Tips for Switching Careers

In my last blog I pointed out that many of the traits common to workers in various service industries are similar to what many trade employers require. I’m going to continue on the subject with some ways to go about switching careers for those of you so inclined.

First and foremost, you don’t want to work for just anyone. Every market has numerous plumbing, HVAC and electrical firms. How do you tell which ones are right for you?

Obviously, you want to work for reputable companies that offer good pay and benefits and treat their employees well. If you know people who work in the trades, they would be your primary source of information, but what if you don’t know anyone? It might be worthwhile to pay a visit to a local wholesale supply house where service technicians pick up tools and materials. Typically, these places are bustling early in the morning, between 7 and 8. Strike up conversations with the trade workers as they enter or exit the supply house. Ask them about their employer and impressions of others. Who offers the best pay, benefits and advancement opportunity?

First impressions can tell a lot. Do service technicians drive clean, flashy service vehicles or beat-up old trucks? Do they wear neat uniforms or look like slobs? Here in the Covid era, you’ll also want to target companies that are following all the recommended safety protocols to protect both workers and customers.

After you identify companies that look like they would be good to work for, get ready to sell yourself. Prepare a resume and cover letter to hand to a company owner, but even more important, prepare to talk about yourself and what it is about trade work that appeals to you.

Don’t rely solely on want ads to target companies. Many of the best trade contractors welcome “cold calls” from people interested in working for them, even if they are trade novices. It’s easy enough to find email addresses and phone numbers of key personnel from a company’s website. Send them a message or contact them by phone asking if they would agree to meet with you. You might get some rejections, but I bet you’ll be surprised how many owners and managers would welcome such unsolicited contacts.

Obviously, you’ll need to have some mechanical aptitude and ability to succeed in the trades. But you’ll also find many employers focused on so-called “soft skills,” like communication, enthusiasm, problem solving and so on. As noted in my last blog, these are just as important to service firms as working with the tools of the trade. Be prepared to talk about what motivates you and the kind of jobs and tasks you most enjoy.

Also be prepared to talk about why you are looking to switch careers. If you got laid off due to Covid-related loss of business, you certainly want to emphasize the desire for job stability. Demonstrate ambition by talking about growth opportunities and managerial roles in the future. Emphasize the fact that you want to learn a trade and are willing to undergo training, even if the pay is modest at first.

Sometimes, you won’t have to do much job searching at all. Some top-notch trade employers have their radar perpetually switched on for exceptional restaurant servers, retail salespeople, and others who interact with the public. If they like the way you treat them, they are likely to hand you a business card and invite you to come in for an interview. If you are lucky enough to be on the receiving end of such encounters, don’t let the opportunity go to waste.