long this transition takes, but if you can join different career groups and find time to go to networking events, you may be able to learn about trends in the industry that you can capitalize on and get leads on where to apply. You might even meet an advocate who can appreciate and relate to your story.

Part of the research process is eliminating jobs you aren’t interested in so that less noise distracts you. Look within the technology industry. People are still hiring despite the layoffs. Roles like project co-ordinator, customer success manager, marketing co-ordinator or recruitment co-ordinator all have overlapping skills with retail customer service-oriented jobs.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Paula Cowan, career transition strategist, Toronto

My first question to you is: Have you ruled out all customer service roles? Or just the gruelling and stressful front-line customer service roles in the retail sphere?

This is an important distinction to make as you have valuable experience that can be leveraged to apply for more specialized roles in client service and relationships in a variety of industries.

Working in customer service gives you a wide range of often underappreciated skills that are highly marketable in any sector. No clients, no business. You can learn just about everything else on the job.

If you’ve lasted 12 years in customer service and been promoted to management, then you are obviously quite skilled at establishing rapport with clients, problem-solving, collaboration, sales and diffusing tense situations. Do not let anyone dismiss or undervalue your experience there.

Start looking into roles with titles such as customer success, account management, client relations and sales. Even roles in membership or donor relations, as well as logistics and/or operations, can be considered.

Compare job descriptions between industries and sectors in terms of concrete requirements versus “nice to haves.” Many of the job descriptions won’t have a post-secondary education requirement or may specify that it is preferred but not required.

The key is to emphasize not only your experience, but also what impact your problem-solving skills have had, and how similar those problems are to what their organization is experiencing. Highlight what parts of your current workplace have changed for the better as a result of your intervention.

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