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February 3, 2015 11:21 AM   Subscribe

Help my wife decide a practical career path moving forward that will a) make it comparatively simple/non-competitive to look for a job; b) not require much more than a 40 hour work week; c) not involve staring at tables of numbers all day long; d) provide benefits and pay as respectably as possible. Many more snowflakey details within...

Hi MeFi,

I'm posting this at my wife's request. The particulars are below, with a TLDR synopsis at the top.

TLDR job requirements:

-Somewhat active/engaging/non-repetitive
-Work ends when the day ends
-Skill-set that will work in multiple geographical locations (in and out of the US)
-Creative, hands-on
-Not freelance

And the details:

We're in our late twenties, and recently moved from NYC to a small town near a big city on the rust belt, where I'm going back to school for an advanced degree. The industry my wife worked in before was very specific, (especially for NYC - think film or fashion), though her work experience was broad (think product/ion management or coordination), and so she's been applying for jobs since before we moved here, with few to no results. The whole experience has been frustrating and disheartening, and it comes after she had already been looking to change jobs for over a year when we were in NYC, with few responses to her applications despite consistent growth in her previous job.

She's currently trying to figure out the age-old question of what to do with herself next, and trying to gauge what jobs are out there, how she could re-train, or how she should market herself to move in a particular career direction. Right now she's waiting tables, and while she doesn't hate it, she'd like to find something with longer term potential, and that she'll be able to maintain as she gets older. She's also building a small, craft-based business for herself, but is still not sure whether this is something that could replace full-time work.

She's intelligent and detail-oriented, with an Ivy League school education in a creative field, and especially good at creative, hands-on stuff. Right now she's looking toward graphic design, as her current skill-set overlaps with that quite a bit, but she's nervous about the process of looking for work when we move again after I finish school, and is trying to figure out lines of work where the search for employment won't be as miserable or competitive moving forward, and which won't require a lot of salesmanship/professional-conference-attendance/constant networking (like marketing or management consulting, which is where I worked before going back to school). This may or may not involve something simple, like getting some sort of credential.

She's open to further education if necessary, though not for longer than two years (and less than that would be ideal). She could do some sort of online training as well, but would work better as part of an official program than just taking a course on her own time. Here are some general criteria for the sort of work she's looking for in order of importance:

-Somewhat active (not sitting at a desk for 8+ hours straight). My wife also has mild ADHD, so engaging, not repetitive (like factory work), and something that involves multi-tasking, learning new skills, coordinating processes, etc.

-Benefits - insurance, paid vacation (which is important because she'll periodically need to take religious holidays off)

-Work ends when the day ends - as much as possible doesn't want to bring work home with her, though is willing to do this occasionally if she need to.

-A transferable skill-set - certainly within the US, but it would be great if this could transfer to other countries as well, as we're not sure where we'll be when I finish my program, and both want the flexibility to move around. For instance, physician's assistants can have trouble in other countries where they don't have a clear designation for such a role. If we need to move to a major city on the West Coast, in Europe, or in South America, the role should at least exist, and it would be great if it's something with a fairly straightforward process or set of qualifications for finding work.

-It would be great if the field was creative, hands-on, and/or physically mechanical as those are all natural inclinations for her. She picks up manual processes pretty quickly, and has a good understanding for tinkering, making, etc.

-Finally, while doing a bunch of smaller, freelance jobs might hit on a lot of the requirements, she thinks she would have a hard time juggling that and would prefer a steadier sort of work; constantly having to seek out new clients, sell her services, and stay in touch with people, on top of the work itself, is not something that she wants to do.

Here are a few things that have been considered and dismissed for various reasons (if the reasons for dismissal weren't valid, feel free to let us know):

Nursing - too much schooling, would have difficulties dealing with the emotional side of this.

Teaching - difficult to transfer out of the US, not a particular interest on her part.

Plumbing - too much schooling (it looks like it would require a four-year apprenticeship at least, which is too much time at this juncture).

Some sort of mechanical trade (auto mechanic, machinist) - potentially not transferable to another location, and she'd rather not be in a field where she may not be taken seriously as a woman.

Any sort of programming/software development - really outside of her current skill-set, and she doesn't feel competitive enough for something like a programming boot-camp.

Thank you!
posted by rock'em sock'em puppets to Work & Money (19 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
To help Ms. rock'em sock'em puppets find her best and most satisfying career path, I recommend The Career Wisdom Institute. Here is their website.

One of the founders, Julie Gleeson, is a long time friend. While working with her, I gained the self-understanding and confidence to take on a completely new and far better paying career that I never would have considered otherwise. Whenever I need to renew my vision of myself in the world, I turn to Julie.

The website describes far more clearly what they are about than I can. I can only attest that their way of working is effective.

Best of luck to you both.
posted by Altomentis at 11:34 AM on February 3, 2015 [10 favorites]

I'm not sure how much this will help, but I believe plumbing apprenticeships are usually paid. Not sure about benefits.

Another idea might be property management.
posted by amtho at 12:02 PM on February 3, 2015

Aged care? Disabilities work?
posted by dontjumplarry at 12:23 PM on February 3, 2015

Teaching is transferable at least to major cities outside the US, and even in more remote areas it's not too hard for a native speaker of English to find a job teaching English. But if it's not an interest, that's a pretty unassailable reason not to pursue it.

The difficulties she's having finding a good job where she is now probably have a lot more to do with job searching as an Ivy League creative grad who recently moved to Small Town USA and who is planning to move away as soon as you graduate, than with actually needing to change to a different field for the long run. The people who get the few good jobs in small towns tend to make very long term commitments to the geographic area and/or to their company or university, which she can't do because she is putting her career second to yours. If/when you move to a major city, she will have better luck.

In the meantime, I would suggest that she focus on her craft-based business as much as you two can afford to. That's what she loves, right? And make it as online as possible so that it will transfer wherever you two end up next.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:24 PM on February 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

How about front end web/app design with the possibility of moving towards front end development if she likes the field? Or project management?
posted by Candleman at 12:30 PM on February 3, 2015

Ask around at your university. Perhaps a job at the university publicity office, designing websites and magazines? Those sorts of jobs tend to be fun and engaging, but relatively laid back compared to a similar job at a corporate firm. There may be a fair amount of sitting at the desk, but depending on the opportunity, she could get a managerial position which is more active.
posted by redlines at 1:05 PM on February 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Government jobs may have fit the bill except for the portability part. I am not familiar with the US but maybe hedging your bets that you only move within the US and aim for some type of government job?

My other thought was something to do with a religious organisation since you mentioned taking time off for religious observances. Not just the religious group itself but also charities and non-profits associated with the religion may fit the bill.

My current career, librarianship (academic, public or special) hits a lot of her "wants" but it is relatively tough to get into with a glut of recent grads and it is pretty competitive - especially for entry positions.

Otherwise, as a trailing spouse maybe you should give up the idea of her having steady employment and instead have her focus on her own business and make choices on what jobs/locations you accept assuming your personal income is actually the family income and must support you both with minimal financial input from her and she instead provides other resources.
posted by saucysault at 1:07 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all for your answers. A couple of chime-ins:

-She doesn't want to work for aged-care or disabilities, or anything that could really be in the realm of healthcare due to the emotional side of it (we have family and friends in the field and it's not something she thinks she could handle.

-The difficult she's having with finding a job began when we were in NYC, which is one of the few centers for her previous field. Also, she's not looking for work in our tiny town, but in the mid-sized city fairly nearby (think Pittsburgh or Cincinnati). She's getting nervous about her current skill-set because it's now two different cities where she's barely hearing back from potential employers, let alone getting a job.

-Web development and graphic design is where she's going to start heading assuming nothing else looks better. And her past work was in project management - that's what she's been struggling to carry over to other industries in this new city. Do you know if a certificate in project management is worth anything at all?

-We both constantly check my university for available jobs, but it's small and publicly-funded, with few openings and many requirements for those openings.

-Government jobs are also a good suggestion, as well religious organizations (though the latter doesn't seem as transplantable as she'd like).

-She's thought of librarianship, but it does seem way to competitive.

-She's a trailing spouse, just because I have a better sense of where I want my career to go right now, but I'd be fine as a trailing spouse as well. We both just want the flexibility to move to a new place, regardless of whose career is pushing us there. We're also both nervous about being a single-earner family, with just my working, and just her craft work on the side. When kids come into the picture, for instance, we've talked about each taking a year off at different times to care of them, but that wouldn't be possible for me if she doesn't have anything to fall back on.

Thank you all again!
posted by rock'em sock'em puppets at 1:33 PM on February 3, 2015

I found your list interesting because there seems to be no common thread, plus its so short. You mention plumber but you don't mention house painter, electrician, carpet installer, interior decorator, floor refinisher, or any of 100 other possibilities.

If she likes plants, she could consider landscape design/architecture. If nothing else, it gets you out of the office from time to time.

Sales is the most portable of careers. Lots of sales staffs have high turnover. Also, alas, lots have nasty internal politics and underhanded dealings.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:49 PM on February 3, 2015

What about HR? I bet that's plenty transferable. The HR folks at my work earn as much as MSWs with less formal training, most of them just have humanities degrees. Most of its thankless office droning though, with the occasional training or seminar.

I would also think that non-profit work, where you have to do a bit of everything, would dovetail with project management.

Fund Development for a mid-sized charity looks like a lot of fun, actually. The FunDev team at my non-profit does all kinds of weird stuff, changing day to day, from planning events, arranging volunteer schedules, organizing donations, supervising folks doing service work, schmoozing at fundraisers.
posted by kittensofthenight at 2:07 PM on February 3, 2015

The people I know that do government oriented project management (biomedical and IT) feel that the certifications (specifically the PMP, not sure about others) are worth it for them; the people I know in private IT project management jobs do not. The problem is, in my experience, a lot of project managers are hired in house because the company would prefer to have someone already familiar with the product and people. I've seen people move from accounting, development, and analyst positions to PM jobs inside the same company. I've also seen people working as an assistant to a PM for medium sized contracting companies do that for a year or two before becoming PMs themselves.

If the idea of coming up with interesting ways to break things is appealing, software testing requires less background than development though getting up to speed with automated testing would help ensure job stability.
posted by Candleman at 3:03 PM on February 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think the condition which makes it most difficult is "work ends when the day ends". There are things like project management which are really portable (and which would be easy to sell as a side step from product management), but then there is a work-until-the-job-is-done component.

Other thoughts:

Retail. Working your way up from the floor is not fun, but it sounds like a pretty ideal career for the mix of characteristics you describe. I'm thinking now about companies like IKEA who hire designers for each store. It's very hands-on, and hard work, but it fits her requirements and is very portable. It sounds as though she has time to build her career up, so the benefits, etc. could come after some years of work.

Some kind of risk or compliance work with contracts or procurement. Not so sexy, but it requires brain power and problem solving. And risk people are always in demand.

Office manager. Again-- not sexy, but it usually ends when the day is over.

HR has been mentioned, though I hate to see HR staffed by people who aren't passionate about it.
posted by frumiousb at 3:52 PM on February 3, 2015

It sounds like she would prefer active, interesting, portable shift work. Since if the reasons for dismissal weren't valid, feel free to let us know:

She might rethink nursing, which is really the perfect job for that. One path to nursing is with a 2-year associates degree; although some jobs are BSN-preferred, I know a lot of people with just their RN/associates who are doing just fine as nurses in my part of the world. She could also look into an accelerated BSN program (for folks who already have a bachelors) if it is available in your area.

As for the emotional side of that, I really think it depends on the setting she ends up working in. There are options in OR, ER, ICU, family practice, pediatrics and a thousand other things. If she's in the ICU or OR or at an oncologist's office, yeah, she'll be dealing with people who are sick for real all the time, but there are a lot of other choices that won't be like that.
posted by charmedimsure at 4:09 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hair Stylist and Flower Arrangement both are creative, involve people and are eminently portable. The advantage of the former is she could make serious bank if she lands in a fancy salon eventually too.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 4:25 PM on February 3, 2015

She might explore a variety of trades. NPR says economists say that's where it's at for millennials.
posted by bluedaisy at 6:39 PM on February 3, 2015

One of your requirements kicks out web work/project management entirely.
It's this one: "b) not require much more than a 40 hour work week".
60 hours/week is more likely to hit the mark.
posted by msamye at 10:41 PM on February 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe too healthcare-emotional, but the job I know that fits this best, especially the parts about flexibility, transplantability, and minimal difficulty with applications or salesmanship or networking is speech language pathology. It's the best field that I've ever heard of for part time workers, too.
posted by freyley at 12:19 AM on February 4, 2015

Be a nurse. I know you said it was counterindicated based on the schooling requirement and the emotional side, but it is literally the only job I can think of that fulfills your four requirements. A tosses out nearly everything but healthcare all by itself. B and C throw out engineering and IT, and eliminate the possibility of being a doctor. D removes the lower-end healthcare professions.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:22 AM on February 4, 2015

Some fine dining (and even some mid range) restaraunts provide partially paid benefits for staff. Portable, work ends when you go home. Paid vacation isn't usually provided, but you can request off / switch shifts with someone.
posted by WeekendJen at 7:14 AM on February 4, 2015

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