Q: I am 26 years old and work in retail and then also have a part-time childcare job. I really want to work in a professional office environment. I have a degree but I really don't use it in these jobs. I feel like I am headed in the wrong direction but I also have bills to pay and I don't have a lot of time to job hunt. Am I stuck in these jobs forever? How do I make a change?
A: I understand your dilemma. It is hard to make a change. Yet the longer you wait, the harder it will become. Let me share some suggestions on steps you can take to make a move.
1. Use the career and alumni services office of your college or university. Re-connect with them and meet with them if possible. Explain that you are looking for a more professional position.
2. Update your resume. Include your retail and childcare experience. Make sure that you include your degree! Make your resume crisp, error-free and professional. I always find it easier when a candidate includes their name in the title of the resume attached. An example would be: JaneMDoe2010. Of course in 2011, that date should be changed.
3. Start using social media tools on weekends and free evenings to start searching for a new opportunity. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter can all be valuable in a search. Check job boards too.
4. Let your friends, relatives and others know you are looking for a new opportunity. Build a network of contacts. These contacts are critically important. Thank anyone that meets with you, shares their time with you or provides a referral to you.
5. Begin actively networking. Meet with 1-2 people per week. Explain your situation. Ask for their advice, guidance and referrals if they hear of an opportunity.
6. Make sure that your PC skills are current. Almost every professional role requires solid PC skills.
7. Join groups on Linkedin. These groups are important. Expand your connection on LinkedIn.
8. Keep close to your email. Nothing is more frustrating than an unresponsive candidate.
9. Evaluate your email address. Ensure that it is professional and descriptive. Avoid addresses that are racy or inappropriate. Today I received a resume from an email address that was similar to firstname.lastname@example.org. Hmmm? No thanks.
10. Consider contacting a few temporary and/or contract firms. You may have to start at a reception desk or in a clerical role, but it is a foot in the door and will give you valuable experience in a professional environment.
11. Invest a bit of money in your professional wardrobe. It is better to be a bit overdressed than too casual. Buy a few classic pieces and then build from there. What you wear out on a Saturday night is probably not appropriate for what you would wear to an office environment on a Monday morning. Dress for the position to which you aspire.
12. Ensure that your online presence is positive and professional. Clean up your Facebook page if you have photos online that are less than professional. Limit your Facebook page visitors by using their privacy tools.
13. If you work for a large retailer, there may be opportunities that are not strictly retail selling. Larger retailers have opportunities in finance, hr, marketing, operations, etc. Often these larger retailers have an internal job posting system that might be worth exploring.
14. Never say no to an introduction. Introductions often lead job seekers down a path of opportunity.
15. Stay positive. Know that you may encounter rejection. Learn from the slips, falls and missteps and correct your course going forward. Avoid bashing former employers, colleagues or jobs.
A job change can occur. It will take effort. Good luck!
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.