A career choice is usually a significant inflection point in a person’s life–a major life decision. It affects how much free time one is going to have, how they are going to dress, where they are going to live and how well they will be able to support their family. It’s a big deal. Thirty years ago, I decided to become a home inspector. I’m usually glad I did.
For me, and many others in my age group, the decision was based on a need to continue earning as my physical abilities began to wane. I was no longer able to do the kind of manual labor that had carried me through my youth.
With the encouragement of a couple close friends, the support of my family and the marketing efforts of a local trade school, I recognized the opportunity to leverage my construction background into a consulting career.
I should never have performed my very first inspection. I was poorly prepared and did not understand either the what, the why or the how. A friend recommended me to his favorite aunt who was moving into the neighborhood. I think he thought he was doing us both a favor. I got an opportunity to take a step along my career path and she got an inspection from someone she could trust. I may or may not have been worthy of the trust, but integrity does not beget competence.
So how does one make this move?
It starts with training. No longer are the majority of professionals entering the field experienced construction workers. Training programs have evolved to the point that a young person with a willingness to learn can replace some of the knowledge that comes with experience with formal classroom education. The wisdom of experience, however, still comes only with time, opportunity and thoughtful reflection. But yes, if your focus right now is on getting started, it’s time to look for a school. Here’s mine. There are others. I’ll let them do their own marketing.
Classroom training does not do it all. You’re going to need some experience. If you have a friend who can help you with this, you are way ahead. If not, you’re going to need to find someone or some people who are willing to allow you to shadow them in the field. This can be a challenge. A good place to go looking for a mentor or mentors is a local professional association meeting. Introduce yourself.
This is often awkward. Some of us have the gift–they can walk into a room, take command and, without offending anyone, let everyone know that they are the person everyone wants to know. For the rest of us, we need to take it a step at a time.
Look for the opportunity. At a well-run meeting visitors are often invited to introduce themselves. Stand up and take a bow. Be memorable, but not overpowering. A little humor is good. A comedy act is not. You and I know that your reason for being there is to find a mentor–someone who will allow you into their professional space. They probably know it too. If you cut directly to the chase, they are going to see you just like all the other wannabees.
Join a conversation. Offer to be helpful. Listen more than you talk. Silence is a good thing in this situation.
At some point you are going to reach that major turning point–where are you going? Are you looking for a job, or a career? Are you going to be an employee or an entrepreneur? Do you want to build a business of your own, or do you want to work for someone who is? If you’re looking for a job, then go look. You can stop reading this article here. Just hire on somewhere and follow their lead. Your new employer should be able to provide the guidance you need to move forward.
If you have a little entrepreneurial spirit, read on.
You need liability insurance. It is irresponsible to operate a business without it. It is required by many state license laws. So, go get it. It’s not expensive. Don’t settle for the minimum required by law. Think about what your potential liability might be. If you make a mistake (or are accused of making a mistake) in a million dollar occupied home, what are the possibilities?
Does your state require licensing? If so, become familiar with those requirements.
There may be a training requirement. Be sure that the program you choose is compliant before you make that investment.
There may be an experience requirement. Make sure that your mentor is qualified to sign off, if necessary.
Other state requirements often include a high school diploma or equivalency and/or a clean criminal record. If you have a misdemeanor in your past, you may be okay. A felony may be a show stopper.
I stated above that I made a decision to become a home inspector thirty years ago. I have twenty-five years of inspection experience. That’s right–it took me five years from decision to career launch. I don’t know if that is an unusual amount of time. What I do know is that changing careers is different from changing jobs. It takes time, effort, commitment and more than a little courage. There is nothing as comfortable as the familiar and nothing as uncertain as an uncertain future. Reality is that some people are not cut out for this line of work. Are you?