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Career Makeover

Turn the story of your disparate job history into an asset in search

Susan Hardiman’s years of experience will be an asset, said career counselor Kathy Robinson. But Robinson also advised Hardiman to update her skills and to earn accreditation. Susan Hardiman’s years of experience will be an asset, said career counselor Kathy Robinson. But Robinson also advised Hardiman to update her skills and to earn accreditation. (Bill Greene/ Globe Staff)
By Cindy Atoji Keene
Globe Correspondent / November 7, 2010

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Commercial interior designer Susan Hardiman was a project manager at one of Boston’s major design firms until the economy soured in 2001. Since then, she has taken on several part-time jobs, and even started her own jewelry company, but that business suffered when the most recent recession hit.

“I have been underemployed and frustrated for almost a decade now — and not by choice,’’ said Hardiman, 50, a Boston resident who has taken a number of positions, including as a real estate agent and an administrative assistant.

Since the collapse of her business, Hardiman has had to go back to the proverbial drawing board. She knew it would be difficult to return to her profession of choice, interior design, since jobs were still scarce and her skills were dated. After a stint in the nonprofit sector, Hardiman decided to seek a Boston Globe Career Makeover to help her figure out how to parlay her varied experience into a full-time job.

“How do I get a meaningful and sustainable job in this economy? I need divine providence,’’ said Hardiman, who met with career specialist Kathy Robinson of Turning Point, a Boston-area career and business consulting firm.

With Hardiman’s diverse background, her most difficult challenge, said Robinson, would be telling the story of her career path and related objectives without having it seem disjointed. “How you refer to yourself is crucial. When you introduce yourself at a party, what do you say?’’ Robinson said. “You’ve done seemingly disparate things, including volunteer management, corporate design projects, and an entrepreneur ial stint; for networking purposes, you need a topic sentence.’’

She suggested that the best way to blend all of Hardiman’s various work experience together for a five-second pitch is a lighthearted comment such as “I’m a type of hybrid: two-parts interior designer and one-part nonprofit manager’’ or “I’m a free agent at the moment and looking for something full time if you happen to hear of anything.’’

Robinson also suggested that Hardiman consider jobs that incorporate both housing knowledge and nonprofit management, perhaps in roles such as affordable housing administration. In the meantime, since interior design professionals are expected to demonstrate their competency in all areas, Robinson said Hardiman should consider pursuing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accreditation, a green building credential. The Boston Society of Architects, a professional society for the building industry, offers introductory classes for LEED as well as for Revit, modeling software that Hardiman needs to know to get up to speed.

Once she updates her technology training, Hardiman’s long track record will be an asset, Robinson said. “Design clients want experience, not an untried novice,’’ she said.

As a longtime design professional, Robinson said Hardiman also should make connections within her industry by volunteering as a mentor or as a committee member for local design schools or at the Boston Society of Architects or the American Society of Interior Designers. “Board or subcommittee members are usually individuals who are connected with those who are hiring,’’ Robinson said.

As a follow-up after their meeting, Hardiman e-mailed Robinson, disappointed because she had just heard that she hadn’t gotten an internship manager position that she had been vying for at a nearby college of art and design. “I am very disappointed, because I felt my skills and experience level was a perfect match,’’ Hardiman said.

Robinson responded with words of consolation. “Even David Ortiz doesn’t hit a home run every time he gets up to bat. So you truly can’t expect to get every role you interview for. Use each at-bat as a chance to explore different directions your career can go.’’

Robinson’s parting advice: “Understand that a ‘no’ is not about you, but about the fact they happened to find someone who matched the skill set even a little more closely. Your job is to keep getting back on the horse.’’

To be considered for a Career Makeover, send an e-mail to careermakeover@globe.com.

SUSAN HARDIMAN
Goal: Land a rewarding job that merges skills in interior design and project management, as well as entrepreneurial background.

Problem: Commercial property downturn leaves little opportunity for longtime interior designer, who has been struggling for years to redefine herself, trying roles ranging from entrepreneur to project manager.

Recommendations from career adviser Kathy Robinson:
■ Be ready to “tell a story’’ of career path and transitions
by using humor and personality to describe disparate elements of work record.
■ Consider roles that blend expertise and bridge gap between skills, such as positions that require both housing know-how and nonprofit management expertise.
■ Update computer skills and accreditation by taking classes through local industry organizations or asking library to order prep materials.
■ Emphasize longtime track record of accomplishments in an industry that values experience and proficiency.
■ Volunteer to be a mentor or subcommittee member, which may lead to valuable connections in the field. If no mentor program exists, consider starting a program at a local school.
■ Network with architects, engineers, manufacturer representatives, and others who might have job leads.
■ After a rejection, learn from the experience and realize that no one bats 1.000 in the working world.