How do I make this job change?
October 21, 2012 5:26 PM   Subscribe

I work in high finance but dream of doing something creative. I don't know how to do this. Do you?

I'm 27 and live in NYC. I currently work in private equity. I'm not into it. My personality doesn't jell with my coworkers and the office culture. Realistically, my personality doesn't jell with the industry, which is a bigger problem.

I got sucked into finance. In college, that's what all my peers wanted to do, because that's where the money was. I studied econ, which I enjoyed, as I have a very analytical personality. But what I didn't appreciate was how dry the work is, and how stuffy the corporate baggage that accompanies it is. When people ask me what I do, my lack of enthusiasm, and to be somewhat honest, my embarrassment for what I do, is hard to hide.

I know that I need to make a change, but I don't have any idea what to do. This business is all I know. Companies in more creative industries such as advertising, marketing, or media have so much talent to choose from--people that actually have some prior experience. I don't know how I can break into a different industry without doing something like grad school, which I'm not crazy about (cost of tuition, time not working, etc.).

I know that I'm still young so a change like this is possible, even though it will probably be difficult. Some of my many questions...

How do I choose what industry to target?

How can I rebrand myself as a creative type coming from the background I have and given my lack of experience? I'm not interested in switching industries just to wind up doing an auxiliary function in, for example, a media company's finance or accounting group.

What would I actually *do*? That is, what kind of jobs should I be targeting? Don't roll your eyes, I'm really ignorant here.

How can I make this change while not quitting my current job (assuming I don't go the grad school route) and without my current employer finding out?

If I did go to grad school, what would I even study? For the kind of job I'm interested in, I'm not sure an MBA is what I'm looking for.

What resources are out there to help me with this?

What else should I be thinking about that I'm not?

Thanks for the help, hive mind!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Get thee to Mathbabe, "Telling people to leave finance," and many other relevant posts at her blog.
posted by escabeche at 5:45 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are more creative ways to use a finance degree without leaving the business world too. Art and Design schools like Parsons offer degrees (MS or MFAs) in something like Strategic Design Management which could let you move into the tech startup world or advertising world.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:47 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, do you want to be an analytical force in a creative industry, or do you want to create things personally?

What I'm getting at is this: if you want to use your analytical skills to support creative endeavours, then you should start shopping around for jobs in those areas. Your experience in finance may be exactly what a small publisher or music label might need.

If on the other hand you want to draw/write/sing/dance/film/cook/paint/act the stuff yourself, I'd suggest picking one to focus on, doing it every day with the mindset of using your artless financial job to support your true calling. While you're doing that, keep an eye out for any jobs, workshops, or volunteer positions that could someday lead to the convergence of your art and your ability to buy food.
posted by sarastro at 6:06 PM on October 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I don't have specific advice about which industry to target, and I know living in NYC is expensive and hard, but you might think about saving aggresively for a year or so in order to quit your job take an unpaid internship in the creative field of your choice. I've noticed anecdotally among my friends working in the (somewhat) creative field of TV production that internships can quickly become jobs if you are ambitious and make yourself indispensable. Ethics of this aside, I think a lot of companies use these internships as extended job interviews, and it also seems like they figure out a way to pay you once they decide they need you.

Please take this with a grain of salt as I'm about your age and am only speaking from personal experience. Good luck, everyone deserves to be proud of their job!
posted by justjess at 6:20 PM on October 21, 2012

With some experience in SQL, parsing log files, and the like, you could make a move into being a data analyst / strategy person for an internet startup. We have a few finance refugees where I work.
posted by the jam at 6:23 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Um ... you work in private equity. Find a creative company which is underachieving its potential and buy it and install turnaround management. Do this two times and the third time you'll be the board chairman of the company, and if that works out well ... the fourth time you'll be the CEO rather than chairman. Voila -- now you're "creative" and not fetching coffee, either.
posted by MattD at 6:24 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you considered digital marketing or e-commerce as a gateway or stepping stone to a more creative career? Digital agencies now have quants who crunch the numbers (impressions, click-throughs, A/B test, GUI testing) for campaigns. Your background in finance could probably get you in the door and then you could progress towards something more creative.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 6:25 PM on October 21, 2012

_The Artist's Way_ by Julia Cameron. It's the book version of a 12-week, DIY at-home program of an actual class that used to be held in NYC. It'll change your life. It changed mine.
posted by honey badger at 6:26 PM on October 21, 2012

As inspiration, Jeff Koons was a banker prior to rising to prominence in the art world.
posted by ezekieldas at 6:26 PM on October 21, 2012

Have you considered digital marketing or e-commerce as a gateway or stepping stone to a more creative career? Digital agencies now have quants who crunch the numbers (impressions, click-throughs, A/B test, GUI testing) for campaigns. Your background in finance could probably get you in the door and then you could progress towards something more creative

I wouldn't recommend this path. People who do analytics do more than crunch numbers. They do pretty detailed analysis on campaigns and make recommendations. Also A/B testing itself is an entirely different thing.

Analytics can be a cool job, but if you want to do something creative, it would be really weird to go to someone and say, OK, I've done analytics but I really want to be a copywriter/designer. It's just not how people move around in agencies.

I think if you really want to be a creative in advertising/marketing, you have to start at the beginning in an internship as others have suggested. Plan and prepare for a drop or lack in income. But it's worth it and essential if that's what you want to do.

I wonder why your phrasing is so vague though when you say you want to do something "creative." Do you have any idea what interests you, writing for an ad agency, fine art, etc? Try some classes and talk to teachers about what you want to do. Luckily NYC is a great place to do this. There are a million schools and classes to choose from.
posted by sweetkid at 6:36 PM on October 21, 2012

MattD has it. This looks like a thread full of people that don't understand what private equity is. I have an acquaintance who did exactly this. Bought/started/invested in a bunch of "creative" businesses (or at least cooler to talk about at parties) and now hangs out, travels around the world, and enjoys being hugely critical of finance even though that is exactly what enabled him to have his beloved lifestyle.

You have access to resources that actual creative people would kill to have. Take advantage of that. Start a record label. Find some talented chefs and build them a restaurant. Etc.

Alternately, if you want to be directly, individually "creative", sorry that's going to basically mean starting from scratch. But it usually works the other way around: you have a passion for something that prevents you from doing anything else, and it turns itself into a career. Maybe spend some time figuring out what it is you're passionate about.
posted by danny the boy at 6:37 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Here's my three point plan:

1) attend at least one different professional or creative event per week.

2) at each event, try to have three good conversations where you learn interesting things about what other people are doing, and what influences them. What they're reading, what they're thinking about... what's important in their job.

3) repeat process for a (thrifty) year.

If you do follow this three step program and don't have any idea what you want to do, I'll buy you a drink.

I know PE can have a brutal schedule, but you should be able to carve 3h/week out of your schedule.
posted by grudgebgon at 6:41 PM on October 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Private equity presumably pays a lot of money in exchange for a lot of time; save up a ton of that money so you can have a lot of time to develop whatever other skills you want to work on.

I have heard that the culture of finance promotes fancy lifestyles & high spending, at least partially to make it difficult for people to leave the industry. Presumably you're young and single, so you're likely making at least 3x what you need to live pretty decently, and maybe much more than that; save as much of that money as you can so you can stack up a couple years of headway. The big things in NYC are probably: get a roommate, sell any cars you own & need to park & insure in the city, move to Brooklyn/Queens/Hoboken/St. George, read the Skint/Brokelyn to find cheap arty events, and avoid restaurants/bars/neighborhoods that sell status as opposed to food/housing/necessities. After a year or two you can be a DIY trustafarian for a while.
posted by akgerber at 7:19 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

My personality doesn't jell with my coworkers and the office culture.

And guess what--you might not ever jell with your co-workers. Working in advertising, media, etc. isn't all that creative--most people are still cogs in a much bigger machine. I'd say, work hard, save your money, work your contacts and make art on your own.
posted by Ideefixe at 7:41 PM on October 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have been in almost the exact same position as you and know a couple of other people who left finance to pursue a creative interest. One of them is very successful right now having started her own business (good timing, had start-up capital, receptive market).

There are so many things to consider with this kind of transition, but I think the first is that it's almost impossible to stay in PE and work on another career concurrently - with your work hours, there simply isn't the time and energy to devote to another endeavour.

Your question was quite broad, so you should figure out exactly what it is you want to do creatively. Look into the education required for those roles, and most importantly find people in the industry to talk to that will give you a realistic interpretation of what their job is like. About 90% of the time, creatives get very little opportunity to actually exercise their creativity and are bound by parameters like client demands, trends, improving margins, etc. - which are probably factors that turn you off from finance. Those that can find fulfilling work are either:
a) geniuses that have beat highly competitive odds
b) really well-connected
c) not concerned with making money/are independently wealthy

So I recommend that after you figure out what you want to do and conduct some due diligence, ask:
"Is this something I feel requires creative integrity for me to be truly satisfied?"
If yes, you may want to consider trudging through a few more years of finance to save up and venture out on your own.
If no, can you accept working for someone else (who you may not respect) and earning much less money than in PE while facing many of the same criticisms you have of the finance industry?

Either way, I would not recommend an MBA - you might as well leverage your current experience into management consulting/exit into industry and try to move laterally within a company.

Feel free to PM me as I could give better insight depending on your particular situation.
posted by munchqueen at 12:10 PM on October 22, 2012

You're me, about 15 years ago. I abandoned a lucrative but joyless job in the oil business and ran away and joined the creative circus when I was about your age. I've been quite successful in my career but it hasn't all been roses, so for the sake of the argument, I'm going to tell you a few things I think my late-20's self could have used.

First of all, if you go through with this, it will be tough. Be prepared to alienate all your friends and relations. Most people you know have no idea what you're taking on, and will be thinking everything that Sockowocky says above. They will be absolutely right. You have just sacrificed all financial security for the foreseeable future, and quite possibly any prospect of raising a family in comfortable circumstances. But you know what? If you really hate what you're doing now, it'll be worth it. You can make a success of this.

So the first thing you need to do is save and invest as much money as you possibly can from your current career. You are going to need it later, and if there's enough of a nest-egg it may well give you the freedom to pick and choose your projects. This, like your professional experience of how things work in the real world, is potentially a significant advantage over the majority of art school graduates, who won't have access to these kinds of funds.

What the art college graduates have that you do not, however, is discourse. They have been trained to think, eat, breath and sleep creatively, and if you are going to hold your own against these types in the competitive scrum for assignments, it helps to be able to walk the walk and talk the talk. A masters degree from a well-reowned art or design school will acquaint you with the culture of the creative industries and can do wonders for your network, which will be invaluable in acquiring customers, investors and other kinds of support later on. It will also help you work out where your strengths, talents and interests are, and how best to apply them. Shop around for the right course at the right school.

What comes after that depends on entirely your ambition. With your experience in private equity, and an MA in (say) media arts management, you now have the chops to become a fully fledged entrepreneur. If being independently creative is what you're about, building a business is the best - the only - way to achieve it. MattD has a great idea, but there is a world of difference between investing in someone else's creative process and building something for yourself. Only you can tell whether a career in creative venture capital would satisfy you, or whether you want to get your hands dirty with something truly your own.

All this depends on some magical convergence of ideas, timing, people and opportunity, but I can't overstate the importance of just getting on with doing great work that you love to do. For more inspiration, here's two highly successful creative people generously sharing their wisdom on keepin' it real.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 12:11 PM on October 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

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