My job could be my own worst enemy

February 7, 2010 · 13 comments

I graduated college at 21 without the slightest idea what I was going to do for a living. I took my psychology degree and landed myself a job with The Fed. I’m pretty vague about my specific position, but I have mentioned before it involves investigations. Over the last two years I have gotten really good at investigating things that I’m suppose to investigate. It’s a sweet job, but I knew going in to it, I had to make a decision… A decision that would impact the rest of my life.

I set a rule for myself when I accepted my job offer: Get out within five years, or do it for the rest of your life. Ya see, my job is such a narrow/specific field, that the skills I have learned over the last couple years do not really translate well in to most other career fields. I know that if I stay in my position for more than five years, I will have a freakin’ difficult time trying to find a job in a different field, because aside from investigating things, I wont have any other applicable skill sets.

I re-read that last paragraph and realize I’m not doing a very good job at communicating my thoughts (must be too much nacho cheese from the Superbowl party yesterday). The best way to enlighten you is by example. Think about a cop. Their job is pretty specific: Keep the city civil. Do you know many cops that only work for the department for a couple years and then transition to corporate America? I sure as heck don’t. Most cops are career cops. They work for their local P.D. until the day they retire. It’s not a bad gig if you love being a cop, but it’s not the greatest thing if you want to change careers.

Some positions are stepping stones, i.e. HR assistant, financial analyst, marketing intern. They are a means to an end. You take the financial analyst job so you can transition to a corporate relationship manager, then promote to vice president, and eventually become a partner in the company. You get to climb the corporate ladder and you have a billion different options if you decide you want to change companies or positions. But, what the heck are you suppose to do when you don’t have a stepping stone job? How do I keep from allowing my current job to limit my future potential?

I have some thoughts on this that I’ll be posting up tomorrow, but for now I want to hear from you. Has anyone out there found their job prospects severely hindered as a result of your current position? What do you do if you love your job, make good money, but don’t want to do it for the rest of your life? Has anyone had success changing from one field, to a DRASTICALLY different field? Gimme some insight, ’cause I need some help!

1 Sandy L

I think this may be true even in very broad fields like "engineering", which I am one. Seems the longer you stay in a particular industry or segment, the harder it is to switch out. The plus side is that your skills within your industry become highly sought after because there are a limited pool of qualified candidates that have skills similar to yours. So, if you're good with where you're at, and your industry is not on the verge of being obsolete, then your prospects of job security are fairly high.

2 The Asian Pear

I don't know if you'd call my job specific skills… but I am an admin assistant/entry/junior level and trying to move out of this is very hard when that's the set of skills everyone assumes that you JUST have. I know that the only way I can move out from this is to get a lower pay and switch to another section such as finance or upgrade myself. but I know i can't stay in my position any longer or I'll be branded as support staff forever. so I empathize with your situation.

3 Katie

Mr has a degree in mechanical engineering. In the 5 years since he graduated college, he's been a secretary for a school board, a translator, a CAD assisted designer and now he's a patent examiner in a department that has NOTHING to do with his mechanical engineer. If the benefits/salary weren't so amazing, he would have quit the patent department years ago, but now he's kind of stuck. He's got a great resume, but it's hard to wean yourself off the government tit when every other job offer has lower salary and crappy benefits.

Really take stock of what skills you've developed on the job and break them down in a list for yourself. Don't say 'Investigating', break it down into it's component steps. You'd probably be surprised what skills you have and how they can translate. See if you can take on additional responsibilities.

Also, continuing education. Branch out a little and take some classes at the community college or adult ed center. You'd be surprised what you can find and most CC credits usually aren't too expensive (here it's about $1,600 a semester, and as an adult learner, you stand a good chance to receive grants and scholarships). Plus, you can usually find a lot of certification programs. An related associates degree might really help you when and if you decide to make the leap towards something else.

4 Larry

It's quite common for people to branch out into completely different fields. What I'd say you need to do is think hard about what you want to do, see what jobs might fit your interests, and revamp your résumé to fit the demands of the new position. This is also where a really convincing cover letter is needed to explain why you want to leave your previous career and enter a new one.

The downside is that, considering 10% unemployment in this economy right now, it's not the best time to abandon a sure thing especially if you have no directly relevant experience in another field.

5 Marie

If you love your job and make good money, why would you want to change? Is there some reason to believe that the type of investigations you do will go away? Or that if they go away, you would be unable to do different kinds of investigations for the federal government?

I love what I do, too, and am happy with what I earn. I know quite a few people who aren't in the same boat, to the point at which I think it's a rare and valuable thing to feel this way. I would never scrap what I do, with all of my career knowledge, to pursue something else entirely. If some job apocalypse happened and my field went away, I'd look for something else… but pull the plug myself?

It's like saying that you're happy with your husband and he's happy with you, but you don't want to stay married for more than five years because it'll be harder to find another husband when you're significantly older. If you've found the perfect guy for you, it seems dumb to throw it away so that you can go looking for another.

6 Red

I empathize with your situation, bud. When I realized I didn't want to be a reporter any longer, I took a job with a previous employer to basically work until I felt I had enough credentials under my belt to market myself as something other than "journalist." I tried to rework my resume to point to the few skills I had as a journalist that were applicable to other jobs – like working on a tight deadline and editing my work with a fine tooth comb.

My advice would be to sit down and really think about the skills you've learned at this job. Write them down and then break that list down into the skills that led you to the first list. I bet you'll find that you have more marketable skills than you think.

And, as another reader said, look into taking some community college courses on topics outside of your field. I'm not really into computers at all, but I'm going to take 13 computer courses this spring and summer (paid for by my current employer) so I can add that to my resume and hopefully appeal to a wider base of future employers.

Good luck to you!

7 Katie

Sorry, that's $1,600 for a 15 credit semester, not $1,600 a credit.

8 Jessie

I would say only look for something else if you don't like what you are doing and/or don't think the pay is enough or will be enough to support a family.

My mom said something to me this weekend along the lines of – make your choices now, b/c once you have kids you can't just 'quit' if you don't like what you're doing (we were talking about a family friend).

9 Investing Newbie

I don't think you've met enough cops. What I'm really trying to say is that I don't think your job will ever be too specifc to translate into another industry. Although you may have to make a lateral or even downward move, you can still make the transition into another position in another industry.

I believe I'm the prime example. I have a degree in Spanish. My first job out of college was in HR. Now I'm working as an Financial Analyst. I have never taken any classes in HR and maybe two classes in Economics. I believe the reason I was able to make the jump was because of my passion for the new position as well as being able to show evidence of having/developing the necessary skills that can be translated to the new role.

Think clearly about your "investigations." What do you really do? Is there writing involved? Is there analysis? Communication? Teamwork? Most employers are looking for skillsets that cater to the bigger picture rather than specific skillsets. You'll be amazed at how your job could have possibly prepared you for another job in another field.

10 Kyle

The best suggestion I could give would be to find a position where you get to do something that is in high demand even in the corporate world. Like getting on to a cyber crimes division where you could learn computer forensics, hacking, or other computer related tech.

I know a lot of ex bureau guys who left the bureau to go to jobs in various IG offices. That is still investigating but on a much smaller, less red tape kind of way.

11 SAM

I think you'd be surprised how many jobs there are out there for ex-Feds. For every Federal agency, there are a hundred little contractors doing nearly the same thing with Federal dollars. Take a closer look.

12 @eemusings

Hmm. I kind of agree on the cop thing, but some of them go into security work or do private investigation. I guess the main thing you need to focus on transferable skills – do you have them? Can you articulate what they are?

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