How to get a career you love (or at least like) in NYC in the new year

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By Dan Sears

New year, new job?

Perhaps you dislike your job, but aren’t sure what to do next? Or maybe you’re entering the workforce for the first time?

The start of a year can be a time to assess how we spend our days, including at work.

One resource that can help is the New York Public Library’s Career Services division, which offers everything from one-on-one career coaching to professional development seminars to help building your resume – and all of these services are free. There are also similar initiatives at the Brooklyn and Queens Public libraries.

The NYPL’s career services manager, Louisa Tatum, talked to WNYC’s Alison Stewart, on a recent episode of “All of It.” They discussed how to figure out what you want to do, how to start if you’ve been out of the workforce, dealing with ageism and more.

You can hear the whole conversation here; an edited version is below.

Alison: What is something people should keep in mind about salary negotiation in New York City in 2024?

Louisa: The biggest thing to keep in mind is that you have to put yourself first. You have to think about what your needs and what your wants are, and whether the job opportunity can provide you the financial support to be able to do that.

The negotiation part is identifying whether your needs and wants fit their needs and their wants, and then coming together to identify a middle ground.

What about re-entering the workforce after taking time off to raise kids? Monique from Tarrytown is calling with that question.

Louisa: First step is to take a deep breath. Doing deep breathing exercises can help you come back to a neutral state to be able to alleviate some of the stresses that you could be feeling.

And then the second thing is – for the first time in your life – think about, “What is it that I want?” Ask yourself questions like: How much money do I want to make? What kind of people do I want to work with? What’s the kind of work that will be meaningful for me? How does that match my skills? What do I want to learn?

The third thing is – once you do step two – then you Google “jobs for people who like to sleep” or whatever your skill set is.

Recognize that the skills that mothers, and parents in general, have are a multitude. It’s just about identifying which one you want to use and monetize.

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Let’s talk to Josh in Teaneck who works in this space.

Josh: I think it’s helpful to visualize your dream job. And if you don’t know what that is, maybe you imagine yourself doing a certain kind of work. Or maybe you visited a certain office that you really liked.

Because if you don’t know where the bullseye on the target is, you can’t even throw the dart. You don’t have to hit the bullseye, but you have to know the direction in which you want to shoot.

I would also tell people who are pivoting careers: Don’t be afraid that you used to be an architect and now you want to be a nurse and that it will make you unattractive to potential employers or nursing schools. Everybody applying for a certain career has the same baseline skills. It’s only your background that makes you special. Maybe you’re the only applicant to nursing school with an architecture background.

What are some questions one can ask themselves to get a little closer to maybe knowing what they want to do?

Louisa: Before I answer that question, I want to add to what the previous caller said. Sometimes trying to identify your dream job is a very difficult thing to do. It’s such a big question.

I think it’s important to take small steps to ask: What are the things that I need? What are the things that I want? Another way to think about it: what is something that irritates me or really makes me happy when I think about it?

Usually whatever that thing is, that is the direction to go in, because that may be tied to what people call your goal, your dream, your purpose.

So to answer the question of how to identify what’s next, I’d go back to the idea of needs and wants.

On a regular basis, we always get an opportunity to think about what we want. To use a food analogy: We think about what we’re going to eat every day and there’s a million options out there. But how do you decide?

Well, sometimes it’s based on money. Sometimes it’s based on preference. Sometimes it’s based on allergies, or what you’re in the mood for.

Think of your career the same way that you think about food. There are so many different options. You don’t preclude yourself from exploring different types of food every single day. So why should you preclude yourself from pursuing any opportunity?

Some people might question, well, that job might not pay well. That means that that company and that particular role may not pay what you need or what you want to live, but it doesn’t mean that there isn’t another opportunity out there.

What would you say to folks who are worried about ageism in their job search?

Louisa: Ageism is a very real thing. It does exist in the workplace, and it’s not acknowledged. It’s also a bias that employers and hiring managers aren’t supposed to exhibit, but it does happen.

The way to combat it is to really focus on the skills and the experience that you have and how you want to apply that in the next role.

The other thing that I’d consider is doing research on the companies where you’re applying: What is the age range of everyone who works there? Because there’s a possibility that – if everyone’s in their twenties – then whoever is hiring wants to hire people in their twenties. And unless there’s a senior role that you qualify for, then that may be the place for you to fit.

The other thing that’s really strategic is – when you look at the job description under the qualifications and the requirements – how much experience does it say that it requires?

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If you have 20-plus years of experience, and you’re applying to a job that says 3-5 years of experience, and your resume lists 20-plus years of experience, you’re basically telling them to exclude you.

So remove the years from your resume. You do not need to include every single job that you’ve ever had in your lifetime. Just focus on the last five years of work or a period of one to 10 years that relates to the job description where you’re applying.

How can you decide if grad school is the right move? Abigail is calling from Williamsburg with this question.

Abigail: I work in television, but I was a music major and I’ve fallen in love with going back to school and becoming a music teacher. I want to go back to school and get my bachelor’s again in education. It just sounds like a lot of money. And then meeting the New York requirements all sounds a little bit daunting, but I really want to go for it.

Anything you can advise Abigail as she sets out on her mission?

Louisa: So school is always a wonderful tool, but you have to look at it as a tool that’s part of your strategy. Because the objective is not just to be a graduate. The objective is to move into this new area.

I think the first step is to look at various job descriptions and see what’s the job that you want with your current skills. And even in the future – whether it’s the CEO or whatever that job is – look at job descriptions and see what the requirements are. And then go back to the school – whether it’s the administrators or email one of the professors – and ask them, “Do you teach these skills?” And pull that information from the job description.

Because then you will know that what you’re learning is going to match something that you can add to your resume and say, “I have this particular skill set.” So that I think is the first step.

In terms of thinking about going back to school when you look at the job description, is that degree required? Because it’s possible that you already have everything that you need in order to be able to apply for this job that you want.

And it may not be at your dream company, but are there other companies where you can work, or are there projects that you can work on, to make the move into the dream company?

Dan has a question about how to address a resume gap after taking time off from work.

Dan: I was laid off in October. I had the luxury of getting a nice severance package and I’ve been taking the time to do some soul searching, spend some time with family, as well as explore new career opportunities. My concern is: what do I need to be worried about in terms of a gap in my resume and taking this time for myself before I start my next leg in my career?

Dan, thank you for calling in. What about that gap in the resume?

Louisa: So I would say that you really don’t have a lot to worry about. The strategy is to focus on what your story is going to be – what were the things that you were doing in this time? Not the whole truth, right? You don’t have to share that you were spending time with family because everything you say in an interview, or write down on a resume, has to apply to the job that you’re going for. It has to match the company, the mission, the job description.

So you can say: “I was spending some time trying to evaluate what my next steps were because my pain points in my previous role were X, Y, and Z. And moving forward the way that I’d like to restructure and re-strategize as it relates to this new role is doing X, Y, and Z.”

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I’m not an expert in marketing, but I know how to sell a story. So you just have to create a story around the time frame and what you were doing and what you learned that’s going to be able to make you more successful in this new opportunity moving forward.

Let’s talk to Maggie who wants advice about pursuing a field that doesn’t pay well.

I am an undergraduate, about to graduate, and I have a career in mind that I’m really passionate about, but pay in the field is extremely low.

It would prohibit me from ever having a family or really having a life outside of work, so I’m feeling conflicted about whether or not I should commit to my dreams now, or explore something that I am not as interested in.

First of all, congratulations on graduating from school! And we were all smiling because we were thinking, “Maggie, you don’t have to plan your whole life out now.”

Louisa: I never know why we think that we have to have everything figured out. But actually, I do know why. It’s because society puts this pressure on us when we’re young, asking us what do we want to do – and you haven’t even discovered anything about life because everyone’s telling you what to do for most of your life until you graduate from college.

So thank you for the question and congratulations. Just recognize that you have made it through a pandemic, and so you can do anything and everything.

When you think about the career path that you might be choosing in terms of money, I’d recommend talking about what is a fact and what is a thought.

So, is it a fact that every single job relating to the one that you want does not pay? That’s number one. Is it a fact that you won’t have a family or you won’t be able to make money?

Then, try to understand what your needs and what your wants are. In other words: what is the range of money that you actually want to make? Because that might determine which company that you might choose.

You can use a resource like LinkedIn Learning, which is free using your library card. If you put in a job title, it’ll give you background and videos from experts who can explain how to do certain things. So you can develop that understanding.

You can also use LinkedIn to find people who are currently working in that job. You can ask them for informational interviews to find out things like: what is the salary range that should be expected when you’re starting out in comparison to when you’re senior? You can reach maybe three or four at varying levels, and that might help.

What is something we haven’t talked about that’s really important when people are looking for a new job or thinking about changing jobs?

It’s normal to want to change, it’s normal to not be comfortable at a certain point and to want something more. We want more every single day. To once again speak in analogies: A lot of us don’t eat the same thing every day if we have the luxury, right?

So you have to ask yourself: If I’m currently working, what are my pain points? What are the things that I do not like about my current role? Or about the company or about my boss?

You need to specifically identify those things in very clear detail. So clear that a four-year-old would be able to read it and understand what you mean.

And then think about your non-negotiables. What is something, if I got a new job, I’d never want to do again? And then if the job requires it, what percentage of the job actually requires me to do this?

It’s normal to want to change. It’s normal to want more. And there are strategies that you can utilize in order to be able to identify how to make your next steps.

Louisa Tatum is the New York Public Library’s Career Services Manager. Louisa, thank you for taking our listeners’ calls.

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