Potential Paths for a 30 Year-Old Career Changer
March 21, 2014 5:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm a 30 year old with a BA in psychology working at a bank and hoping to find a new career. I'm trying to find a career path that will give me a decent living without being a workaholic. I am willing to go back to school, but hopefully not for more than 2 or so years. I am willing to take on some debt, but not a ton. I am considering 1. Human Resources 2. Accounting 3. IT / Something with computers 4. Any other good suggestions. Are any of these a good change for someone my age? I don't want to go back to school only to find out that the field is bad for non 20-somethings. How are prospects for entry-level workers? (I have looked at "official" projections, but would welcome any insider knowledge). Is there anything else that I should consider?

I graduated with a BA in psychology almost 8 years ago and took a job with the bank I had been working at during school breaks. I had no intention of staying in banking, but I am still there mostly due to a lack of direction. My current position is a pseudo-administrative assistant, but I have been a teller, a personal banker, and an investments assistant. My current position is pretty much a dead end, and I make about 30,000 per year. There is little opportunity to move up at my company since it is so small, and pay is on the low side for its field.

I have no grand passions to pursue - in fact it is just the opposite. Many things interest me, but nothing really calls to me. I have spent far too long trying to figure out what I should do, and I am ready to just pick something and go for it.

As for the fields I am considering:
1. Human Resources - I would probably try to get into a position as an HR assistant and work my way up. I could take a few classes, but probably would not try to pursue another degree.
2. Accounting - I would start by taking classes this summer and eventually get a Masters Degree in Accounting. There are some programs that cater to non-majors. I figure that it would take me about 2 years and cost, at minimum, $40,000.
3. IT/Computers - I am not certain how I would approach this one. I could go back to school for a degree, or I could just take classes to learn how perform certain tasks.
4. Any and all suggestions welcome
posted by aka_anon to Work & Money (17 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered management consultancy, or workplace strategic consultancy? You'd have to go in as a junior with your lack of experience, but psychology is a good degree to have to kick off with.
posted by greenish at 5:20 AM on March 21, 2014

I know you say you don't have any grand passions to pursue in the workplace, but are there certain types of work that you enjoy and others you hate? (For example, I really like planning events and am content doing basic admin work, but I hate dealing with the public.)

I think your preferences for type of work (even if you aren't passionate about field) will help people answer your question and will help you pick the path that is best suited to your skills and needs.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 5:26 AM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Did you like psychology? Industrial/organizational psych is actually pretty lucrative, especially if you end up working for big companies in high-paying fields like oil & gas. It would involve going back to school for a masters, but when you got out you'd be primed for a good-paying career track, likely in HR. BLS page on it.
posted by aka burlap at 5:56 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

The three options you listed are all feasible careers to go into from where you are now. There are lots of doors into IT, depending on what you want to do (programming, management, server admin, etc.). Accounting seems like the only one where you would need to acquire some additional credentials to get your foot in the door. HR is probably accessible with just a bachelors.

But... I'm curious about the motivation for this change. If you're coming at this from the angle of, "I am extremely overworked and need to have a job where I work XX hours", or "I don't earn enough money and I just need to make $XXX", you might end up picking a job you don't like just for the promise of better pay/hours/working conditions. Those are perfectly fine reasons for changing careers, but since you're going to go through all that trouble of transitioning to a new field, maybe it would help to do a little bit of (I hate this term) soul searching to find out what interests you. The sky's the limit right now, before you have invested any time or money in the change.

No matter what you do at work, there are going to be times when you feel like the work is too demanding, you hate your coworkers, the company is failing, whatever. These are the circumstantial details that vary from job to job, from day to day. It's easier to look past all that if you genuinely enjoy what you're working on, for the most part, or if it scratches some other itch (like a desire to give back to the community, to support charities, etc.).
posted by deathpanels at 6:05 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you really don't care about the field, is it impossible to find a better job at a different bank? I don't know anything about banking, but I did see a relative advance fairly quickly from teller to VP of a small regional bank by making strategic moves - even without a college degree.

Of the options you listed, I have the sense that 1 and 2 have relatively defined career paths, which it sounds like you're looking for. IT requires a lot of upfront investment in training, if you're not an IT type already.
posted by chocotaco at 6:34 AM on March 21, 2014

Seconding a Masters in Industrial/Organizational psychology. There are a lot of different topics within that category so if you can get into a program/research area you find interesting it would be a good use of 2 years.
posted by lafemma at 6:56 AM on March 21, 2014

Have you considered talking to a career counselor? They're great for people in your situation.
posted by seymourScagnetti at 8:04 AM on March 21, 2014

Things like working hours are partly connected to the field but also to the office culture and how well-staffed they are. VP of Foo might leave at 5.00 on the dot at Foo Inc; that same role might regularly work 55-60 hour weeks at Foo of America. Even a different department in the same company can have a dramatically different culture and different expectations around what a "good worker" looks like.

If you are located in a city where there are some bigger financial institutions, look at their job postings and see if anything appeals to you. Go on interviews and ask questions about the office culture. How to ask the right questions to find a good fit for you could be a completely separate ask.me.

Changing jobs, even without changing roles, may in itself get you a significant pay increase.
posted by bunderful at 8:04 AM on March 21, 2014

If you are not particularly passionate in any one direction I would suggest taking as many civil service tests as you can. You already have enough credits to meet the requirements for any police or corrections departments. Those jobs tend to have decent salaries, good health benefits, and a pesion to boot. If you want less confrontational work administrative jobs in the public sector tend to have decent benefits and better salaries than their private sector counterparts. Local and state governments are full of administrative jobs that wouldn't require any additional college. These jobs have definite job security and you wouldn't bring your work home with you
posted by mrdrummed at 8:06 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

This might depend on your local area. I would network locally, to find out if there are any jobs you are already qualified for that have more room to move up, and to see whether you have any friends in other fields who would gladly hire you just as soon as you get X qualification.

Then ask around whether the market in your area is particularly good or bad for a certain field. Is there a big company of some kind moving in or expanding, or a big company that has just laid off a bunch of experienced accountants or IT people? If there generally aren't enough jobs where you live, you might think about moving somewhere with low unemployment for school so that you can start building a network there before you're ready to apply for that entry level job in the new field.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 8:23 AM on March 21, 2014

Thank you for all of the suggestions. Just to respond to a few questions:

1. I live within commuting distance to one of the top 5 cities most populous cities in the United States, so I am extremely lucky in that regard. That said, I would be completely willing to move somewhere else.

2. I have talked to many career counselors and taken all kinds of assessments over the years, but they are generally seem to have no idea where to start with me.

3. As for going back to school for psychology, I have considered it, but I worry about being able to get good enough recommendations. I have been out of school for 8 years and haven't kept in touch with my professors. Even though I did extremely well in school grade-wise, I wasn't particularly notable in any other regard. For a more business related degree, I could get recommendations from managers at work.

4. I have taken a few tests for state employment and done well on them, but I haven't heard anything.

5. As for why I want to make a change. I don't really like what I am doing and I don't like how much money I make. Plus, I feel like there is almost nowhere to go in my current position. It almost feels like I did not choose my career - I just fell into it and then got stuck.
posted by aka_anon at 8:45 AM on March 21, 2014

If you're thinking about accounting, spend a lot of time thinking specifically about what kind of accounting you want to be doing, because there are very different career paths and, as I learned rather late, you really need to figure out which one you want early to be doing things properly. In your situation, particularly: Do you want a career track that is going to require the CPA? In that case, you don't just need the Master's, you need to make sure you're actually getting sufficient credit hours in accounting for the exam qualification. I presume as a non-major hitting the 150 hour rule is probably going to be a non-issue, but the qualifications are very specific. Do you want to work for a large firm? A small firm? Do you want to do corporate/management accounting? Talk to people who do it. The average salaries that schools will quote you are... well, not optimistic, but averages, and national averages are particularly bad because they won't necessarily tell you what to expect in your actual market.

It's not a bad track, and I'm probably going to be back in this line of work for awhile yet, but when I initially graduated I was full of stuff from career services about how accounting was a no-fail career path. And then the only job I was able to get was a much lower rate of pay than I'd been expecting, and no benefits. Since taking that job, it's been much harder to get jobs that actually paid a living wage. But if you have some cushion as far as what job you take to start, that goes a long way; if I could have had another three months to look it would have been a very different story.

But if you don't love working in banking, you're probably not going to love working in accounting, either.
posted by Sequence at 8:48 AM on March 21, 2014

It almost feels like I did not choose my career - I just fell into it and then got stuck.

Consider that in 5 or 10 years you might be saying this about your second career if you go about seeking it more or less the same way you sought your first career.

If you don't want to just fall into a career, I'd suggest making choices based on seeking out things you actively enjoy. Alternatively, if you have a lot of difficulty identifying what you like (is this why counselors don't know where to start with you?), you could try being really, really assertive: immediately pushing back against / negotiating better terms than / or if necessary, quitting anything that annoys you even a little. This sounds like something that won't work, but I've known a couple of people who ended up in perfect-for-them careers who did it this way.

If you don't mind falling into a field, but you just fear being stuck there, then it shouldn't matter that you fell into your current field, you just need to get unstuck from the current job. You can parlay your experience in banking into a new position at a different bank, with more interesting responsibilities and more money much more easily than you can get where you want to go by starting over.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 10:26 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sometimes a psychology background can be combined with other things to go in a different direction. For example User Experience or Interaction Design, which can combine skills from psychology/social sciences, graphic design, computer science, library science, and so on.
posted by ZeusHumms at 12:19 PM on March 21, 2014

Go join the Coast Guard. Go rescue people for a living.
posted by 99percentfake at 12:21 PM on March 21, 2014

Sorry for advance for a long answer, but man, I can empathize with you! If it helps at all with the "I just fell into it" feeling, remember that many - probably most! - people just fall into their careers, or fall into a job early on that ends up evolving as they make choices along the way, and probably most people don't have a career that is a grand passion. It's ok to have your job be your job and not your Life's Purpose, and good for you for recognizing that it's ok.

But even if you don't go for passion, I think you can still create a plan that feels like a good and exciting change. You say that career assessments in the past haven't yielded a totally-obvious career choice, but they surely gave you some information to work with, right? Can you make a list of all the requirements and preferences you already know you have, and see where that gets you? I mean, I know you say that nothing calls to you, but there are a lot of preferences that are less about This Is My Life's Purpose! but are still useful in finding a job/career you like.

So you already have some preferences/requirements identified. You want a career/job that:
* Offers a decent living (presumably you have an numerical idea of what that means to you)
* Doesn't require being a workaholic
* Doesn't require more than ~2 years more of schooling, if any
* Doesn't require taking on a ton of debt
* Are break-in-able for people past their 20s, not impossible to learn if you start in your 30s, etc.
* Have good entry-level job prospects, according to actual insiders
* Those entry-level jobs offer opportunity to move up

Can you add to that list? Maybe thinking about why the fields that interest you do so would help. What is it about HR/computers/accounting that made you put them on the list? Other potential things to answer:
* Do you care about prestige? Do you want your job/career to impress people?
* What of your current skills do you enjoy using? People skills, financial skills, creativity, organizational skills?
* Do you want to learn new things all the time, or do you want to get the hang of it and then coast?
* What do you want, physically, in a job? Office job in front of the computer? Time outside?
* How much contact with people do you like?
* What kind of people do you like being around? Do those types of people tend to do certain types of jobs?
* Do you want to eventually be in charge of people/be on a management track?
* What kinds of organizations do you prefer? Big bureaucracies, corporate america, local business, entrepreneurial startups, being an independent freelancer? Do you want to switch around, or stick with one employer for a long time?
* What do you hate doing and want to never have to do for work?
* Surely you sometimes envy your friends' careers/jobs (I'm assuming! apologies if you don't do this). Whenever you feel that way, what is it about their jobs that you envy? Can you add that to your list?
* Do you care about things like flexibility for having a family/easy to take time off and then get back on the career track/etc.?
* If you had to choose between face-paced and sometimes stressful or non-stressful but sometimes boring, which would you choose?
* Do giving-back/do-gooder/making-a-difference type motivations matter to you?
* Etc.

I'm not saying you have to think of some perfect job that is ideal in all ways. But I think laying out your preferences, and then further identifying which ones are the ones you really care about will help you just choose already, even without a Grand Passion to drive you. Good luck! And MeMail me if you want...I feel for you!
posted by aka burlap at 1:27 PM on March 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Go to work for a big bank. Take a job similar to what you've done at your current employer, get yourself established, then transfer into a new area of interest. If you can find a way to get exposure to a new field while in your current field, so much the better. Banking Assistant + supporting your department on a new system installation = IT career.
Since you don't have a passion for anything in particular, just try something. The above approach will get you somewhere with low investment cost. If it doesn't suit you, then rinse and repeat.
posted by mama penguin at 7:11 AM on March 22, 2014

« Older Traveling with a 4-month-old   |   Gender inequality in couples moving for work? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.