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3 questions for Alexandra Levit

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One of my favorite career writers, Alexandra Levit, has a new column in the Wall Street Journal for people looking to reinvent themselves professionally. I spoke with her recently about managers’ role in assisting successful career transitions. Learn more about Alexandra.

MARY ELLEN: You’re a hiring manager. One of your top candidates for a job is a career changer. What do you need to hear from him to feel confident that he will succeed in this new role?

ALEXANDRA: I need to hear that they have the necessary skill set to hit the ground running. I want to know that they have achieved business results doing the type of tasks I’m hiring them to do, even if not directly in my field. It’s also more comforting if they’ve spent at least a little time getting to know the industry, through their own research, or better yet, through an internship or volunteer opportunity.

What is the biggest challenge workers face in trying to reinvent their careers? What can their managers do to help?

The biggest challenge is that people don’t know where to start, and when they do get an idea, they lack the time and the resources to devote to the cause. Managers can encourage people to explore interests outside their immediate job responsibilities. This can be done in the form of job swaps, sabbaticals, professional development coursework, and company committees.

How can managers help top performers meet their need to reinvent themselves without leaving? Should they even try to hang on to people?

I think that if managers show employees that they can do their soul searching while still on the job, people will be much less likely to leave. After all, everyone likes a secure situation (especially in this economy), and so having the opportunity to learn about themselves while receiving a steady paycheck is a win. By recommending and supporting some of the activities above, managers show that they are invested and dedicated in a person. Managers should also encourage people to apply for different types of jobs internally. It is better for the company to move a reliable and qualified person into another job than to go through the trouble of hiring an unknown entity from the outside, and managers should consider this instead of looking at the employee’s interest in another department as a personal insult.

Photo, Alexandra Levit