Please help me not be an admin anymore
April 22, 2015 11:39 AM   Subscribe

How do I transition my career from secretarial work to something else?

I would like to ask for advice about what I should do about my career. I have been working in primarily administrative assistant/executive secretary roles for the past 10 years (with some non-technical writing/research thrown in) and I am looking for a way to do something that pays better and that is more interesting than answering other people’s phones. I have a BA in Linguistics from a small college that is somewhat well-known in the Northeast. I am currently unemployed after a layoff 3 months ago, due to the company moving to another state.

I live in NYC and I have been stuck making less than $60K for all of my career, which is not sustainable long-term. I do not want to move. In my next position I would ideally make $80-$85,000, have a career path that goes somewhere, and have a title that does not include the words “Administrative” or “Assistant”.

I have some skills that I enjoy using, but that I have never been paid for. I have good spatial skills and I enjoy visualizing and manipulating 3-D objects in my head. I am good at synthesizing large amounts of data and making it understandable in a report. I am also interested in fabrics and design, especially clothing design, and I took some courses in couture sewing a few years ago at a local college. (I have yet to find a way to work this into a viable career.)

I am an introvert, and I prefer to work mostly on my own, with minimal supervision. I enjoy working in offices, as long as they are not too noisy. My Meyers-Briggs result is INTJ, which apparently means I am supposed to do something sciency, but I am excruciatingly bad at math (but I am ok if I have a calculator or Excel, and I have done some basic accounting and data analysis.)

What should I be pursuing as my next career?

I am thinking about transitioning to a junior PM/project associate role and I am applying for those positions, but they seem to top out at about $50,000, and I can't afford that kind of pay cut.

I am also open to learning new skills as long as they lead directly to a position that is not administrative. I have about $5,000 of my severance left that I can use to pay for training. I am somewhat interested in learning, CAD, or 3-D printing. I am not interested in a coding bootcamp. Do you know of any in-demand skills that I could learn?

Thank you for reading all of this. I am very grateful for your advice.
posted by Lycaste to Work & Money (12 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
The simplest path would be to leverage the exposure you have in certain industries and then learn a few of the basic technical or business skills to get junior/associate-level positions in a non-admin group within that industry. Unless you have a specific marketable skill that is in demand (and depending on your industry), your expectation to go directly from a 60k admin position to an 80k non-admin position might be unrealistic. In my experience good-quality admins make as much money as junior/entry level non-technical hires - it's just that the non-admins have more appealing (but not necessarily more lucrative) career paths.

A less simple (or possibly related) path is to start specializing in something you like and feel good at. It will take you a little while to find a way if you learn something valuable (data analysis, programming) and then try to prove that you can do it full time, for pay.

It may make sense for you to reach out to people in your networks that make sense and ask them these questions - your alumni network, for example, or senior people in places you have worked.
posted by vunder at 12:03 PM on April 22, 2015

I don't know if this is helpful, but I've known several people who have transitioned from admin jobs to other things, and most of them did so by transitioning within their own company. When you build the relationship and trust, it's often easier to get someone to take a leap of faith on letting you start doing something you might not appear to be fully qualified for on paper. It also gives you the chance to potentially start doing some of that stuff on the side, to learn more about the role and prove your aptitude for it. I know this is harder since you don't currently have a job, but it's worth considering taking an admin job at a company you're interested in, if you can't get directly into the role you really want.

The most common jobs I've seen those folks move into are event planning (has a lot of the same elements as admin work, probably some of the ones you don't like), project management, and recruiting or HR. All of those are, to some extent, "people jobs" which may or may not be a problem for you if you're an introvert. I too am an introvert and tend to find project management exhausting because it involves a lot of meetings, making the rounds talking to people, etc. But it obviously depends both on your personality and the specific role.

As for salaries, all I can say is that I've known both admins and project managers who made a lot more than $60k. I think that will vary widely by industry, location, and specific company.
posted by primethyme at 12:05 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're good at synthesizing and communicating data, and you want to transition toward PM-type roles, I'd look for jobs with "Analyst" in the title. Unfortunately "Business Analyst" and the like are so insanely common as to be half-meaningless sometimes, but "synthesize and communicate data" is the core of most of them. They're also jobs that are often linked into a PM role, and often merged; my own job could be described as "PM/BA" and a lot of BAs I've known have taken on an increasing PM workload until they moved entirely into that role.

Salarywise, I really can't speak to the specifics of the NYC market, but I'll say this: You're trying to start a new career. Unless you can directly leverage existing skills - or maybe deep knowledge of an industry that you've gained over the years - you're basically looking at entry-level positions. Now, maybe you're a very strong entry-level candidate, but it's a big ask for that to also be an $80K role.

A BA/PM kind of career has a pretty tall ladder, salarywise, and if you're good you can move up that ladder quickly - but trying to move to a new career and make $80K more in the process is a big ask. Career transitions often require a move that's sideways or even a little backwards in salary, for the short term, which can be really frustrating but hard to avoid.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:06 PM on April 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't really know anything about fashion, but I know someone who is a fabric sourcer for a large clothing chain in their district. I'm not sure how much they get paid for that, but it seems to be a very steady career.
posted by manderin at 12:19 PM on April 22, 2015

Someone recently tried to sell me on the idea of switching from an admin job to "operations" at an insurance company; that very pay grade was one of the selling points he gave me. (I turned him down and didn't investigate further because I actually don't mind Admin work.) Give that a look.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:57 PM on April 22, 2015

I know you said you weren't interested in any more roles regarding 'administrative' or 'assistant' positions, but if you already have the experience maybe try to apply for some 'executive assistant' positions for big start-up companies. They make a great deal more, right in your range and often have a lot of travel included. You get to know the ins and outs of the company and can gain some position leverage from there.
posted by Marinara at 1:01 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Are you working with recruitment agencies? I was job searching on my own for months & was getting nowhere. I finally went to a couple of recruitment agencies & am seeing some progress. There are also Executive Assistant type jobs out there which have a different title and a project management or marketing component. If you want to make that kind of money, I'd say go to a high-end recruiting firm, explain that you are looking for Executive Assistant type positions that will allow you to grow or have a unique, substantive component to them, & see what they nab for you.

You can switch careers, I did, but the compensation was not enough to sustain me & I had no energy or time for my own creative projects. Leaving the EA/admin world & trying to return 5 years later is challenging, which is something to keep in mind. I'm not saying you shouldn't make a change, but I don't think you can have the money you are looking for & a career change simultaneously. If you are interested in something different, you could consider snagging a higher end EA/admin job that pays in that range (they definitely exist) & build your experience & skills in other areas by freelancing on the side, going to classes, and such. If you want to chat further, feel free to PM me.
posted by katemcd at 1:24 PM on April 22, 2015

You might consider some sort of accounting. I would contact Robert Half and see what they have to offer. Sometimes you can get training that will land you a good position.

I fell into a corporate accounts receivable position once, and it was a lot of quiet rote work:

- Issuing debits and credits;
- Adjusting pricing errors so invoices could be paid;
- Sending out proof of delivery so invoices could be paid;
- Analyzing pricing errors based on the purchase order so the prices between our company and the client could be corrected;
- Going through my books and matching payments to invoices (that had been entered incorrectly), and issuing a form to match them.

There was more, but it was easy to learn. I did have to deal with a big spreadsheet every week and put out a report, because of computer/operator error, and sometimes it was frustrating to do my job because I could not control what other people did at their end. However, I did get to be part of a Six Sigma team to address these issues.

Before that, I had had zero accounting experience, beyond preparing invoices and coding them for accounts payable.

If you are good at spatial issues, you might be good in Excel and/or database work.

Another thing that I really loved was designing reports in database software. I did that for a while, using Filemaker. I loved that a lot, and not sure if Filemaker is the best software for today, but it was easy to learn and use (I was importing Excel files into it so I could manipulate the data more easily).

I would love to be doing something like that now -- unfortunately, due to personal circumstances and the fact that my company served the auto industry, it went by the wayside when they started laying people off, and my job was cut. It was so much better than being an admin, however. And you can grow in that field and get more education and certification.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:06 PM on April 22, 2015

Another suggestion is working for a patent attorney firm. I did that for a while and it was quiet and interesting and the attorneys were all very pleasant. I think technically I was an admin, but was always treated with respect (this was at a corporate level).

I am bad at math too but I found that the accounting work was really not that hard. Once you learn it, it becomes second nature.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 2:19 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a paralegal with no formal training. My first "in" was basically a job interview for a small firm in which they only cared if:

1. I was smart
2. I was good with difficult people on the phone
3. I was able to effectively multitask
4. I could write well
5. I could type fast

I pretty much love my job most of the time, and have moved on to a bigger firm. If you're lucky and get into the right field of law you can make quite a lot as a paralegal.

You might also look into court reporting.
posted by quincunx at 4:19 PM on April 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh yes! Criminal law is good, I did receptionist at a criminal law firm for a while, but they were limited in their upward mobility -- the female attorney told me she would have loved to make me a paralegal but they were just too small and they couldn't give me the money. I also worked for a divorce attorney but that was frankly boring. I would rather do patents than divorce.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:58 PM on April 22, 2015

I know someone who started by putting together little databases as an admin, took lots of classes and got database certifications (Oracle and Salesforce, paid for by her work), and after a couple years moved to a different company as a full time database administrator.
posted by miyabo at 8:56 AM on April 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

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