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May 27, 2014 12:49 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever regretted a career change? Have you ever attempted to change careers and failed to find gainfull employment in your new desired field?

I'm thinking of undertaking a career change because my present plan is to just keep going on my current path until I break and rage quit, which is of course not a good plan. I have a lot of hesitation to start over and sink time and money into something that might not be better. I've heard plenty of anecdotes on sucessful career changes, so I'm looking for the other side of the coin to have some things to think about and try to prevent if i go for it.
posted by WeekendJen to Work & Money (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of people in my social group are going back to school and changing careers. I've noticed that the ones who have been less successful seem to be trying to work out their own issues through the career change, instead of working on changing themselves. For example, their social skills weren't cutting it in Industry A, so they change to Industry B that is perceived as a haven for the socially unskilled, without working at all to bring their social skills up to par.

They badmouth their prior industry in pretty extreme, bridge-burning ways, like "all professionals in Industry A are jerks; I never want to work with another Industry A person ever again." It's like when someone badmouths their ex on a first date. People in Industry B are not going to be eager to hire this person.

They go back to school because they want an escape, in the sense of wanting to be a student again rather than having a full-time job, and/or they want a do-over that lets them pretend their time in Industry A never happened. People in Industry B would rather hire someone who is committed to the world of work, and who has a coherent life story that involves transferable skills and lessons learned.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:26 PM on May 27, 2014

I've done it a lot. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't.

Leaving Telecom to teach: DID NOT WORK OUT!

Leaving Telecom to learn Worked out great.

Do whatever pleases you. When I got laid off with 16,000 others, I got the hint and got out of the industry. Others who didn't have never come back from it. Some of the folks spiraled down from A companies, to B companies to D companies. Now they're consultants. *shudder*

You have to commit to the change, and to prepare to step back a bit, to leap forward. It's taken me about 5 years to get back to a similar pay structure. But it took me 20 years to do it the first time.

Don't go into debt or back to school. That'll save you some dough right there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:45 PM on May 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

I can only give some anecdata about dumb moves (which of course I've made):

- leaving to somehow feel more fulfilled, to work with cooler people who aren't assholes, to somehow find yourself - rarely a good move. Because the levels of assholery and stupidity are somewhat constant in the universe.

- staying because you're comfortable and ignoring signs that your entire industry, company, etc. are fading out or getting worse - also a bad idea. I understand feeling hopeless about a situation ("all I know how to do is make buggy whips") but I don't understand having your head in the sand ("so I guess I'll hope they keep needing these buggy whips."). If you can see it coming and don't start planning an escape route, that's kind of foolish.

So what is actually a good reason to change? I think you have to think like an economist. Easy work, i.e. work anyone can do, always gets bid down over time. Skill sets that are mature tend to get bid down over time. There really aren't any exceptions. To maximize your income, you have to find the most complex kind of work you're comfortable doing.

So if your job bores you, it MAY be a sign that there's something out there that would tax your brain more AND pay more. Those two trends tend to work together. If you're really stressed out trying to keep up with your job and are thinking "there's got to be a job that's easier and pays better" -- it depends. If the stress is all about working with stupid people, maybe so. But rarely do you go to an EASIER job that pays better.

I agree with Ruthless Bunny that going into debt/back to school, which is a classic move made especially by 20-somethings - rarely has a great ROI. I spoke with a career coach recently who say he believes in the SWAN principle - Sell What's Available Now. Look for a job you can already do, or for which the employer is willing to train you. I also agree about stepping back to leap forward. If you make a move that amounts to a true career change, it's almost always going to involve making you a rookie in the new gig - you might manage fewer people, even make a little less at first (or at best a lateral move) - but if you believe you'll really be good, and that the new path has a better way forward, it could still be a good move.
posted by randomkeystrike at 2:23 PM on May 27, 2014 [6 favorites]

I tried to switch out of tech into something non-tech. I took a certificate course and applied to many jobs and 'information gathered' as the 'non-interview' interview is called. I made it through some interviews. I worked on side projects at my current position. I found 'related volunteer' work as well. Oh and I went to conferences to network.

Nada. I'm still in tech.

Lessons learned?

- you have to stop thinking of yourself as Professional X and start presenting yourself as Professional Y. It's harder to do than it thinks. People ask about your primary education... how do you spin a technical background? Once they see you as Smart Technical Person they can't un-see you as such. Proceed carefully. Downplay whatever previous awesomeness you did and only talk about yourself as the New Professional Y.

- don't tell your 1st job about your new path. Yes.... I did get lots of very relevant experience doing cross-functional HR work and running a project (all on my own time of course). That padded my resume nicely. But no one internally would give me an official new job since I was more valuable to them as a trained technical person. Also people stalled my promotion in my current job because "she's not serious! she's gonna leave to New Job!" which was kind of true, but I was doing senior level work, dammit pay me senior level. (eventually I got promoted.)

- I applied and networked everywhere and nothing. Some people I met just got lucky with their career change. Right place in the space-time continuum and got my dream job(s) with very little effort. It happens. It didn't happen for me.

- if you're going to make the change, it helps if you have some support... if I could have quit my day job and network and volunteer etc. then maybe I would have made it but I was supporting myself at the time. I have a friend who did a career change and it took her 6 months of volunteering to network herself into her dream job but her husband supported her during this time. And yeah her dream job became a regular job, because, well, that's life. I mean she's happy, she makes a little more $ than she previously did but life always has annoying coworkers and demanding bosses.

- pay cut. if the thought of the pay cut makes your insides shudder then maybe it's not for you. I would have easily lost 30-40% of my pay.

After all this work, and landing in the same place:

- I realized I'd chosen my current profession for a reason; it doesn't suit my entire personality but it certainly suits a part of it and hellz yea I'm good at it, I was just unchallenged and bored.

- (FWIW if you're in tech, tech is almost inherently unsatisfying to many; the humanities have always been more interesting and have never paid terribly well, watch La Bohème)

- also I was on a bad team. That project ended and my rage quit desire also went away, funny that. (your rage quit may differ)

- I met a Very Senior Technical Guru which was where I learned to stop worrying and love the tech. Seriously he mentored me and was a game-changer in terms of my growth as a professional. It reminded me that under all the corporate bs and ass-kissing corporate weenies trying to make themselves feel big, science is still awesome.

tldr - I didn't make it but I realized that my current position wasn't something I loathed, and that I could take more ownership of my current position and that I'm happy when I get to use my natural skills as much as possible, so try to add those skills to my current job wherever possible (and by this time I had more seniority & authority which me likey muito bueno).

P.S. there is another poster earlier today who asked about ennui... great job great guy, now what? well... america sells this story of and then I found my dream passion which isn't false, but it's not like You Lost on the game of life if you didn't Start Your Own Company or whatever. And embedded in that 'career change' ideology is a bit of 'and then I was never unhappy again' but that's not true either. The dream career isn't the 100% solution either, there are lots of ways to challenge yourself. I also nurture my passions outside of work for example. (like here on metafilter :P)

that was rambly but I hope that helps.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:29 PM on May 27, 2014 [5 favorites]

Worst decision I ever made was to leave publishing and go to library school. I earned my degree more or less at the same time the economy collapsed. Turned out the profession was also being deprofessionalized at that time. Do plenty of research on job prospects before making a move.
posted by scratch at 3:54 PM on May 27, 2014

When I changed careers (from libraries to nursing) I had to relocate to get my first job. It's worked out well for me but was a huge upheaval.
posted by shiny blue object at 3:58 PM on May 27, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've been working on transitioning to a second career constantly since 2001. It's a career (film) that a lot of people consider very desirable, so I acknowledge it may never "happen" to the level of supporting myself.

Some of the things I've done that I think may be relevant or helpful:

1) As St. Peepsburg alludes to, I have two identities- two LinkedIns, two personal websites, etc. etc. I keep my film ambitions a secret at my day job, because nothing good can come of people knowing you want to do something else.

2) Go ahead and stick with the first career in the meantime. I used to think it was almost a point of pride to do the bare minimum at the "dayjob." Then I realized:
- Being lazy wasn't actually helping my film ambitions come true faster
- I was happier if I enjoyed the work and could talk about as if it at least interested me for the moment, rather than just playing the role of someone with that career
- I went ahead and went for promotions, raises, etc. While I'm here, there's no reason not to. I'm not being dishonest: This is the career I have at the moment, and for now I'm doing my best at it. I deserve raises and promotions as much as the next person. And guess what? In literally any endeavor you can name, money in the bank helps, and very often means the difference between success and failure. The more money I make, the more money I can put into my film career.

3) In conjunction with 2), go ahead and live your life in the meantime. Take vacations, do the things outside of work you want to do. It's doubtful putting them off for some vague future date will help you reach your goal faster, and the reality is you don't know if the goal will ever work out. Don't postpone life.

4) Don't give up. It might take a really long time, like it is for me, but if it's your dream, don't let anyone tell you to quit. If it's ever not what you want anymore, that's fine, but there are a lot of people who get pleasure from telling others their dreams are impossible or impractical. Ignore them with extreme prejudice.

I think of it like this: Success takes a long time. Personally, I'm trying to do something a lot of people want to do. But even to do something uncool like, say, be a VP of a Plastics company- people work 15-20 years for that! There's no easy success anywhere, unless you're born into it. If you're going to work your way up for years and years, it might as well be in something you've always dreamed of doing.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:53 PM on May 27, 2014 [3 favorites]

I've noticed that the ones who have been less successful seem to be trying to work out their own issues through the career change, instead of working on changing themselves

posted by rr at 2:34 PM on August 4, 2014

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