Transitioning to a Former Field | Jobs In ME
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Transitioning to a Former Field

By: Melissa Suey

By Melissa Suey, Career and Leadership Coach

A reader asks, "How can one transition back into a field they have been out of for some time? I was laid off due to a corporate downsizing and for the past 10 years have had to take jobs that were a poor fit for my skill-set. Can I go back, after this much time out?"

My response: This is a question that comes up often. The quick answer: it depends. You'll want to find out what has changed since you were last in that field and what you will need to do to become a viable candidate again. If once you take that information into consideration you still feel strongly that this work aligns with your skills, values, and interests, it's probably worth exploring. Let's take a glass-half-full approach, and agree on a few things:

1. You Have Some 'Insider' Knowledge

You already have some 'insider' knowledge about the industry/field. Sure, you may be a bit rusty and you are not a complete newbie, so you at least have a point of reference to begin doing some research.

  • You already have an idea what kind of work you'd like, so make a list of the jobs you may be interested in and potential organizations you'd like to learn more about.
  • Go to the US Department of Labor's O*Net site and search by job titles in the Occupation Quick Search. You may find that your former job title is now referred to as something else. Dig around in this website; there is a load of valuable information there. Take a look at the tasks and skills needed and see if they are relevant to you.
  • Find professional associations related to the field you'd like to return to and attend one of their meetings. I can't emphasize enough what a great opportunity this is to meet like-minded people and learn about current trends in an industry or field. (If you can't afford the meeting fee, many will allow you to come for free if you let them know you are currently unemployed.)

2. You Have Connections

You most likely have connections in the field already. Getting a job has always been about "who you know," and we often underestimate the number of people we know.

  • Make a list of past colleagues, former supervisors, people you went to school with, previous clients or vendors, etc. You may be surprised how many names you come up with.
  • When you reconnect with them, you may want to ask: What do they like/dislike about their work? What are the trends in this field? What kind of training or education is required? What did that training cost? What advice would they have for you? Keep notes of your conversations and research.

3. You Decide Your Next Steps

The only one who can truly set your course is you. Do your research, do some introspection, and take a realistic look at what you want and what you need to do to get there.

By the way, it's not unusual to start in one direction, with an assumption as to where you want to be, only to find out through the process that you really belong somewhere else. I have had clients go through this process and decide they actually want to keep their "day job" and intentionally start focusing on what they do outside of work, like volunteering, writing, starting a side business, joining a community group, etc.

If you do decide to enter back into your previous field, you will be well-equipped, having already done the legwork to get you moving in that direction. Good luck!


Melissa Suey is a career and leadership coach and trainer who specializes in helping people find and stay engaged in work that is meaningful to them. Melissa is Manager of Talent Management for Delhaize America, Hannaford's parent company and has consulted for JobsInTheUS.com and the Maine Department of Labor. She completed her professional coach training with the highly acclaimed Coaches Training Institute in San Rafael, California. Melissa is a member of the International Coach Federation and is past Vice President of Operations for the American Society for Training and Development, Maine Chapter.