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THE QUESTION:

I have been at my retail job for 11 years and I have been trying to get out for 10 of them. Years ago I tried to get a job working with the deaf, but was told I had to go to school to get a certificate. I did that, completing the American Sign Language and Deaf Studies program. I then got a certificate in Office Administration. I have been applying for two years now for office administration or clerical positions and got nowhere. I volunteered with a well-known centre for the deaf and another charitable organization for the hearing-impaired doing administration work and still I'm stuck in this swamp called retail. I am seriously starting to believe that my job is permanently destroying any chances of me getting the kind of work I want.

THE ANSWER:

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Your job in retail is not destroying anything for you, but we need to figure out why your more recent credential and volunteer experience isn't getting you where you want to go. You need a job search strategy to help you find out what may be missing, or what is not connecting you with a potential employer.

You appear to have taken a positive first step by getting education and training in an area that you want to work in. I'm less sure about the certificate in office administration, unless your goal is to get a job as an office administrator for an organization that serves the deaf and hard of hearing.

Going to school and getting a credential is only part of having a targeted job search strategy in place. First, identify what you want to do in the deaf and hard of hearing community, and ask yourself if that is properly represented on your résumé. If you do not know what you really want to do, or what your existing education background would support, then talk to others who work in the field, or in your chosen organization. Ask them what kinds of roles exist, who does them, and then go talk to those people as well. Find out as much as you can, and build a good, solid network within that community.

You mentioned you volunteered in this area. Did you work especially hard to prove yourself and take advantage of valuable experience and insight you gained? Did you talk with key people you worked with, including letting them know you want to contribute as an employee? Is this experience evident on your résumé?

Since you volunteered for some well-known organizations that work with the deaf and hard of hearing, did you ask for performance feedback from the person you worked/reported to? Good volunteers are always asked back, and usually have an advantage once a staff position comes available. Find out what your performance was like, and what you can do improve your chances of landing an employee role.

You also should look at how your retail experience is being displayed on your résumé, and how you can better tie aspects of it to your desired role. For example, your experience with customer service and resolving issues in a retail setting needs to be translated to how these skills can help you be effective in serving those in the deaf and hard of hearing community.

I know it can be frustrating to "break out" of a particular industry, but perseverance counts.

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Eileen Dooley is a certified career coach and general manager of Calgary-based career transition and outplacement firm McRae Inc.

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