Interested in everything, experienced in nothing. What to choose?
December 30, 2011 1:33 PM   Subscribe

Interested in many things, experienced in none. I want to change my career, but how do I figure out which way to go?

I've been working in the same field for five years, and I'd really like to get out of it soon. However, I have no idea what to do. Or, rather, I have several ideas: I want to work in a veterinary office! Or be a copy editor! Or a yoga instructor! Or a makeup artist! Maybe I should go back to school and become an architect! Or a dermatologist! And in my spare time I'll write and open an Etsy business! Would I like dentistry? Could I do something with plants? And so on.

Some of my ideas are more far-fetched than others, but they all have one thing in common: they're not remotely related to what I do right now. I'm used to getting work based on my previous experience, so I have no idea how to present myself when going for something different, especially when most employers are looking for candidates with some experience.

I also don't have one clear thing that I want to do above all else. I've never had one burning passion. There are some things I'm more interested in, particularly writing and illustration, but what if, say, I liked being a pharmacist?

I don't have a ton of specialized transferable skills (and besides, I don't want to do what I'm doing now), but I have some general skills such as customer service, a good eye for detail, etc. I have a little bit of writing experience and I've done a tiny bit of graphic design in my current job - not enough to present myself as a writer or designer, but those are certainly things I'm interested in.

Taking classes would help me, I know, but I'd like to have a better idea of what I want to do before I invest time and money in any sort of training or education. If there was one thing I knew I absolutely wanted to pursue, it'd be easier for me to work on gaining the experience I need.

How do I figure out which direction to go? Can I apply for everything, or do I need to start narrowing things down? Can I present myself as a strong candidate anywhere with only tangentially related experience?
posted by Metroid Baby to Work & Money (9 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
What don't you like about what you're doing now? That might give you a place to start.
posted by desjardins at 1:40 PM on December 30, 2011

With a little customer service experience it should not be hard to get a job as a receptionist or client service specialist in a veterinary hospital. It's what I did. If there is a 24-hour emergency facility near you and you are willing to take on a night shift you can probably get a part-time gig that works well with your day job, so you can see if you like the experience. If you want more info about what it can be like working as non-medical staff in the veterinary field, please MeMail me.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:42 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Don't be a copy editor. A lot of us have been laid off in the past couple of years.
posted by maurreen at 1:47 PM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

It might help to think about the qualities of things you do want to do, and the qualities of what you don't like about you currently do--like the general qualities, as opposed to the specific task. Like if you're thinking you'd like to be a manicurist, you might be thinking that flexible hours are important to you. Or talking to people.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:36 PM on December 30, 2011

You've probably read this previous question, but in case you haven't, I highly recommend this great comment by Nattie on specialization vs generalization.
posted by pupstocks at 3:39 PM on December 30, 2011

From reading your other questions, I get the sense that you think that there's some magic perfect job out there, waiting with your name on it. Even the most interesting job in the world has a downside. All jobs--no matter how glam sounding--have their tedious parts. Anna Wintour, Kate Winslet, John Lasseter--no matter how cool their career or job--has moments of tedium, hours of tooth-grinding boredom, even whole days of dullness.

I think you might try a placement/career counseling sort of test, while keeping your strengths in mind. Writing is fine, but writing quickly, concisely, and hitting a deadline is a more valuable skill, at least in the marketplace. List your achievements.

Do you have a good eye for color, proportion and shading? A makeup artist for film has to have a different eye that the chick in the smock at Sephora.

In this economy, being chipper and eager is nice, but someone with directly related experience who also has good social skills will get the gig. You probably have skills you haven't really considered to be useful. Start listing your strengths and weaknesses.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:58 PM on December 30, 2011

if you do like something like dermatology, pharmacy, or dentistry, you won't be able to just go out there and get a job in those fields. They all take years of (difficult) studying and training. Doing yoga instructing or makeup artistry take some training, but not nearly as long, expensive, or difficult. I think regardless of what you're considering, you ought to try shadowing a person who does it for a couple of days. This is a good way to figure out what they really spend the day doing and whether you'd like it, versus what you imagine they spend the day doing.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:20 PM on December 30, 2011

Response by poster: From reading your other questions, I get the sense that you think that there's some magic perfect job out there, waiting with your name on it.

Oof. I'll admit to this, even though I know there's no actual magical dream job, and I won't get any halfway-decent jobs without hard work and focus. I've never really had any sense of direction, job-wise, so I've always been hesitant to pursue something wholeheartedly, because what if I pick wrong? The flip side of this question is that, in the back of my mind, I suspect and fear that there is actually nothing I will enjoy or be good at, that I will only ever be qualified for work I don't really like.

In a very general sense, I like problem-solving, creating things, the opportunity to work both autonomously and collaboratively, and being able to leave my work at the office. I dislike strict dress codes, being on-call, repetitive work, and being the lowest guy on the totem pole (although I don't like managing people, either).

I like the idea of working client service in a veterinary hospital. I'm friends with someone who works at a vet office and I'll ask her about what she does.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:54 AM on December 31, 2011

A lot of jobs are not obvious. Crane operator, working at a medical lab, packaging designer. Go get some vocational testing. I've had a bunch of pretty different jobs, and one thing I've learned is that it's very pleasant to make enough money to do what you want evenings and weekends, esp. if the day job is okay. This is more likely in jobs that are less obvious. Working in a vet's office - very appealing, low pay, lots of competition for jobs, because lots of people love animals.

Larger enterprises offer the ability to move laterally and try different things. Working someplace where the extra benefits are good, like a university with free courses if you want more education, is also a good plan.

You can probably pick up extra cash by walking dogs and/or pet-sitting. Cash + time with pets = yay.
posted by theora55 at 4:33 PM on December 31, 2011

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