by Tom Melander

Yes, you can teach old dogs new tricks.

One of the hazards of counseling others on career development is that, occasionally, you have to justify your own twisted career path. On the surface I’ve had three very different careers: nine years in sales, 13 years as a singer and actor, and most recently three years in workforce and career development. But I’ve never felt like I had to reinvent myself to find work. Why? Because in each of these fields I’ve found ways to apply the same three basic skills to a new work environment. I’ve taught my old dogs new tricks.


Most of us prepare for a career by gaining job-specific skills. We get the right education, training, and experience to help us qualify for a particular job. But once we are in that job, we don’t spend much time thinking about how to shape our career path to fit our particular strengths.  And we do this by working on our foundational skills (the old dogs) that make us effective in whatever we do.


My old dogs are reading, writing, and reaching out.  Here’s how I train them:


  • I read something challenging every day. It doesn’t need to be about business or work, it just needs to hold my attention and force me think. One of my favorite nightstand books has margin notes from 1995. I’m still learning from the same collection of essays that challenged and inspired me 15 years ago. Reading a wide range of topics keeps your mind sharp and your thinking flexible.


  • I write something every day. Being able to express a complex thought or idea in writing is a skill that employers value, and it’s a skill that can always be improved. I’ve kept a journal since high school. Last weekend, when I had to rescue my earliest journals from floodwaters (caused by a collapsed aquarium) I had the chance to re-read my earliest attempts at essay writing. They were really bad. The experience showed me that writing is a skill that improves with practice.


  • I talk to someone every day. I don’t let a day go by without some kind of meaningful conversation. It doesn’t matter whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, we all need people.  And more importantly, people need us. Tuning in to the needs of another person helps to create the positive feelings needed to get things done.


With well-developed foundational skills, you see, there is no need to reinvent yourself to find work. You just need to apply yourself in a new environment. Looking to find that new environment? Online career planning resources can help. Here’s an interesting new web resource I’ve just tried: my Skills my Future. This national tool helps you find new jobs that use skills similar to your previous jobs, find training to fill in any skill gaps, and apply for jobs in your new chosen field.