Coach? Therapist? Kick in the pants? What do I need?
May 11, 2012 10:25 AM   Subscribe

I want to change careers, and I’d feel a lot better about it if I could get some advice from a third party. What kind of a person should I be looking for? I’m an academic health sciences librarian right now and I’d like to stay in health information somehow - working for one of the publishers whose stuff I buy would be great, or maybe health IT - but I have no experience or credentials in the types of jobs I’m interested in, and I’m not sure whether I'm doing this right. Could a career coach help me?

I basically have two issues: one, I’m not sure exactly what I want to go into. For instance, I’m pretty sure I have the skills (and a lot of the knowledge) necessary to be a medical writer, but I don’t know how competitive of a field that is and whether it’s a realistic career path for me without a clinical or research degree. I do have other ideas of things I would be good at, but I'm not sure how to assess the relative viability of these options.

The other problem is that I don’t really know how to go about becoming a medical writer(or any of my other options). I have confidence in my abilities, but I don’t have a lot of concrete proof of those abilities. I don't know whether I should be applying for internship-type positions or full-time regular positions; on the one hand, if I qualify for regular work, I don't want to waste time (and money) on an internship, but on the other hand, if I'm going to have to do an internship at some point, I might as well go ahead and get on with it.

I’ve only applied for a few jobs at one or two companies so far, and I'm not sure how long I should stick with the “just applying for jobs that I seem somewhat qualified for” strategy. (I’m also coming from academia, where it’s completely normal for the hiring process to take months between the submission of your application and the interview, but I suspect that is not the case for my potential target industries.) I'm willing to take classes, but I do not want to do full-time degree work.

Is this the kind of thing a career coach can help with? How do you find a good career coach? Should I find a coach who knows the healthcare publishing/informatics industry? *Are* there coaches who specialize in the healthcare publishing/informatics industry? It may be unfair, but career coaches seem kind of vaguely scammy to me, sort of occupying the same space as MLM and diploma mills. And I'm really not interested in taking a bunch of Myers Briggs or aptitude tests. I'm looking for more practical advice - I would love to have someone to either reassure me on that I’m on the right track or suggest some redirection. I'm not looking for a calling - I'm looking for a challenging, interesting job with potential for growth.

FWIW, I’m a single 35-year-old woman, no kids - i.e. I'm able to be flexible but I don't want to spend a lot of time dicking around. I want to get out of academic librarianship because the job market is not very good, I think higher education is heading in weird/bad directions, and I've been frustrated by the lack of clear goals and tasks in the positions I've held so far. I'm wary of asking my coworkers/supervisors for advice because, you know, they think being a librarian is a good thing.

Book recommendations are also highly welcome, and if you want to do a little career coaching yourself in the comments, I won't turn it down.
posted by Sock Career-Puppet to Work & Money (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Some colleges and universities offer free career counseling to their alumni. I'd suggest starting there -- you could try both your undergrad and graduate level institutions.

"What Color is Your Parachute" is the classic book for people considering a career change.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:54 AM on May 11, 2012

I've changed careers a couple of times, and I've also done some interesting projects (writing television scripts). The key is talking to people and gathering information. Informational interviews. Networking. Cold calls. "What Color Is Your Parachute" helped me out when I was doing my first career change nearly ten years ago, moving from Japan back to Canada. I was a trained teacher with strong writing skills, and I had to figure out how to make ends meet in an environment where there was no need for teachers and an unlimited supply of writers.

Anyway, just asking people for advice is great, as long as you respect their time.

I can't recommend career counselors, because often they are not creative, and are often focused on getting you into a new job fast.

Since you have no idea what you want to do with your skills, but kind of know where you want to work, it may be worth it to approach a recruiter knowledgeable about the sector, or an HR manager.

Actually, the hiring manager - the person who needs your help - would be ideal, because, in my experience, recruiters and HR managers do not like to help people. It's not in their nature, and it's also a waste of their time - they need to find the right person for the job in order to maintain their reputation and their own jobs. They don't like to think creatively, because that would mean selling a complex, creative solution to their client, which is very difficult.

But HR managers and recruiters are people too, and they may be able to help you out.

Professional organizations are also great, too.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:22 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Check your memail.
posted by anonnymoose at 11:28 AM on May 11, 2012

Just a comment about Healthcare IT.

I work in Healthcare IT for a large medical laboratory. About half our recent hires have been people with an IT background but the other half are lab techs or other laboratory operational people, with no formal IT training. These are people who are good at using the devices and software related to their jobs and have an interest in moving into IT. Many managers prefer to hire the laboratory background people, as they seem to work out better and stick around longer than the pure IT people. You might want to do a job search listing the software and devices you use to see what healthcare IT jobs might be open. Also, don’t be intimidated if they have a long wish list of other technologies you don’t have any experience with, most managers would be thrilled to find someone with solid experience in just a few.
posted by TeknoKid at 11:39 AM on May 11, 2012

Good career counselors can be hugely helpful. Bad career counselors can be a waste of time.

The best career coach isn't going to be as helpful to you as a good career counselor, but a good career coach is better than a bad career counselor. So ask around.

And agree that informational interviews with HR folks and recruiters in your target field are an excellent idea.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:42 PM on May 11, 2012

Finding some people in your network that are doing the kinds of jobs you are interested in would be a good place to start. "Healthcare publishing/informatics" is not an industry - those are two very different fields with different requirements, qualifications and working environments.

As TeknoKid notes, IT departments in health care organizations are usually a mix of clinical people who are learning the IT stuff and IT people. Each have their positives and negatives, and a good department will have a mix of both.

So find some people who work in health IT or informatics (they aren't exactly the same thing, but they are typically lumped together in all but the biggest organizations) or in publishing and ask about their jobs. Without some real information about their working environments and what it takes to get hired, you're basically grasping at straws.
posted by jeoc at 3:43 PM on May 11, 2012

I work in clinical research, in industry now but formerly in academia. I think you would have a hard time getting a medical writer job in industry. You would need experience with clinical trials, particularly writing protocols. But I think your background could make you competitive as a candidate for a medical writer in academia. I would look for jobs listed at med schools or teaching hospitals. Physicians that are in research and are publishing always need someone who can assist in lit reviews for grants and papers.
posted by sulaine at 4:15 PM on May 11, 2012

I should add - I think I my network is on the weak side. Historically, I have done a really crappy job of keeping up with old coworkers/classmates; I've gotten better at this as I go along, but I can really only think of one person who's *sort of* in one of the sorts of fields I'm interested in. I have some current coworkers who are in informatics, but... they're current coworkers, and I don't want to show my hand before I have some idea of what I'd be getting into with a career change. So, yeah, I'm grasping at straws. Which is why I'm turning to strangers on the internet. Maybe I just need to trust my network more?

But is it totally stupid that I kind of don't trust people who know me to help me make decisions? Like, if I'm talking to my cousin, or my college roommate, or that friend I volunteered with at blah-blah-blah, I feel like they've already got too much of an idea of who I am and what I should be doing. Also they always want me to a) go into their field or b) go into the field they *wish* they were in. I really crave fresh eyes/opinions, though I'm willing to acknowledge that this may be foolish. (I will check out my grad and undergrad career counseling service options - can't hurt, right?)

So, piggybacking on what jeoc and TeknoKid are saying about how health care IT departments have a mix of IT people learning healthcare stuff and clinicians/lab folk learning IT stuff... is there any room for someone who kind of half-assedly knows a little about both? I know more about technology than most people, and I know a lot more about health care delivery than most people (I've participated in loads of interprofessional continuing ed sessions; I've sat in on the classes at the school where I work; hell, I've taught some of the classes).

FWIW, I assist clinicians with lit reviews now. I'm not much interested in doing more of that. At least the ones I work with never really seem to know what it is they're looking to say. Plus I really do want to get out of academia.

Thanks for all your answers!
posted by Sock Career-Puppet at 4:34 PM on May 11, 2012

If you want to get into the health informatics field you might try applying at Epic. They are known for hiring "smart" people, even if they don't have all the relevant experience.
posted by sulaine at 4:43 PM on May 11, 2012

About medical writing, I’m not sure how broadly you’re considering the field. It seems like there are a number of avenues (which is not to say whether any of them are or not a good choice for you right now). It seems like you could get your feet wet on the side, before you make a life-changing commitment.

From my limited knowledge, it seems like this field would be a toss-up as a career choice. Writing in general has always been a competitive field, and more so the past few years. But anything about health is growing industry, and relatively few people combine writing skill with scientific understanding.

Related to health informatics, you might consider combining your interest in that with GIS (geographic information systems, roughly analytical mapping … the field I’m going into, so I might be biased)

Your network may be more than you realize, and you can build a new network in the fields you think you might want to work. It’s OK to ask strangers for information and advice, as long as you do so courteously.

I don’t think you should expect anyone to make decisions for you. But, for example, you can send a short note to medical writers asking them a few questions about working in that field. Such as: How competitive is it? What are good publications, topics or pay rates to start with?

You can ask people (whether you already know them or not), “Do you know who would be good to ask about X?” Maybe you can go to meetings, and join Linked In groups or professional associations for the fields you’re interested in. You can look for blogs and such and comment there.

I’m starting an unpaid internship soon, and I got it by networking with people I don’t know. Some time ago, I asked at a Linked In group for advice about preparing for X career. Besides advice, one person referred me to a few other people. More recently, I looked in a few places online for people whose career combines Y and Z. I found one of those people again, and now I’m going to work for her this summer.
posted by maurreen at 10:18 AM on May 12, 2012

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