careerFilter: ... Another fallen engineer! How do I begin to choose a new career / field completely different from what I do now?
April 9, 2012 11:44 AM   Subscribe

How do I begin to choose a new career / field completely different from what I do now? I'd like to do is go back to university and get a masters in a new field. I've thought of several options (i.e. materials engineer, public policy, law) but I don't know how to choose and by looking around the internet they all seem like they could be interesting but how do i know i'd like it for the next 30yrs?? On top of spending at least 2yrs of my life back in school studying, I don't want to end up hating it like my current career.

I graduated as an electrical engineer about 7yrs ago and cannot imagine doing the same thing for another 30yrs (btw, I'm canadian and 30yrs old so i'd assume i'd be in the workforce for a while yet).
I know a lot of people go do an MBA but to me it seems very saturated and costly >$100k and i'm not 100% sure i'm into it.

I know similar questions has been asked a few times here at metafilter but in my searching the askers seem to know what to go into next and simply ask if they should or not.
I've seen a career counsellor but he wasn't super helpful and just gave me some ideas and told me to leverage my undergrad degree since I spent 4yr getting it.

Please wise and might mefites, anyone has any advice for some a hopfully soon to be former-engineer?

posted by pytar gucchy to Work & Money (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It might make your decision-making easier if you write off law immediately. If you read forums like JDUnderground, you'll find the sad stories of many ex-engineers who wish they hadn't abandoned their lucrative earlier careers to become crippled by debt in the calamitous 21st century legal job sector.
posted by steinsaltz at 11:48 AM on April 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

What do you Dislike about your current field? Are there aspects that you Do like? Start from there to think about the tasks you'd like to be doing every day for the next ~30 years.

FWIW, I had a grandfather who went from being an electrical engineer to sales to management -- and liked his job more with each switch. So you could switch to something very different that still requires smarts, and be much happier.
posted by ldthomps at 12:13 PM on April 9, 2012

Best answer: You definitely want to figure out what you don't like about your current career. Is it the work? Is it the environment you find yourself in? (Sometimes, people think they hate their careers when in fact they hate their bosses or workplaces. A toxic boss or work environment can sometimes make you feel like you need to change careers, when in fact you just need to get out of the toxic soup.)

Assuming it's not a toxic boss/workplace issue, after figuring out why you don't like your current career, it's time to sit down and figure out what you DO want in a career. Do you want to work with people? Do you want to solve problems? Do you like working alone?

I'm in the US so I've used this website: Career One Stop to find out more about job titles, descriptions and duties. You would want a more Canada-specific source, but the idea is the same. Find out what careers have the things you want - do you work with people, or alone? Does the work pay well? Would you have to relocate? Is it massively overcrowded (like law is) or is there room for newcomers? If you're thirty, that's plenty of time to start over in a new career but you will want to know if your chosen career is heavily dues-paying or eats its young (thirtysomethings often don't want to put in the grinding hours for low pay that twentysomethings will put up with).

After you've figured out which fields have working conditions, salaries, etc. that you want, then go from there. Can you transfer any of your current skills? Will you have to get a whole new degree, or will a certificate or short training course do? There are ways to leverage yourself into a new career short of a degree. Of course if you need a degree, that's fine. But don't think you HAVE to have one when you might not.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:26 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Adding a bit more to that ldthomps says, engineering actually opens up some interesting doors - I also know many colleagues who have gone into sales when they started as an electrical engineer, and many many others (including myself) who have gone into project management. An engineering degree is actually quite a powerful degree that employers of all types respect.

I bet you can think of 10 reasons why your current career sucks, but are there any things that you enjoy about it? Think about those things, and then focus on doing more of those things in your current position or look for another engineering position that has more focus on those things. By doing this you can potentially "leverage your undergrad degree" and your experience to then bend your path towards another career instead of abandoning the path you've already put 11 years into.
posted by ajackson at 12:28 PM on April 9, 2012

Best answer: An engineering degree is a good foundation for problem solving. I have never worked formally as an Industrial Engineer but spent my time in design studios, advertising agencies, marketing departments of Fortune 50, universities - in admin/staff as well as research, and now, independent consulting for companies entering a very specific consumer segment.

Start by what others have already said... what is it you don't like, what parts of your work you do like and then use your skills to cluster fields into similar patterns - for eg. you like the people facing aspects of your job or you hate the sitting at the computer all day parts etc
posted by infini at 12:45 PM on April 9, 2012

I met a lady last year with an engineering background who is a Patent attorney. She really loves it and says that they are in high demand because it requires knowledge of the field.

But, for your question of "how do I know what to choose", do you have a 4-yr university near you where you could take one or two of the undergrad senior-level classes in the fields you are thinking about pursuing? It would give you a better understanding of the topics you'd be exploring. Or, you could make appointments with the chairs of the departments you are possibly interested in at the school you would go to and talk with them about what you are thinking. They could give you advice on books or journals to take a look at to get a better idea of what those careers entail or might even have graduates of the program who could mentor you or you could talk with to get an idea of what it is like.
posted by jillithd at 1:38 PM on April 9, 2012

Not law school. Right now, the job market for lawyers has collapsed, while law school tuitions are very high -- it's a very bad economic bet, unless you go to a top ten law school.
posted by paultopia at 2:23 PM on April 9, 2012

Best answer: Call programs that interest you and tell them you'd like to speak to an alum with your sort of background. Odds are good that they'll know someone and hook you up with them.
posted by Etrigan at 2:41 PM on April 9, 2012

Response by poster: THANK YOU all for your very well written and thoughtful replies.

I do have a lawyer friend who, though now likes his current job, also does not recommend law.

As many of you have mentioned. I needed to know what I do and don't like about my current job. Starting at a screen and working in solitude is not for me apparently (though in our modern world of course many jobs are PC based). And my lawyer friend did mention that similar to engineering his previous law job was very much alone at the computer. Though I still like the idea of law perhaps that's where I should just leave it, as a nice idea.

@Rosie, great link, I'll have to browse that one and similar canadian ones more extensively. Though I have to say, it's hard to judge the job by the desciptions, even electrical engineering info/duties sounds interesting, haha, though I know better.

@infini, how were you able to get into all those position you've described, did you ever go back to school or did you apply to that marketing position and got the job. Clustering you likes/skills is a good suggestion now the hard part is to correlate them to jobs.

I think one of the most important things in a job is that it is meaningful and that you feel your making a difference. It might be hard finding one that actually does this in the end.

Looking forward, I think I'll have to take an inventory of myself, choose a few fields and call around and see what current students/alums think. And then see where I end up.

Thanks again everyone, AskMetafilter is a great resource full of intelligent and insightful people and I'm glad to participate on it!

posted by pytar gucchy at 8:59 PM on April 9, 2012

I have sent you a Memail, pytar gucchy
posted by infini at 1:36 AM on April 10, 2012

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