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Crossroads: Making A Career Change

Summary: Shelly has been totally blind from birth. She has worked in many jobs but recently decided to make a significant change in her career. I caught up with her at this intersection and learned more about her and the choices she's considering.

Author:  Nan Hawthorne

Meet Shelly at the Crossroads

New Directions

How You Can Use Shelly's Example

Meet Shelly at the Crossroads

Shelly, who has been totally blind since she was born,
is at a crossroads in her career path. Self-assured
and competent, she has decided to put behind her a
series of short jobs and career plans to settle on a
new career in hospitality.

"I would like your members to know that I am a hard
worker and that I am very efficient," she tells me
with refreshing confidence. "I have a great
personality, and, once I learn something new, I am
well on my way."

Like many other people, Shelly has had a rocky path
to settling on a career goal. "I have been all over
the place with what I want to do," she admits. She
prepared for secretarial work while she was in
college. She has had a number of other brief jobs

To add to that bumpy journey, she had to deal with
others who were "blind" to what she knew she could
do. "I wasn't getting the proper help from my
counselors over the years," she explains.

And, as to her own independent efforts, "The impact
of being blind has been very hard in finding work,"
she explains. "In the office field, I think the major
problem is the employers (who do) not want to give
me the chance. I have had interviews where they tell
me I have the job but they have to confer with their
boss. When I call back the next week, they say the
position is taken."

Despite these discouraging reactions from potential
employers, Shelly continues to affirm her
capabilities. "I think there is no problem in doing a
job," she says, "just as long as you have the right
equipment and the right employer. (In my work
experience), being blind wasn't the issue. I did
everything just as anyone else would."
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New Directions

Opportunity and self-knowledge have come together to
offer Shelly a chance to try hospitality, a field
where she believes she can shine. "My education has
influenced me to go for this kind of work because I am
great with people," she points out, "and I am great in
office situations. I have impeccable typing and phone

One secret of any job hunt, and especially changing
careers, is doing your homework. Shelly is a great
networker and has used the Internet both for
information and the support from others in similar
circumstances. I met her on blindjob, a online
discussion group about careers for blind and partially
sighted people. Within that group, she is well-known
for her warmth and willingness to counsel and be
advised. Having one ear always to the ground, she was
in the right place at the right time to seize an

Shelly saw a posting on the JAWS for Windows
discussion group, jfwlist (eGroups; now Yahoogroups).
It was from the National Statler Center for Careers in
Hospitality Service in Buffalo, New York. Described
as "a new and exciting concept in hospitality
employment training that provides physically disabled
individuals or those who are blind or visually
impaired with the right tools for successful careers
in a rapidly growing industry," the institute supplies
workers for hotels, the travel business and tourism,
including sales, service and marketing jobs.

The Statler Center is a program of the Elizabeth
Pierce Olmsted, M.D., Center for the Visually Impaired
(formerly the Blind Association of Western New York).
As part of the 13-week program, students
complete "externships" with local hospitality
businesses, including the Marriott Hotel, Burchfield-
Penney Art Center and Hyatt Regency of Buffalo.

"The courses are exactly what you need -- English,
math, computers, speaking skills. They really get
right to the point," student Rafat Mohamed says. "It's
not just a school; it's almost like a family.
Everybody is treated with respect, the staff is
excellent and the atmosphere friendly. It makes you
feel like you're in the hospitality industry already."

"I know that I need help," admits Shelly, who is
considering the Statler Center program, "and they seem
to be able to give it. Nothing is guaranteed, but at
least I would be learning something for a potential
job and their success rate in finding a job for their
students is pretty good."

She is open to exploring options within the
hospitality industry for the best fit for her, and she
views this as an adventure, not an unknown. Her only
regret is that she did not hear about opportunities in
the hospitality field earlier in her career.
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How You Can Use Shelly's Example

There are several lessons to be learned from Shelly's
career change experience.

  • Be persistent.

No matter what your situation -- changing careers
while working or choosing a new course because the old
one is unsuccessful -- there are virtually an infinite
number of new paths you can try. And don't let
rejection finish you off. Looking in the archives of
the blindjob list, I found earlier posts from Shelly
about less promising opportunities and experiences.
But she never said, "I quit!" Clearly Shelly's story
reveals that there are employers out there who know
vision impairment is no barrier to being talented and
productive, but you will never meet them unless you go
out and find them..

Joan Greenfield, writing for the Detroit News,
observes that patience is essential when making a
career change. She says a "questioning, cautionary
approach is the right way to begin because leaping
blindly into a new arena is foolhardy and often
disastrous. You also must keep your perspective
balanced and your plans clear and directed as you
learn about yourself and chart your own transition."

  • Be flexible.

A lot of people wind up in careers for which they
had not originally planned or prepared - probably
because they didn't know they existed.

  • Get busy.

Busy people attract opportunity. Meet people, get
involved, find ways to be Johnny-on-the-spot when a
great lead comes along. Employers will always choose
someone who is already occupied over one who is idle.

  • Do your homework.

Discover yourself and what you like and don't
like about your present career. Think about other
activities and what you find satisfying. While you
read and talk and think, develop new ideas about a
vocation, regardless of whether they parallel your
earlier career choices or not. Assess your skills and
hone those skills you currently lack. Be inquisitive
and ask everyone what they do and what it took to get
where they are. Ask what they would do differently if
they could start over. Learn.

  • Seek ways to practice what you learn.

The Statler Center uses "externships" to give
students experience. That's a big help when changing
careers. You can find opportunities like this in
internships, part-time jobs and volunteer work as
well as by taking jobs that may seem off your career
path but offer you an opportunity to develop skills
essential for your career choice.

It is always appropriate to ask for help, but do your
own choosing. As Frank Risalvato. CPC, writes in an
article about steering career changers away from
professional recruiting firms, "A company is
not going to pay a fee to help someone make a
career change." That is, recruiters are paid to find
people who already have experience in specific fields.
It's up to you to be fully prepared to enter a
specific career that may be new for you.

And, most important, be like Shelly: confident,
focused, realistic but undaunted.
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