Learn a new job on your own time


If you are hoping to change careers during the current economic downturn, you’ll need to convince employers that you can “hit the ground running” and do the job right from the day you begin.

That’s because an increasing number of companies are not in a position to invest as much for employee training as they have in the past. Plus, with continuing high unemployment rates, if you don’t already know how to do a job, you’re going to have a tough time competing with more experienced workers.

In past years, Tim Allan, owner of EZWAY Property Maintenance in Calgary, provided on the job training for seasonal landscaping workers. This year, EZWAY has an abundance of job applicants and the company is hiring only those who already have experience caring for lawns and operating landscaping equipment.

Like EZWAY, many companies throughout North America now expect new hires to know how to do the job. In an article on “How to Get a Job” in the April 13, 2009 issue of Fortune magazine, reporter Jia Lynn Yang writes “In this environment, companies simply can’t afford to hope you’ll be able to do the job. You need to demonstrate it.”

If you are given the opportunity to break into a new position, be prepared to invest your own time in training. Employers no longer have patience with new workers who don’t immediately bring the company more value than they cost.

An example of what not to do is illustrated by the experience of a woman who was recently hired for a one-month position by a company that offers short-term contracts to potential new employees. This was her opportunity to show the company what she could do for them. If she demonstrated to the company that she could quickly provide value, at the end of the month she would be hired for a permanent position.

Before the assignment, the company sent her a large packet of information to help her learn about the company and the position. But instead of learning as much as she could before starting work, she waited until her first day on the job to start reading the company’s literature.

By the end of the first week she had done little more than read about the job. Over the next few weeks, she continued to spend much of her time learning, and by the end of the month she had produced so little actual work, the employer decided to look elsewhere to fill the permanent position.

She missed out on a fantastic opportunity because she wasn’t willing to invest her own time to learn about the job.

Compare this to an engineer described in the Fortune article on how to get a job. Invited to come in for an interview for a job that involved testing software, he showed up already having found three problems in the software. Not surprisingly, he was hired.

As the Fortune article advises, “Use the interview to show what you’ll deliver in the first 30, 60, and 90 days. Companies don’t have time for you to grow into a job.”

So if companies won’t invest in your training, how can you learn a new career?

First gather as much information as you can. Look online for information, arrange information interviews with people currently working in the job, read books about the career, and attend industry events such as trade shows or meetings of professional associations.

Depending on the career, you might also consider formal education, such as taking continuing education courses or studying for a diploma or certificate.

Finally, get some hands-on experience through volunteering. For example, if you want to break into a career as an event planner, you should actually work on some events. You might plan parties for friends, organize your family reunion, assist with a charity fundraising dinner, or organize events in your current workplace.

If your volunteer work pays off, and a company gives you “a foot in the door” — for example, if you land an entry-level job, contract position, internship, or short-term assignment — go the extra mile to provide real value to the company during the hours you are working. If you need further training, try to learn as much as you can on your own time and be willing to work unpaid overtime, if you can, to get your work done.

To successfully break into a new career in today’s economy, you should be prepared to invest your own time in learning. If you’re not willing to do so, don’t be surprised if you have to stay in the career field you’re currently in until the economy improves and more employers are willing to train new workers.