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VOL. 41 | NO. 15 | Friday, April 14, 2017

Your career path will take many unexpected turns

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The job market often offers twists and turns you’d never expect. My first twist happened during college.

I grew up in the ’90s, along with the internet. Companies like AOL were just starting.

With a “fast” dial-up modem, you could connect through your phone line. It was just the sort of thing a teenager dying to go to college out of state needed. It was an exciting time. Everything and everyone suddenly seemed magically intertwined.

Startups were popping up everywhere. Young people were getting investments to start businesses and were suddenly worth millions. It was like being a celebrity.

The guarantee of a good job and a great financial future motivated me to study computer and systems engineering in college. I moved from Oklahoma to upstate New York for the opportunity.

Midway through school, the dot-com crash happened. Suddenly, startups were disappearing and jobs in the tech world dried up. Recruiters who came to my college to hire students canceled their visits. Not only were their visits canceled, the jobs they were hiring for were canceled, too.

This was one of the scariest times in my career. It forced me to rethink the possibilities of what I might become.

After some soul-searching, I found a project management job. It wasn’t what I had expected to be doing, but the good news was, it was even better.

This work capitalized on my strengths more than computer programming ever did, and it prepared me for my next challenge: graduate school.

Getting my MBA presented a new set of hurdles. The first was saving enough money to quit my job to go. The second was to move cross-country to a new city in California, where I knew no one.

While I was in school, the job market continued to be competitive. In fact, many employers were no longer paying for interns. The prospect of working for free was one catalyst to finish school early and begin my career.

Although I planned to change careers when I finished business school, employers didn’t initially see it the same way. One company offered me twice as much money to do the same sort of work I’d been doing before school.

It was incredibly confusing. The money was great, but I’d quit my job so that I could change careers completely.

I turned down the offer. Eventually, I became a digital marketing executive and now, a career coach.

What I’ve learned along the way is that your path isn’t always as straight as you picture it when you’re 18. And that’s OK. In today’s job market, changing jobs every three to five years keeps you fresh. It diversifies your professional contacts and your experience. It turns you into a free agent, so to speak.

And, you have a chance to negotiate for more money every few years. Very often, unexpected career interference is a true blessing in disguise.

Angela Copeland is CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at CopelandCoaching.com.

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