Need a New Career
June 2, 2015 9:04 AM   Subscribe

What things can I do that actually pay a living wage?

I have a BA in English and an MFA in creative writing. I can adjunct, but that doesn't pay a living wage, and where I live, would require a 2 hour round trip commute. I'm considering changing careers, but ideally, I'd like to make sure I'm choosing something I can actually live off. The main industries in my area seem to be aerospace and health care. I'm considering a few options, and I'd like some advice. I'm on the lower slope of my 30s and I haven't had a full-time job since the early 2000s. I've worked multiple concurrent part time jobs in that time, though, but juggling schedules is very stressful and with a little one at home will probably just break me. I'm ready to give up on cobbling together a life out of academia's scraps.

I'm an introvert, but I'm very good at faking it in customer service interactions, though I find myself very tired by them. I'm fine doing repetitive tasks as long as I can sustain the other bit of my brain with a bit of music, a podcast or whathaveyou. I have ADD, inattentive type that's mostly under control with medication. I have weird-colored hair and I'd really rather keep it that way (it's one of my hobbies). I'm interested to a fault in researching. I can read/process complex information very quickly. I'm not a very fast typist, but I can work on that.

1. Librarian. Pros: Experience. Actually interesting and enjoyable to me. Would hope to use my writing skills somehow, through grant writing or writing journal articles. Cons: Very few employers and positions available. I'd probably have to get an MLS to qualify for full-time jobs. Salaries are low.

2. Medical coding and billing. Pros: Plenty of employers in my area. I hear that once you get some experience, you may be able to work remotely, which I'd love to do as a total hermit. Cons: will have to obtain training and certification. Potentially boring. Conservative employers. (Can my writing skills be of any additional use here?)

3. Freelance writing. Pros: Uses the skills & credentials I already have. Largely enjoyable. I can work mostly at my own pace and schedule. I get to work alone. Cons: I am not good at hustling. I've done a bit of this in the past few months, and I'm not making much money. Competition seems quite thick.

4. Office Management. Pros: Experience. Cons: I'm not actually naturally organized, so this would be somewhat stressful for me. Office environment.

Which if these options provides the better ratio of reward to effort?
Oh, and before anyone suggests it, I can't code or do any Cmdr Data-type work. I've tried to learn, but it all just bounces off my brain while I daydream about bunnies.
posted by Kitty Stardust to Work & Money (20 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
'I have weird-colored hair and I'd really rather keep it that way (it's one of my hobbies).'

If you're willing to retrain, why don't you make this hobby your job and become a hairdresser? Con: lots of customer interactions. Pros: it might be something you really enjoy.
posted by nerdfish at 9:14 AM on June 2, 2015 [4 favorites]

How about copy editing and/or technical writing? One thing the aerospace industry needs is competent editors and good writers who can make the mundane parts of schematics and whatnot...well, less mundane. The pay is decent, from what I hear.

Pros: You get to keep your weird-colored hair; learn a new discipline (aerospace engineering); earn cash
Cons: Technical writing can be a bit dry and repetitive
posted by singmespanishtechno at 9:22 AM on June 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

If you're willing to retrain, why don't you make this hobby your job and become a hairdresser? Con: lots of customer interactions. Pros: it might be something you really enjoy.

You could even bill yourself as a hairdresser who won't try to make small talk, which many people would LOVE.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:27 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Forgot to mention that cosmetology is one of things I'm considering, but I understand salaries are not that great? I'd like to make at least $35k/year.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 9:31 AM on June 2, 2015

I have no idea how much you might earn, but it sounds like grant writing might be a nice combination of your interests and the needs of your market. Either as a consultant or as an in-house grant writer.
posted by Liesl at 9:44 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding the suggestion for copy editing and technical writing. Also look into technical editing or any kind of writing that an aerospace employer would need, such as writing for internal communications/intranet, technical, marketing, etc. I think you have a lot of options! (And the pay would be good or great.)

PS I am an introvert who loves being a tech writer. :)
posted by methroach at 9:49 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't recommend librarianship; jobs are few and far between, and the ones with significant writing components are fewer and further between.
posted by mskyle at 10:14 AM on June 2, 2015 [5 favorites]

My friends who actually make a living wage are in a narrow list of industries: tech, health care, government/government contractors, finance/insurance/real estate. Your specific job within those industries doesn't matter so much; what matters is that these industries are not under the same kind of insane pressure that everything else in the economy is right now. Start applying to jobs in those industries. Project management would be a good entry point; once you are an "associate project manager" or whatever, you can get some certifications and experience and get jobs that pay very well and are much lower stress than sitting in a cube farm and doing medical billing.
posted by miyabo at 10:17 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and here's my advice to all job seekers: get out there on LinkedIn and start emailing people with the job you want! In 10 minutes you can find 10 people in your region in any field you would want to go into, email them, and find out what they think about your career plans. (If you don't have a well-connected LinkedIn account, find a friends' that you can borrow.) You can use Glassdoor to find out rough salary ranges/career paths, you can use Indeed to sort of get a feel for how many jobs are available in the field, you can go to meetups and meet real live human beings who are doing the thing you want to do. It takes assertiveness and self-confidence but not a whole lot of time, and you really have nothing to lose. You don't have to ask total strangers who aren't in your field or region on Ask Mefi.
posted by miyabo at 10:44 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Last thing: if hair color really is a deal breaker, go into tech. It is the only field I know of where a super high level person in charge of a whole team can have a nose ring, visible tattoos, green hair, and wear jeans with holes and flip flops.
posted by miyabo at 10:51 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you go with the copy editing/technical writing positions, keep in mind that writing pays much better than editing.
posted by phatkitten at 10:51 AM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

1. Librarian. Lots of people who find the world difficult pick library work because it seems safe and orderly. An MLS degree takes time, probably at a 4-year college or university.
2. Medical Billing. Certification can be obtained at a community college. The industry is in flux as doctors move toward electronic medical records. Individual practices are giving way to groups, hence billing as a job is getting more specialized with less variety. Also, like most jobs done mostly by women in our society, pay rates are mediocre. $25/hour is typical where I live.
3. Freelance writing. If this would work, why have you not succeeded at it already? OTOH, maybe you could find a writer or some organization that publishes for whom you could do research.
4. Office management. I think you have to have a track record as office underling first.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:01 AM on June 2, 2015

Previously from me on librarian work. Especially note the last sentence in the second graf.

MMV, of course.
posted by jgirl at 11:21 AM on June 2, 2015

I am an introvert with a BA in English and a funky haircut, and I would like to formally welcome you to the world of marketing careers. If you can write and stomach using business jargon in meetings all day, it's a pretty solid industry where folks like us can make a living. You may want to start with something entry level like Marketing Coordinator or Business Analyst . Put together a resume that highlights your freelance writing , and if you haven't already look for opportunities to volunteer doing social media, perhaps for a non-profit.

There are a lot of marketing jobs out there that most people don't even think about -- I'm currently employed as a webinar producer, for example -- and it's a great department to do some writing and make good money.
posted by jess at 11:29 AM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

I work in healthcare and I vote for medical billing.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 12:13 PM on June 2, 2015

Medical transcription, rather than billing.
Combine two - hairdresser + freelance something. That way if either have a slow period you can pick up extra in the other. I would love to have a hairdresser who didn't talk to me!
posted by jrobin276 at 2:44 PM on June 2, 2015

Medical coding and billing is OK, but you won't use your writing skills and it can be kind of boring. Medical transcription is dying - doctors are increasingly either typing out their notes, using medical scribes, or using voice-recognition software.

I agree that marketing or communications would be good, and both health care and aerospace companies need these kinds of people.

If you have experience teaching, what about instructional design? Uses a lot of the same skills as marketing, but is a slightly different niche. Some instructional design jobs include teaching, but a lot of them are just designing the training and handing it off to a trainer.

I like the idea of marketing and instructional design jobs for you because you describe yourself as:
I'm interested to a fault in researching. I can read/process complex information very quickly.
And that is a real asset in both kinds of jobs, and they can be varied enough to not be boring in 10 years.
posted by jeoc at 4:14 PM on June 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Last thing: if hair color really is a deal breaker, go into tech. It is the only field I know of where a super high level person in charge of a whole team can have a nose ring, visible tattoos, green hair, and wear jeans with holes and flip flops.

I agree, though that is changing, especially in coastal cities. Even here I have seen a few people in stodgy government jobs with bright hair and visible tattoos, though that is still unusual. The rules are usually looser lower in the hierarchy, though not always.

My sense, for what it is worth, is that it is more important what sector you go into than what your job title/function is. A vibrant sector with money will have well paid jobs in all kinds of roles, whereas in a depressed sector or a depressed part of the country, even skilled jobs will be poorly paid. The hardest part is always breaking in, but once you are inside it is comparatively easier to switch roles.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:17 PM on June 2, 2015 [2 favorites]

Definitely look into marketing and/or writing careers. I'm a mid-level manager in digital marketing (for a nonprofit) and, having recently gone through several rounds of hiring, I can attest that it's one field where good people are in high demand. As a manager, I absolutely treasure people who can write well and absorb/translate complex/boring information.
posted by lunasol at 8:25 AM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

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