Career Change Success Strategies from UMUC Students and Alumni

Many UMUC students and alumni  pursue their degrees to switch careers, yet this can seem like a daunting task. UMUC Career Services recently conducted a webinar on Career Transitioning, which was facilitated both by UMUC staff and Nick Manning ‘16, an alumnus of UMUC’s master’s of cyber policy program, who is currently pursuing a cyber internship so he can change careers after years of being a middle school teacher.  

Manning’s insights about how to change careers were joined by other successful UMUC student and alumni career transitioners:

  • Kenithia Alston ’15 (bachelor’s in Criminal Justice) who, after losing her job in banking, used the event as an opportunity to pursue her dream of going back to school. After completing four internship opportunities so she could gain experience in her field while still working toward her degree (as well as working full-time), she obtained a position as an Eligibility Examiner at the District of Columbia’s Defender Services Office. You can read more about Kenithia’s story here. 
  • Christina Figueruelo, a student pursuing her master’s in healthcare administration, is in the process of making her second career change. She served in the Navy as an avionics electronics technician and worked in electronics after the Navy, but she did not like that career path. Figueruelo then worked as a nurse for several years, but can no longer do this as result of a workplace injury. She is now pursuing a career in healthcare administration, and to gain experience in this field, she has obtained a virtual internship with the Department of State through the Virtual Student Federal Services (VSFS) program. This works particularly well for Figueruelo, as she is able to juggle the demands of school and caring for her young family. 
  • Kenneth Mason ’17, an alumnus of the digital media and web technology undergraduate program, had limited work experience prior to receiving his degree. To launch his IT career, Mason pursued a variety of volunteer opportunities with websites like skillsforchange.com. He also worked diligently on improving his resume and interview skills. Mason is now working in his field as a Web Developer for St. Mary’s College of Maryland. 
  • Robert Weddle, a graduate student pursuing a master’s in information technology for Homeland Security Management, is an Army veteran who worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs after leaving the military – but had to leave that job for personal reasons. Weddle was unemployed when he discovered the Workforce Recruitment Program, a federal internship program for students with disabilities. He applied in 2016, but due to the federal government hiring freeze at the beginning of 2017, he had to wait nearly six months to hear any response. Once the freeze lifted, Weddle received 12 internship offers in two weeks, and the one he accepted has already turned into a full-time job with the Department of Defense. You can read more about Weddle’s story here.

The webinar centered around four to-do items that are important for all career changers:

 

  1. Define why you want to switch careers. You will be asked throughout your job search why you made the decision to switch careers, so it’s important to be able to articulate your rationale. It could be for external reasons (i.e. layoffs, lack of career growth, etc.) or personal (i.e. lack of passion, need to make more money, family obligations, physical limitations, etc.), but it’s important to be able to explain this decision. If you need help with this, please reach out to a UMUC Career Advisor. 
  2. Identify ways to get experience in your new field. Yes, internships can be a great way to enhance what you are learning in the classroom with “resume-able” experience, but there are other ways to gain experience that may be a better fit for your schedule than a traditional internship. Check out the resources in UMUC’s InternPLUS Program to learn about some of these options, and if you have questions, feel free to reach out to internplus@umuc.edu. 
  3. Determine how a resume should evolve with your career. Many career changers need to make significant changes to their resume so it is appropriate for their target career. 

    “Just like doing a PowerPoint, you present the [information] in a manner that the people reading it can understand and appreciate,” said UMUC graduate student Christina Figueruelo 

    “My nursing managers wouldn’t understand my comprehension of Ohm’s Law, just as my boss at the Department of State wouldn’t be interested in my ability to manage a nursing dashboard. Tailor each resume to the job and the audience.” 

    Some of the changes may be minor, such as moving your “Education” section above your “Experience” section if your degree is more relevant to your target career than your work history thus far. Other changes may be more involved — such as adding class projects, volunteer work, and other types of related experience to show the extent of your experience. Be sure to use UMUC’s resume tools VMock and Resunate to help you create the strongest resume possible.  Both are available in the CareerQuest Toolbox. Once your resume is ready, make sure you upload it into CareerQuest and make it public by sliding the green circle under the word “Public” to the right.

  4. Discuss ways to expand your network. The importance of networking to a job search is well documented. A 2016 study of around 3,000 job seekers found that 85 percent of all jobs are discovered through networking! Keep in mind that everyone you know could be useful for your job search, so be sure to collect the business cards and follow up with all new contacts.

To further expand your network, consider joining UMUC’s Career Mentor Program. Open to all UMUC students and alumni, this program allows mentees to choose the right mentor from a variety of available filters and connect via two types of mentorships:

  • UMUC Community: Choose from more than 2,000 mentors to have a one-time, 30-minute meeting, much like an informational interview. You select how you and the mentor would like to meet: in-person, by phone, or via video chat.
  • Career Mentor Program: Choose this option for a more robust, long-term mentorship where the mentee sets specific goals, and the mentor helps the mentee achieve those goals.  

Although it is a major decision and can be overwhelming, know that countless UMUC students and alumni are successfully working in their new fields just like Nick, Kenithia, Christina, Kenneth, and Robert. Also know that UMUC Career Services is here to help you every step of the way, both before and after graduation.  

For additional information, you can view a recording of the Career Transitioning webinar as well as access the PowerPoint presentation.  

Visit CareerQuest today to explore UMUC’s career tools and resources available to assist in you in all stages of your career. To speak with UMUC’s Office of Career Services, please call 240-684-2720 or email careerservices@umuc.edu.

Kristin Schrader is the associate director of InternPLUS and Military Career Programs at University of Maryland University College. She has a background in human resources and has worked in career services at four universities. Most recently, she was the Lead Trainer in Europe for the Department of Labor Employment Workshop teaching transitioning U.S. servicemembers about the civilian job search. She is very passionate about helping others obtain their professional goals.