It’s never too late to change horses

OldCatman reminds me that there are IT professionals with COBOL experience who are being shoved out of the corporate nest. For all I know, there may still be DIBOL programmers out there, or assembly language programmers for mainframes. I left the industry in 2001 when C++ and Java experience were in demand. Even these skills may be history soon.

Our industry grew so fast and in so many different directions that those of us on the bleeding edge lost sight of our fellow professionals in niche situations. Today, there are many generations of software languages still in use, but very few programmers know more than a few languages. High-tech growth can turn capable technical people into dinosaurs overnight.

If you are lucky, you know the languages, operating systems and databases that are now in demand. If you read the classifieds and barely understand what they are asking for, you have not changed jobs in the last few years.

The same is true in almost every field. Experience in Six Sigma, or in CRM deployment, or with an application like Quark was once a vital necessity for your career and is then replaced by some other skill set requirement, which you don’t have.

Even if you take advantage of every course your company offers, you can still be blindsided by technological change and find yourself on the street with your whole division.

The only solution is to reinvent yourself constantly, preferably before you get fired or laid off. Once you are on the street and your unemployment runs out, you need to increase your necessity level if you are to survive.

First of all, if your skills are not currently in demand, stop thinking of yourself as a Senior Quality Manager, or as Director of Product Development, or as a Vice President of Operations. I have been all of those too and would segue into being a Sales Representative, Program Manager, or a free-lance marketing consultant when the need arose.

Rewrite your resume to highlight the skills required by the company you are interviewing with. Almost every responsible position you have held has required handling of customers, budget planning, or some sort of computer experience. With a little thought, these can be turned into a plausible background for any sales position or general management position, possibly into a customer service position.

If you have no companies to interview with, make a long list of your skills, not your positions held. Think how these skills could be used to make money or to secure employment.

Get over the fact that you were once somebody with a certain title. That’s history now, and you are going to creat a new future. If you are worried about what people will think if you become a manager in WalMart or open your own hardware store, you are really shortchanging yourself.

Keep your options open and talk to everyone you know about the kinds of work you can do.

Don’t be afraid to take up work in an unrelated field if it offers a chance to build a new future. You may have to take a pay cut, but if the work is satisfying, you will find a way to advance yourself.

Keep your head, don’t lose track of your objectives and find work that will keep food on the table and a roof over your head. Give each new job everything you have, but keep acquiring marketable skills. You may find yourself in this position again and this experience will make it much easier next time.

In 45 years, I made five major career changes: from aerospace to data acquisition companies to computer companies to software companies, to internet companies, with several bouts of consulting in between. Almost none of my experience was directly transferrable. After a while I made sure that I stayed on top of industry trends so that I would know when the next career change was about to occur.

Very few of us will work for the same company more than a few years. You owe it to yourself and your family to be prepared for major changes in your occupation. Get ready to change horses when the time comes.

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