Another career change question
May 20, 2020 11:42 AM   Subscribe

Where do I go from here, career wise? Career change, grad school, something else? Nonprofit background.

2019 found me increasingly frustrated with work and seeking change... and then 2020 happened. I'm still employed, but I expect to be laid off soon. It seems like a good time to regroup and take stock of where I want to be career-wise.

My background: I'm in my early 30s, I have a BA in Sociology. Since college, I've worked in nonprofits. For the last 5 or so years I have worked in project/program management, primarily in the areas of education and mental health. The main skills I use day-to-day are project management, program development and evaluation, writing, and light data analysis. I like my job alright, particularly the problem solving and listening to people and getting shit done and creating things (programs, surveys, referral systems, whatever) that actually work well. I also like the data part.

The problem: Aside from the fact that my job may not be long for this world, I also feel like it's become a dead end and I'm nervous about where to go from here-- I feel like my skills are broad and shallow. In a larger sense, I'm becoming disillusioned with the nonprofit sector for Reasons I don't need to get into here.

What I'm looking for:
- I want a job that is at least somewhat interesting and challenging.
- I want flexibility in changing jobs, moving, etc-- so I want skills that are reasonably in demand.
- I want to feel ethically at peace with the work I'm doing. I'm definitely motivated by feeling like my work is adding something of value to the world-- doesn't necessarily need to be a nonprofit though.
- I want good work-life balance in my schedule.
- I want to be paid a living wage but I don't need to make oodles of money-- the above criteria are more important.

Possibilities I'm thinking about:
- Grad school, either a Masters or a certificate program. I feel like this could be a good springboard into a totally new career, or staying in my general field but using the experiences and networking opportunities to finagle my way into something more research or policy based, which I think I would like. I've been looking at Masters in Public Health and Masters in Public Admin degrees, but I'm also trying to look a little further afield-- something like UX research seems really interesting, and I've also toyed with the idea of getting deeper skills in data science, though I'm not sure my math skills are strong enough.

- Staying in the nonprofit field, but building up some more specialized skills, either to apply to jobs with or to freelance with. I've considered Salesforce certifications and grant writing. I think I'd like nonprofit communications, but I feel like the skills leap would be further for that.

- Try to transition into the private sector, maybe by getting a PMP certification? Not sure what this would look like or whether it's something I would want from a lifestyle perspective-- I kind of suspect not.

- Stay the course. Rather than sinking time and money into new skills, think about the skills I already have and redouble my efforts to find a job in my current field that's a better fit.

I know this question covers a lot of ground. I'm looking for specific feedback and ideas about new careers and paths to explore, and I'm also looking for suggestions or resources on how to approach the process of making this type of decision. Whatever you got, I'm happy to consider! Thanks!
posted by ambulanceambiance to Work & Money (3 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I could have written this EXACTLY, except I spent my ten nonprofit years in development. After burning out hard, earlier this year I got a new job with a labor union, which was very different but also kinda not. The department was called "operations" which covered a lot of ground, but my "broad and shallow" skills in project management, databases, technical writing, and working across departments all came into it.

I was only there for three months before my position got corona'd, but it was GREAT to step out of nonprofits and see that 1. my skills are still applicable outside the sector and 2. other people are willing to believe that and hire me for something outside of nonprofits.

I think the rather regimented and weird structure of nonprofits had me feeling trapped, but actually a lot of that was just in my head. Forget the masters. You're qualified for a lot more jobs than you think right now.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:57 PM on May 20, 2020

I was going to suggest looking into unions as well. You might want to look into being a union researcher, or data management roles - almost all unions have these roles and unions tend to be pretty good at training staff on the job, as a lot of people come to union jobs from other sectors. Working for a union is similar to a non-profit and does have a lot of the same issues, but the funding structure is different, which eliminates some of the non-profit industrial complex issues (though of course, unions have their own politics and issues).

Sort of an off-the-wall idea, but what about HR? Larger HR departments often need people with the kinds of skills you have, and if you work for a good company, you can do interesting things in HR. (Non-profit HR can be pretty soul-sucking, but I have friends who work for progressive companies who enjoy their HR jobs where they get to be innovative and do good work)

One thing I did when I was thinking about leaving the non-profit sector was talked to friends who worked in different sectors to try to figure out where I might fit in. I would explain to them what I did and what skills I used and they would tell me where they thought those skills were used in their field, including job descriptions, etc. And then that helped me look for specific job listings in those fields to see what those employers were looking for.

In my case, it turned out I didn't actually want the jobs I was qualified for in corporate America, but this exercise did help me realize what my niche/specific skill set was, and that was super helpful. I say this because it sounds like you do actually have a pretty specific and valuable skill set - your main issue is just understanding how to apply it outside the non-profit sector.

(In my case, I wound up going out on my own as a freelancer. Most but not all of my clients are NPOs, but freelancers get to avoid some of the biggest issues with non-profit work, including low pay. So that's something to think about down the road.)
posted by lunasol at 2:17 PM on May 20, 2020 [2 favorites]

A lot of your skills and experience sound similar to mine, though in a different sector of nonprofit work. I decided I wanted to make a change over the past couple of years, not specifically away from nonprofit work but just in my case a job with less travel and more locally focused instead of international work which was my wheelhouse. I'm still in the midst of making changes but recently got a new job at a university grants management department, and am planning on going to school in the Fall part time for an MPH with a focus on biostatistics. If you like working with data that could be one area to look into (or epidemiology for what seems like a broader outlook and less math/programming heavy to me than biostats). One of the things that appeals to me about the field is that it seems pretty versatile in terms of potential employers (academia, private sector, nonprofit) and will give the chance to contribute to some substantive work that supports the public good. We'll see how things advance of course, I'm still learning about the field.

Also btw for the data science stuff I'm not sure how much math you really have to have to get a data analysis sort of job. After looking into it the past 6 months or so, it seems like the job title "data scientist" can mean a range of things and often requires more the ability to program in SQL or similar and maybe a dash of R, use software to do data visualizations, have mastery of some relatively basic statistics, and think broadly/analytically about a topic. I've been bulking up on math courses the past year or so because I want the option to take some more advanced math classes in my program, because of general curiosity, and because on the off chance I ever want to do a PhD it could be useful to have some prereqs down. However, a lot of the data science programs I've looked at don't seem to require very advanced math - just if that is something that interests you.
posted by knownfossils at 10:21 PM on May 20, 2020

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