Seriously considering a change in careers - thoughts wanted!

Howdy all!

I’m seriously considering changing my career - for the past 10+ years I have worked in defense contracting, specifically as a writer/editor/illustrator for government technical manuals. I make pretty good pay, around $50k a year.

The problem is, the work is SO unstable, and the stress of that is killing me. I have worked for 7 different companies in the past ten years, with a few periods of brief layoffs. In a month’s time, my current contract expires and is being moved under a different contrat vehicle that my current company is ineligible to bid on, and there is rumor that a lot of the positions will be cut when the next company takes over.

The problem is, as always, is that switching companies means throwing my life into chaos. New insurance, new 401k, new rules, new procedures. This is incredibly hard when one has kids with very expensive, ongoing medical needs. And I hate, hate, HATE the fact that every year, I have to go into panic mode worrying about whether or not there is going to be any money left to support my job.

So I’m thinking of a change. I don’t know what direction I want to go, but I know that I do want something far more stable, if that’s even possible these days. I’d love to make as much as I do now, but that’s completely unrealistic - but at the same time, I need to make withing $12k-15k of it to be able to survive.

I’m willing to pursue education/training. I have some college now, but no degree - all I currently have is a high school diploma. In about a year and a half, I could have a Bachelor’s degree, if all my credits transferred. I just haven’t been actively enrolled any where since my divorce 4 years ago.

So…thoughts? My particular talents are in art and writing, but I am reasonably good with my hands and not opposed to trade skill careers.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

  1. Figure out what exactly you want to do.
  2. Do it.
  3. Continue to suffer because the problem that’s vexing you is deeper than the nature of your career and your dissatisfaction and insecurity with it are just symptoms.

I would advise taking some marketing classes and then pushing for assignments in proposal-writing. You’ll know the business better than anyone, and there is always an RPF to answer. This woudl probably provide more money and security without a change of company, and you coudl always go back to tech writing when you win a job that appeals to you.

Look into Grant Writing…

Do it. If there is any way you can finish your 4-year degree, do it. These days, many places won’t even let you in the door – for any job – without a bachelor’s degree.

This. (Though skip the marketing classes, unless you can take a few while you’re getting your degree: instead, get some proposal training from a place like Shipley.) I spent 13 years as a tech writer and just last year transitioned to proposal writing: trust me, there’s a hell of a learning curve (regardless of what some employers think, proposal writing and tech writing are not interchangeable), but proposal work is more stable and pays much better. The trick will be finding a contract/situation that will let you get started. I had a master’s degree in English, though, which combined with my experience helped a lot.

Woeg needs to make at least $35-38k: does grant writing usually pay even that much? Isn’t it nearly always for nonprofits?

As someone who does proposal writing now in defense contracting, I would say that rather than spend the money on finishing your bachelor’s degree, consider getting certificates of great interest to a number of jobs. I have an MBA, but even with that, you’d be surprised how unstable my job is too. Lose too many proposals? You’re laid off (even if you didn’t pick the ones to pursue). Company cutting overhead positions? You’re laid off and they’ll use consultants. Government taking too long to award contracts you are sure to win? You’re still laid off.
That said, whenever I work on proposals, I’m amazed at how often we see ‘must have Project Management Professional (PMP) credential’ or ‘Lean Six Sigma Green/Black Belt’. So, I looked into what was involved for those, and three weeks later, I had both certificates, neither of which required a degree. Next I am planning to get the Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). Of course, this is DoD specific and you didn’t say whether that is the type of Government work you are doing or what sort of tech manuals you are writing.

Howdy all! Thanks for all the responses so far…my replies follow:

@thenonepercent: The problem isn’t that I don’t love what I do. I actually really enjoy writing for a living, and though I would prefer it be of a fictional sort, I haven’t had any luck yet there and tech writing pays the bills. I have no idea what your #3 is about - I honestly think that a large portion of the stress in my life comes from not knowing if I am going to have a job on a yearly basis. It sucks!

@Trucelt: I am definitely going to need to consider this as a possibility, but as mentioned down thread, its layoff risks are about the same.

@F14tomcat: I know grant writers. In this area, they are all desperately trying to break into tech manual writing…

@Misnomer: I will definitely look at Shipley - do you know if they offer any kind of financial aid? I didn’t see anything referring to that on their website.

@Yarster: Certificates are a great idea! I will definitely start looking into those. My specific field is writing tech manuals for the Air Force, particularly cargo and warfighter airframe support.

Just to be clear for Woeg: PMP and Six Sigma make sense for proposal work – though neither is required by any means, and both apply more to project management work – but CISSP is a technical certification.

(I work in defense contracting, too: 14 years as a tech writer on defense projects, and now 1.5 years working on defense proposals.)

Once you have a year of proposal experience you can go after an Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP) accreditation.

No, Shipley isn’t a school or anything that would offer financial aid; there’s no degree or certification at the end. They just offer proposal training courses – both online and in person – that either you or your employer pay for.

My wife is a freelance writer, mostly doing medical work. She doesn’t make quite $50K a year, but she works part time, and doesn’t really try to. There is a lot of freelance work out there, some of it fairly steady. She often sends me listings for more tech oriented writing for after I retire. In the non-defense world I think work has gone from in-house writers to contract writers more and more - our in-house documentation department disappeared. If you have the time you might try getting some work beyond your 9-5 work, since you have a good background. She discovered that the two biggest items they look for is basic technical competence and reliability.
The big negative - no benefits. No problem for her since we have mine, but could be an issue for you.

2nd Shipley, it is great training.

Well, most of the responses have been to the question of “How can I extend the opportunities in the field I’m in” and they’re good answers. I’ll respond to the OP title and content:

What you do now may be different from what you’re good at, which may be different from what you like to do. Those three may have everything, little, or nothing to do with the opportunities available to you. I could give you billions of examples but people around here already know me as exceedingly verbose, so I’ll skip that.

Go to a headhunter agency and/or a branch of your state’s Employment Development Department (or equivalent) and see if they have job placement/occupational aptitude courses. Sign up for a day-long course which will help you determine your proficiencies and, more importantly, your aptitudes. You might also benefit from an occupational ‘personality test,’ as well. [N.B.: I recall that when I went to the EDD evaluation, it was free for people getting their Unemployment benefits, but people who were already working had to pay a small fee. I thought it was nice that they didn’t charge people who were on hard luck at the time.]

Since I can’t possibly predict the results of those evaluations, that’s about all the specific advice that can be offered. You may find out that you’re in the ideal job or industry*. Or you may find that you’re just a couple skills or courses short of your ideal career. Or you may find that you’re in the wrong field and should start from scratch on a different degree track. In any case, you’ll have to decide which direction to go and how much you can afford in the pursuit of a different job/industry/career.


*I discovered my former job was the best match for my aptitudes and skills; too bad I was discovering that at a placement agency they had contracted for my whole laid-off team.:smack:
It’s not just a job, it’s a career.
It’s not just a career, it’s a lifestyle.
It’s not just a lifestyle it’s a – Damn, how do you top that?

Another thought for the OP: if you’d rather go the “art” route than the “writing/editing” route, and if you are very comfortable with technology, consider becoming a graphic artist who specializes in proposal graphics.

It’s a common misconception, so I understand why you’d think so, but proposal writing and technical writing are actually different fields.

Hmmm a career aptitude test would be a great idea. I’ll have to look in to that.

And yes, proposal writing, hell, most writing, is a very different bird from tech writing.

Thanks again all for the great advice!

I have to share this, as I find it rather amusing: I took an online career aptitude test, a pretty detailed one that took about an hour (granted, while distracted with a few other things).

In the end, it said that my strongest aptitude is in writing, and that I should consider a career in either creative or technical writing. However, I also scored highly in art, and should consider technical illustration if I didn’t want to write.

Ha! Too funny!

Hey, that’s great!

It means you’re basically doing something you’re really good at, whether by training or natural talent. Note, however, that what you’re good at may not be what really satisfies your passion. For instance, my sister was a really really good accountant and did a great job in property management accounting. However, she really loves working with children and fostering their growth. She dropped out of the accounting world and has been fighting an uphill battle (for years) to get a special education teaching credential. Her family thinks that was not a wise career choice – not because the kids aren’t worth it but because her skills and talents really aren’t strong in communicating to parents, much less to learning-impaired children.

Oh, and I’ve done both Tech and Grant writing. I know they’re different, but they’re still writing. My point earlier was to suggest that the OP’s other talents and skills might connect him to a completely different line of work. Maybe he’d actually be awesome as a movie critic or lyricist.

My point is that matching your skills (learned) and your talents (innate, mostly) with your passion (discovered, and perhaps mercurial) is not always easy. There’s also that irritating need to pay bills and stay alive, and sometimes it gets in the way of doing what we really want to do.

Oh, and I’d refer you to another thread somewhere around here where a lot of people are sharing what they love and what they hate about their jobs. It’s quite interesting and could spark some additional ideas for you. Can someone post a reference link here?


Find a job you love
and you’ll never
work a day in your life.
–Bumper sticker aphorism