Looking for a completely different career at 40- How reasonable is this?
February 13, 2017 2:23 PM   Subscribe

This person went to a state school with a liberal arts degree. spent her 20's traveling the world working random job after job...

* This is a question from someone I know which I offered to ask here because I fear I might not give her the best advice.

This person went to a state school with a liberal arts degree. spent her 20's traveling the world working random job after job...and though the plan was to come back to the states at 28 and go to grad school for international business and building a family and career, a sudden and severe illness got in the way of all that. Health has mostly come back with new advancements, but it's now about a decade later and she's not sure how to start from scratch in a world that isn't as keen to hire people over a certain age. She wonders if she should try to go back to school and get a graduates for international business like originally planned, but school tuition seems to have gotten 60% more expensive than it was a decade ago. And she's not sure if the gains will be worth the debt. Plus she would be 41 by the time she graduates. I told her it's probably not worth it at this point given that she doesn't know how hireable she'll be... but I'm not sure if that was good advice.

She's temping now to get something on her resume since she wasn't able to work for the past 9 years. Considering she probably has another 45-50 long years left on this earth, she's worried about how she's going to survive when she hasn't really established herself in any way and doesn't have family that can support her.

I haven't come anywhere near a problem like this in my life and I have no idea what to offer. Any job in finance will probably want younger bucks so I offered maybe she should think about studying law instead (though I know she has no interest in it.) I also mentioned social work and she reminded me that everyone we know who's in social work is struggling financially despite working long hours. She said, "I'm willing to work and pay my dues, but I don't want to end up working long and hard at something and still end up struggling to make ends meet. I can have that same problem just fine without working long and hard." I suppose that is pragmatic, but I'm not sure what suggestions to offer.
posted by lazywanderer to Work & Money (19 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Does this woman have any interests or skills? It's hard to recommend a career without any idea of what she's good at or cares about.

But, for God's sake, if she's not interested in law, she should not go to law school. It's hard enough making a go of it as a lawyer if you are interested.
posted by praemunire at 2:41 PM on February 13, 2017 [15 favorites]

My dad did something very similar! He had a BS in Chemistry from a small state school, then worked a variety of random jobs. When I was little he was working at a shipyard. When he was 36, he went to pharmacy school. He graduated with his PharmD when he was 40 (I was 10).

Now, I'm not saying that your friend should become a pharmacist. BUT, I wanted to share this anecdote of a successful mid-life career change. My dad going back to school really inspired me to never settle for a career I don't love.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:43 PM on February 13, 2017 [11 favorites]

I would recommend that she keep temping for a while. Short term assignments can sometimes lead to long term or permanent placement, especially if you are a good fit for the environment and culture. You never know what they will need someone for.

More generally, there are a lot of jobs out there that maybe aren't on your friend's radar, but that she'd be interested in and good at. For example, maybe she's good with details, so she could do QA/proofreading. Maybe she is good at organizing. Boom, project manager. Like that.

Also, for crying out loud in a thunderstorm, being 40 isn't as much of a handicap as you think. Lots of folks, including me when I was in my 40s, have started over in mid-life or later.

Knock around at temp work, find something you don't hate for 40hrs a week, and you're living the dream. If you find something that you love, all the better.
posted by Ecgtheow at 2:48 PM on February 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

Is she making ends meet temping? If she keeps at it and is decent at it, she'll likely get hired on full time somewhere (probably including a pay bump + benefits), if her goal is having an okay job while she sorts out what she really wants to do, this is a good path.

Not law school. Not any graduate program she's not passionate about. A friend in social work got a cert to work in a corrections setting that apparently gave her a huge pay increase, if social work is otherwise appealing (but there's still substantial dues-paying involved and do due diligence).

How does she feel about coding?
posted by momus_window at 2:51 PM on February 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Were I in her shoes, I would immediately start looking for office jobs as an admin assistant, just something stable that would get me back into the swing of everyday work life. Most of these positions don't require special skills, but she'll need to be creative to think of ways to demonstrate how her life experiences make her a good fit for a role that requires people management and organizational skills.

Once she has a full-time job, she can pursue additional training that will be helpful in advancing her career. This doesn't necessarily need to be a degree and it is probably best that it isn't since that would be quite time- and cost-intensive. Some ideas that pop into my head that she could do fairly quickly and cheaply, compared to a degree-granting program: Salesforce analysis, project management, clinical research, advanced Excel, advanced Powerpoint, Tableau, business analysis, SAS, copyediting, and copywriting. This will give her the experience she needs to launch into a professional career.

college degree (already has it) + work experience (needs some of it, but not necessarily in her career field) + specialized certification (not absolutely necessary, but very helpful) = professional career
posted by scantee at 2:54 PM on February 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

Three ideas:

1. International office at a college or university, steadier work than teaching and would suit your interest in international work. Job would pay for continued education/master's degree.

2. Guidance Counsellor. High schools, community colleges, local agencies, or working for yourself.

3. High-end travel booking. Very niche field that is quite lucrative. Remote work. Planning package holidays for the rich.
posted by parmanparman at 2:58 PM on February 13, 2017 [5 favorites]

She has "no interest" in law? Definitely not worth going into debt for that, doubly so if uninterested. The "no interest" would negate legal assistant or legal secretary as a possibility.
posted by infinite joy at 4:19 PM on February 13, 2017 [7 favorites]

Going back to school and getting a degree or certification (international business focused MBA?) in the area that interests and excites her is an entirely reasonable plan. Working for a year or two first to save up a little cushion before going back to school is also a reasonable plan. If she can get into the area that interests her without going back to school, that's great. 40 is not old, but she will always be 10 or so years older than her cohort, so I suspect that having more credentials would be helpful in the long run.
posted by eviemath at 4:23 PM on February 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

As someone who is also restless and has lived all over the world, is about your friend's age, and has a law degree and an MBA, my advice would be for her to assess her skills and interests and then find a job matching those, even if it's low level. Getting a law degree or MBA is expensive and time consuming and doesn't guarantee anything. She may end up in a ton of non dischargeable student loan debt with no significant increase in earnings. Anecdotally I worked at a major investment bank and a lot of the people there did not have fancy advanced degrees, they just worked hard and learned by working. People who are actually very good at what they do, at whatever level and even in niche areas, are rare and valuable.
posted by banishedimmortal at 4:51 PM on February 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

If she is concerned about being able to provide for herself in old age, she should consider working in government where she can get a pension and participate in a generous retirement savings plan during her working years.

Do not under any circumstances tell her to go to law school unless she is very passionate about becoming a lawyer. So expensive and horrible.

Healthcare is also a booming field. I think going back to school for something specific in healthcare would be a more financially wise choice than going into debt for a law degree or an MBA. Source: I am a lawyer who doesn't practice and used to work in government.
posted by zdravo at 5:45 PM on February 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

People like her come to my office literally every day with this question: I work in community college admissions.

Sometimes we arrange conversations with department faculty in areas they might be willing to learn. I want them to hear from faculty what recent grads are doing, where they go to work (including those who relocate), wages, what their advisory boards say about trends, etc. Then we take that info and map it onto program options - everything from short noncredit classes to diplomas and certificates and associate of applied science degrees all the way to transfer options ending in a BA/BS. Factors include cost, sponsorship from local employers, format (day, night, online, hybrid), etc.

I also give them contact info for professional organizations in various fields, regional employment data, and the chance to work with our own career services office, which is open to the public.

If she lives anywhere near a decent community college and the reps there are professionals, she can get that kind of service.

Now, to be specific about fields I have seen some in her position gravitate to: med lab tech, respiratory care, civil & construction engineering tech. Those are 2 years of training. Good job prospects in lots of regions. Shorter programs that seem fairly reliable: medical admin assistant, accounting tech, and similar.

Remember: region makes a huge difference. Connect with people who get regular, up-close looks at who gets hired and what skills are must-haves.
posted by Caxton1476 at 6:18 PM on February 13, 2017 [12 favorites]

I don't think more school is a good idea until she has a job that will pay for it. Tuition Reimbursement is a valuable benefit that still exists at some companies and it should be high on her list when comparing benefits. It doesn't have to be either school or a job.
posted by soelo at 6:38 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

That's totally valid, soelo, and I should have added that the sign of a good rep in my field is that "not necessary" and "not yet" are frequent conclusions. I'm just as happy when an appointment ends with knowing the local job scene as the only real outcome.
posted by Caxton1476 at 7:09 PM on February 13, 2017

Where I live, Bay Area, all the LCSW I know of (MFTs too for that matter) who are in private practice are RACKING IT. Mostly the ones in private practice make $100+++ an hour and have as much work as they want. If you have even a modicum of marketing skills you can do better. The nice thing about being a therapist is it is one of the few jobs where you are generally perceived as better as you age. Additionally, you can work well into your eighties assuming your health holds together, though you hopefully could reduce your pace. (I know several octogenarians in the field working and billing 130 an hour plus, in fact I JUST came from seeing one.) Finally, one of those gigs that will not likely be replaced by AI anytime in the near future.

If I had it to do again I would get an LCSW and either do a private practice, work for the gov, or some combination thereof.
posted by jcworth at 8:20 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just want to throw nursing into the mix if her physical status will allow it. I knew someone with exactly this background who was making very good money after 3 years of schooling.
posted by salvia at 8:38 PM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

I did some major soul searching of my own in my late 30's after 10 years in graphic design. I can't speak to what might be a good degree/certificate/training for her to go for, she needs to figure that out on her own. I asked myself all sorts of questions on what I wanted out of work and decided to give reschooling a try. I am now 41 and, just today, I got my acceptance letter into a food science undergrad program as an incoming junior. I have spent the last few years going back to school and starting over in the hard sciences. It's damned weird to be the ONLY old woman in the entire organic chemistry class but I am damned happy I decided to do it. I found my best option and I am enjoying myself, despite feeling out of place. When I graduate, I will probably be close to 44 and I will still probably have 20 years in my new field. That's a whole career. I'm looking forward to it. She isn't too old to try something brand new.
posted by Foam Pants at 12:58 AM on February 14, 2017 [4 favorites]

there are jobs/occupations where age is an asset, eg therapy/counselling - a therapist in his late 60s who was by then teaching and supervising therapists told me it is pretty much the only career in his opinion where you actually benefit from taking it up later in life - due to your own life experience and struggles you lived through which (if your are so inclined) can help develop empathy and also, he said, quite simply age inspires confidence (generally speaking of course) and is therefore an advantage when establishing your own practice. Mind you he was speaking about professional training as a therapist with a reputable institution and also took for granted investing into your own growth (where he trained therapists it was mandatory to also undergo a certain amount of therapy yourself as part of your training, not some quick online certificate, so the training may be too expensive).

Another career might be event management in academia, I took it up for serious (had dabbled in it before though) at around 40, and i find that again life experience and a certain calm that comes with having lived a while that comes with age is so very helpful.
I have no formal training there, I was an admin assistant before only doing few events on the side. What you need are excellent people skills and self organisation, as well as lots of common sense and also physical stamina (to pull through 2-3 intense days). I sometimes wish I had some sort of financial training but have learnt it now on the job.

In general, I have observed that in jobs requiring people skills age is an asset.
posted by 15L06 at 1:21 AM on February 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

I always recommend the same thing to anyone who seems to be in flux with their career interests and also contemplating going back to school: work at a university that offers tuition benefits. Large universities that offer lots of different types of employment opportunities and academic opportunities are ideal, because it is relatively easy to make lateral moves once you are "in the system," and you can take classes for free (and usually drop them without financial consequence). To get into a uni job, she should apply to some generalist positions (e.g. administrative assistant, program coordinator, etc.) or temp. Temp jobs often turn into full time jobs, if one is willing to work for beans and crappy benefits for a few months.
posted by houseofleaves at 5:29 AM on February 14, 2017 [1 favorite]

*Caveat: Not every university offers tuition benefits, and some claim to offer them but they are so terrible it isn't worth it. (For example, they will give employees $2000/year towards classes at their school, but then you find out each class at the school is $3500. Or, you can take classes for free, but it is only in this limited selection of evening programs that you have no interest in.)
posted by houseofleaves at 5:38 AM on February 14, 2017

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