For the last 12 years UWM graduate Pat Delmenhorst (MS, Educational Psychology, '98) has helped mature workers and displaced homemakers find career success through job placement, career planning and counseling and other programs. But as the Director of Employment Services at Interfaith Older Adult Services for over a decade, Pat is not only an expert at mid-life career change, she is a living example of it. A self-described "proud mid-life career changer," Pat went from a degree in Business Management and human resources work at GE in Kentucky to marriage, a move to Milwaukee and an 18-year career hiatus to raise her children. When she went back to school 21 years after earning her Bachelor's degree to become a career counselor, it was to combine her business background with her personality, which led her to listen to people's problems and want to help. Just as of this month, Pat is undergoing yet another career change: to a role working on a Seasonal Workforce Coordination Grant linking seasonal workers to year round employment. In my conversation with Pat, we talked about the importance of knowing what you want to do and the excitement of embracing the new.
1. After taking an 18-year career hiatus to raise your children, what made you decide to build a career outside the home again? What or who made a difference in giving you the confidence to come back? There came a time when I realized that I had done my job as parent and had the desire to start a new career. I wanted to use my prior work experience and education but in a new way. I had great encouragers—my husband, my kids, and my friends. My professors at UWM, especially Dr. Scott Solberg and my field work supervisors, provided a great deal of encouragement.
2. What about career counseling appealed to you? What made you decide on that path? As I analyzed what I liked doing in my previous jobs, I decided that being a career counselor would allow me to use my prior business background and tap into my desire to advise and assist others.
3. You talked about the importance of knowing what you want to do and basing your educational and experiential steps on your goals. How did you discover what you wanted to do? What advice do you give to job seekers who aren't sure what they really want to do? I had the luxury of a doing a lot of self-analyses while being a stay at home mom. I often made up lists of things I liked to do, and what I didn't like to do. I did a lot of informational interviewing with individuals that worked in the counseling field. Finally, I visited several local colleges and spoke with admission advisors. Once I made my decision, I stayed focused on reaching my goal. This made my job search very easy and focused. My advice to job seekers is to not take a detour once you have chosen your path. If you go in too many directions, you become unfocused. It also makes the entire job search process very difficult because you have to continually make contacts in new fields, and revise resumes and cover letters for the different jobs. Finally, it makes it more difficult to sell yourself because you are not sure of what you really want – an employer can usually pick up on your uncertainty.
4. You talked about learning the unexpected after taking on the role at Interfaith—that you were more suited to managing programs, managing people, writing grants—than to working one-on-one with clients in career counseling. How did you use that discovery to your advantage? As I took over the duties of my current position more than 12 years ago, I found out that my skills were better utilized in the business end of helping others rather than direct counseling. I also realized I could still help others by writing grants, managing staff and developing new programs. I firmly believe that I would not have gotten my current position with Interfaith without my UWM degree in Community Counseling. The degree and the field work assignments opened the door to non-profit employment and a very gratifying career.
5. What are some common mistakes you have seen job seekers make in your work as Director of Employment Services at Interfaith? Places where they get stuck? I believe the biggest mistake job seekers make is doing too little networking and relying too much on internet job postings. The goal should be to find the job before it is ever posted in order to eliminate the competition. Another mistake is that a job seeker wants to use the same resume and cover letter instead of customizing it for each job they are applying for. I advise people to make up a master resume that includes as much information as they can remember. Then, use information from this master resume to cut and paste as needed for the job being posted. I also believe that people get stuck after they have received a rejection. It is important to remember that you were not the only person rejected for the job. Stay positive by remembering how close you were to getting the job. Analyze where you are stuck. If you are sending out lots of resumes for positions you know you are qualified for and getting no response, have a professional look at your resume. If you are getting interviews, but not closing the deal, have someone critique your interviewing skills.
6. Are there fields in which age is an asset? What are they? I very clearly remembering asking Professor Marty Sapp, an advisor at UWM Ed Psych Department whether my age (50 at the time) would make it difficult for me to get a job when I graduated. He almost laughed; he said my age would be a great advantage. He said life experiences are very important in being a good counselor. Jobs in management, customer service, non-profits, health care and financial services are generally very friendly to mature workers.
7. Tell me about your new role working with the Seasonal Workforce Coordination Grant. I am very excited to start a new job with Interfaith. Through a grant that I wrote to United Way, I will be responsible for developing a coalition of employers and community-based organizations. The coalition's purpose will be to find ways for employers to share workers across the calendar year. I'll be working with Jobing.com to develop a website that will list a calendar of seasonal hiring. Seasonal employment is often a stepping stone to permanent jobs and it also an important source of income for students, older workers, parents with children, and individuals needing to rebuild their resume. I am excited to be working with United Way and an outstanding group of employers that include BUYSEASONS, UPS, Marcus Corporation, and Design Specialties.
10. What do you enjoy most about your career or current job? Knowing that I am contributing to helping others have a better chance at life is probably the most gratifying. The most fun part of my job is thinking of new ways to do things. I recently took a Lean Primer class and came away so excited about streamlining our work processes. Finally, working with great co-workers at Interfaith makes each day happy for me.
11. If you could describe your career in five words, what would they be? Productive. Enthusiastic. Energetic. Guiding. Collaborative.
12. What advice would you give an alum contemplating mid-life career change or returning to the workforce after a long time out? Don't let age be a factor in your decision, especially in regards to returning to school as a way to make a career shift. Attending school in mid-life is a wonderful experience. You will be viewed as a mentor, and your life experience will add a whole new view to what you are learning.
13. What is your dream job? Post retirement, I have a dream of opening a coffee shop for networking – come in for a cup of coffee, and network with other job seekers. 15. Do you stay connected to UWM? How has being an alumna of UWM been important to your career? Currently I am on the advisory Board for the Career Transition Center in the School of Continuing Education. I am also an avid basketball fan and follow the Panthers. I enjoy taking classes through the School of Continuing Education, and I have great friends that work at UWM.