I've made a huge mistake - Career Edition
June 11, 2015 9:58 AM   Subscribe

I took the all-too-common path of nonprofit/government work. Now I realize it isn't at all what I want out of a career. Looking around, the job market is a desperate barren landscape compared to the last time I was job hunting! Am I stuck? Will these skills even transfer? Help!

I'm in my early thirties. I went all-in on the "local and caring" brand of career. Poli sci undergrad, public admin masters. Teaching, then CPS investigations, then nonprofit analysis, then municipal grant administration. I've helped an awful lot of people...

... and it turns out I don't care. Don't get me wrong, it felt great at the time and I'm sure I have some sort of karma balance somewhere in the ether. But that is not what I want out of my career, it seems. I want money. I want to be valuable. Not necessarily yacht money, but maybe something that pays a non-embarrassing amount. I want to be independent. I want my work to reward me and my family first and volunteering can fill my altruistic needs later.

Long story short, I want out of the public sector/nonprofit world, and I feel like my prime earning years are dying on the vine. Thing is, I'm not sure I have any valuable skills. Not a lot of the KSAs from this line of work transfer well. I'm more than willing to build a new set of skills, but don't really know a smart place to start.

Also, it's not helping matters that I can't justify moving too far at the moment. The spouse has a successful practice as a therapist and I wouldn't take that away for the world.

Double also, my network is mostly nonprofit folks so pumping my connections isn't turning up anything my own job at other organizations.

Triple also, I have no idea how to job search these days. The last time I was actually hunting for a job they were everywhere and you could just jaunt online and find any number of good, well-paying jobs listed for you. Then I'm guessing 2008 happened and now it's all dried up (unless you're looking for part-time retail or commission-only sales). I'm in the North Texas area, which is supposedly booming but I'm not seeing it.

But enough about my impediments. I guess what I'm asking for is advice on how to approach the idea of a blind career change. If you've done it, how? Where would my skills fit in the private sector? If they won't (as I suspect) what skills can I build while still working that are widely in demand?
posted by FakeFreyja to Work & Money (5 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
then nonprofit analysis, then municipal grant administration

What kind of analysis? What kind of administration? This sure sounds potentially transferable.

You might want to try and find a career counselor - they'll have a better idea of how you can repackage your skills.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:28 AM on June 11, 2015

It might help if you could go into a little more detail about the exact skills you have. Stuff like grant writing, supervising people, accounting, etc. ...? I'm in a totally different field (programming) but I see a lot of project managers (PMPs) who do really well in tech due to their organizational skills.

For job hunting I always hook up with a recruiter or two and am very frank about the type of work I want and don't want. After you meet a few of those you'll also get a feel for what type of stuff is out there and what employers want. Also, you could go directly to a career counselor and/or take some "what color is my parachute"-type assessments. Mine said musician (true), technical (true), or interior decorator (not true and endlessly amusing to my wife, though it's made me more confident about picking stuff for the house!).

Going straight to job sites is a drag ... but I *would* make a solid LinkedIn profile and resume, and start networking.
posted by freecellwizard at 10:55 AM on June 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you're tied to North Texas, then you should really talk to a career counselor in the area. Generalized skill shortage recommendations like "learn programming" don't necessarily apply to every town and city. Company towns and/or particular industries in your area that are part of that "boom" are relevant details here.

Analysis and administration are certainly transferable skills, although the latter in the for-profit world is not necessarily lucrative. Analysis is a pretty vague thing that's involved in many types of jobs - ranging from complex regressions and data science to "here are all the local companies doing thing X."

Finally - you should really think about what actual tasks and parts of the jobs you've had you have liked. The private sector is not a promised land filled with wads of cash and a barrage of people praising your value. It's often as, if not more, cutthroat than the industries you're in. Getting some enjoyment out of the work itself is pretty important.

In terms of network - look at suppliers, folks who've worked in the private sector firms that have served your government and non-profits. You may have seen them as clients, and thus not part of your network, but often people with the "know" in a particular industry can transition that knowledge into responding to RFPs and/or performing project management for those bodies's projects.
posted by buoys in the hood at 11:02 AM on June 11, 2015

If you're in your early thirties, your prime earning years are still (well) ahead of you. My partner, who is about 20 years older than me (and you) really only started to hit peak earnings about six or seven years ago, as he was closing out his forties. So keep that in mind (unless one of your goals is to retire quite early).

I also would separate non-profit payscales from government payscales. If you're in the former sector, transferring to the latter can feel like a windfall.

I've waffled between (government) research, non-profit (where I have been for the last several years), and private industry. What private industry provides in terms of raw financial advantage, it steals away in terms of time commitments. Hoo boy, does it ever (post-2008). Be prepared for that. It's what made me turn my back on $ the last time and return to the 501(c)(3) world: 60 hour weeks and the expectation of weekend work overshadowed by the ever-present fear of being fired, replaced, downsized and so on.

Government is the sector I've aimed at for my next transition, as it does provide a bit of the best of both worlds. You still should be guided by your interests, so it's hard to advise you on how to do this. But, for instance, you could probably find a good position in your local health department as a data/policy analyst.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 12:24 PM on June 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

First, let me say, as a person in her late 30s, that I think there's a natural developmental/mental phase in the early 30s that brings on a feeling of, "Wow, I'm almost out of time as a productive adult." I had it, my brother had it, most of my friends had it. It's a real feeling, but it's not based in reality -- you're actually still in the babyhood of your adulthood, so you've got time to make lots of changes.

Now, to your question: Yes, you can make a change! I moved out of nonprofits/education into the for-profit world by moving into an executive assistant role at a technology company that didn't need me to have direct EA experience, but that did want me to prove that I was capable of being organized, getting things done, and working with geeks. That's a great path into the corporate or startup world, especially if you can point to projects and independent work that show that you're a good person to make things happen with little supervision. Another title you might look for in tech/startups is "chief of staff", which is sort of a jack of all trades who can just get shit done.

Take heart: this is doable.
posted by spindrifter at 12:28 PM on June 16, 2015

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