Tell me about your dramatic career change
August 9, 2015 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Have you ever made - or tried to make - a dramatic career change? Please tell me all about it, including what you did do, didn't do, or wish you'd done differently.

I am in the process of transitioning careers and sometimes feel a bit... lost. I don't have a very clear understanding of what I may be doing right or wrong, or what struggles are to be expected or even appropriate.

So, I need some perspective. I would love to hear what others learned and experienced throughout their own career transition. Your stories can be any flavor: successful, unsuccessful, funny, depressing, shocking, encouraging, skeptical, inspirational, frightening, a crockpot of many disparate emotions - doesn't matter!*

By "dramatic" career change, I just mean a switch from one very distinct field to another very distinct field. "Investment banker to real estate broker" (both white collar positions with at least some subject matter overlap) counts just as much as "veterinarian to helicopter mechanic" or "masseuse to mathematics professor". It's the fact it involves a significant learning curve.**

I'm especially interested if 1) Your career change was several years, even decades, in the making; and/or 2) You had a hard time breaking in to the new career field because your circumstances made it difficult for you to get the work experience needed just to get your foot in the door. If you have advice on how you overcame the work experience issue, from a tactical or even purely philosophical perspective, I'm still curious - no matter how esoteric or specific it may be to your field.

*I understand that some may want to keep information like this private, so of course I am open to MeMail responses by those who prefer discretion.

**I did read the Metafilter comment about someone's family member who went from being a truck driver to, and forgive the foggy details, a neurologist who eventually discovered one of the contributing gene mutations responsible for Lou Gehrig's? That's a great example, but I'm more interested in the "how" and "why" of that transition than the fact that it's a thing that happened.
posted by nightrecordings to Work & Money (6 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Have written to you off-list, if that's all right. It's a huge story, but I'd rather talk directly to you about this than broadcast it, for now, anyway.

Bottom line, it took a while but has been 1) successful, and 2) largely a matter of trial and error, and 3) very educational and satisfying. It was the right step for me.
posted by aestival at 3:07 PM on August 9, 2015

I went from freelance journalist to elementary school teacher :) It has been an interesting path for me. I moved to a foreign country for a year to do my graduate diploma (a January start date meant I would finish much sooner and as a foreign student, I was all but guaranteed admission. Also, I had never had the study/travel abroad experience and wanted to do that before I settled down.

The pros:

- New Zealand was a beautiful country and I greatly enjoyed my 'year away' experience
- I worked through an agency, who walked me through both the admission and travel process, and the application for a teaching license once I returned. This was very helpful.
- I made some wonderful friends, some of whom I remain in touch with, and got some cool life experience

The cons:

- Getting certified here was painless, but expensive. The actual license application was only $60, but there was a fee to assess the application, which was about $400. And they wanted sealed transcripts of everything, from everywhere I ever went to school...

- I came back to a much worse job market than the one I had left. There are always jobs for people who don't care where they live, though :) I know two people from my program who went on one of those Northern Experience things where they send you to the Yukon, and several years later they remain there, so it worked for them. I chose to stay in my home city, which has a very competitive market, and have been largely under-employed, working in the private school system for much less pay.

Overall, my only regret is that I didn't do teaching right out of high school. It's what I should have been doing all along, and I would have been in a unionized board by now. But hindsight is 20/20 :) I am at the point now where I have taken some extra courses, gained some experiences and finally have some connections which may get me to a better job. But it took awhile :)
posted by JoannaC at 3:40 PM on August 9, 2015

Teacher to stay-at-home dad to writer to programmer to manager. The only one I really planned for was the writer-programmer change, and that came from a realization that freelance writing didn't pay very well so I needed to find something that did. So, did a bit of research to find a growing field, picked IT, and leveraged some of my teaching experience (college statistics) to learn SQL. It took some time and some false starts, which was a scary couple of years (I was 37!), but then I found a spot (and am still there, 16 years later, as a manager of IT).
posted by Mogur at 5:37 PM on August 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

I am about to do this... Ambulance controller to genealogist. I'm starting off by taking a part time course and cutting my hours at my old job. I don't necessarily need this qualification for my new career but I think it will give me more confidence at interviews because it will prove it is a planned move and that I haven't just stuck a pin in the job adverts. I'm resigned to the fact that when the time comes it will involve a huge pay cut and moving to a cheaper area.
posted by intensitymultiply at 6:04 AM on August 10, 2015

Special Ed teacher to IT. I told everyone I knew I was looking for entry level position in the IT field. A friend who played in an orchestra with someone found the someone needed an entry level person. Got hired then the someone left and it was a small arts org so I was IT with 4 months experience plus a vendor. I picked the vendors brain every time he came to repair hardware or upgrade software. That was my apprenticeship.

Went from small arts org to international consulting business with a small IT dept. Learned more there. Went to an international telecommunications company and learned more. Then the manager was off on reserve duty and our boss made me manager. Been up the ladder career wise from there.

Boiled down (for me) it was study up, put the word out, take anything that comes close that will teach you and pray for luck! I got very lucky with my first few jobs but I was willing to jump in without knowing as much as I wanted to and it worked out. And I studied anything I could and picked anyone's brain who was in the field.
posted by shaarog at 10:53 AM on August 10, 2015

I have kind of had three dramatic career changes. I feel they all have gone really well, but I think most people think I am a basically a huge failure and total loser.

In high school, I was one of the top 3 students of my graduating class. I had the highest SAT score of my class. This helped get me named Star Student and won me a National Merit Scholarship. I was expected to have a very serious career. I had only two real goals: Get away from my home state and deal with my personal problems. I was aware my health was frail thus joining the Army was a no go, etc. I opted out of my scholarship, quit college, married some guy whose only dream was to be a soldier. I hid my unemployable status under the nifty title of homemaker for a lot of years. So, I successfully left the fast track for a position that would not kill me. That was career change one.

Finally getting a diagnosis for my condition helped empower me to leave my marriage. I had been going to college on and off. My goal was to trade in my homemaker title for the title of urban planner. As part of that effort, I got a certificate in GIS and applied to an internship with a national lab and ran a planning subforum on a statusy planning discussion board for a time. My resume had a high call back rate for getting me interviews but I kept flopping in the interview.

I ultimately ended up at an entry level job at a Fortune 500 company. That was career change two as I successfully left behind being a homemaker. Although the job was unrelated to all my career goals and training, it paid better than minimum wage and was oohed and aahed over by most folks with whom I made small talk. Just working at that company was a feather in my cap in the eyes of most locals. I might have stayed and climbed the corporate ladder, but I had dreams of getting healthy that conflicted with that path. This led to dramatic career change number three.

At some point, I quit that job in order to focus on getting well and work on developing an income stream that won't keep me sick. I do freelance writing and I am developing some web projects that generally suck less than they used to. It has been slow and frustrating and I am aggravated at how little I make, etc. But if you understand what I am up against -- and I do, even though most other people do not -- it is actually going swimmingly well and is basically wildly successful. But I really have a very hard time convincing others of that fact, so I hesitated to answer at all because how others see me is dramatically out of step with how I see myself. I still look to most people like a total fucking loser and there is nothing to be gained by arguing about it. So I mostly try to avoid arguing about it and try to just keep working on my goals in as focused a fashion as I can manage, given my health problems and other challenges.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 4:40 PM on August 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

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