“I am still in disbelief. How this 58-year-old single mother changed careers during the pandemic – and also got a pay rise

In June, Janet Sharkis watched with dismay the money that funded her nonprofit work dry up, putting her out of work after decades in the field.

The 58-year-old single mom with a daughter in college and another about to start her senior year of high school was upset, angry and scared of what her next move would be like to an area where it can be difficult to move. land a senior-level position.

“My expenses will go up and my income will probably go down. …. I knew I was going to have a rough road, ”said the Austin, Texas resident.

“My expenses will go up and my income will probably go down. …. I knew I was going to have a rough road. ‘

Photo courtesy of Janet Sharkis

But there were over 10 million job openings in the country at the time, and many employers were desperate for workers. So Sharkis wouldn’t have any problem, right?

What happened next highlights the challenges and opportunities that coexist in today’s job market. It’s also a story of personal reinvention to overcome those obstacles and seize golden opportunities. It’s a task that many older workers may have to do, some observers say, especially if they face the headwinds of age discrimination.

After months of research, Sharkis went from not-for-profit administration to for-profit sales, working for Social Solutions, a software company for nonprofits, philanthropic organizations and public sector agencies. . She also got a raise from $ 92,000 to a base salary of $ 110,000 for a new job she is passionate about.

Sharkis started as a community development executive in October. “I am still in disbelief. It hasn’t gone away, ”she told MarketWatch.

“The worst part is that everyone tells you that you will get a job immediately”

Prior to turning to the private sector, Sharkis was a program director at the College of Education at the University of Texas, where she focused on initiatives relating to mental health, special education, and students with disabilities. This ended years of community service, which began with her first job out of college as a special education teacher and turned into higher-level administrative work.

“I wanted to do something where I could have an impact on people’s lives. It was important to me, “she said.

When Sharkis and another colleague were made redundant, she constantly worked to land similar jobs in nonprofit organizations or in the public sector. His applications went unanswered and virtual interviews with employers or candidate screening officers did not increase.

Even with record-breaking job vacancies, there was competition from the millions of people voluntarily leaving their jobs. Along with those more than 10 million openings, a record 4.4 million people left their jobs in September, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“Everyone is looking for work at the same time. It makes the market very, very messy, ”Sharkis said. “There were times when I felt so hopeless. “

The constant search was not the worst. “The worst part is everyone tells you you’ll get a job immediately because the only people who don’t have a job now don’t want to work,” Sharkis said.

So there’s the job search and “you have the stigma on top of that,” Sharkis said. “What’s wrong with you if you don’t have a job?” “

Along the way, Sharkis joined the Launch Pad Job Club, a networking and job-sharing organization that formed in the dust of the dot com collapse. Members are typically 45 and over and some are looking for a new career or other job in the same industry, said Shannon Brooke Mantrom, the organization’s executive director. Earlier in the pandemic, around 60 people attended the weekly virtual meetings and it is now half that size, Mantrom said.

Changing jobs – let alone careers – can be a difficult prospect that can lead to retraining of workers and new certifications, she said. But companies have their own challenges in the workforce, with many “crying out for help, but then they don’t look where the help is. … Believe it or not, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

More than 3 million people have decided to take early retirement during the pandemic, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, although there are now signs that some of those people are returning to work.

Sharkis never thought about retiring sooner, but she knew people who were considering the idea. “A lot of them want to work, they are just disgusted and demoralized,” she said.

“Sometimes you have to listen to what you have in mind”

Years ago, Sharkis took continuing education courses on the business side of nonprofit management. The information was interesting, but Sharkis put it back in his head and went to work.

Years later, when she met her boyfriend, who works in sales, she learned what her job and that of her coworkers were like. Again, she put this in the back of her head and went back to work.

But then something clicked. “I sell a cause all the time,” Sharkis said. “I started to see the similarity and commonalities of the work I had been doing for years and what they are doing.”

Listening, education and relationship building are key skills for both her nonprofit work and past sales, she noted. “It was in the back of my mind, and sometimes you have to listen to what’s on your mind, that I wanted a change,” Sharkis said.

But still, how to make the transition?

Sharkis has scheduled informational interviews to learn more about the sales job. Along the way, she came across a job offer from Social Solutions. She gave him a chance and applied. “When I first had the interview I felt really connected to it in a way that I hadn’t felt for others,” said Sharkis.

Now she works with a sales team focused on nonprofit and government clients based in California. His job is a mixture of relationship management, but also to be an additional sounding board when his clients need to solve problems and management projects. It’s an exciting new learning experience that always incorporates the Sharkis experience, she said.

Steph Austin, senior director of community development, hired Sharkis. Sharkis’ experience in the nonprofit sector allows him to understand the customer’s perspective, Austin said. “I find it much easier to teach the mechanics of sales than it is to teach an entire industry,” Austin said, noting that the company has increasingly hired people with experience this year. in the public and not-for-profit sector instead of traditional sales training.

“We get better ideas and do a better job when we bring in people who are not in the cookie cutter mold,” Austin said.

Tips for changing careers

Make no mistake about it, career changes are tough. “Overall, it looks like we’re hired to do jobs that they already know for sure you can do. …. Nobody wants to risk someone, ”Sharkis said.

A critical step for a crossover is identifying transferable skills, said Wendy Marx, author of “Thrive at 50+.” One exercise, Marx said, is to draw a line on a piece of paper and write all the technical skills and more general skills, like communication, on one side. Brainstorm new areas and next steps on the other side.

Storytelling is another skill older workers need to hone. “People of my ilk, you’ve been taught not to brag, your references speak for themselves. Which is no longer the case. You can’t just decipher headlines. You must illustrate how you have made a profound difference in your career.

Older workers must also stand up for their cause in the face of potential prejudice or lack of confidence due to age discrimination, whether expressed or not, Marx said. Ageism “does not attract the attention that other ‘isms’ receive,” she said.

Sharkis also has career change pointers. It is important to create a support network, like the one provided by the job club, where people understand how difficult a job search can be now.

At the heart of a job search, someone may be in “survivor mode” which does not give a lot of time and thought to heady issues like long term goals, motivations and interests, a. said Sharkis. Try not to ignore these factors, she said. “Deep in my heart I wanted something that was going to be a new challenge,” she said.

Job seekers need to remember that the people around them are watching and learning how they deal with it. In this case, they are the children of Sharkis. “If you want to show kids perseverance, you have to be persistent in your job search,” she said.

After Sharkis landed her job, her daughter once told Sharkis that she was proud of herself. “It made me feel like I was doing something right for her.”

Want to talk about your own job search and career developments during the pandemic? Write to [email protected]

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