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Calvin Asks: Should I play it safe or take a leap of faith?
I’m a 30 something and I’m looking to change careers. I’ve been working in aerospace since I graduated and my job has become stagnant and unfulfilling. I’ve been thinking about a change and moving into the nuclear industry

I’m afraid that starting from scratch will mean exactly that for my salary. I can probably afford a small pay cut, but not going back to graduate wages. I’m also worried when looking for a job that I’ll fall into that trap of being ‘over-qualified’ that lots of recruiters use as a reason not to hire someone!

I know I’m going to be working for the next 30/40 years of my life and I want something that excites me, but should I play it safe or take a leap?

Undecided – Durham
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5 Replies
Have a look around and see what is out there. You have nothing to lose by applying for other roles and going to interviews to find out what is on offer and whether you might like it or not. You need to find a sense of fulfillment in career. As you say, so are going to be doing it for sometime to come. Sure we all have dull patches, but don't stick at it for too long. I have changed career path a number of times, working in different industries and even running my own business for a time. You will have many cross over skills and engineering logic can be applied to many diverse situations.
Roy Bowdler
847 Posts
I suggest taking a wider view of your life goals and personal circumstances. You also have to “call the market” for your existing skills and those that you might develop in future.  

Perhaps to date you have been very fortunate in growing strongly through university and into the early part of your career, but this has plateaued.  Almost everyone’s career follows this kind of pattern, although those with exceptional talent and opportunities may grow more steeply and plateau later, perhaps at a more strategic level (Jaques and Stamp).  Your question suggests that your organisation values your contribution, but does not see strong further potential. Does that seem reasonable to you? If you are ambitious, then you need to make that clear and seek other opportunities, if your current employer can’t offer what you want.  However, I sense that you are just bored of carrying out the same type of work, perhaps more variety would help to restore your mojo.

You mention “the nuclear industry”. Is this because you see opportunities for work in your target location(s), because it seems to be an area with growth potential in the areas of skill that you would like to exercise in future?

Your first option if possible, should be a conversation with someone in your existing organisation responsible for “talent management”, or whatever alternative description is used by HR. If that doesn’t make a difference, then your personal circumstances may limit your choices. Most careers are compromises between personal or family situation and work. As Alex highlighted there may be several different options, which might align differently with your needs and personal style preferences.  

“Recruiters” can mean several types of people such as; in a large organisation a line manager asking an HR function to recruit someone, an external recruitment consultancy retained typically to create a final shortlist, who may engage in sales and marketing, such as advertisements, telesales etc. So knock-backs often come from someone who just doesn’t think that you best fit their client’s brief compared to someone else.  Some organisations keep everything in house. Some SME’s rely on more informal means like talent spotting and informal approaches. You could even become a business partner with someone or self-employed.  A larger organisation may be able to sustain paying you beyond your level of productivity for longer than a small one, but again as Alex highlighted, you may have transferrable skills, which may even be more valuable elsewhere.

It appears that you haven’t moved before, so lack experience of marketing yourself in the employment market. A sales and marketing job with the product being you. For that reason it is important to put any negativity about your current role behind you and adopt good positive reasons why you want the target role(s) that you have identified.

Andy Millar
1784 Posts

At the age of 33 I was working in a senior engineering role in the professional audio industry. I took a "leap of faith" and moved to the rail industry taking a 20% pay cut. Worked out really well, yes it did take me a few years to get up to the same salary level - but once I was there I was able to keep going up which would have been tough in my previous industry.

HOWEVER, it was very difficult to find a company outside the audio industry that were prepared to even give me an interview. The way I managed it was to move to a part of the country where engineers were (and are) thin on the ground so companies were more willing to take people from other industries. Ironically, the factor that made that team such a success was exactly that they brought in expertise from a wide range of industries!

The laws of physics don't change from one industry to another. The industry specific factors can generally be learned pretty easily. Ok, when you change industry you're not quite as immediately valuable as you were to your previous industry, but you're very unlikely to be back at a recent graduate level of value. Have faith in your engineering abilities, and if the first few applications don't go anywhere - because of the lack of imagination of potential employers - just keep going until you do find one who is open minded enough to recognise that you might even bring new and additional expertise to their team.



P.S. I also endorse all the points made in the above posts!
I was going to make a comment, but Roy seems to have covered everything I was thinking of saying pretty thoroughly. The only thing I would add is in relation to Roy's last paragraph. Yes, you have to sell yourself and adopt good positive reasons why you want the role, but also you have to think about why the new company might want you - what makes employing you preferable to employing another applicant? This will involve looking at what you are doing currently and assessing what you have learned in your current role and what you bring to that role that you could bring to the new employer (such as enthusiasm, commitment, experience, etc.), and in the long term even if you do not move jobs, if done honestly having carried out this self assessment may help you to progress within your current employment.
Look before you leap. Do you really know:
  • What They Do? Perhaps do some networking and informational interviews with engineers already in the industry to find out.
  • Typical Work Environment?
  • Where jobs/employers are typically located?
  • What employers are looking for in terms of business, technical and industry skills/knowledge and how you are positioned relative to each?
  • How to become one and qualifications to become one?
  • Typical salary ranges?
  • Career advancement prospects?
  • Job/Company outlook and management culture?
  • Industry outlook and regulatory environment?
  • Related careers, if things don't work out (i.e. your plan B)
Whatever you choose, before you leap: get smart, get social, get seen, and have a good rationale for why you are switching industries.  There are arguably better prospects for aerospace engineers in both aeronautics and astronautics, driven by new entrants, new technologies, new business models and increased investments to address growing markets, and related industries, where aerospace engineering skills are complementary and valued.


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