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I've just graduated, but want to switch careers

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The question

I am a recent graduate with a masters degree in social work. I also have an MA in political science and a graduate certificate in public relations. I have worked most recently at a family counselling centre in areas related to individual and employment counselling. I have also worked with a municipal government department in areas of accessibility and equity promotion. Aside from social work, I have a background in communications, having worked for government and the health care sector and in journalism. I also have done extensive volunteer work for various non-profit organizations.

I am really interested in social policy jobs in government or work in communications and advocacy roles with not-for-profit organizations. I am also really interested in high school or post-secondary teaching in civics. I do not really know how to get from where I am to where I want to be as my current degree type casts me as a clinical counsellor or for clinical types of jobs, which I have little background for or interest in. I am actually not sure what to do as I tend to have a lot of interests. Any advice you could provide me would be greatly appreciated.

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The answer

You have numerous interests and many academic credentials and work experiences, both paid and volunteer, to draw upon. This will hold you in good stead throughout your working life. Most individuals today will have several different careers – not just jobs – over their entire working life. Your challenge now is to focus on finding a career and job that is of interest to you.

Think about the career that you really want now. What careers or jobs are you most interested in? Who has a career or job that you would love to have? Reflect on your ideal job. Identify what you would be doing, in what organization and for what clientele or stakeholders.

Develop a prioritized list of prospective careers. Prioritize the list of careers such as government policy analyst, communications manager, public relations officer, advocate for specific non-profit groups, and civics instructor in secondary or post-secondary institutions. You already know the jobs you don't want, such as clinical counsellor, so don't even put this on your list.

You are interested in social policy, communication, advocacy or teaching jobs in government or in the not-for-profit sector. All your degrees and certifications in social work, political science and public relations have foci in the areas of policy development, advocacy, communications and teaching. This is what you will want to emphasize in your written and verbal presentations and interviews with prospective employers. Do not emphasize the clinical counselling parts in your discussions with prospective employers. If by chance they bring it up, then you can indicate that your knowledge on the clinical and service delivery side will help you in drafting clearer policy, advocating for or representing the needs of the stakeholders or clients in the field.

You are your own best product in your job search. How you present, promote and advocate your unique brand (skills, talents and experience) to prospective employers will be important. This is where your public relations background should serve you well. Put yourself in the prospective employer's shoes, figure out what they most need or are looking for, and promote yourself. Customize your cover letters and resumes so that they emphasize your strengths and attributes in the areas in which you want to work.

Practise interviews with a friend or career coach. Practise highlighting your strengths and experience that will fit the needs of the industry and prospective employer. You need to be able to identify their needs and tell them succinctly how you can help them meet those needs and why you are the best person for the job.

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Research the different organizations – public, not-for profit and private – that employ the types of professionals on your prioritized career list. Find out the key officials in these organizations who you would like to speak to and possibly work for. Set up information interviews with these officials. Take the opportunity to learn more about the organizations and their work in the informal interviews. Show your interest through your conversation and your questions about the organization based on your research. Also, take the opportunity to tell them about you and what you could do for the organization. Indicate your interest in working with the organization on either a consulting or full-time basis. The majority of jobs are filled by word of mouth and informal contacts.

Bruce Sandy is principal of and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting.

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