Successful Career Change Stories from Real-Life "Second Acts"

Dr. Purushothaman
December 3, 2013


Conventional wisdom among professional recruiters holds that a typical American changes jobs between seven and ten times during his or her lifetime. However, a growing number of professionals have started to change their careers entirely, not just their employers. In fact, with career lines blurred by technology and market demands, some working adults have even discovered happiness by pursuing two different careers at the same time.

While career transitions are still too subtle for government statisticians to measure precisely, researchers like author Marci Alboher and advocate Marc Freedman collect stories of working adults who have successfully shifted between often-contradictory career paths. In some cases, economic factors pushed these professionals to make the leap to new careers. However, as these case studies illustrate, a growing number of Americans have discovered that the right training and motivation can help them trade boring jobs for passionate pastimes.

Culinary School Graduate Trades Park Ranger Green for Executive Chef White

While earning an undergraduate degree in natural resource management, Radhika Desai's classmates often referred to her as "our friend who likes to cook." Later, as a park ranger stationed in sweltering Death Valley, colleagues would visit her trailer for home cooked meals. As she told India Currents magazine in a recent interview, the more she delighted in seeing how friends and family members reacted to her latest culinary creations, the more she considered switching careers.

A visit to relatives in India helped Desai reconnect with the basic comforts offered by food, inspiring her to enroll in culinary school. Restaurant visits and a field trip to the opulent Burj al Arab Hotel in Dubai convinced her to focus on fine dining. Though her park ranger days are behind her, Desai's undergraduate degree gives her a broader understanding of organic produce that helps her uncover sources for the freshest ingredients. Since completing her culinary degree and working in kitchens at some of the world's finest restaurants and resorts, Desai has returned to Chicago as the Executive Chef at Between, a trendy boutique and lounge.

Advice for Aspiring Culinary School Enrollees:

* Look for programs that offer quality internships or work experience programs.

* Short courses and "boot camp" culinary programs offer a glimpse of professional life.

* Choose between culinary degree programs that focus on hospitality and food science--students with little interest in restaurant life can perform more effectively in catering kitchens or in research labs.

Part-Time Law School Helps an M.D. Become a J.D.

Four years of undergraduate training, followed by another seven to eleven years of medical school, usually keeps most doctors in the exam room and away from the classroom for the rest of their careers. However, Vietnamese-American surgeon Jasmine Brooks felt something was missing from a career that any parent would crow about. As she told U.S. News & World Report, a health care system that rewarded poor patient care led her to become frustrated about her career path. At the same time, the 39-year-old reflected on careers that could afford her more time to raise a family.

Enrolling in law school part-time gave Dr. Brooks the opportunity to experience a different kind of professional training while still earning an income from her full time job. After two years of attending law school during nights and weekends, she transitioned to a full-time law degree program for the final year of her training. Whether she opts for a job with a health care facility, a pharmaceutical company, or a law firm, Dr. Brooks can expect strong job offers from companies eager to hire a rare MD/JD degree program graduate.

Advice for Law School Students with Active Lives:

* Part-time law schools offer stronger career paths for attorneys with niche interests.

* Executive law degree programs cater to professionals, such as doctors and MBAs, who wish to gain critical legal knowledge without passing the bar exam.

* A growing number of specialist law firms hire paralegals with credentials from online law schools or part-time legal degree programs.

Degree Program Builds a Dentist's Business Skills Without Drills

In his own official biography, Dr. Ira Wolfe confesses his concern that he was known for "drilling and filling" instead of for his broader interests in community and professional development. As he invested time in hiring staff for his dental practice, he found himself speaking to other business owners and managers about how to hire quality employees. Before long, Dr. Wolfe started writing scholarly articles and conducting paid workshops for employers and for job hunters.

Making a shift from dentist to consultant required returning to the classroom, as well. As he told Business Week during a recent interview, he first pursued a master's degree in leadership and ethics before deciding to enroll in a formal MBA program. Just as he discovered during his own professional development, he advises his coaching clients to take strong, honest self-assessments. Citing his own career change at age 44, Dr. Wolfe reminds clients that the prestige of a professional job doesn't always guarantee personal satisfaction. Following a dream might sometimes mean earning less money, but can often lead to true achievement.

Tips for Prospective Business Consultants:

* Success coaches advise students to enroll in business degree programs that emphasize professional communication skills.

* Internships and work experience projects conducted during MBA programs can form the basis of strong professional networks.

* Students with previous job experience and a clear career path in mind can choose specialized MBA programs to round out overall skill sets.

Online Degree Programs and Executive Education Appeal to Quick Change Artists

Until recently, working adults looking for career changes endured long wait periods followed by semesters of sacrifice. Today, a growing number of colleges and universities understand the urgency of switching job tracks. Therefore, many part-time degree programs now offer rolling admission and other flexible enrollment options. Likewise, online degree programs give students a choice between real-time interaction with professors and peers or "asynchronous" learning through discussion boards and recorded lectures. In both cases, schools provide more options than ever for professionals who cannot afford to halt their current jobs before starting their new careers.

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