Feeling Jumpy About Careers?

Switching jobs isn't the only way to jump-start a career. A growing number of people are switching careers entirely. But the changes are not always about money. They're about doing what feels right.

Tension runs high inside the training kitchen of the Southern California School of Culinary Arts.

Ten aspiring chefs juggle saucepans, mixing bowls, and sharp knives as they prepare their first meal - trout with Tourned potatoes, carrot batons, and a cranberry jelly with berries for dessert.

"It's time to boogie," announces Chef Andrew Rousseau, his French accent skewering the words.

For aspiring chefs like Larry Kelemen, this is not just about a perfect hollandaise. This is about leaving well established careers - in Mr. Kelemen's case, 15-year career as an accountant - to mix it up as a chef.

"Accounting doesn't offer much of a creative outlet," says Kelemen. "It becomes tedious."

He isn't alone.

Shifting dynamics in the job market, plus a growing desire for personal satisfaction, are prompting more workers today to ditch their current careers and start all over again.

Leading the pack, baby boomers who feel that they sold out, taking jobs with high salaries but low satisfaction.

"We're going to see a long-term wave of this as boomers age," says Marilyn Moats Kennedy founder of Career Strategies in Wilmette, Ill.

There's the real estate agent turned math teacher. The chemical engineer turned veterinarian. And the lawyer who packed up his briefcase to write novels.

The hot job market, which is creating opportunities that didn't exist five years ago, fuels the change mentality. So does continuous corporate downsizing.

But the move also underscores a dramatic shift in the way Americans view work. The social contract between employer and employee has unraveled, as workers wondered: "Why am I doing what I'm doing?"

"These people are not looking for advancement, they're looking for fulfillment," Ms. Moats Kennedy says.

The phrase she hears often is: "It's my time now."

"Many of these people, when they were in their 20s, sold out and didn't pursue their dreams," Moats Kennedy says. "They went to the highest bidder."

Take Lisa Hanna.

The Rochester, N.Y., resident has spent the past 12 years as a corporate chemist, helping to launch products from beakers to bottles.

But mixing dough, not chemicals, was her real passion. She wanted to bake. "It was definitely on my list of things to do," says Mrs. Hanna, who comes from a long line of Sicilian cooks. "But I got some counseling: 'Go into chemistry. You can make some money.' "

Last June, she was "reorganized," and rose to the opportunity.

"I imagine I would have done it in a year or two, but this gave me the push I really needed," she says.

She immediately joined the local chapter of the American Culinary Association of professional chefs and cooks, then enrolled in some classes. Her ultimate goal is her own bakery or pastry shop.

A growing number of career changers hear the call of nonprofits.

"We're looking at a stage in adult development that says, 'It's time to give back,' " says Ellie Cope of Career Development Services in Rochester, N.Y. "They'll go and manage a not-for-profit. Health-care issues are big. They'll help kids in trouble."

Part of the challenge of change is figuring out what to change to.

"I would recommend that people make a list of what they really enjoy - their energy and passion," says April Grossinger, a former career counselor turned grant developer for Women at Work, a nonprofit career counseling service here. "The hardest thing for people is to give themselves permission to fantasize."

Career counselor Terry Devlin urges clients to talk to people about themselves - their interests, what they want to do with their lives.

The point, he says, is to "go out and put words to dreams and hopes and desires.... Because you can't act on vague ideas."

He should know.

Before becoming a counselor six years ago, Mr. Devlin spent 16 years in the hotel business, working his way up to general manager.

Devlin, with a degree in psychology, landed in the hotel business because that's where the jobs were.

When he lost his job in a management shake-up, a friend suggested the master's program in counseling at the University of Houston, and it struck a familiar chord.

"I think people are meant to be on a certain path, and if they're not on it, they won't be happy in their lives," says Devlin, who works for Career Management International in Houston. "Now I think I am back on the path I was meant for."

But be warned. It's not easy.

"The biggest misconception is that there is something easy out there," Moats Kennedy says.

One of her clients, a successful banker, quit to write mystery novels. "He'd take long walks every morning," she says, thinking about topics. "He never wrote a word."

If you're contemplating a career change, examine your motives.

"I have many people who are unhappy with their former company. They had a bad boss who didn't respect them, and they transfer their unhappiness [onto] their entire career," says John Challenger of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas in Chicago.

And be prepared to start at the bottom. "I see a lot of people try it and say, "I don't like being entry-level," Mr. Challenger says.

And while many companies are hurting for talent, many are unwilling to sign someone without job-specific work experience.


* Ask yourself: "Why do I want to change careers?" Are you running away, chasing a novelty, or looking for a new challenge?

* Consider your personal life. Does your family support the change? How will it impact them?

* Evaluate your finances. Will your savings support the leap? You may have to start at the bottom with a smaller paycheck.

* Research your field of interest. Start with your local library. Surf the Internet. Network. Network. Network.

* Experiment. Take two weeks off from your current job and "temp" in your field of interest. Volunteer, do an internship, or shadow a friend at work for a day.

* Be patient. People often make several changes before finding the right career fit.

* Call for help. The National Board for Certified Counselors in Greensboro, N.C., will send you a list of certified career counselors in your area (800-398-5389, www.nbcc.org).

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