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Q&A: How to find a career you are passionate about

For all of you who have taken your old job and shoved it, don’t despair. You can find a job you love.


“Job dissatisfaction is at an all-time high as evidenced by the Great Resignation,” said Maggie Mistal, a career coach and author of the new book Are You Ready to Love Your Job. “And for those for whom the economic climate is forcing them out of a job, they are using this opportunity to find a new career where they are passionate about the work.”

The number of people quitting their jobs is not letting up. According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics's report, 4.1 million people quit their jobs in December. “The number of people leaving their jobs is about 16% higher than the average in 2019, prior to the pandemic,” Indeed economist Nick Bunker told Yahoo Finance. “What that shows is the confidence that workers have that they can leave their job and find a new one.”

Case in point: in December, job openings jumped by roughly 600,000 to 11 million. That's nearly 1.9 open jobs per unemployed worker. And those who changed jobs in January scored an average 7.7% raise, compared to 5.5% average bump for those who stayed put, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s wage tracker.

In her new book, Mistal provides ways for people to change their mindset and land a new job that will bring them more money, meaning–or both. “I hear excuses. ‘I am too old to make a career change.’ ‘I can’t change because I have a mortgage.’ ‘My family is dependent on me.’ ‘I'm in debt and my bills are piling up.’ There seem to be endless reasons why people aren't following their passions. I hear them all.”

Mistal offered insights and advice in a conversation with Yahoo Finance. Edited excerpts:

Why did you write this book?

It started 13 years ago when I was hosting a weekly national radio show called “Making a Living with Maggie” on SiriusXM. After being director of learning and development for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia for several years and Martha Stewart Living Radio’s Career Coach on satellite radio, I wanted another way to help people with this concept of loving what they do and help them get excited about work again.

It was a theory when I started this, that if you follow your passion, you'll have a great career. And it's really cool to be able to now show that's the reality for myself and others. And that's really what the book's all about.

Author Maggie Mistal
Author Maggie Mistal (Photo courtesy of Maggie Mistal)

How has the job search changed since the pandemic? What are you seeing, hearing from your clients?

People are more savvy with technology in general. There's the whole applicant tracking system and more companies were having people apply online before the pandemic. But now with so much going virtually…that really has come to the forefront. People are taking to heart how to match up their resumes and their applications so that they get found in those systems.

And it's also increased their understanding of how important things like their online presence is, for example, on LinkedIn. They’re Googling their own name and seeing the images associated with them. They’re now understanding that, ‘wow, I have a whole presence online and that's my billboard.’

One of the chapters in your book focuses on the importance of being financially prepared for making a career transition or move. Could you elaborate?

When I prepare my clients…I have them look at their current list of expenses. See what they can dial back and understand what's that baseline number to cover their basic expenses. That gives people freedom to make lateral moves sideways into industries where they don’t have experience, or even take one step back in terms of pay and title in order to gain experience. Doing the financial review of where they are empowers them to make the shift.

When I made my career change from working as an auditor and management consultant for Arthur Andersen to starting a career coaching practice, I had to have a day job because I needed time to start my practice. I found a job at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, but it was a 35% pay cut. It was a pretty big deal because I had a mortgage, and I wasn't married..

It takes a lot of courage to take that kind of pay cut. What I found was that it gave me an opportunity to make back that money doing something I enjoyed.

In my latest book, In Control at 50+: How to Succeed in the World of Work, I identify major trends coming out of the pandemic and one of them is career transition. What are some of your golden tips for switchers?

Soul search, research and job search. And in that order. When you start looking for a new job you may have a little bit of a hangover from the old job. It's like post-traumatic stress.

One way to get clear on what you'd love to do is asking people who know you well ‘what are my best skills, abilities and talents?’ ‘What conversations do I tend to have with you?’ ‘Where have you seen me be happiest?’ That mirror helps people, not only soul search about themselves, but it reflects back and validates some thoughts they've had.

The research is gathering information and testing out these possibilities, which may be crazy dreams right now, but could be your reality. You want to find out what (that might be) really like. Informational interviews are really important. Some people do side projects. That’s what I did. Starting my practice was actually my research. You can do projects for friends and family or for nonprofits.

The last step is job search. People don’t want to put that off, but getting your own clarity and then doing the research before you leap makes the job search so much easier. You know exactly what to say in the interviews. You know exactly what to put in your LinkedIn profile. You know how to position yourself and your brand because you've really gotten that information down pat— and you've vetted it against not only what you want, but what the outside world calls it. You've been able to get really specific.

book jacket
book jacket

What’s your best advice for women looking for either a new job–either a career transition or a lateral move?

With women, it's often a work-life balance question. They’re nervous about going after certain things because they think it's going to take up too much of their time. Maybe it's a leadership role, but I tell them that the higher you go up, the more people you have to delegate to, or the more control you have.

What most people don't realize is that you can have more. I'm usually dialing up their expectations of what they can have because they're already in a fear mode saying, ‘I better not ask for that because I really want this job’. Or’ I better not ask for that because I'll look like I'm not engaged in my work.’

If you actually ask for these things. It shows you're thoughtful and strategic, and you want to bring your best self to work. That's why you need this flexibility. The right kind of companies and managers will respect that, and if they don't, that's great research to know that maybe that's not the best place for you.

What would be a quick example?

One of my clients wanted mornings at home because she wanted to take her kids to school. She was so nervous about asking her boss about that kind of flexibility. But she did, and he had no problem with it.

We've come a long way, but people still think if they're job hunting they shouldn't bring up these things. I don't think they should bring them up right away. But somewhere in the conversation, as you are going through the interview process, it's important to bring up things like what are their policies around flexibility, do I go to my manager or is there some global policy the company has in place?

For older people who may have taken a buyout in the pandemic, or lost their job, and now they want back in, what advice can you offer?

One of the things that older workers really have is an amazing network. They also have the younger generations that they can go to for support and advice. It's almost like reverse mentoring. If you're job hunting, don't be afraid to reach out to anybody that you've worked with that you've enjoyed, even if they're not in a hiring position.

Break your mold of where you think opportunities can come from and be more open to sharing your situation even with folks who aren’t in your industry, or they're 20 years younger.

Older workers are more used to a hierarchy, but junior workers can spot opportunities for you. I've seen jobs even come from conversations when someone is outside mowing their lawn and their neighbor knows of an opening that might fit.

You can also work your way back in with projects, not a full-time job.

What makes someone love their job?

Alignment. When you feel you can be yourself, bring your talents to work and express your creativity, your curiosity. When you can really be present at work without distractions and worries, that’s when I find people can relax and be the genius that they are.

A lot of times, we're in the wrong job that we chose for the wrong reasons. I chose accounting because I had a bachelor of science degree in accounting. I wanted a job, and it had a great salary with a career trajectory, but I didn’t like the work. I was stressed out and not happy. I wasn't my natural self.

Kerry is a Senior Reporter and Columnist at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.

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