Every April it’s the same: Tax manager John Juricek ends up a casualty of the income tax season. The 100-plus-hour workweeks, ratcheting stress, demanding clients and more than 300 tax returns he prepares take their toll on the 39-year-old West Hollywood resident.
“My back goes out, my ulcer gets worse, and I’m a nervous wreck. I’m not a pretty sight,” he says.
Juricek, a former Fulbright scholar who holds a master’s degree in international affairs, hadn’t intended to specialize in taxation. He’d considered becoming a university instructor, or working in international human resources, helping employees relocate overseas. But because he showed an aptitude for tax work and was rewarded by employers with promotions and raises, he finds himself today at a Big Five accounting firm, earning about $70,000 a year--and ruing the slew of tax filings he’ll be handling in the next few months.
“I realize that job-changing gets harder as you get older, and you can’t afford to make too many mistakes,” he says. “But I feel a strong urge to be creative, and there’s not much you can do with a tax form.”
Juricek sought the advice of career coach Richard Koonce, who interviewed Juricek about his skills, aptitudes and interests. A profile emerged: Juricek loved researching, analyzing, planning and organizing materials. He was talented at those tasks. But Juricek didn’t like dealing with difficult clients; he’d be happier working behind the scenes with a corporate team.
“I don’t enjoy the ‘Yes, ma’am,’ ‘No, ma’am,’ ‘Please pay the bill’ that goes with working at professional-service firms,” Juricek says.
Juricek’s goal is to find a vocation more in alignment with his passions, says Koonce. The career coach had Juricek write a detailed summary of his accomplishments, educational training, technology skills and job responsibilities. Together, they reviewed Juricek’s job history. They came up with three possibilities for Juricek: think-tank research, writing an online personal finance column and library or information science,
They also came up with a plan to get Juricek started.
1. Make time to explore. How could Juricek investigate these disciplines while putting in killer hours on the job? Koonce suggested that Juricek ask his supervisors if he could cut back on his hours and reduce his tax preparation work.
“We’re seeing more instances of companies trying to accommodate valuable workers,” Koonce says.
If Juricek opted for a sabbatical, might potential employers negatively interpret his “between job” status?
Probably not, Koonce says. Many employers understand that a growing number of mid-lifers are taking “intermissions” to plan their next career moves, he says. It shows conscientious goal evaluation, he adds.
2. Proactively handle interview concerns. Juricek, who stutters, mentioned to Koonce that his speech difficulties “might be a hindrance at the start of informational interviews, but hasn’t stopped me in the past.”
Interviews tend to be the toughest speaking situations for people who stutter, says Jane Fraser, president of the Stuttering Foundation of America in Washington. First-time telephone conversations also can be daunting.
To put themselves and listeners at ease, people who stutter should mention their speech difficulty at the start of a conversation, says Charles Diggs, director of consumer advocacy at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Assn. in Rockville, Md. If listeners still seem uncomfortable, people who stutter should ask them to voice any questions or concerns, so they can be addressed.
Juricek’s confidence, track record and recommendations from employers should enable him to make a strong presentation to potential employers, speech experts say.
3. Create “target resumes” for each vocation. Koonce notes that, although Juricek’s one-page resume “shows great dedication and commitment,” it lacks an objective.
“That’s because I don’t have one yet,” Juricek says with a chuckle.
Because that important element is missing, the resume doesn’t show how Juricek has demonstrated competency in one general goal, says Yana Parker, author of “The Damn Good Resume Guide: A Crash Course in Resume Writing.” Parker complimented Juricek’s one-page resume for its brevity and easy-to-read format. But she suggested that he create individual resumes for each profession he pursues. Each resume’s objective should complement the vocation’s demands. He also should list his accomplishments “as bulleted one-liners” to keep readers’ attention, Parker says.
4. Consider grad school for think-tank work. Prestigious think tanks such as Rand in Santa Monica and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University typically require PhDs of their research fellows, who investigate and publish papers on subjects such as economics, international relations, health care, labor and technological advances.
“If you thrive on big ideas and interesting world developments, this is the place to be,” says Michele Horaney, manager of public affairs at the Hoover Institution.
Should Juricek want to join either organization, he’d need to return to grad school. But were he interested in applying to the Washington-based Cato Institute, he’d be considered without a PhD.
“We’re anti-credentialist,” says David Boaz, executive vice president of the libertarian Cato. “We’re looking for persons versed in public policy issues, like taxes and education, who are committed to the values of the free market and to expanding the scope of individual freedoms. They’ve got to be strong writers too.”
Boaz mentions that, surprisingly, he receives lots of “bad cover letters” from job seekers who claim to be research mavens. Some show a lack of familiarity with the institute and its functions.
Others are poorly composed. “They’ve got typos,” he says. “And my view is that I don’t believe you’ll be as careful with my work as you’ll be with your own job application.”
Compensation for research fellows at think tanks is roughly on par with academic salaries, says Horaney. Public policy directors earn about $40,000 to $70,000, Boaz says.
5. For financial writing, build a portfolio. Juricek may be able to break into personal finance writing by following Newport Beach-based Tom Taulli’s lead. Taulli, a “virtual financial columnist” who’s written for MSN Investor, Bloomberg Personal Finance, Forbes.com and CBS MarketWatch, erected a Web site several years ago on which he posted articles he wrote about IPOs. The entrepreneur’s savvy observations drew attention--and solicitations to write articles for high-profile online publications.
“There’s really a shortage of good personal finance writers,” says Neal Cortell, executive producer-director of the New York-based television show “Money Talks.” “It’s a great area for people who want to pursue a journalism career because there are so many opportunities right now.”
Taulli suggests that Juricek consider launching a Web site where he can post his own writings. He also could query online publications for whom he’d like to write. Typically, they pay about 30 cents to $1 a word for stories. Full-time positions are available, too, says Beth Kwon, a TheStreet.com reporter, who formerly wrote for Newsweek. Pay is comparable to print journalism--about $30,000 to $75,000 annually--but there’s an exciting difference. Many online firms offer stock options that can prove quite lucrative down the road.
6. Prove your researching genius for a job in information sciences. The advent of the Information Age has spawned a legion of new jobs that didn’t exist even five years ago. With titles such as “information research specialist,” “data liaison officer” and “Internet services coordinator,” these positions typically pay between $50,000 and $80,000 a year and are defined by the needs of the organizations that create them.
The jobs may involve updating employees on industry developments, maintaining Internet and intranet sites and even publishing electronic newsletters, says Karen Melville, author of “The Information Professional’s Job Search Guide,” a Canadian reference work.
Who’s snaring the jobs? Researchers, ex-librarians (“cybrarians”), MBAs and marketing specialists, among others, who can navigate the nearly 300 million Web sites now online and extract, organize and interpret information from databases such as Lexis-Nexis, Dialog and Dow Jones.
One sub-specialty, competitive intelligence (CI), is gaining attention from the business world. CI specialists gather information about corporations’ “three Ps"--products, practices and prices--to help employers develop cutting-edge business strategies. They track patents to discover emerging new technologies, investigate product rumors, size up new rivals and find out why employees might defect to a competitor.
Although many companies request that CI candidates have an MBA or MLS (master’s in library science), many do hire applicants without these degrees if they have demonstrated know-how at previous jobs.
“It’s really an Information Age profession, where education is a formality,” says Stephen H. Miller, editor of Competitive Intelligence magazine. “They’re looking for someone who’s curious, who has the ability to research and analyze data.”
Already, nearly 82% of firms with annual revenues of more than $10 billion engage in CI-gathering. The jobs pay well--an average of $69,000 in 1997, according to a Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals survey. Vice presidents of CI divisions averaged $100,000.
Juricek says he’s entertaining thoughts of returning to school to get an MLS. He could use the degree to buttress his research skills and increase his marketability. He could even seek work as a newspaper research librarian or freelance as a professional “data miner"--a researcher-for-hire who can charge $125 an hour or more for his services.
Right now, anything’s possible. But as tax time draws near, Juricek realizes he better start his personal research if he’s to avoid his annual deluge of paperwork.
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Making Sure the Good Impression Lasts
You’ve just wowed a potential employer during a job interview. But how do you keep the hirer interested once you’ve said goodbye?
Yana Parker, author of “The Damn Good Resume Guide: A Crash Course in Resume Writing” (third edition, Ten Speed Press, 1996), suggests the following:
1. Immediately write a thank-you letter. Mail it that evening, to ensure that it will arrive within the next day or two. In your letter’s first paragraph, thank your interviewer again for the meeting. Offer some positive impressions of the company. In the second paragraph, give new reasons why you’re suited for the job and how you would benefit the employer. In the last paragraph, say you would be happy to come in again for further discussions if the employer wishes. Then say that you’re looking forward to hearing from the company soon.
2. If you do not hear from the interviewer in seven to 14 days, write a follow-up letter. In it, say that you’re still interested in the company’s opportunities and that you believe you can contribute to it as an employee. Close by saying you would like to hear from the company representative soon.
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Ready for a Change
* Name: John Juricek
* Occupation: Tax manager
* Desired occupation: Uncertain
* Quote: “I’ve gotten myself out on an occupational limb, and it’s starting to crack.”
* Counselor’s recommendation: Take about six months to explore information sciences, personal finance writing and think-tank work.
Meet the Coach
Richard Koonce is a Virginia-based career coach and author of “Career Power! 12 Winning Habits to Get You From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be” (Amacom, 1994).