Getting Back to Work

It is not uncommon for people to take a career break. But whether you stop out due to maternity leave, a layoff or family illness, sometimes it can be a challenge to return to work. You may think you are guaranteed to get your old job back, however, this is not always the case. Business factors can change quickly, leaving you scrambling for a job.

One option is to start your own business, whether it is providing goods or services such as consulting on a freelance basis. The Small Business Association – SBA can help you get started. The career services or alumni offices at your alma mater may also have classes – you may have to pay for them – on re-entering the workforce or starting your own business. If you opt to freelance or consult, check for state or career organizations that can help you such as NYS Freelancer’s Union. Finding and following such organizations on social media is also helpful.

Another option if you are in good financial shape is volunteering your services. Look for businesses or non-profits who can utilize your skills and provide you with opportunities to learn new ones. This can help you transition into a new job or career, but be aware that the Fair Labor Standards Act, put in place to protect workers’ rights to fair pay, can make volunteering and compliance to the law tricky.

Perhaps a better option would be to pursue an adult internship designed to help you re-enter the workforce. These internships are paid, last from 10 weeks to a year and can bridge the gap in returning to work. You will get a chance to update skills, to build your career network or perhaps to test drive a new career. There are many options out there, especially in the finance and legal sector. iRelaunch, a career re-entry resource, provides a list of internships as well as higher education re-entry resources here. This list includes opportunities at financial institutions such as Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and MetLife. OnRamp Fellowship is another career entry resource aimed at lawyers looking to get back to work.

If you do not see an adult internship program for your career field, think about creating your own. Come up with a strategy by identifying your skills that can help an employer. Define what you want to learn and do and how much you would like to be paid. This process is easier if you can write up your proposal as a contract. You can use your alma mater’s career services or the career resources at your local library to target companies. Use your career network to get your proposal in front of prospective internship sponsors. You may have to contact many companies before one agrees to an internship. Don’t get discouraged. When I worked in sales, the mantra went, “It takes 17 no’s to get to one yes.” It may take you a lot more than that, but an opportunity to get back to your career or gain entry into a new one will be worth it.

 

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When Vacation Just Doesn’t Do It

It’s summertime, and everyone is in vacation mode. They are either planning, doing or recovering from a vacation. I have heard, “I need a vacation from my vacation” so many times this summer, that I am wondering what is going on.

We hear from the media, work, family and friends that we need to take a vacation to get a proper work-life balance. But do work and life always have to balance out? Sometimes they just don’t, and that is why maybe you should consider a gap year or a break from your career. So here are some ideas on what to do with your gap year or long break:

*Travel. Why? Traveling really does expand your horizons and change your outlook on life. You could travel across the country by train or RV. Or you could go abroad, staying away from the expensive tourists traps – you can always find fabulous pics online of the Sistine Chapel or Buckingham Palace that are far better than what you could ever take anyways. Get out, meet the people, experience the food and culture. You’ll get a feel for how we have become a global economy and what that even means.

*Career Education. Can’t quite cut the career strings for awhile? Then use your break to do a paid internship abroad – yes, they are out there for adults too. Or take some classes to improve your career skills. Study to meet certification or licensing requirements in your field. This type of career break enhances your worth to your employer and makes you more marketable when you return to work.

*Hobbies/Interests. Sick of your career and need a break? No wonder. If you have been doing everything the career experts have advised, you have probably spent the last couple of decades chasing after those valuable skills, that dream job and that promotion with the corner office. It is time to take a break and pay attention to what makes you who you are. You are more than just of the sum of your job and your family role. There are all sorts of vacations and longer breaks that cater to people’s hobbies. Love to write or paint? Then search for writers’ or artists’ colonies or in-residence programs. I could use up a lot of page real estate here giving you ideas. But you get it – do an online search for what you like to do. Have an interest that you have never explored? Same deal. Eleanor Roosevelt is reputed to have said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”  A one-a-day scare is a bit much for me. And I am not advocating a break-neck adventure that could leave you on permanent vacation from your career. But getting out of your comfort zone gives you practice on taking reasonable risks and allows you to grow as a person and as a professional. Even considering a career break is the first step to pursuing that growth.

*Volunteering. Taking time to give back to your community, country or world is another great career break. Maybe you are like me and feel incredibly blessed to have been able to pursue an education and amazing life experiences. Pay it forward by helping other people. Teach English in a foreign country. Help maintain hiking and camping grounds in a national park. Run a lunch program for your community’s kids who often go hungry during the summer months when school lunch programs are on break. The opportunities are endless.

If you can’t see yourself taking time out of your career right now for a break, consider locally volunteering on an ongoing basis. Become a Cub Scout or Girl Scout leader. Help out at your local opera or theater house. Even these smaller, ongoing volunteer opportunities can give you a much needed break from work and give you room to grow as an individual.

Lest taking a career break makes you tremble with fear, don’t worry. My next blog post will be on work re-entry programs and how to re-enter the work force. Have a great summer!

Designing Just for Kicks

When I was a kid, the cool kicks were PF Flyers. These little gems were recognized by their white rubber toe cap (or blue if you were the coolest) and a red dot on the lower back of the sneaker. They had canvas uppers (fire engine red or blueberry blue) and rubber soles. They were the then-modern equivalent of the British plimsoles, athletic shoes designed for beachwear back in the 1800s.

So fast forwarding to present day, I looked for the PF Flyer company online, and lo and behold, they are still around. The red dots are long gone, replaced by a green PF logo in relief on the back, and in a daring move, the company has added black and white canvas and leather to their line-up. PF Flyers now look a lot like Converse sneakers, but without all the crazy colors.

So what gives a sneaker company its staying power in the ever-changing world of fashion? In a word: designers. Designers are the innovators, the dreamers, the ones who keep the  brand fresh in the public’s hunt for the coolest “kicks.” Any designer who aims to do this should know where the term “kicks” comes from. There are lots of opinions on the etymology, but it is generally thought kicks came out of hobo slang, passed into jazz lingo, made it into African American slang and from there into street-style language.

One of the coolest things I have gotten to do in my career is to pick the brains of recruiters looking for these innovators, these sneaker designers. As a result, I was surprised to hear that recruiters find designers in many different areas, not just in fashion design. Recruiters from Nike, K-Swiss, Reebok and Adidas told me some pretty surprising stuff. They liked candidates with a design background, including automotive designers. Wha’??? Yes, automotive designers can become sneaker designers. The CAD skills needed for both types of designs are similar. (Maybe that is why Skechers Women’s bump toe DeLites look suspiciously like a Smart Car or a Nissan Juke, yes?)

Chemists, materials and textiles designers also need apply. Athletic shoe companies are always looking for the next materials that will make their kicks lighter, more flexible, cooler. People who study human anatomy, how the body is put together, and people who study human body mechanics, or how the body moves, are also in demand. No one will wear the kicks you design if they are not comfortable, because, well, they’re kicks, right? They are supposed to be stylish and comfortable.

Lastly, the fashionistas and extreme sports gurus can find a career niche in designing kicks. If you know street-style, how extreme sports work, can use CAD and can easily render designs, this is the career for you. It is extremely fast-paced, can be stressful, but very rewarding when you see your kicks on the street or on the runway, worn by hipsters and adventurers alike.

Can you get rich coming up with the next “gotta have it” design? Some people do. In general, salaries for sneaker design are all over the place. They depend on the geographic location, type of sneaker (athletic, extreme sports, fashion, formal wear, etc.) and the company. For example, SalaryList.com reports that designers at K-Swiss made about $70K in 2010. As recently as of 2015 a Designer II at Nike could make about $101K per year with bonuses pushing that figure up to $113K according to GlassDoor.com.

And the one question that design recruiters always, always ask: What were your favorite pair of sneakers and why? You now know mine. Enjoy the 4th in whatever kicks you are wearing!