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ask a career coach

The Question:

I am a 30-year-old woman, with a Masters in History, who has been employed by the federal government for over six years. I am dissatisfied with my job – the pace, the politics, the subject matter, my department's direction – and I am considering a move to the private sector. Only problem – I have no idea where to begin. I know I have skills, but I don't know how transferable they are outside the public sector, nor how to market them. Any suggestions? Should I see a job coach to help "translate" my résumé?

The Answer:

You will be in good company. I suspect there are many others from the public sector considering transitioning into private sector as the public sector continues to go through substantial changes. In order for you to transition successfully, you will need a solid plan. Here are a few thoughts to help you get started.

Clarify your career objectives

What do you want to do in the private sector? Without knowing much about your specific role, I'd encourage you to get further clarity regarding what type of roles you might be interested in as well as the environment you would like to work in. This will help you focus your approach and the required reflection to identify common ground and transferable skills.

"Pace and politics" are equal opportunity players

Your frustrations related to "pace and politics" will not disappear simply by moving to the private sector. These are equal opportunity issues – and can be prevalent in many private sector companies, too. The key is to ask yourself what environment is best for you (what kind of pace and culture) and evaluate each opportunity with that in mind.

Have skills – will "travel"

Take time to reflect on the vast range of all your skills, strengths and attributes. Write them down and consider both the functional skills (such as research methodology if you are a researcher) as well as other personal and professional skills. Think about the 'how' behind your successes. This will reveal useful data about your style, strengths and attributes. For example, do you get things done by empowering others in a team? By being exceptionally organized and resourceful? By turning complex ideas into easy-to-understand concepts? They should be highlighted in your résumé and other career marketing profiles, including LinkedIn.

Be mindful of the differences

While it is important to look for common ground it is also important to know the differences. Take time to research and talk to as many people as you can to learn more about the different cultures and expectations within areas of the private sector that interest you. This will help you in your interviews as well as making plans to close the gap, such as learning new skills.

Build a support network

Anybody building a career needs to have a solid network and even more so when making a significant transition to another sector. Tap into your existing network and build on it to connect with people who can share insights, leads and other valuable support in helping you learn more about the opportunities in the private sector.

Identify learning goals

At the outset, identify learning goals that will help you with your career transition. It might be learning about a particular sector within the for-profit world, or learning new skills, or even how to network.

Consider hiring a coach

A qualified career coach can help you: develop awareness of your potential and relevant, transferable skills; identify your career 'sweet spots;' tailor a career search focus that is right for you; identify the gaps you need to address to break into a new area; create a plan that includes networking, résumé preparation; interview skills and more.

Whether you opt to go solo or with a coach, my final words are this: Where there is a will there is a way. Be clear about your goals, create a plan, and work it with diligence, perseverance and an open mind as you explore new options.

Eileen Chadnick is a work-life coach and principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto.

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