MONEY

5 Secrets to Landing the Job You Really Want

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Matt Chase

Dream of venturing forth into a new and rewarding career? Navigate your journey with expert help from people who know the territory.

Twenty years ago as she whip­ped up peanut but­ter balls for friends, Cathy Churcher never thought she’d wind up making a living as a candymaker. But after a series of deaths in her family—including that of her brother, at age 49—Churcher quit her job as the director of admissions at a nursing school and opened Chocolate Cravings, a 400-square-foot shop in Richmond. “It was about happiness,” says Churcher. “I stepped out in faith that I could make a go of it in a new career.”

Churcher, then 50, wasn’t depending on faith alone. Three years before launching, she began writing a business plan. She studied local candy stores, trying to learn from their successes and failures. She earned a certificate as a professional chocolatier. And two years before she opened her shop, she started selling at farmers’ markets and to local stores and restaurants.

Fifty-five percent of U.S. workers want to change careers, according to a University of Phoenix survey. As Churcher’s story suggests, those shifts take time. To make a switch, you’ll have to learn new skills, make new professional contacts, sock away cash, and more.

Maybe you, like Churcher, want to start a business, or maybe you’d like a salaried job in a new field. While the prospect of starting over may be daunting, it can also be deeply rewarding. So if you ache for a professional reboot—either as your own boss or working for someone else—follow these five steps to learn from experts and people who have successfully made such a move.

1. Make sure your dream has some connection to reality

In 2011, Jennifer Johnson, a general manager at Johnson Controls (no relation) in Plymouth, Mich., had an idea. Noticing an increase in seasoned executives no longer working full-time, she thought she might match them up for project assignments with local companies that could use their expertise.

Was this a viable business? Johnson, then 35, resolved to find out. On nights and weekends she studied other professional-services firms. She cold-called people running similar businesses in other states, asking them everything from how they dealt with competition to how much they charged. And, believe it or not, they told her. “People who have started businesses generally want to be helpful,” she says.

Johnson’s research led her to Patina Solutions, a Milwaukee-based firm already doing what she envisioned. Rather than start her own company, she proposed teaming up with Patina, and in February became managing partner of the firm’s new Detroit office.

Research like Johnson’s is key; you need to learn if the image you have of your proposed career—the routine and the money—is an accurate one.

How to do it:

Get the inside scoop. Reach out to people doing the work you want to do, and ask them all you can about their jobs. How did they get started? What do you need to succeed? And what can you expect to earn, both at first and later on? Because you aren’t asking for a job, the discussion should be relaxed. “Be an inquisitive child,” advises Jayne Mattson of Keystone Associates, a career-management firm in Boston.

Do a trial run. Moonlight or apprentice yourself to someone already in the field. A client of career consultant Maggie Mistal who baked in his spare time did a second-career dry run making cookies on nights and weekends. Over six months he saw how much effort beyond actual baking he’d have to put in, and he decided he couldn’t earn enough to support himself. He kept his day job and now just bakes for fun. “Don’t ruin a hobby that you love,” says Mistal.

If you want to work for a nonprofit in a cause meaningful to you—a common goal among career changers—then volunteer; you’ll not only see what the day-to-day work entails, but also meet people in the organization.

2. Identify the skills you need.

After 24 years as an engineer at IBM, Alan Zollner landed a job as a high school physics teacher in 2009. “I am working harder than at IBM—12- to 13-hour days,” he says. “But my work has a lot more meaning than before.”

To change careers, Zollner, from Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y., squeezed in three years of required courses while still full-time at IBM, taking advantage of IBM’s Transition to Teaching program, which paid for $15,000 of his education—nearly two-thirds of the cost.

Be prepared, like Zollner, to spend the time and money to get the skills, credentials, and contacts you need to get relaunched—but don’t assume that you’ll need a costly degree.

How to do it

Find the right school. As you do research, get a handle on the education you need. To avoid wasting your money on a particular school, talk to graduates and the director of the course of study you’re considering. Get a list of employers who have hired graduates too. Ask those employers whether the credential affects their hiring decisions.

Unless you’re entering a profession with specific academic requirements —nursing, say—a degree may be overkill; a certification or training program may suffice. The quicker the training, though, the less value it may have; a certificate that you earn in a few days probably won’t provide the knowledge and gravitas you will need.

Get financial aid. Fifty-four percent of employers offer tuition assistance to employees, reports the Society for Human Resource Management. You may have to repay the funds, though, if you don’t stay with the company for a certain number of years afterward.

Uncle Sam can also help. Depending on your income, you may be able to claim the Lifetime Learning Credit, which can cut your tax bill by as much as $2,000 annually. The credit can cover up to 20% of tuition and expenses for college and graduate courses, or for any class you take to obtain or improve job skills. (The benefit phases out completely for married couples earning $128,000 and singles earning $64,000.) If you’re studying more than half time at participating schools, you can also take out a federal Direct Unsubsidized Loan (see studentaid.ed.gov); the current professional-school interest rate is 6.21%. Go to FinAid.org and Edvisors­ .com for information on scholarships and grants for older students.

3. Get your finances in shape for your adventure

When Churcher quit her day job, she and her husband, Ian, forfeited her $50,000-a-year salary. To prepare for that hit, the couple had put a moratorium two years earlier on big vacations. A year after the store opened, they moved their son from a $7,000-a-year private school to a public high school.

Chances are that you, too, will take a salary cut when you start over, whether you’re starting a business or working for someone else. When you factor in your training costs, health insurance (if you’re going out on your own), and perhaps the loss of an employer’s matching 401(k) contribution, the expenses can ratchet up. “Remove your rose-colored glasses and assess your finances,” says Brian Kurth, founder of the online mentoring service PivotPlanet. Following your passion is great, but make sure you can afford your dream job.

How to do it

Live less large. Chart a personal budget to find ways you can pare back your spending. Discretionary expenses like travel and dining are obvious targets, but also look at costs of housing and other necessities. One option for reducing your monthly nut is to downsize to a smaller home or condo. Another is to refinance your mortgage to a lower rate. Then, beginning at least two years before your transition, pay down any outstanding non-mortgage debt, from credit card balances to auto loans.

Pile up the cash. One big payoff of cutting back well before your switch: You can set aside money to carry you through lean times ahead. Aim to save up at least a year’s worth of living expenses, rather than the three to six months’ worth that’s standard for emergency funds; you may have to live off that money during your transition. To make saving easier, set up a new bank account and make automatic deposits from your current paycheck.

4. Line up more money than you think you’ll need.

When B.J. Jones retired in 2009 from her job as director of human resources at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, she hung out her shingle as a career coach. But for the first six months, Jones, now 56, took on clients gratis. “I looked at these as practice sessions,” she says.

While Jones was prepared to forgo an income, most people who take the entrepreneurship route overestimate their initial income and underestimate their startup costs. Little wonder that half of all new small businesses fail within five years, according to the Small Business Administration.

So at least two years before you plan to launch, get a clear picture of what a startup will cost you and then begin to line up your potential sources of financing.

How to do it

Get real about costs. To get an honest assessment of your likely expenses, consult with the free resources available to you. One is SCORE, a national organization of experienced businesspeople who volunteer their expertise to entrepreneurs. The Small Business Administration and AARP provide online educational resources and webinars to help develop a business plan, among other startup needs.

“It’s a good idea to pull together an airtight budget,” says Edward Rogoff, a professor of entrepreneurship at Baruch College’s business school. “Then add a cushion of 20% to your up­front costs to be on the safe side.”

Raise some cash. Sorry, but the chances that a venture capitalist will shower you with money are slim. Eighty-two percent of funding for startups, according to a study from Babson College and Baruch, comes out of the entrepreneur’s own pocket or from friends and family. Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter can make it convenient for you to ask people you know for contributions, but don’t plan on the kindness of strangers to launch your business: Most Kickstarter campaigns are for one-off artistic projects.

Homegrown funding has its risks. Pull cash from your traditional IRA, and you’ll possibly pay a 10% extra tax on funds withdrawn prematurely. Dip too deeply and you’ll endanger your retirement. “If you’re in your twenties, you can bet the ranch, because if it fails, you can always start over,” says Rogoff. “But if you’re near retirement age and your business fails, you won’t be able to get the ranch back.”

Borrowing from friends and family, as opposed to getting no-strings crowd­funded cash, can strain relations, so be clear about the terms of any loan and put everything in writing (go to nolo.com for loan paperwork).

The upside of a friends-and-family loan is that you can probably borrow relatively cheaply—say, a five-year loan for 2% (above the rate the IRS currently requires to show that a loan is not actually a gift). A more expensive but less fraught avenue is the Small Business Ad­ministration’s micro­loan program (sba.gov/microloans). Interest rates for these loans, which average $13,000 and are administered by local nonprofits, generally range from 8% to 13%; startups aren’t necessarily disqualified, but you may have to meet training requirements.

Your costliest option is probably plastic: The average rate on new credit cards is 15%, according to CreditCards.com. Proceed with caution.

5. Show people how far you’ve come

For all the effort you made researching, studying, and saving for your new career, you’ll still need to land a job if you aren’t starting your own business.

For Zollner, success took time. First, he got hired as a substitute physics teacher by parlaying a solid recommendation from the teacher he had worked with as a student teacher. Then he sent personalized cover letters and résumés to about 30 school superintendents. Eventually one responded, and Zollner got his first steady classroom gig.

Getting hired can be a challenge for anyone; it’s especially hard when you’re entering a new field—and when you’re perhaps decades older than the usual low-level applicant.

How to do it

Network, network, network. Employers hire people whom they know themselves or who are known by someone in their circle. Check in with everyone from whom you got advice in the early days of your research. If you networked like a pro over the past few years, you’ve kept them in the loop about your progress. “Those are the people who will end up hiring you or referring you to someone who is hiring,” says Mattson.

If you volunteered with an organization, you’re in an even better position. The hiring manager has had a chance to observe your passion and work ethic, and when a job opens up, you’ll be top of mind. This is particularly true at nonprofit organizations, where volunteers and board members are often the first to be considered for paid positions. Last fall, for example, Jones—a longtime volunteer with the United Way and other local charities—was offered a paid fellowship with the Center for Nonprofit Excellence at United Way of Central New Mexico; in addition to her freelance coaching, she’s now helping volunteer skilled professionals advise hunger-relief agencies on measuring their effectiveness and getting grants.

Polish your act. While hiring managers ought to see your age as a marker of experience or wisdom, chances are they’ll wonder if you’re too old for the job. Beyond the obvious moves of updating your skills and knowledge and showing your comfort with new technology, what can you do?

Rehearse your job interview. No matter how at ease you are in business situations, trying to break into a new industry is a special challenge. Like going out on a date for the first time in 20 years, interviewing for a job does not come naturally. Enlist friends to conduct practice interviews, and record the sessions on video to see whether you’re conveying the enthusiasm and vitality that an employer would value. And why wouldn’t you be energized? You’re embarking on a new adventure.

MONEY Kids and Money

4 Ways to Lighten Your Kid’s Debt Load

Converse sneaker ball and chain
The typical 25- to 29-year-old has more than $35,000 in debts. Michael Crichton + Leigh MacMill&

Many young adults are struggling to keep up with student loans, credit-card balances, and car payments. Here's how you can help.

No Mom or Dad wants their adult children to view them as a walking ATM. Still, when they’re struggling financially, what are you going to do?

One thing’s for sure: A lot of them do need help. The typical 25- to 29-year-old owes more than $35,000, according to a recent study from PNC Financial Services—and only about 40% of them say their debts include student loans. No wonder that between credit card balances, car payments, and other bills, 78% of the millennials with debt reported in a new Ameriprise survey that they feel woefully overextended.

If your child is one of them, of course you want to help. These steps will let you do that—without undermining his autonomy or risking your own financial security.

Offer Advice, Not Cash

Resist the impulse to provide a handout, at least initially. After all, you probably need the money for retirement. Plus, you’ll lose a teachable moment. “Bailing your kids out doesn’t help them learn fiscal responsibility,” says financial adviser Deena Katz, an associate professor of personal financial planning at Texas Tech University.

Instead, she suggests, offer to review your child’s expenses and identify ways to free up cash to help with debt payments. Junior isn’t eager to share details about his money with Mom and Dad? Encourage him to use sites such as youneedabudget.com to create a workable plan. Or offer to pay for a year of budgeting help from a professional adviser at a financial planning site such as LearnVest.com ($89 setup, $19.99 a month).

Tackle the Plastic

Twentysomethings often pay lofty credit card rates of 22% or higher owing to their meager credit history and low credit scores (average for millennials: 628). Suggest your child call her issuer and ask for a lower rate, pointing out—if true—her history of on-time payments. “If the provider doesn’t budge, use Bankrate.com or CreditCards.com to shop for a lower-rate card to transfer the balance,” says Beth Kobliner, author of Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties.

Another option, says Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for credit.com: Take out a lower-rate loan to pay off the balance. At peer-to-peer lending sites Prosper.com or Lendingclub.com, a millennial might nab a 12.5% rate from investors.

Wrestle Down School Loans

Also help your child explore ways to lower the monthly bill for college debt, such as income-based repayment plans for federal loans. Instead of the standard 10-year payback term, monthly payments under this program are capped at 10% or 15% of the borrower’s discretionary income, depending on when they took out the loans.

The downside is that your kid may rack up more interest over a longer payback period. Any balance remaining will be forgiven after 20 or 25 years of consecutive payments, though taxes will be due on the amount. Have a kid who’s a teacher, works for Uncle Sam, or has another public-service job? He may qualify for loan forgiveness after 10 years with no taxes due. (Get details from the Department of Education here.)

For private student debt, your child may be able to get a lower-rate refi or consolidation loan through another lender or credit union, says Detweiler. Check out student loan comparison shopping sites such as Simpletuition.com and Overturecorp.com for sample offers.

Provide Temporary Refuge

If your child is in too deep for these strategies to work, go bigger. Maybe you suggest your child move home for a bit and direct “rent” toward loan repayment. Or, if you can really afford it, you might pay off her credit card debt—but be clear this is a one-time-only gesture.

Just remember: “Financial help between parents and adult kids is fraught with emotion for both of you,” says Olivia Mellan, a Washington, D.C., therapist who specializes in money issues. Helping your adult children doesn’t give you permission to meddle in their lives, says Mellan, and don’t be surprised if they don’t act grateful. In other words, nothing’s really changed from when they actually were kids.

 

More on Financial Independence

7 Ways to Get Your Kid Out of Your Basement

Is Living with Mom and Dad Starting to Cramp Your Style? Take These Steps to Independence

Taking Five Years to Earn a B.A. is Common—And Costly. Here’s How To Get Out in Four

MONEY Second Career

Software Salesman Revs Up Scooter Sales

Rows of colorful electric scooters line the Carolina Fun Machines show room. As owner Tim Juntgen rolls one of those two-wheelers into the lot for a customer, his smile says it all. This guy loves his job.

“I’ve never met anyone who has walked in that door I couldn’t make friends with,” he says. Once a salesman, always a salesman.

Back in 1973, Juntgen got his first job with IBM, and for the next 34 years he navigated the changing computer market, selling business products for a variety of firms. In 2007 he retired early, bored of software sales, and began contemplating his next move.

The idea for Carolina Fun Machines came to Juntgen in 2008, when his wife, Linda, decided she wanted a scooter to ride to the nearby high school where she teaches. Tim offered to shop for her. It was in his wheelhouse, after all. “I’ve been a motorcycle guy all my life,” he says. “I used to put 7,000 miles a year on my Kawasaki Concours.”

He quickly discovered a gap in the market for Chinese-made scooters priced between $1,000 and $5,000 that came with warranties and were sold by shops offering repairs. “I said, ‘Linda, I know what I want to do, and you’ll get a great price on your scooter,'” he recalls.

Juntgen revved up business by spending $300 a month for Google AdWords, which kicks his website to the top of the search results of anyone within 60 miles of Matthews, N.C., who types in “scooter.” The store’s location, on a high-traffic boulevard, helps too. Plus, he has a ready-made market among motorists sidelined by DWIs. (In North Carolina, you don’t need a license to drive a scooter.)

Last year company revenues hit $650,000; net profits, which Juntgen reinvested, topped $60,000. He took home $90,000. Juntgen no longer has time to ride a motorcycle, unfortunately. But, he says, “I occasionally ride a scooter home from the office — just for fun.”

BY THE NUMBERS

$50,000: Amount needed to start up.

Much of Juntgen’s initial investment — which came from cash savings — went toward buying 20 scooters and a retail computer system. The first year his goal was to sell 100 scooters (marked up 30% to 100% over cost). He sold 130.

2 years: Time before he took a salary.

Tim had made $150,000 a year before retiring, but the frugal Juntgens and their two kids, now 13 and 18, managed to live off of savings and Linda’s $45,000 salary. Now that he’s taking a paycheck, the Juntgens are able to let their savings ride.

2018: Year Juntgen plans to step back from the biz.

That’s when Linda plans to retire, and the couple want to travel: “To make that a reality, I need to build a business that provides me $60,000 to $80,000 of income a year and pays the salary of a general manager,” he says. His growth strategy: moving into ATVs and UTVs that sell for $3,000 to $11,000.

MONEY Second Act

The Write Stuff: 2 Friends Open a Stationery Store

Amy Bass (L) and Evvy Diamond (R) came to owning a stationery store from different paths. Their complementary skills make them a great team. Photo: Ross Mantle

Amy Bass and Evvy Diamond came to owning a stationery store from different paths. Their complimentary skills make them a great team.

In 2007, Pittsburgh stay-at-home mom Evvy Diamond found herself getting itchy. With two of her three sons getting ready for college, she felt it was time for her to earn an income.

Meanwhile, her friend Amy Bass, a VP at a money-management firm, was hitting a midlife crisis: “As I approached 50, I decided I could no longer work for someone else. I needed to own something.”

In time, the two friends’ goals would align.

As Diamond pondered what to do, she recalled her love of notepaper. “Even as a child, I would save the last piece of stationery of every set because I didn’t want to part with it,” she says. Inspired, she bought a letterpress and tried her hand at designing cards.

Buoyed by the response from friends, Diamond rented a booth at the 2007 Stationery Show in New York, which landed her several small orders. Then she thought she got her big break: 5,000 cards for a prestigious New York shop. Only that $12,500 order was canceled before she got paid — and she was left holding the cards. “I knew I could sell them, but it wasn’t going to happen out of my garage.”

Within weeks, she signed a lease for a small retail space nearby, and opened a boutique called Nota Bene to sell made-to-order stationery (her own and others’). Soon Bass began lending a hand after work, and Diamond quickly realized she needed her friend’s business savvy. So they struck a deal: Bass invested $25,000 and signed on as full-time partner. “We’re like two pieces of a puzzle,” Diamond says.

The shop makes most of its revenue — on track to be $500,000 this year — from wedding invitations. But the women found a niche with in-house printing to personalize notecards from vendors like Crane and William Arthur. They’ve also begun stocking items like calendars and pottery, which get people in more regularly. “We found people were coming in for invitations and buying gifts,” Bass says.

Nota Bene has plenty of online competition in these areas, but “people still want the personal connection,” notes Diamond. Same goes for the owners. Bass says the greatest reward is when a satisfied client says, “Oh, my gosh, I need to give you a hug.”

BY THE NUMBERS

Amount needed to start up: $20,000

Diamond’s small initial investment went toward rent, paper, album samples, and fixing up the retail space. She tapped savings from sales generated by her home-based business, along with a line of credit and credit cards.

Pay Bass gave up to work for Nota Bene: Six figures

Bass and Diamond pay themselves $40,000 salaries and reinvest the rest of their profits. Both have working spouses, so aren’t relying on their pay for groceries. That said, Bass says she’s learned to budget more carefully.

Projected annual revenue growth for the next three years: 25%

Nota Bene’s owners plan to expand their bridal business by marketing to wedding planners. Some brides spend $10,000 on invitations, programs, and thank-yous. “But we can also work with women who only have $500 to spend and make it feel special,” says Diamond.

MONEY

Single Mom Opens Women’s Bike Shop

Robin Bylenga’s working life hasn’t always been a smooth ride.

Nine years ago, the then newly divorced mother of three young kids reentered the workforce and began honing a career in sales through a series of positions — the most recent of which involved peddling L’Oréal hair products to beauty salons. While Bylenga liked the paycheck, the travel and long hours required took their toll.

Looking to unwind, she climbed on a bike for the first time in years. Something clicked. “I rode and rode and rode,” Bylenga recalls.

When she was laid off from L’Oréal in 2009 after her division was sold, she decided to take an interim job at a local cycling store.

Within no time, she says, “women began to come in just to talk to me, and to ask questions like what trails were good with kids and what bra I wore when I rode.”

The experience gave her the idea to create a bike-shopping experience for women that, as she says, wasn’t all about how fast you rode or what scars you’d acquired. She imagined a boutique featuring feminine décor, stylish cycling apparel, and positive messages.

In December 2010, after a year of researching the market, Bylenga opened that store, called Pedal Chic, in downtown Greenville, S.C.

To drive traffic to the shop, she has hosted weekly group rides — which are BYOBB, “bring your own beverage and bike” — and offered maintenance classes called Women With Wrenches.

Last year, revenue hit $250,000. Based on sales so far, Bylenga expects to take in $500,000 in 2012 and reap her first profit.

She’s also now paying herself $1,000 a month. While she could take more, she’d rather pump cash into growing Pedal Chic’s e-commerce business.

Her next big goal is to expand, either by franchising or opening boutiques within larger retailers.

For now, though, she’s happy with her return on investment. “Every time I help a customer find women to connect with through cycling,” she says, “it’s a payday.”

HOW SHE DID IT

Profit she made on her trial run: 200%

Before deciding to open a store, Bylenga wanted to make sure she could make a go of it. So she invested $500 in a small inventory of women’s bike apparel to sell at a local bike race. After parlaying that into $1,500 in sales, she was convinced.

Amount she needed to start Pedal Chic: $50,000
The majority came from a five-year, 3.5% startup loan from Michelin Development. She also personally invested about $10,000. Together, the money allowed her to sign a lease, buy inventory, and hire five employees.

When Bylenga expects to match her previous pay of $60,000: 2014

In tandem with the child support she receives from her ex, her salary — albeit small — allows her to scrape by while reinvesting in the business. Because she’s been in belt-tightening mode, she hasn’t yet added to her savings but notes, “Pedal Chic is my retirement fund.”

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