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Career Change: From Suits & Sales to Boots & Rails

Peter Humleker had it made. As the general manager of a successful car dealership, he was earning an impressive income. The only problem? He hated what he was doing.

"I was making a living off of manipulating and misleading people, taking advantage of them with ugly games and lies," Peter said. "It's how I was taught to make sales, and I was very good at it."

Eventually, his feelings of success were overcome by feelings of remorse.

"I had to get out of that business," he said. "No paycheck amount is worth the guilt, lies and not being able to look at myself in the mirror."

So at the age of 40 and with a family to support, Peter made one of the scariest--and best--decisions of his life: he quit his job and began searching for a new career.

"I was sick and tired of sales," he said. "But I wanted to get a job where my success was mostly dependant on my own performance. My other main requirements for a new career were that it pay at least $60,000 per year (with the opportunity to make even more) and offer a good retirement program. I don't have a college education, so this limited some possibilities for me.

"My first choice was to find a government job because I spent four years in the Marine Corps and that time could have gone towards a government retirement. However, the jobs I was interested in were not available to me because I was over the age limit. The ones that were available were good jobs, but the pay structure was too low for my particular needs," he said.

Some of the other options Peter investigated were the Merchant Marines, the oil field industry, law enforcement, the fire department, and the railroad.

"I did my research," he said. "And I spoke with people in each of these fields to find out firsthand about their job duties, pay, benefits, etc. In the end, I decided to go for a career with the railroad. The pay is very good, the benefits and retirement plan are excellent. And if I decide to go into management later on, the possibility is there."

Selecting a new career field wasn't easy, but the hardest part was yet to come.

"Once I decided on the railroad industry, I went to an open interview and there were at least 90 other applicants there, but only seven positions available. I did not get hired, and knew I needed to do something that would give me an edge over the other applicants next time I interviewed for a job with the railroad," he said.

"So I did two things: I went to a trade school for six weeks that specialized in training conductors for the railroad, and I practiced interview preparation techniques that I read about in 'The Job Interview Success System'."

At his next interview, Peter was confident. "No matter what question they asked, I turned it into a positive," he said. "For example, when they asked, 'How would being away from home affect you and your family?' I replied, 'That would work out to my advantage, because I'm going to school (via correspondence/internet) to get my Associate's Degree in Railroad Technology, and I'd spend that time away from my family doing my homework on my laptop."

Peter aced the interview, got the job and began his new career. "I am now a freight conductor, and my job is to make sure the train's cargo gets safely to the desired destination. I perform inspections of the train, and if something goes wrong, such as an air hose breaking, then I'm the one who fixes or replaces it. I also switch, drop off or pick up rail cars," he said.

Those duties have nothing in common with his former suit-and-tie job of hustling customers and selling cars.

"I like the fact that it's 100% blue collar," Peter said. "I now go to work in jeans and steel-toed boots. I love that I start each day with a specific job to do, and when it's accomplished, the job is over. I don't have to rip people off to earn my pay, and I no longer 'take the job home with me' and feel miserable about myself, like I used to in the past."

Another perk is that in about one year, Peter will have the opportunity to go to school for locomotive engineer training and get promoted--all paid for by the company! Is Peter happy with his new life? You bet!

"Life is short," he said. "Do what makes you happy. If you're in a dead-end career or working in a job you hate, then ask yourself what you would rather be doing. Of course not every job is going to make us totally happy, but at least do something that is going to give you more self-fulfillment. I'm earning less money, but I'm much happier doing what I am doing now than what I was doing before.

"The bottom line is you gotta get up every morning and look at yourself in the mirror. When you do that, do you like what you see? If not, then make a change! I promise you won't regret it."

Bonnie Lowe is author of the popular Job Interview Success System and free information-packed ezine, "Career-Life Times." Find those and other powerful career-building resources and tips at her website:

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