And now for something completely different
January 11, 2007 8:28 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I are tired of getting beat up by institutions that ask us to do good and pay us little. We want a change!

My partner and I have both spent years in the academy and in and around work in non-profits and a Mainline Protestant church. Were both just over thirty have less than 80k in previous student loans, no kids, but no house equity to dip into either.

We are both very intelligent, articulate, creative and educated people (read: liberal arts majors) who are tired of watching our "dumb" friends and acquaintances out earn us, buy houses, etc.

How can we start over? How can we get out of our "noble" and low-paying jobs into the mainstream economy? It'd sure be nice to make a REAL middle class wage.
posted by MasonDixon to Work & Money (24 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
What are your skills and what work have you been doing for the non-profits? I used to work for a non-profit and transferred my experience and knowledge nicely to the corporate sector.
posted by onhazier at 8:40 AM on January 11, 2007

Start talking to your "dumb" friends to better understand what they do in their jobs, and how your skills could fit.
posted by Good Brain at 8:49 AM on January 11, 2007

Response by poster: Skills? Well we have very diverse experience ranging from church administration and management, basic accounting for different groups, grant writing, writing and had generally high degree of responsibility in different areas whether its been managing/dealing with people or handling money.

We both feel we have enough experience and intelligence to be highly malleable.

I guess I am wondering what steps others have taken or had to take to transition and inititiate second careers.
posted by MasonDixon at 8:56 AM on January 11, 2007

Usually, the first step is figuring out what you *want* to do... not what you can do. "Earn more money" is an end result, not an occupation.

To buy a house, us "dumb" people generally do one of two things -- we either get very good at something that we like a lot and find a way to leverage that into the Big Bucks(tm), or we find a job that's "Easy" and then take on extra work at night to pay down debt, build up savings, and then purchase a house. For just about everyone, buying a house involves a few years of discipline in order to pay down debts -- sticking to a budget that's tighter than tight on an entry level ($30k/yr) salary.

So ... to answer your question of how you start a second career, well, doing what?
posted by SpecialK at 9:25 AM on January 11, 2007

I think "dumb" in this post = "not a liberal arts major, and not college educated" and wasn't meant as a put-down, but rather a mild self-deprecation or acknowledgement that their "smart" educations aren't paying the bills. So it's probably ok to not get in a huff about it when responding.

Good question, by the way.
posted by craniac at 9:42 AM on January 11, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks craniac, that's exactly what was meant.
posted by MasonDixon at 9:53 AM on January 11, 2007

Response by poster: Last post in my own question (sorry), I didn't specify a particular career because I didn't want my question to be "How to become a veterinarian" or "How to get paid to be a graphic designer", etc.
posted by MasonDixon at 9:55 AM on January 11, 2007

Televangelist? (I kid. Mostly.)
posted by Soliloquy at 10:02 AM on January 11, 2007

If you are really skilled and intelligent and all that, then just start applying for jobs that pay better.
posted by sulaine at 10:09 AM on January 11, 2007

Go back to school. That's why I did when I was tired of it. Sure, I'll be 30 when I'm finished, but at least I'm not working 80 hours a week hating my life and making peanuts (now I make peanuts temporarily and love my life). Probably not what you want to hear, but you could couple your management skills with some internety crap and that would impress someone somewhere and maybe you could go work for a university or something. Start your own business. Do consulting work. Take some business classes at a community college. There are a lot of options, but none of them are quick fixes.
posted by bash at 10:09 AM on January 11, 2007

Best answer: First and most obviously, you and your parter ought to network with your friends, not just for job opportunities but for advice on how to parlay your skills to careers in the corporate/private sector. Strong basic skills like writing, public speaking, planning, organizing, rudimentary finance stuff plus your degree and education are more than what's necessary to get a job in a lot of places, frankly. You just have to target your search to what you know what is available (that's where the networking comes in).

Second, you might have to change your mindset a bit about what a non-NFP/academic career means to you, and what it brings to mind when you consider it. A lot of idealistic people -- not saying you're one of them -- equate making money with selling out or being greedy or unprincipled in some other way. If you have that point of view, you need to not only supress it but rethink it entirely. Otherwise you'll always feel a little dirty and ashamed that you turned your backs on higher principles in order to chance after the filthy lucre. Good people, smart people, can also be financially successful people.

Last, like bash said above, additional education may be in order, but you might be suprised how far you can get without additional degrees.
posted by contessa at 10:18 AM on January 11, 2007

/s chance chase
posted by contessa at 10:20 AM on January 11, 2007

Best answer: My partner and I are in a very similar boat. I have a master's and barely gross $30k a year, while my friend's husband has a GED and makes over $70k a year managing a Rent a Center. That makes me bitter as hell because we were "promised" better and higher paying jobs if we went to college and grad school.

We've got debt gallore to pay off (and I'm bitter about not having the things my "dumb" friends have), so I started freelancing on the side. That brought in an okay amount of money last year.

You don't say anything about quality of life really, so if you just want to make more money, so you can buy a house and earn as much as your friends, you should both get second jobs. Granted, you won't see each other at all, or be able to use any of the stuff you buy with your extra money, but you'll be right in line with the Joneses.

I really don't mean that to be as snarky as it comes off.

It's just that I've realized over the past year (while working 120 hours a week) that I'd rather have a little bit of time to relax with my sweetie than have a little extra money to boost me into the next tax bracket.


Also, if you want to start a new career in a new field, you're gonna have to start at the bottom, which doesn't pay much.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:57 AM on January 11, 2007

Four things determine wage for any given job (from the book, Freakanomics):

Demand for the service
Number of people willing to do the job
Specialized skills required to do the job
Unpleasantness of the job

Speaking as someone who's made the transition you're talking about, I think the trick is to find something you can do, and don't mind doing, that needs doing.

For me, I started out thinking I wanted to write novels. Turns out that while EVERYBODY wants to be a novelist, a surprisingly small number of people actually buy fiction. So, the first 2 factors were against me. I finally realized that even if I was in the top 1% of talent as a novelist (I'm not), I would still have trouble supporting myself this way.

I switched over to tech writing, then from there to network administration. This was during the tech boom, and I lived in the Bay Area. Any moron with the smallest vestige of computer skill could get a job. That was nice.

So if there's something you can do that other people find scary/unpleasant/difficult, but that is necessary, you will get paid well for it. An example would be database administration.

I really liked What Color Is Your Parachute - kind of an old chestnut but good for sorting out what kind of career might work when you are contemplating a switch.
posted by selfmedicating at 11:04 AM on January 11, 2007

One thing to consider strongly is college - I mean skills based college, not university college. You already have the degrees for corporations that require them, but you may not have 'skills' that you can definitively point them to. In Canada, at least, the better colleges offer good 'post-graduate diplomas' that are usually 9 month programs for college graduates to learn actual skills in something like HR management or PR or about a zillion other white collary type things.

A short professional program like that would give you some keywords to build your resume around. And it might also help you figure out if you like or hate HR Management or PR or whatever white collary type thing.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:10 AM on January 11, 2007

Best answer: It sounds like your skills would be valuable in a variety of jobs at universities, from working in department administration to development work to grant-writing for the advanced degree programs and research. Your profile says you're in the Boston area, so this should be relatively easy. Most schools have online job listings you can look over; for promising jobs, send the HR departments a resume and cover letter that explains that you're looking to apply your skills and experience in an academic field, and that Job XYZ sounds like a good fit. It's possible that they'll have you in for an interview for that job, or for another they know may be opening up.

Also, try talking to the folks at two or three local placement agencies. It's free to you (they're paid by the employers) and even if they don't get you a job, they will give you career advice and suggestions. If you really want to get into the corporatey-corporate world, this is a good way to start.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 11:11 AM on January 11, 2007

jacquilynne has a good point - I did something along the lines of her suggestion to segue from non-profit to legal admin. I took the Paralegal Professional Program offered by Northeastern, and used Robert Half Legal to find a job afterwards. I make at least 25% more than I would have at a non-profit.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 11:19 AM on January 11, 2007

Check state government job postings. Your experience in non-profits will translate easily, especially into the social services departments. (Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, Retirement Services.) You sound like a good fit for grant administration, outreach and marketing, maybe even management. Government pay isn't outstanding, but it's better than non-profits and the insurance benefits are good. Plus, government employees are never at their desks after 5pm.
posted by junkbox at 11:21 AM on January 11, 2007

Craniac / MasonDixon - Yes, but it came across as very condscending and snide, which is what most of my very liberal-arts friends (we're all just a smidge short of 30 now) thought about my business degree when we were going through school together. I decided a few years ago to stop apologizing because the [communcations/environmental ecology/social studies/womens' studies/pottery appreciation] degree that they ran up $100k in debt for never got them anywhere. The world doesn't owe anyone a satisfying, fulfilling career that will make them rich.

A bit more advice:
The easiest way to get started in a new field is, if possible, just to go out and -do- it. If you want to be a graphic designer, pick up Photoshop and Illustrator and start doing designs for everyone you know. Eventually people will start paying you to do it.
If you can't, get some expeirence in your field any way you can. Volunteer in your off hours, take classes, develop relationships with people in the field...

Either way, as much as I hate to take a quote from Nike ... just -do- it.

My mother has done this with curtains and interior design -- she makes custom curtains, pillows that match, and helps people pick out interior design materials that will help tie a room together. Another friend is a programmer, but always wanted to be a writer. This past year, she's had three articles and their associated photos purchased about her motorcycle tours. She hopes that in another few years she'll be able to quit her day job and tour/write for a living. I've been slowly molding my career more towards 'problem solving' instead of 'computer programming'... but I have a lot of work left to do on my interpersonal and time-management skills.

Of course, all of this implies that you know what you want to do. There are very few careers these days that you can get into and absolutely hate but will make you a lot of money -- everything, even sales, requires passion, dedication, and the careful development of various skills. I mean, if you want to find something you hate but pays the bills, go work at the post office or something. Before you embark on the journey... you should probably decide what will make you happiest. And it's not a bad thing if that's exactly what you're doing now, just with some changes to the way you approach life.
posted by SpecialK at 11:22 AM on January 11, 2007

With your degree, some universities offer shortened nursing programs, around 14 months of 6 days a week. If you're lucky, it may even be subsidized by an area hospital. You'd have to promise to work for the hospital for a set number of years, but some even offer a small salary while you're in school.

Nursing is a career that will always be in demand. Depending on where you live, the salary isn't bad and the hours are flexible. You will always be able to find work as long as your body physically holds out.
posted by TorontoSandy at 11:24 AM on January 11, 2007

Working for non-profits frequently means low wages but great hours and setting. People choose to stay in these jobs because they believe in the organization's mission and find meaning outside their paycheck. If you don't find the mission and your job rewarding enough, then it is time to move on.

Having an education does not guarantee you will make more money than the guy driving the stinking trash truck you see on your street each week. In fact, he's probably quite well paid for his efforts.

SpecialK is right. You need to first determine what you want to do and what you are willing to put up with to get the salary you desire. Then, look into how you match your skills to the new career. That's when you will determine if you need to go back to school or not.

In my case, I now work in a cube farm, have less vacation, and work longer hours. However, I've also moved my family to a city with better schools, increased the family income, and found greater satisfaction with my job than ever before.
posted by onhazier at 11:56 AM on January 11, 2007

Best answer: Schooling does not equal higher pay outside of licensed professions (Lawyer, Accountant, Nursing, etc.). Nor should it. Your salary is a factor of your job, the rarity of the skills it requires, your employer, and your negotiation skills.

If you want a middle class wage, go out and find a middle class job that pays at a good rate. This means looking outside of non-profit, academia, church, and (usually) government circles. Don't let your lack of private-sector experience bother you. If you've been doing professional-type work for non-profits, there's no reason why you can't do similar work for a corporation. You're not "starting over", you're just changing sectors.

The part that you seem to be missing is the way that most non-entry level middle class jobs are usually found: networking. The best gigs aren't usually posted in the want ads. They're filled by word-of-mouth, and sometimes by recruiters/placement agencies.

So, start talking to your "dumb" friends who work for companies that pay middle-class wages. Let them know that you're looking to get out of non-profit, and ask them directly to keep an ear open for openings for you (and give them an idea of what it is that you can do -- facilities management, for instance?). If you're smart, personable and articulate (assuming other people recognize this in you quickly), and have a reasonable grasp on the skills required in a typical office environment, you probably won't have too much trouble getting interviews -- at that point, let your confident personality and articulated intelligence get you the job.
posted by toxic at 2:08 PM on January 11, 2007

Surround yourself with middle and upper-middle class people. I came from a lower middle class background and I endeavoured to surround myself with upwardly mobile people when I got out of university. I eventually got an MBA, because it helped broaden my English degree background, but one key benefit of doing the MBA was that it put me in touch with lots of upper middle class people. I learned a new way of talking, walking, thinking and so on. I don't necessarily espouse all that I learned, but I did reflect upon it. I continue to surround myself with people who know things I don't.

Also, I do consulting. This helped me put myself through an MBA, buy a car in cash, buy a home, do renovations, and pay down my mortgage by 10% within the first two years. I now do consulting full-time, but I really think it is a great way for people to pay down debts and save up for big financial goals. When I was just starting out, it also helped me go on some nifty trips and put a chunk of change into my retirement plan.
posted by acoutu at 2:54 PM on January 11, 2007

Response by poster: I really had no idea my question would bring out so many emotions in these responses or that folks might be secretly greedy to witness liberal arts majors get their comeuppance.

Apologies all round, I was not trying to be incite-ful. I just wanted to know if and how others had initiated these kinds of life changes.
posted by MasonDixon at 4:07 PM on January 11, 2007

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