How To Get The Experience Employers Are Looking For When You Are Changing Careers

Ruby asks: What’s the best way to gain the experience and exposure employers are looking for when you are changing careers and you don’t have the experience?

Remember, experience doesn’t have to mean paid, full-time experience. Think volunteer, freelance/ consulting, even cross-functional experience within your existing employer. Don’t forget the knowledge and expertise that comes from industry publications, professional associations, and conferences. You want to become an insider in your new career field. You can demonstrate this with any (and ideally all) of the above.

Do You Have Faith?

When you have come to the edge

Of all the light you know,

And are about to step off

Into the darkness of the unknown,

Faith is knowing

One of two things will happen:

There will be something solid to stand on,

Or you will be taught how to fly.

Anonymous poet 

hope and faithDo you believe that you have a solid foundation or the wings to fly?

Ten Low-Cost Options For Customized Leadership Development

leadership developmentA Global Workforce Leadership Survey released by Saba, a cloud-based talent management solutions company, and, a research firm, report a growing talent gap at the executive levels:

Almost half (46%) of companies surveyed cited leadership as the skill hardest to find;

Only 15% of employees feel the training they get prepares them for the next position.

If you’re an aspiring leader, the good news is that employers feel the need for more leaders. The bad news is that existing training doesn’t appear to meet that need. Of course, you should still take advantage of the leadership development resources your current employer offers. But if you’re in transition or at a company with few or no resources, you will have to create your own leadership program. Here are ten low-cost options for customized leadership development:

Get a mentor

A mentor is a time investment to identify, attract and maintain the right relationship. But, other than coffees and lunches, financial investment can be kept at a minimum. As you think of people who could be mentors, think internal and external: internal to your department but also external to other departments; in your company and outside your company; in your industry and outside your industry. You want to consider a diverse pool, and select based on what your specific needs are, not just the senior-most person in a specific career.

Cultivate a Board

No mentor is going to be an expert in all of your development needs (and that’s too big a burden for one person!). Don’t stop at one mentor – cultivate a board. Much like an organization has a board of directors or trustees with diverse skills in finance, legal, HR, marketing, and other key functions, you should cultivate mentor experts for different areas that you need as a leader – relationship-building, negotiation, executive presence, public speaking, business strategy, industry knowledge, and more. Choosing different advisors for different areas ensures you are not overburdening any person, and you are also getting unique expertise.

Cultivate an accountability group

Mentors and Boards can increase your skills and expertise, while an accountability group will keep you motivated. This might be one person who you call each week to report on what each of you are doing, or you might form a group of several, all working towards a multistep goal. It doesn’t have to be the same goal – you can use your group to report on progress and get encouragement. Or you can put together a group oriented towards the same goal and share research and resources. When I moved into acting for several years and took time off from my corporate work I was part of an actors’ group, where we shared, not only progress, but casting leads and contacts. We also pooled together our resources to do combined mailings to different industry contacts.

Make friends in HR

You want to have friends in your current employer’s HR to help you understand the promotion process, raise and bonus decisions, and other inside information. But even HR contacts outside the company are critical to give you perspective on career planning and employment trends. A recruiter friend can do a mock interview with you and give you candid feedback on how you express your value proposition. An employee relations friend can role play with you when you have a sticky situation with a colleague or with your boss.

Target skills-based volunteering opportunities

Volunteering is a great way to meet people: work the registration desk at an industry conference; sit on a committee at your professional association. You’ll hear about cutting-edge developments, and meet actively engaged people for your mentor, Board, and accountability groups. But keep an eye out for skills-based volunteering opportunities which can help you shore up gaps in your own learning and experience. If you are a marketer, seek out a finance role. If you need more social media experience, become the community manager or website liaison.

Target lateral, cross-functional opportunities

Volunteering is not just for non-profits or other organizations outside your employer. Let your boss and colleagues know of your interest in areas outside your immediate one (just make sure you’re doing an excellent job with what’s already on your plate). This might be an internal project that cuts across different functions. Or it might be a workplace initiative, such as planning the annual meeting or starting an affinity group. Cross-functional opportunities within the company are great for both networking and skills-building.

Start a personal development book club

If you still don’t see the right opportunity in your company or community, get even more specific on the skills or expertise you need with a personal development book club. You can find people with like-minded interests – e.g., you all want to improve sales skills – and pick top sales books to read. You can cover one for each meeting and discuss as a group. Or you can each read a different one and present to each other. This way, you “read” multiple books simultaneously and also get practice in the key skills of presenting, synthesizing, and summarizing.

Revisit your alma mater

Career development resources are available at many universities for their alumni. Also check out libraries and community centers. Resources include webinars and workshops, networking events, speakers, conferences, newsletters, and even job listings.

Reengage with your alma mater

Don’t just use the resources at your alma mater. Contribute your own and get valuable skills and experience in the process. Offer to speak or mentor someone earlier in your career. It’s a great practice for public speaking, coaching, and other critical communication skills.

Be a mentor

Whether it’s through your alma mater or your current employer or a community organization, being a mentor is not just about giving back. It’s excellent for leadership development for the communication skills mentioned above, but also as a proactive way for you to synthesize what you know and reflect on what’s important. When you advise others on career choices and priorities, you can’t help but gain more clarity for yourself, or at least finally pose those key questions to yourself. As you help others identify what they need to become leaders, you will develop your own leadership profile.



This post originally appears in my leadership column on Forbes 

Rebecca Matthias on Business Success

Think big.  Focus.  Never give up.  That’s your mantra.  Everything else will fall into place. – Rebecca Matthias

Rebecca Matthias is CEO of Mothers Work (retail outlets include Mimi Maternity, Pea in the Pod, and Motherhood). This quote is from her book, Mothers Work, one of my favorite business books — an inspirational and informative biography detailing how a 28-year old new mother took $10,000 and built a multimillion-dollar retail company.

business successAre you thinking big enough?

Are you focusing your attention on your most important priorities?

Are you persisting?

Want A New Career But Unsure What? Do This First

identify a new careerI have made a lot of career moves myself – classical piano to banking to executive search to acting to media to entrepreneurship. So when I became a career coach eight years ago, I attracted a lot of aspiring career changers who also wanted to make a radical career move but didn’t know how to get started. If you know exactly what new career you want – industry, role, maybe even specific companies – the path ahead is a traditional job search. A career change typically takes longer and is more complex than staying within the same area of expertise, but the action steps are similar. Cue advice on resume, networking, interviewing, negotiation, etc.

However, when you don’t know exactly what you want, deciding on that first step can be overwhelming. There is so much you could be doing, so you end up doing nothing. Or you try to do a little of this and a little of that, and you end up diluting your efforts. Or you pick one activity and it’s a dead end, so you lament having squandered your limited time and efforts.

If you know you want something new, but unsure what exactly (just not whatever you’re doing now!) then you will have to experiment. “Activity, not analysis” should be the mantra of every career changer. You will not think your way into your new career. This means that your very first step is to make space in your life for experimentation. To start, give yourself 30 days to experiment more. During these 30 days, here are four ways to invite more experimentation into your life:

Drop 10 hours off your schedule

Experimentation takes time. While you may not know exactly what activities you will select yet, you know whatever you choose will take time. Something you are currently doing has to drop off your schedule. A good block of time to aim for is 10 hours. This could be two hours, five days a week, or a full weekend day plus shorter bursts during the week, or some combination of the two. But before you stress yourself out deciding what you’ll be doing exactly, just clear your calendar for when you’ll be doing it. Remember it’s just 30 days, and you can go back to your old schedule after that!

Stockpile some money

Experimentation takes money. It doesn’t have to be a lot – don’t assume you have to go get a new degree or take a massive pay cut. But you will be meeting people to rekindle connections and get outside your immediate professional circle, and even a simple coffee costs money. You may do more structured relationship-building activities, such as joining a professional organization. Books, classes, or conferences are great ways to collect new ideas, meet more people, and gain momentum, and while you can find free resources, having a dedicated career exploration budget ensures you can take advantage of opportunities without delay.

Practice learning

Experimentation also means getting back in touch with how you best learn. If you’ve been disillusioned with your career for some time now, you are probably on auto pilot and not challenging yourself on a regular basis. With career exploration, you will be constantly trying new things and stretching your learning capacity. This can be tiring and uncomfortable, even if the subject is otherwise enjoyable. Don’t mistake the discomfort with disinterest. For any early interests you explore, say you take a class on digital media because you’re curious, don’t make any career decisions relating to a move into digital media. Just consider the class a foray into learning. Mix in other subjects and other medium (books, workshops) to get a feel for how you best absorb new material.

Practice enjoyment

Just like you’re not used to learning, you may also not be used to having fun. A good part of your experimentation time, especially in these first 30 days, should be getting back in touch with things you enjoy. Make a list of 100 things you’ve always wanted to do, professionally, personally, incorporating all aspects of your life. I call this exercise “100 Dreams” and if you have a hard time coming up with 100, think of groups of 10 – 10 places you want to go, 10 books you want to read, 10 events you want to experience, 10 skills you want to learn, 10 daily habits and rituals you want to adopt. Some of these dreams will be time-consuming and expensive – e.g., go on an African safari. But many will be bite-size and doable right now – e.g., keep fresh flowers at my desk. Do as many items as you can on your 100 Dreams list to get back in touch with that feeling of enjoyment. Just like with the learning practice, don’t worry about relating this to a career move. You want to strengthen your awareness of what you enjoy so that when you are experimenting on the career front, your inner compass is primed and ready.


In these first 30 days of your career exploration, you shouldn’t be focused on typical job search activities, like redoing your resume or honing your interview skills. It’s too early for that. Instead focus on experimentation. Get back in touch with what you love. Get used to learning. Change up how you’re spending time and money. After 30 days, see if you want to continue as you are – some of my clients realize they don’t need to change jobs after all. But if you want to incorporate more activity, your next steps can be more focused on specific career alternatives – e.g., picking one industry and targeting your research and networking more exhaustively on that for the next 30 days. Career change is a multi-step process, and it’s not linear. The first step is to play around and experiment. You can get more serious later.


This post originally appears in my leadership column on Forbes 



George Patton on Planning

A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow. – George S. Patton

plan for successAre you waiting for perfect conditions to start a business, change careers or [fill in the blank] when good enough is already here?

What goal has been put on hold due to more planning?

Can you start something today? Don’t even wait for the new year!

Career Change Through Entrepreneurship: Pharmaceutical Executive Enters The Doughnut Business

small business launchIt sounds like the set up to a joke (an accountant opens a doughnut shop…) but it’s actually a career change success story: Mark Prygocki went from Big Four accountant to President of a medical cosmetics company to franchisee owner of five Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona locations.  After 21 years in corporate, Mark made the leap from employment to entrepreneurship and from pharma to food. He graciously shared some of his lessons and experiences:

Caroline Ceniza-Levine: Why entrepreneurship after traditional employment for over 20 years?

Mark Prygocki: I don’t see them as very different.  When I was fortunate enough to be hired at Medicis in 1991, we had 12 people in the headquarters office and were lacking adequate cash flow.  I always viewed our organization as “entrepreneurial” from the time we were a penny stock listed on the Pink Sheets to the time we were a NYSE traded company worth $2.6 billion and >1,000 colleagues.   The roles, processes and procedures may have been more refined and defined but this spirit never changed.  I find my role being very similar; grow the organization by managing the PIP’s: Product quality, Image of our company and products, and our People.  The fundamental blocking and tackling of business should not change with the size of the organization.

Having said that, I am really enjoying being on the “front line” again.  As organizations become larger and careers progress, I found the touch-points with your customer become less frequent.  Staying connected with your customer becomes a daily struggle as the organization becomes larger and your customer coverage area expands.  At heart, the size of the organization did not affect my entrepreneurial spirit, and I don’t see this as a fundamental change in direction.  I enjoy building companies, products and people.  The Fractured Prune Doughnuts franchise gave the management team, and me the opportunity to [do] this again.

Ceniza-Levine: Having moved to entrepreneurship, do you wish you had done it sooner? OR do you feel the time in corporate was a good foundation?

Prygocki: I view entrepreneurship as a state of mind not defined by the organizational size or industry.  I believe my role at Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona is a continuation and not a transition of my entrepreneurial career utilizing all that I’ve learned at Medicis.  My time at Medicis was a great foundation for me.  Had Medicis not been sold in December 2012, I would still be there.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for my former colleagues at Medicis.  One of the many foundational learning lessons for me during my time at Medicis was how well we learned from each other.   We operationalized Medicis like a big “Think Tank”, believing fundamentally that we hired the best and brightest of people.  I truly believe that if you have the best and the brightest people, it would be a waste of their intellectual talents not to consider their ideas and suggestions.  Our employees were on the “frontline” in each of their respective roles.  They had the best line of sight to issues and solutions.  We fostered an environment where they could express them.  We embraced change and weren’t afraid of reinventing ourselves and our strategies, processes and procedures.

This same strategy has helped us tremendously at Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona.  I was attracted to the Fractured Prune Doughnuts opportunity mainly because they were in the process of reinventing themselves.  Very similar to what we had done so many times at Medicis.  I felt as if our leadership team at Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona could make a difference in the success of this opportunity in Arizona because we were given the opportunity by the Franchisor to effect change, implement our ideas and learn from our mistakes.  This is very unique in franchising.  We are building a team at Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona where we will share ideas, be open-minded to comments and not be afraid of change, improvement and learning from each other.  For this reason as well as many others, I believe my time at Medicis has been and will continue to be foundational for this opportunity at Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona.

Ceniza-Levine: What are the advantages you bring (skills, expertise, network, personal qualities) that you developed from your time in corporate? Disadvantages of spending that much time in corporate first?

Prygocki: I believe the biggest advantages I can convey to the team at Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona are more environmental and cultural than anything else.  Yes, I’ve developed an impressive network that we can and have tapped into for many areas of our operation.  The partners we’ve worked with have been invaluable to us in successfully opening 5 locations in one year.  More importantly, I’ve stressed the importance of creating an environment where others want us to succeed.  We strive to create an environment where they want to do business with us.  In addition to an unwavering commitment to product quality, brand image and our people, I feel I bring to Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona a belief that “we may be winning but will never win”.  As soon as we believe we’ve “won”, people stop trying to take us to the next level and the “game” is over.  We can always improve, sell more, be better.

We appreciate that successful partnerships depend on both parties winning and we learn more by listening than we do talking; whether it is our customer feeling that they’ve received adequate value in product and service for their money or a vendor receiving adequate compensation for their services.  We have to listen to suggestions and be willing to improve and change.  All of this, and more, create an image of our brand that people including customers, vendors, partners and employees want to be a part of and want us to see succeed. I believe that environmental lessons like these are the biggest advantages I can bring to Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona from my time in “corporate”.

Ceniza-Levine: What advice would you give for a corporate employee who wants to run their own business? What do you know now that you wished you knew when you started? What pitfalls might they avoid?

Prygocki: I would tell anyone who has a vision of working for themselves to go for it!  It’s a very rewarding experience but be mindful that they may be working for themselves but not by themselves.  I would advise them to surround themselves with great people with a diversity of knowledge that they can rely on and trust.  I would also caution them that most of the challenges they may experience might have nothing to do with the product or service they are selling!  Make sure to plan for this.  As an example, Fractured Prune Doughnuts have been successfully sold for about 40 years.  People love the product.  Most, if not all of the “pitfalls” we faced had nothing to do with the fantastic doughnuts we serve.

Be watchful of areas such as sourcing equipment and supplies, architecture and design and the regulatory environment in which they are operating, construction, human resources including hiring, marketing including traditional and social media avenues, legal including corporate structure and guidance, and the avenues to source capital for growth.  Most entrepreneurs are experts in their product or service but not in these other areas.  I was far from an expert in these areas and had never made a doughnut in my life.  I became passionate about the product and knew we had to bring this awesome product to Arizonians with the help and guidance of an All-Star team.  I rely heavily on a team of outstanding people including, but not limited to, my wife Karen and Danny Luber on our management team, Salcito Construction Inc. and PHX Architecture for architecture, design and construction, and of course the Franchisor for their wealth of industry experience and knowledge.  Each of them possesses skills that are invaluable to the future of Fracture Prune Doughnuts Arizona.  Together we make a great team and couldn’t imagine where I would be without them.

Ceniza-Levine: What resources were most helpful to you as you made the transition? Did you get a coach? Did you rely on existing mentors? Did you join a small business group?

Prygocki:  The success of Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona is dependent on my reliance on many resources.  My resources are generally twofold.  Those I respect and rely upon who have a vested interest in the success of the Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona venture and those people I respect outside the venture.  Both of which are critical to our success….The value in consulting with mentors and friends I trust and respect outside of the venture is that they give me a fresh set of eyes and are not tainted by their passion for the organization and its success.  They tend to have a different and valuable perspective because they are not “living it” 24 hours a day and 7 days a week like we are.  I believe the best resources tell you what they’re thinking not just what you want to hear.  A productive dialogue is one where views are expressed freely but are challenged in the spirit of deriving the best answer possible.  Lastly, the information you receive is only valuable if you are willing to listen, are open to different ideas and are willing to change.

Ceniza-Levine: Why donuts? Did you look at other businesses? Do you just love donuts? How did you make this decision – to pick a product, to franchise?

Prygocki:  When Medicis was sold in 2012, I looked at several opportunities closer to my comfort zone as they were closely related to markets Medicis served.  A dear friend of mine who knew I was looking to go into business for myself introduced me to the Fractured Prune Doughnuts opportunity.  There were several very attractive things about the Fractured Prune Doughnuts opportunity but I was skeptical until I did some research and tried the product.  Research would tell me that as opposed to other treats like cupcakes or frozen yogurt, doughnuts have withstood the test of time and have almost a cult following.  People love their doughnuts!!!  I flew out to Ocean City to give it a try, still skeptical that I would be in the doughnut business.  From the first bite, I was hooked.  I recall thinking to myself,
“these are incredible and Fractured Prune Doughnuts are not just doughnuts!”  It was like nothing else I’ve ever tried.  To have them cooked in front of me with fresh ingredients, served hot, and finished off with toppings of my choice was not just a treat but an experience.  I was sold.

I believed that there was a business opportunity in bringing this experience to our fellow Arizonians.  In addition to loving the product, the franchise expansion was relatively new at the time.  I felt that there was an ability to have a certain freedom of expression that other franchises couldn’t offer me.  With the support of the Franchisor, we were able to incorporate our team’s vision of what Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona could be.  Lastly, it was important to me that if we were able to create an image of Fractured Prune Doughnuts in Arizona that was a true reflection of our team and me, I wanted it to inure to the benefit of the venture.  Therefore, it was very attractive to me that we were able to secure franchise rights to the whole state of Arizona.  Again, a unique opportunity in franchising.

To answer your question, I don’t love donuts but I LOVE Fractured Prune Doughnuts!  There is nothing else like them.  We even spell “doughnuts” differently from the rest.  Our love of the product and the concept, our ability to be creative with the brand, the fact that we could secure rights to the state of Arizona, employ hundreds of people and provide an avenue to give back to the communities in which we serve, made Fractured Prune Doughnuts a very attractive opportunity for us.

Ceniza-Levine: You work with your wife. What advice do you have for other couples considering working together?

Prygocki:  Karen and I are very passionate about Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona.  It was very important to me that we were united on our commitment to the brand, its concept, the monetary risks we were taking and time commitment it would take to launch a new brand into the Arizona market.  We spend hours upon hours discussing Fractured Prune Doughnuts.  We joke; “it gives us something besides the kids to speak about” (We have 5 great kids who we adore).  If we didn’t share the passion and the vision for Fractured Prune Doughnuts Arizona, it wouldn’t work.

Our business lives are an extension of our personal lives at home.  We are united in our strategies at home and at work.  This does not mean we always agree but we have a mutual respect for each other that make it work personally and professionally.  I love spending time with Karen and enjoy building businesses.  Selfishly, this gives me the best of both worlds.  I like the fact that when we speak about “work” we can relate to what the other person is speaking about and we know who all the players are.  I have a 24/7 sounding board.

My advice to other couples would be to be honest with yourselves about your common passion for the product or service and ask yourselves the following: do you share the same vision for the organization, can your marriage handle the additional stress this will add to your marriage and do you really want to be with each other all the time?  I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for Karen and can never spend enough time with her; so the answer was easy for me……

Ceniza-Levine: What’s next for you, your business?

Prygocki:  We’ve just begun!!  We are very proud of the fact that we have launched 5 locations of Fractured Prune Doughnuts in Arizona this year, are providing employment to many Arizonians and are giving back to the communities in which we serve.  Danny, Karen and I are united in our goal of opening many more locations in Arizona.  We are highly confident in the brand and want to continue to please our customers.  We have people happily traveling great distances to get Fractured Prune Doughnuts. We want be closer to them and expose Fractured Prune Doughnuts to many Arizonians who have never heard of or tried our product.  For those who do not want to make the trip to see us, we are coming to you!! Our biggest reward is seeing the smile on our customer’s faces.  We love looking at all the comments and pictures online.  Our 4.8 star rating speaks for itself.  We continuously work very hard to earn that rating and the respect of our customers.   We are committed to enhancing the customer experience, brand image and developing our employees to be future business leaders.

My favorite takeaways from Mark:

Embrace your unique experience

“I always viewed [his former corporate employer] as ‘entrepreneurial’…”

Mark didn’t lament his time in corporate; he leveraged it

Accept help

“…be mindful that [entrepreneurs may be working for themselves but not by themselves….”

Mark built a team internal and external to the business

Build a business foundation; it’s not just about the product

“Be watchful of areas such as sourcing equipment and supplies, architecture and design and the regulatory environment in which they are operating, construction, human resources including hiring, marketing including traditional and social media avenues, legal including corporate structure and guidance, and the avenues to source capital for growth.  Most entrepreneurs are experts in their product or service but not in these other areas.”

Mark’s team ranged well outside the food industry.



This post originally appears in my leadership column on Forbes 

Responsive Menu Image Responsive Menu Clicked Image