Kristen Nahum knew it was time to close her 6-year-old jewelry store when sales no longer covered the rent. "I won't go back into retail," she said. "I'm looking to reinvent myself."
For many workers who have lost their jobs, returning to their prior profession is not an attractive option. Former real estate agents, bankers, car dealers and mortgage brokers are being forced to push through self-doubt and think differently.
Many of the unemployed are considering complete lifestyle changes. Perhaps a hobby of cooking can lead to culinary school. Doodles on a napkin might transfer to graphic design; a knack for back rubs can turn into becoming a massage therapist.
"Under current conditions, it is critical that job seekers expand their job search net by considering a wide variety of industries, companies and cities," says John A. Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement firm.
Gaby Cora, president of the Executive Health & Wealth Institute, advises the unemployed to think of the situation as an opportunity. "This might be the time to do what you enjoy, what you're good at or what works with your lifestyle."
Nahum, who had been driving more than 60 miles from her home in Davie to her store in a Wellington shopping mall, decided she wants to take online classes to become a virtual assistant: an online executive assistant.
At the heart of most job decisions is money. Whether making radical changes or a slight transition, consider how much you will need to pursue a new direction in this difficult economy and what financial sacrifices you're willing to make.
"It's times like this that re-emphasize the importance of having an emergency reserve," says Lane Jones, chief operating officer of Evensky & Katz, a Coral Gables wealth management firm. "You will need to evaluate what assets you have, what loan programs are out there and be aware of what things are available to you."
Here are some options to consider if you find yourself jobless.
Start a business
Sean Joseph, a longtime real estate agent, watched as the mansions that once lured buyers sat on the market for months with no activity. "I realized my industry was not going to come back any time soon. I had to find something else."
Joseph learned a friend was selling teeth-whitening lamps to salons. He remembers chatting about the concept while holding his mother's Maltese. That's when the idea came to him — create a teeth-whitening pen for dogs. Joseph plans to market his Bow Wow Smile pens through infomercials and sell them for $20 each. "I'm excited about this," Joseph said. "I know it's risky, but I believe in this product."
Steve Greenberg, who interviewed 100 inventors for his newly published book, Gadget Nation, says that during tough times, people invent and patent applications spike. "It's a bit of a gamble to reach into savings, but at the same time people are hitting brick walls when it comes to more conventional jobs," Greenberg said.
Greenberg discovered there is no correlation between cleverness, usefulness and success. "Marketing, luck and perseverance are they key," he said.
James Arthur Ray, chief executive of James Ray International, a national corporation that teaches people to create wealth in all aspects of their lives, advises being realistic about entrepreneurship: "Owning your own business is a damn hard job. You may have to work seven days a week."
He says often people go into business because they are good at what they do, but they aren't necessarily good at running a business. "You have got to have a strategic business plan and be able to pitch it, to tell someone why they should invest in you or your idea."
Jones said it's especially important to have a realistic plan about how long it will take for a venture to be successful: "You need to figure out if you can afford the financial risk."
Launch a Web site
Deb Taylor, who worked in commercial real estate, remembers the devastation of being called into a conference room and told her job would be eliminated. "I drove home thinking, now what?" She and pal Allison Nazarian decided to launch a Web site for working moms like themselves. "We wanted a one-stop shop with humor, activity and original content daily. We also wanted it to be irreverent and hip."
The site, WorkingMomLifeline.com, has been operating for nine months and is attracting readers. But the women agree that making money will take time.
Launching a Web site takes time, creativity and technical skills. It also takes money. Tasha Cunningham, a successful Web site entrepreneur, says it costs $3,000 to $5,000 to build a site, and then it may take six months to a year to make money. Cunningham has two moneymaking sites, DontDate HimGirl.com and ChickCentric.com.
She says she has given herself an Internet education through "trial by fire." Along the way, she has learned it's possible to be profitable, particularly in an economy where people are looking for low-cost forms of entertainment and information.
"You have to find a niche," she says. "You also have to look at it as running a full-time business."
Pursue a passion
Alyse Myers, author of Who Do You Think You Are?, was a marketing executive for the New York Times before becoming a full-time writer. Myers eased her way into the transition by taking a writing workshop where she created drafts of chapters that became her first book. Within a month after publication of her memoir, she left the comfort of her executive job to promote her book and write for a variety of platforms, including a Web site. She's working on a second book. "I always wanted to be a writer. I just never admitted it to anyone," Myers said. "It's terrible to want to follow your passion but not give yourself a chance to try it somehow, someway."
Go back to school
For 20 years, Stuart Scherline listed and sold waterfront homes to people eager for ocean views. But two years ago, Scherline saw change coming for himself and his industry. As the market slowed, he pursued a new profession, hotel management. Now a student at Florida International University School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, his goal is to be a general manager of a luxury hotel. "I have traveled the world. I love the hospitality industry. I decided to pursue my dream," he says.
To support himself, Scherline juggles work and school, taking up to nine credits a semester while listing and showing properties. He aims to graduate in about a year.
Pursuing schooling in some industries is worth considering. Areas such as information technology, health care and sales are adding positions. The personal and home-care aide category also is growing.
Apply skills in new ways
Debra Levine had worked in sales for 20 years in South Florida. Three months ago, she found herself looking for a job. Levine looked at her full range of skills to market herself in new ways.
She never expected to land in retail.
Levine knew she was strong in sales but didn't want the commission-only jobs being offered. It was her marketing skills, timing and persistence that landed a new job — one that wasn't advertised. She will be a store manager of Foot Solutions in Sunrise and will market shoe products to doctors.
Perhaps you can extend your reach in the virtual world. Some people are using their technology, customer service and sales skills to work from home, being virtual agents for call centers, medical transcribers, copy editors or in computer tech support.
Consider a career/ life coach
This can be done online or in person. CareerPath.com offers assessments, designed by psychologists, to figure out what professions best match a person's skills and interests. GottaMentor.com will match you with mentors or a personal career coach to guide you in making a change.
To find a licensed coach, browse the International Coach Federation Web site; members have professional training and certification.
Don't be afraid to take risks
Out-of-work carpenter Michael Fernandez is interested in becoming a police officer. He shied away from it before, but said the job is more attractive now because police departments continue to hire.
"The hours might not be great, the job does have risk, but I'm thrilled to find something with benefits," he said.
Now, finally, a bit of advice for those lucky enough to still have jobs. Make yourself indispensable. Create a new role for yourself within your organization or develop new skills. Step up your performance a notch to make your position essential. The goal is to reinvent yourself in a way that when an employer looks for people to cut, you won't be considered expendable.