Changing Careers Is Hard Work, Not to Be Taken for Granted

Vivian Scholl wasn't kidding when she said, "it was a process" changing careers.

But two years later - including a half- dozen meetings with a career counselor, more than 70 hours of classes, and a six-month (unpaid) internship - she's now doing what she wants.

Ms. Scholl works as a grant writer at the California Science Center here in Los Angeles.

Her journey started well before she ever thought about grant writing.

Scholl spent 11 years working as a typographer. But what she really aspired to was being an editor. So she went back to college for a bachelor's degree in English.

And she emerged with her new degree in 1993 - in the middle of a recession.

Even worse, she discovered that the publishing industry had changed during her years in school. Many companies were now contracting out editors.

"It took a process of months ... to really accept the fact that the kind of job I wanted I wasn't going to get," Scholl says.

So she sat down and made a list of what she liked about editing. "I liked to write. I liked to edit, and I was good at synthesizing information," she says.

To pay the bills, she went to work for a property-management company, doing desktop publishing.

But after 18 months and no new responsibilities, she started to worry.

"I kept thinking, 'Some opportunities will open up here,'" she says, "but they never did."

So she met with a career counselor. After evaluating her skills and interests, the counselor suggested grant writing. This wasn't the first time someone suggested the field. But this time Scholl listened.

"You have to make a certain amount of commitment that you are going to do more than stick your toe in the water or hang around the edge," Scholl says.

So she waded in.

For starters, she took a week's vacation and enrolled in a grant-writing program.

She let things ride for a few weeks, then "pulled out the phone book, made a list of the nonprofits, and starting calling people in their development offices and telling them I'd like to intern."

"That's how I found myself working at the Red Cross."

For six months she worked part time (still holding down her full-time job) for the development officer at the Red Cross's Los Angeles chapter.

She also enrolled in an introductory fund-raising course at the University of California, Los Angeles, extension school.

But it was the internship that paid off. This past winter, she got a call from the California Science Museum. They were looking for a grant writer, and the development officer at the Red Cross office had recommended Scholl.

One of the first things she did after she got her job was to call her career counselor and say, "Count me as one of your success stories."

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