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Should I Change My Career Field?

A longtime technical office worker seeks to get creative

Elizabeth Rabaey, 52, a resident of Austin, Texas has worked for an environmental agency doing technical work for almost her entire career.

Sarah Lim

Texan Elizabeth Rabaey is contemplating a career shift from environmental engineering to graphic design.

THE WORKER: Elizabeth Rabaey, 52, Project coordinator

Elizabeth Rabaey, of Austin, Texas, has worked for the same environmental engineering firm for more than 20 years, drafting permit applications and developing spreadsheets. She is eager to leave those numbers behind and jump into marketing; she wants to design visually appealing emails and brochures. "What I was doing is very data-oriented and black and white, and I like colors. I want to tap into that," she says.

She also wants to trade environmental engineering for the growing local medical sector: "They're building a new teaching hospital and encouraging high-tech medical firms to come to town. I want to be at a place that embraces innovation and new ideas a little bit faster."

When Rabaey first got the urge to make a change four years ago, she began attending networking events. Plus, she started taking on marketing projects for her current firm.

But leaving behind all her experience in the environmental engineering field is daunting. She worries she might need to take a pay cut or an entry-level position, which won't be easy with a mortgage to pay. Although she wonders whether switching industries is a realistic goal, she notes "I want to work on some great marketing campaigns."

THE EXPERT: LaVonne Dorsey, Leadership and career coach

Seattle-based Dorsey says Rabaey's goal of changing industries and fields simultaneously "is like jumping the Grand Canyon." Instead of aiming to find a marketing position in the medical field, Rabaey might consider earning a certification in marketing, branding and social media while she is presently employed, then seek a full-time marketing job with a different environmental engineering firm, Dorsey recommends. That way, she can leverage her years of experience and avoid the pay cut. After building up her portfolio of marketing campaigns in her current industry, she'll have a better chance of switching to medical marketing, Dorsey predicts.

THE TAKEAWAY: For now, Rabaey says she will stay put at her environmental engineering firm, taking on marketing projects and continuing to network and make inroads toward an industry shift within the next year. "Eventually it will happen," she says—just not today.

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