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Best Years' Book Review

Career Change: Everything You Need to Know to Meet New Challenges and Take Control of Your Career, by Dr. David Helfand, VGM Career Horizons, Lincolnwood Illinois.

Reviewed by Mike Bellah

"The average American will work for 10 different employers, keep each job 3.6 years, and change careers three times before retiring," writes Dr. David Helfand, a professional career counselor and professor at Northeastern Illinois University.

If the numbers seem surprisingly high to you (they did to me too), I added up my own. The result: not counting part-time jobs during high school and college, I'm on my ninth employer and well into my third career, this despite the fact that I stayed almost a dozen years in each of my first two careers, concluding the last with a single employer.

My point is that Helfand's book is a timely one for an emerging group of midlifers who has become the most geographically and vocationally mobile generation in American history. I also found it a quite useful work. Aptly subtitled "Everything You Need to Know to Meet New Challenges and Take Control of Your Career," the book's greatest strength is its breadth.

Beginning with a detailed assessment to help us understand our aptitudes, interests, and values (things we must know to choose a satisfying and productive career), Helfand goes on to discuss how to recognize and take charge of our career fears, how to obtain additional education and training, how to manage time and money, and how to use our contacts to network with those who might lead us to our next job.

Helfand's work is not merely academic; it is based on 10 case studies, and, although the book is not directed exclusively to midlifers, half of Helfand's real-life career changers are in their 40's. One is nearly 60.

A section on options for career changers demonstrates the book's helpful detail. Helfand says that career changers can either choose to change jobs while keeping the same employer, seek a new employer, or start their own business. Those that start their own businesses can create a new one, buy an existing one, invest in a franchise, or become a consultant.

According to Helfand, starting a new business involves the greatest risk since 75 per cent fail the first year, and 25 per cent of these fail in the second year. And franchise businesses, although one must give up some control, are the safest venture, since less than five per cent fail.

My favorite chapter deals with understanding and conquering personal obstacles to career change, things such as procrastination, fear of change, fear of failing, and perfectionism. "The key to conquering the fear of failing is to ask yourself, 'How do I define success?'" writes Helfand. "Determine what measuring stick you're using to decide whether success has been achieved."

Helfand offers the following practical steps for those now contemplating a career change: stay employed while you're looking, get more education and training, develop an expertise, become computer literate, and be willing to relocate.

Finally, Helfand's strongest advice is to make contacts with those who can aid us in our search for a new and satisfying career. According to Helfand, want ads and job listings make up only about 25 per cent of available jobs. "Because approximately 75 per cent of jobs are found via the informal job market through networking," he writes, "that's where you should spend 75 per cent of your time."

You can purchase Dr. Helfand's book at your local bookstore or online through our Booknook.

Where to Find It at Best Years

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