With 20+ years until retirement, what should I do next?

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Crossroads1Jennifer, an alum of the University of Wisconsin – Stout, asked: 

I graduated 1993 with a BS in Dietetics and became a Registered Dietitian (RD) and Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE). I worked in the clinical field for several years before transitioning into a Diabetes Medical Sales position, which I have held for 14+ years. Unfortunately, medical sales jobs in this field are slowly going away, and I have let my RD and CDE expire, so I am trying to decide what career path to take next!  

With a BS in Dietetics, 5+ years of clinical nutrition experience, and 14+ years successful medical sales . . .  do I need to start over completely and look for a new adventure in job market? Do I need to go back to school?  Are  there other opportunities out there for people with my background and experience? 

With over 20 years until retirement…I am looking for a career that is going to last long term and pay the bills, and one that I will continue to enjoy!  

What do you suggest I do?

Hi Jennifer,

First, I commend you for looking at this so proactively.  Many people see changes taking place in their industries but wait until change occurs before taking any action.  You are showing great wisdom by trying to stay ahead of the curve.  Now, on to your questions. I’ll start with your three priorities:

. . . a career that is going to last long term and pay the bills, and one that I will continue to enjoy!

Stability, Financial Viability and Satisfaction are your three priorities, so being clear in how you define each of these is really important.

Stability: I want a long-term solution, not a short-term one!

Job security is an interesting concept these days.  Many folk, including me, cite US Labor Department data to support the premise that the average individual will have 9-15 different jobs and work in 3-5 career areas over the course of their careers.  If you look at your own career path thus far, you appear to be reinforcing that premise as well.  I share this only to make sure you know that there are no guarantees of long-term employment.  Stabiliy and job security come through your own career management and your ability to personally manage the ebb and flow of the economy and the job market.

When I think “stability,” I think in terms of market demand:  What are the growth markets and what is driving that growth?

Healthcare is widely identified as a growing market; a market where there will be jobs.  Why?  We have an aging population increasingly in need of healthcare, so we will need a lot of people providing, direct care and services, and resources to those providing direct care and services.

Information Technology (computer systems) is the central nervous system of just about everything everyone does, so the need for skilled professionals in and around information technology continues to increase.

These are just two examples of how  the market is driving need.  Here is a chart from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics with some addition information the the employment outlook in different industries.


When you look at possible next steps, be sure to take market demand into account.  If stability is a priority, the last thing you want to do is consider career paths that are by nature unstable (e.g., entertainment and the arts) or those  in industries that are in decline.

Financial Viability: I want to be able to pay my bills!

Knowing that you make enough money to pay your bills requires that you know – concretely – how much you need to make to make ends meet.

Yes, I know that sounds pretty simple and straightforward, but must people do not know (or want to know?) the extent to which their income is in line with their spending habits. College students, by and large, do not know, and many working adults are no better.

You don’t want to get excited about a potential job that will not pay you enough to pay your bills/meet your obligations. And, you want to make sure that the kinds of jobs you are seeking and careers you are considering offer sufficient compensation.

Some really and fun jobs don’t pay very well, and some really lousy jobs pay exceedingly well.  Why?  Supply and demand.  Again, the market prevails.

As you research your options, be sure to factor in potential compensation in terms meaningful to your specific situation.

Satisfaction:  I want to like the job!

Job Satisfaction – everyone wants it; very few can define it!

What about work makes you happy?  If you want to find a job you will like, you need to spend some time looking at the jobs you have done to identify precisely what it was that you liked about those jobs.

By the way, this is really hard to do.

Ask yourself:

What aspects of the work itself did you enjoy most?
In what types of work environments  have you done your best work/felt the most satisfaction?
What did you dislike?
What types of work interest you most?
What types of work do you want to avoid?
What industries interest you most?
What industries/subjects do you know the most about?

The better you understand (and can articulate) your work, work environment, work style and personal likes and dislikes, the better able you will be to identify these characteristics in potential jobs, employers, workplaces and industries.  If you want a job you like, you have to be able to identify what you like an dislike.

An “I’ll know it when I see it” strategy will not be effective, and “that perfect job” is a rare find.  Every job is bound to have some aspects you don’t like, so be reasonable and realistic in your quest for a job you will like.

Do you need to to start over completely and look for a new adventure in job market?

Not necessarily!  Before you choose to head in a completely different direction, be sure to consider all options you have in, around and related to your existing profession and industry.  If you good at sales and you enjoy sales, you might look at other sales/sales-related jobs.  If you enjoy working in the healthcare industry, you might look at other healthcare and medical industry related jobs (sales or otherwise).

Do an inventory of all the people with whom you interact in your current role.  What do they do?  Does any of it look appealing to you.  Before you decide to start over completely, make sure you’re not missing something that might be right under your nose.

Do I need to go back to school?

Not necessarily!  More educated does not necessarily mean more qualified.  If – as you explore your career options – you identify a field that requires specific educational credentials (a specific degree or certification), and that  field will meet your criteria for stability, compensation and job satisfaction, then consider going back to school to earn those credentials.

Too many people  jump back into school without thinking about what they will do when they graduate.  Going back to school will require a significant investment of your time, money and energy, so proceed carefully.

Some career paths require specific academic credentials – many more do not. Before you go back to school, make sure you need to do so.  Otherwise, you may find yourself no better off than before you went back to school.

Are there other opportunities out there for people with my background and experience?

ProspectorThere are always a variety of opportunities to consider!  They key is sifting through the volume of total opportunities that exist to fine those best suited to you, your needs and your objectives; it’s kind of like panning for gold.

A career transition is a process, not a transaction. It take time.  Begin by building and leveraging your professional network of contacts.  Use who you know and what you know to explore where you might go and what you might do.  Then, explore those options that seem most promising and apply for the positions that develop through this process of exploration.

There is no single strategy or recipe that will work for everyone, so don’t frustrate yourself looking for that “magic bullet” that will guarantee your desired outcome.

There are four resources I often recommend to people in career transition:

In Transition by Mary Lindley Burton and Richard Wedemeyer
A great fit for business-minded people and mid-career business professionals in career transition.

The Proteus Solution by Jay Block and Sharon Calvin
An excellent and quick ready.  Very approachable and practical advice for anyone in career transition.

What Color is your Parachute? by Richard Bolles
An oldie but still a goodie.  The original Gold Standard of career transition books, updated annually.

Zen and the Art of Making a Living by Lawrence Boldt
If you’re in career transition and were drawn to the title of this book, it is worth considering.  Excellent information!

Hope this information and my recommendations help!

Good Luck,


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