Tony Compton has an unusual perspective on downsizing. "Of the 80 people who were laid off from my company in December 2009," he said, "I may have been the only one who had sort of a smile on his face. I knew this was my chance."

Compton had been working in accounting for eight years -- long enough to know "I didn't have a passion for it. I was feeling a little trapped." With a severance package and some career counseling -- and, most important, a wife who supported his decision -- Compton resolved to change careers. "They tell you it will take two years to change careers," he said. "It took me one year and two months."

Discovering that he was eligible for a federal Dislocated Worker program, he went to a Minnesota Workforce Center. There he connected with Brian Torkkola, a senior employment counselor at HIRED, a nonprofit that provides job skills and employment training. "Brian provided counseling," Compton said. "I got classes in LinkedIn for networking. He helped me rework my résumé." HIRED also found funding for web and graphic design course work through Normandale Community College. "I have two kids, a house, health care. There was no money for classes," Compton said. At the end of his course work, he had both a certificate and a portfolio.

Compton also attended the job transition group at St. Andrew Church in Eden Prairie. He mentioned his recently earned certificate in a 30-second "elevator speech." A couple of other attendees said, "Hey, we're going to a nonprofit to volunteer. Do you want to come along?"

"I thought, 'Why not?'" Compton said, seeing an opportunity to add to his portfolio. The nonprofit was 360 Communities, which offers more than 50 programs, from food shelves to prevention of domestic violence. Compton pitched in to help with everything from web design to creating spreadsheets -- an expertise learned through years of accounting. "They haven't gotten rid of me since," he said. The director of communications fought to get him into a part-time paid position, and when she moved on to another organization, he moved into full-time work.

After a year in the new job, Compton says, "It's everything I wanted before I knew what I wanted. It makes use of every skill I've ever developed, including jobs I didn't like. 360 Communities is special. I've never worked at a place where you see the good side of human beings on a daily basis."

Did you get into your new career through luck or hard work?

Both. You place yourself where luck can happen. I put in a lot of work. I was lucky I had skills to build on. I feel very fortunate -- I know how many people are out there still. These are people who really want to work. It's not fair.

What was the hardest part?

I'm not very good at networking. I'm introverted. It's really true -- you've got to get yourself out there.

Were you ever tempted to give up and go back to accounting?

This was my do-over. I was going to do this right. I did a competent job in accounting, but I wasn't passionate. I want to come home and talk to my kids about what I do.

How do you keep going through a long period of unemployment?

Every day I tried to have one thing that took me a step forward. Sometimes it gets depressing. I would think, "Is this helping?" But the last trip to the transition group is what got me the job.