How I Re-Invented My Career in a Difficult Job Market

My peers thought I was crazy when I hung up the flight suit after 14 years flying the F-15 in the USAF many years ago as a fighter pilot. The economy was booming and I had my sights set on a radical career change. A smooth and rewarding transition from the military to a corporate job environment ended up in a ditch. Recently, I found myself staring down the road of a career derailed in an economic environment replete with challenges. I’m back on the road again and grabbing another gear!

The pothole came back in 2009 when a judge denied a re-structure deal for a company called Circuit City. Chapter 11 suddenly became a Chapter 7 liquidation of assets. Bummer! Over 10 years of sweat equity and significant net worth on paper vanished. Unfortunately the family living expenses and associated cost structure was rapidly depleting the “rain day” fund. Days turned into weeks, then to months as I tried to find my employment footing in one of the most challenging economic environments of our nation’s history.

After a brief stint on my own opening a brokerage that was designed to take advantage of what was touted as the largest economic stimulus in history, it was clear I needed more runway to get airborne on this new venture. It was time to call an audible back into retail before a critical financial situation imploded. I had heard of all the statistics of those attempting to find work and struggling, so I made a few phone calls and 18 days later I was hired by another retailer. It was a short term fix for a poor working solution. I had few choices and felt fortunate despite the 60% reduction in pay. I stopped the bleeding but the patient was still in critical condition.

The primary reason I started the brokerage was to transition out of retail and fuel my entrepreneurial spirit. It felt like one step forward and two steps back. I started having flashbacks when I sat in strategy meetings and witnessed some of the same poor decisions that resulted in Circuit City’s ultimate demise. I needed an out — both for my mental health and my financial security. After less than 3 months on the job I started plotting my escape.

I actually enjoyed the retail model; I became disenchanted with the grind on quality of life and navigating the political landmines of a bureaucracy gone wild. One of the many things I have learned to help think creatively was a technique called Crashing Orthodoxy. A quick read of the tea leaves suggested that technology, healthcare and energy were the growth sectors of the next decade. I had zero experience in all three combined. How do you create traditional retail demand in a disparate industry sector?

To learn more about the opportunity I loaded a keyword search with Retail Technology, Retail Healthcare and Retail Energy. Every day I would get relevant content sent to my email to learn and seek career opportunities from Google. Although I actively searched job boards and tweaked my resume, this technique is what ultimately landed me in my new role!

After an extensive interview process which was more of a discussion of what value the newly created role would deliver, I accepted an offer as Director, Retail Services for a $2 Billion Health Care provider that is a leader in innovation. Reporting directly to the CEO, my role is to leverage existing customer traffic (employees, patients and their families) and create new retail revenue growing the existing portfolio 3X. This involves better management of hospital gift shops, retail pharmacies, fitness centers with integrated medicine, floral business, vitamin product launch, e-commerce, loyalty programs and more.

As healthcare reforms put more pressure on operating margins, incremental revenue that enhances the patient family’s experience is one example of creating a job in a fiscally strained environment. In this role I’ve been able to leverage an existing skill that was mundane in one industry into a competency that is celebrated in another. This journey was one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences I’ve had in quite some time — including losing friends in aviation accidents and enduring natural disasters. My hope is that this discussion will ignite your job search so that you can secure compelling employment. Re-Invent yourself!

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