Ever meet someone in another industry and think, “I could totally do his job.”
Well, you wouldn’t be alone.
According to a University of Phoenix survey, 59% of working Americans daydream about having a new career, citing factors like burnout, a lack of excitement for their day-to-day duties and a desire for better pay—and upward mobility.
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In fact, these are the very reasons why three would-be career changers we rounded up across the country are looking to make industry shifts.
As the statistic reveals, finding a way to align your passions with your paycheck can be hard to do—but these professionals are ready to make it happen, whether it means more schooling or even a temporary pay cut.
But before they go full throttle toward their career 180s, we tapped two career experts on their behalf to offer insight on whether their job-change strategies are on track for a truly successful career switch.
The Mortgage Processor Who Wants to Be a Coder
Who: Jared Cox, 24, Cincinnati
Why Jared Wants a New Career: “The truth is, I don’t have a bad job, but I feel like my earning potential will be capped if I stay in the mortgage industry. I make about $40,000—and I don’t think I’d hit six figures for another 15 years.
I’ve always been a techie—I even built my own computer—so I’m really drawn to web development.
I know there are online videos out there that teach coding for free, but a lot of programming jobs require higher education. So my plan is to get an associate’s degree while still working and then transfer those credits to a bachelor’s program.
Long term, I think this career switch will benefit not only me but also my future family. I’m engaged, and my fiancée, Rachael, and I just closed on a house—making a more fulfilling and lucrative job all the more appealing.”
What the Career Experts Say: Coding is a highly technical field, so Jared should gauge whether he has a knack for it before moving full steam ahead, says Aimee Cohen, owner of Cohen Career Consulting in Denver.
“Of course, that’s not a reason not to make a career change,” she adds. “It just may require more due diligence to see if he has a natural aptitude for this skill set.”
So Cohen suggests taking workshops, seminars, or intro courses at a community college as a way to test-drive his abilities without committing to a pricier tuition bill.
As far as salary goes, Jared is right to assume he’d make more: Entry-level web developers in Cincinnati earn about $62,000 a year—and programming jobs are expected to grow at twice the national average.
But to know what the market is really like, New Jersey-based career and executive coach Anita Attridge suggests that Jared gather intel from employed web developers.
“He needs to find out the realistic story on how plentiful the jobs are for someone right out of school,” she says. “The salaries [he’s seeing] may reflect the fact that employers want some experience, too.”
What Jared Thinks: “I agree that talking with working programmers is invaluable. Fortunately, there are plenty at my company, and their insights have been encouraging.
One co-worker earned a two-year associate’s degree in web development and then went into an entry-level programming job while finishing up his bachelor’s—all with no prior background.
I’m open to pursuing a similar route, even if it means a temporary pay cut. And my company’s HR team also told me switching to web development internally is within my realm of possibility—as long as I have the right education.
Starting my degree at a technical school will help me save on costs, but I’m prepared to take out student loans. I believe my eventual boost in salary and job satisfaction would be worth it.”
The Data Analyst Who Wants to Be a Business Owner
Who: Tiffany Allen, 32, Lanham, Md.
Why Tiffany Wants a New Career: “I’ve been a data analyst for the past eight years, and I currently do trend reporting for a child-welfare agency.
I like working with data, and my $90,000 salary affords me a decent lifestyle. So I’m not unhappy—it’s more that I’m looking for a new challenge.
I started experimenting 10 years ago with recipes for homemade hair and skin-care products, and I found them to be more effective than what I bought in stores.
But it’s only been over the past year or two that I’ve thought about building a natural-beauty business, selling products, offering services like facials or microdermabrasion, and teaching others about natural skin care.
This would require becoming a licensed aesthetician. I’ve seen beauty schools ranging from $10,000 to $20,000 for the one-year program—which is more expensive than I initially thought. I need to figure out if it’s worth the investment.”
“She can probably only afford one investment initially—and if she tries to do it all, she may not do either one very well.”
What the Career Experts Say: To become an aesthetician in Maryland, Tiffany needs to either complete 600 hours at a cosmetology school or work for one year as a registered apprentice in a licensed beauty salon.
And if she wants to offer skin-care services, school would be a must. But before enrolling, Attridge suggests that Tiffany ask herself, “What’s higher on my priority list—products or services?”
“She can probably only afford one investment initially—and if she tries to do it all, she may not do either one very well,” Attridge says.
Since Tiffany’s already making her own products, Attridge suggests starting there, allocating her tuition money toward marketing and networking costs instead.
And Cohen suggests that she start getting her name out now to build buzz by joining her local chamber of commerce or women-in-business groups.
“It’s much better to maintain an active network than to build one when you need it,” Cohen says. “As a small business owner, those strategic partnerships are everything, so she has to be proactive.”
What Tiffany Thinks: “A huge takeaway for me is the suggestion to tackle one thing at a time—and focusing on the product side of the business makes a lot more sense.
If I started classes now, I’d likely have to cover part of the costs with a small loan.
But if I concentrate on products first, I could put that income toward my future beauty school tuition.”
The Maintenance Manager Who Wants to Be an Environmental Scientist
Who: David Clark, 27, Seattle
Why David Wants a New Career: “Over the past three years, I’ve worked my way up from being a groundskeeper to managing the maintenance of over 100 rental units at an apartment complex.
Recently, however, I’ve felt burnt out. I want to follow my passion for nature and wildlife by getting a bachelor’s in environmental science.
I actually bypassed college after high school—I went to a technical school and spent time in the Army—so this would be my first go at higher education.
I’ve already applied to a local community college, with plans to transfer into a bachelor’s program at the University of Washington. I’ve also researched grants to cover tuition. And I plan to work part-time evening jobs, so I can free up my days to attend classes.
I’m psyched to get the ball rolling. The stats show a lot of growth potential in this industry—but, ultimately, it’s not about the money.
I can support my family now—I have a daughter, Lorelei, 4, and a wife, Mae, who works at a coffee bar—but I’d be much happier as an ecologist or wildlife biologist.”
David shouldn’t expect an immediate pay bump. Higher-paying, more technical positions require two to five years of experience in the field.
What the Career Experts Say: David is right about the growth potential.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment in environmental science will grow at an above-average 15% between 2012 and 2022, with median pay currently more than $67,000 a year.
Even so, in such a specialized field, that doesn’t translate to tons of open positions.
“He’s going to have a lot of competition, so he needs to get a handle on how many jobs are in his area,” Attridge says. “He could start by simply Googling ‘Seattle’ and ‘environmental organizations,’ just to see how many [potential employers] there are.”
David also shouldn’t expect an immediate pay bump. A quick search of entry-level environmental lab positions in Seattle reveals that he may make as little as $7 more than his current $22 per hour. And higher-paying, more technical positions require about two to five years of experience in the field.
To get over this hurdle, “I would figure out a way to get boots-on-the-ground experience while also getting my degree,” Cohen says, adding that David can do this through volunteering, part-time work or internships that would enable him to form professional relationships within the community.
What David Thinks: “I definitely get the advice about understanding this job market.
I’ve already talked to one person who successfully went through my program, but I would like to find more people to speak with. I may also cold-call local organizations to get a feel for what’s out there.
In terms of tuition, the Pell grant is going to be a great help to us, but I do need to look into school-specific grants and scholarships.
In the meantime, Mae and I have started prepping financially for the fact that our income will drop while I’m in school, with plans to downsize from a two-bedroom apartment to a studio. We’ll also sell our car, opting to get around on electric-assisted bikes instead.
At this point, I’m ready to hit the ground running—and be an example to Lorelei of following your dreams.”
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