How to figure out and pursue a more lucrative career past age 30?
July 23, 2014 7:04 PM   Subscribe

I have realized that my career path is not going to offer the compensation or growth potential I would like. I need to pivot. How can I identify an more lucrative career path and the steps necessary both to train and to break into said path?

I chose the non-profit career path. As an idealistic 20-something this seemed like a wonderful career choice. Income mattered less than "doing good". As the financial realities of adult life set in later I quickly realized that this was a poor choice. Supporting yourself is one thing, but looking to a family and future retirement the amount I am making will not be enough. Further, the field I am in lends itself to an extremely flat organizational structure, which means advancement is extremely unlikely. Long story short, this field is for the very young or those who are otherwise being supported. I think my skills (grant development and grant administration) are pretty inapplicable to anything else, but I maybe wrong.

I need to find a different career, and I no longer care about deriving fulfillment from my profession. I have no real idea how to go about this. I have a vague understanding that I need to identify skills currently in demand, build said skills, then begin to market myself. I need to know the practical step necessary to do these things, with the caveats that I am already over thirty and cannot quit my job to train and network until another opportunity is secured (unless I could find someone else to pay my bills). Also, my network is pretty much completely comprised of nonprofit contacts with no more money to offer than I am currently pulling.

To those who have does a professional 180 past age thirty (without falling into it from an offer from a contact), how did you do it? How did you determine where the money and demand were? How did you balance building your new skills and maintaining your current employment?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I moved from the non-profit world into a government job. The agency I work for has a grants department and they are very well compensated. So I think your skills would make a direct transfer to a public agency.

Another related area would be companies that cater to government agencies doing consulting. For instance, we bring in outside experts when we have an art project because art funding and the execution of a public art piece is very specialized.
posted by agatha_magatha at 7:19 PM on July 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

There are for-profit businesses that cater to non-profits, and they don't necessarily have the same baggage that non-profits have (the flat structure, the limited salary ranges). I'm thinking about consulting firms in particular. Would that be a good interim step? Lots of them love folks who have non-profit experience.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 7:49 PM on July 23, 2014

Hi. I'm a 30+ idealist who is looking at my sorry state of long-term financial planning and feeling you. I don't have the advice of someone who's been there, but what's working for me now is joining industry groups and going to their networking meetings. Get on a few mailing lists. Reach out to people beyond your non-profit bubble to make some new connections.

You have skills, and you need to learn how to talk about them in a new way. Start with any industry that seems interesting/lucrative in your area and get some meetings or phone calls with people who work in those fields. Ask them about their work to see what sounds like something you could do. Talk about what you've done and ask them how those skills can transfer. If they can't help you, ask them to refer you to someone who they think can.

Finally, if you need to get some new skills, look into evening classes or maybe a group of people going through an online course together. This is not a good time to hunker down by yourself, and learning something new is a great way to make connections.
posted by ohisee at 7:49 PM on July 23, 2014

People sometimes start med school at age 30+, if you want to look into that. I have classmates who had previous careers in theater, music, the military, nonprofit work, pharmacy... and as a plus, medicine can be fulfilling, too. :)
posted by gemutlichkeit at 7:57 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Look into grant development work at Universities. Same skill set, significantly better pay, particularly at state schools where you will get into the state employee pay ranges and possibly be union.
posted by anastasiav at 8:29 PM on July 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes, try universities or hospitals.
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:05 PM on July 23, 2014

For identifying in-demand skills from the outside in, this was my approach. I read

- labour stats/projections, and looked at related tools. If you're in the US, try and O*Net Online ("bright outlook" occupations here). Links for Canada and UK
- what business and econ news I could follow
- job scraper sites and online classified ads, for a rough idea of how many of which jobs were where. (I did this again later, to identify qualifications employers were looking for, vs. the ones universities/colleges were selling. At some point, I even dropped a ton of ads into Wordle. That might have been a low point.)

which helped narrow things down to fields that looked sensible and seemed like they might suit me*. Then, I read

- local/regional news to scan for changes that might affect job openings over the next while in industries that seemed like reasonable bets.
- relevant professional journals/newsletters (even gripey comments on forums, to see what the worst of it might be like), for a sense of the regulatory environment and issues in the field
- lots of questions here
- tons of profiles on LinkedIn, and bios from organizational pages (again, to identify key qualifications, associations, etc. - not sure people engage with LinkedIn as much now, though)

and I talked to whoever I could find. All that might have been overkill, but it made me feel better.

*I'd already done a whack of self-assessment. The Pathfinder is a good place to start.

Good luck.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:50 PM on July 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

One thing you need to do is to figure out what skills you already have that might be applicable to a business or government job, what general types of things you are good at, and also what your interests and passions are. Looking for opportunities that specifically utilize those attributes, along with any further education you get, will be where you want to focus.
posted by Dansaman at 10:05 PM on July 23, 2014

Learn to code. Developers are in very high demand in almost every urban center. You can do it in the evenings and weekends at first.
Check out:
posted by amaire at 10:14 PM on July 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

I got a top tier MBA and now make six times the salary I made before the grad degree. And I am much happier with what I do. I am years into this phase of my career, but even in my first post-MBA job my salary was double what I was paid before school. Non-profit management won't have as much growth potential, but there are probably tangential areas that would.

I didn't make this all happen in my 30s, but I worked for several years before I went back to school. If you want to take the MBA route you may want to explore part time or executive programs if you're over about 32. Only a few schools in that category are worth it (UCLA, NYU, Columbia, Wharton, Chicago, Kellogg come to mind- be aware that Harvard's "executive program" is not degree granting and won't help you).
posted by rainydayfilms at 3:41 AM on July 24, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'd say it really depends on what you like to do. My first thought was check out all the jobs where having experience with grants can get you into the federal government on It's similar work, but with the federal government, which is well paid, excellent benefits and there are opportunities for advancement. Also, retirement is ridiculous, my parents are sitting pretty!

For a quick hit, I'd recommend becoming a Administrator. Perhaps you can move to an organization that's using the non-profit version. Having a sign-in gets you into the Salesforce Community, which is a great resource for learning. There are also tutorials and You Tube and it's just the BEST! You don't have to go to school, you don't have to quit your job to learn it. I'm self taught and currently looking for a job. I've been able to find 88 jobs in three weeks to apply for and my phone is ringing off the hook for interviews. I have two interviews today! The money is SWEET! I love the work, I love the tool.

Another option is to get an entry-level position in a company that offers career paths. I started out in customer service at the phone company and worked my way up to Data Networking Sales Engineer. Banking and Utilities are good for this. (Not bank tellers or branch stuff, corporate headquarters.)

So let us know what you think you'd like to do and we might be able to riff on that. Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 3:55 AM on July 24, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm not sure where you are, but, in my area, development jobs are the best paid jobs at most non-profits (80-100k doesn't seem uncommon for a senior development staffer, but I'm in a high cost of living city). If you're currently working at a smallish or community-based non-profit, just moving over to one of the bigger, more corporate non-profits and trying to jump up a level in the hierarchy might get you the salary increase you're looking for. You also might try more technically oriented non-profits (wonky econ/public policy, sciences, etc) as those often pay better across the board than more social service-focused non-profits.

If you want to make a sideways move, going to a university would be a good bet (as others have already said). I have a friend who moved from grant admin for a science program at a university to a somewhat more lucrative career as a technical writer.
posted by snaw at 7:30 AM on July 24, 2014

My brother was a slightly younger you -- then aced the GMAT, got a top MBA all on grants and loans including living expenses, and has been an investment banker ever since. There is a deep bid for smart, ambitious people who will work hard.
posted by MattD at 3:42 PM on July 24, 2014

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