Career question: how to transition out of nonprofit track?
May 23, 2015 10:05 PM   Subscribe

I have worked for the federal government for five years (2 on Capitol Hill and 3 in SLC) and also for a well respected local nonprofit here in Salt Lake City, UT for the past two years. I'm Associate Director and things are good. However, unless I become Exec. Director there isn't much upward mobility. Plus, I wrote another question earlier this year about avoiding burnout, which is a problem with nonprofits, long hours, small staffs, etc. What I'm saying is I can't see working in the nonprofit world long term. I don't really see myself transferring to another nonprofit in town either.

I got married last year, I have a house, my wife and I want to have a baby in the next couple of years.... I'm starting to think more about the future and what it holds than I ever have before.

What I'm trying to gauge right now is what my next move is. I graduated from our state university with a BA in International Studies. I am very extroverted, a hard worker, love organization and am task oriented. People would describe me as a "leader". I'm a take charge kinda gal, but very friendly and personable.

So, I want to like, be in the place where I can work off of these skills into a good, well-paying career.

Things I have thought about:

1) Going back to school for some kind of healthcare thing (Did this last year, got pretty far in some required science classes before realizing my heart wasn't in it)
2) Could do Real Estate Agent training... I think I could be a good Realtor or Broker. People say that you starve your first year, you're always working, etc, but in my city (Salt Lake City) people are moving here and population is expected to double in the valley by 2040. I have owned my house for 10 years so I've been through the process. I also know this has nothing to do with anything.
3) Thought about getting some kind of forensic accounting degree? This seems hard though as my bachelor's is not related in any way. The accounting consultant at my work makes bank though, and makes her own hours.
4) Law school. This just seems terrible. 5 years ago, people told me all the time to go to law school. Don't hear that as much any more.

I'm turning 30 this June so this seems like a good time to make a good decision about this. What direction to head in? I would love your advice on what I spelled out above. Please don't tell me to just head down the nonprofit path... seriously not something I can see doing long term.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
For me the transition involved moving to peak bodies, and from there into industry. It was fairly smooth.
posted by smoke at 11:41 PM on May 23, 2015

I went from charity directly into b2b sales. Real estate could be good depending on your network. Certainly do not rule it out. I found working in construction, contracting, design and development to be analogous to working in charity in terms of process. The hours are much less. Memail me if you want.
posted by parmanparman at 12:14 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Almost everyone I know who has left public sector or non-profit jobs for the private sector has used the networks they were already embedded in. People I know have gone to work for contractors, partners, and consultants that either directly did business with their old agency, or that had overlapped in some way. To pick a random example, a non-profit doing healthcare advocacy is not going to be many steps removed from hospital administration and insurance companies, and a non-profit working on homeless issues will have direct or indirect connections to builders, mortgage companies, and so on.

And as suggested above, any generalist masters, the MBA especially, is purpose-built for exactly this kind of transition. In addition to the direct skills and connections, it's a way of signalling your readiness and interest for the next step.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:06 AM on May 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Start from the fundamentals.

Every good job in the private sector is doing one of three things:

* Production - developing and producing goods or services for sale
* Sales - selling goods and services after production
* Brokerage and Trading - buying those goods or services because you can resell them at a markup

What do all of these things have in common? Intimate knowledge of a class of goods or services! Not leadership, not intelligence, not ambition, not personability -- although none of things hurts of course.

So what you want to do is start with the goods or services that you know very well, and for best competitive edge about which that knowledge is rare or hard to obtain, and target the companies that are growing in that area.
posted by MattD at 10:02 AM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I can help you rule out #4 if you haven't already. Law school, and being a lawyer, are incompatible with your goals of avoiding long hours and burnout, and starting a family in a couple years (unless you don't mind not seeing much of your kid). And that's assuming you get a job as a lawyer out of law school: the job market is still terrible. It's very possible to do well at a decent school and still be unable to find a job that will pay the student loans. If you're not passionate about actually being a lawyer, there are better careers.
posted by AV at 10:57 AM on May 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Accountancy is actually a pretty good move if you're good with numbers, especially if you're looking for upward mobility, because so many accountants are introverts and if you're extroverted you get a social leg up. You might consider looking into what it takes to be an auditor, because then you can maintain your connections with the nonprofit sector when you switch over.
posted by juniperesque at 12:59 PM on May 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I work in healthcare administration, and it is pretty diverse. If you like the idea of healthcare but don't want to be a hands-on provider, there are till tons of opportunities to work in administration. Some common areas are quality management, revenue cycle (billing, registration, etc.), IT, analytics, general management, etc.

I'd recommend doing some informational interviews with people in your network who work in the kinds of jobs you're interested in before jumping into graduate school.
posted by jeoc at 10:04 AM on May 25, 2015

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