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Q&A with Nic Paton, author of The Complete Career Makeover

(63 Posts)
GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Mon 22-Feb-10 11:51:26

Do you dream of making a complete career change, but need some help taking the first step?

If so, help is at hand! Come and put your questions to Nic Paton, author of The Complete Career Makeover, which was published last month.

Nic is an award-winning journalist who writes predominantly on business, employment, education, money and health, for titles such as The Guardian, The Mail on Sunday, The Independent and The Sunday Times, as well as a range of other publications and websites. He has also contributed to The Guardian Postgraduate Guide.

We've got five copies of Nic's book to give away to people who take part in the Q&A.

Just post your question here by Saturday 27 Feb and we'll post Nic's answers a week later.

A bit of background info: Nic works from home and lives in Barnstaple in north Devon, though he says he has, as yet, failed miserably to stand up on a surf board. He's the father of three girls aged 12, 10 and 7 and, away from the day job, is also studying part-time for an MA at Exeter University.

Nic will be following the thread from today, so please ply him with questions about how to go about giving your career a makeover.

claraquack Wed 24-Feb-10 15:44:56

Hi Nic

I will have been out of the workforce for at least 5 years by the time I start seriously looking for work again, when my second daughter starts school in 2012. I am very worried about all my skills being completely out of date. I keep reading about marketing yourself, but can't keep up with twittering and blogging etc. Do you think we need to be on top of these things in order to be able to compete properly with younger candidates?

I am also, or course, terrified of the dreaded questioning about what I have done with my time since I left full-time work. Do employers take childcare seriously?

Finally, apart from reading your book, what is a good way to go about finding out what it is I actually want to do when I return to work? Is it worth paying one of these companies good money to tell me what I probably already know?


KLDS Wed 24-Feb-10 18:15:03

Hi Nic,

I'm a commercial property lawyer. Whilst I was pregnant I was made redundant and now I am thinking about going back to work I'm not sure that my previous job is for me.

I was very career minded but I know that having a small child and being a lawyer with deadlines (if I was fortunatue enough to secure a role in this market) are not compatible, as from my expercience there is no such thing as a part time lawyer.

I am looking to change careers, I have considered retraining as a teacher but the drop in salary would mean that I couldn't even cover childcare costs so I would actually be working to pay a child minder which seems crazy. I am trying to think of something to do but I seem to be out of ideas. The thought of setting up my own business sounds great but I have no idea what to do and to be honest I don't want to get involved in a direct sales and most of the business franchises I have looked at seem to be this type of role.

Any ideas or suggestions, or even just a push in some direction, would be greatly appreciated.

Kind regards


Niecie Wed 24-Feb-10 18:23:59

I really identify with many of you on here. I have been a SAHM for nearly 10 yrs but have been doing a MSc in Psychology for the last few years. Have also done voluntary work and am sort of starting my own business but can't ever see it taking off to the extent I can make a decent living - it is more for fun (on-line store). Plus I feel like I am wasting my qualifications.

My original degree was law and economics. Started training as a chartered accountant but hated it and didn't finish the exams. In the end did AAT and carried on working in accounts. Couldn't bear to go back to that or any kind of office work.

When I started studying psychology 12 yrs ago I was 31 (Did post grad conversion in psych with OU). Now at 43 I am way too old to be a clinical psychologist. I wouldn't get on a course without relevant work experience and nobody is going to take on a 43 graduate trainee who graduated years ago. I would probably like to do educational psychology but again, no relevant experience and time isn't on my side to do the 4 or 5 yr Phd.

Could do teaching but don't have core subjects and its difficult therefore to get on a training course. Plus it I am not sure if I would be good at it.

I suppose that is my problem. I can't afford to make another career mistake but I don't know what I am good at or even what I want to do. I need careers advice but it needs to be cheap and adult careers advice doesn't seem to be. Free careers advice seems to be geared to the young or the unemployed and those who don't yet have much of an education.

Don't really know where to start!

BariatricObama Wed 24-Feb-10 18:50:14

hi nic

i may be offered voluntary severance this week. should i
a. piss it up a wall
b. retrain
c. start up my own business

i am leaning towards my own business making bits and bobs i don't need to make amillion just enough to supplement dh's salary.

GrendelsMum Wed 24-Feb-10 19:43:17

Hi Nic

Thanks for coming on here after we made such a horrible mess of your Amazon 'people who look at this book also look at this' ratings. I tried to help your wife fix it by looking at intellectual stuff, honest!

My question's pretty much the same as lots of other people on here. I'm mid 30s, and am categorically fed up with the job I currently do (project and change management in the public sector biscuit) and would like to retrain as a gardener / garden designer / garden advisor. Ultimately, I see myself running a garden design consultancy, but after a few years of training and experience in the sector.

Do you have any tips yourself, or recommendations on books for how to build up your own consultancy, what clients would look for, etc? I'm thinking that if I start preparing now, I'll be ready to take off with my consultancy by the time I hit 40! (Woo, GrendelsMum is so organised)

TheFirstLady Wed 24-Feb-10 19:45:11

Grendelsmum - shh! He doesn't know about that! Or at least he didn't....

GrendelsMum Wed 24-Feb-10 19:48:21

Oh no! I thought he must know since he was coming on here. blush

Honestly, Nic, we tried really, really hard to fix it.

TheFirstLady Wed 24-Feb-10 21:03:44

Shall I tell him, or shall I leave him to puzzle it out? He did mention what an odd selection of titles came up on the Amazon page, but I never told him why. grin

Howmanytimes Wed 24-Feb-10 21:09:32

Hi Nic,

I've been a secondary school science/physics teacher for 14 years. For the past 6 years I've been part-time. I like many aspects of my job, in particular working with the students but the increasing pressure to get the kids to meet ever more ridiculous targets is getting me down. My current position, which I've had for 10 years, is slowly but surely eroding my confidence because the faculty is 80% unmarried single males, who basically exclude me from everything. Should I find another school to work at and hope it's more supportive or are there good jobs out there for former science teachers? I have a science and media degree. Thank you.

worcestersauce Wed 24-Feb-10 21:16:09

I love writing......and not my rather dull, responsible job at the local council! But with my youngest child due to start school in a few months, I will finally have some time to try and change direction. Writing is something which I've always been complimented on, and which comes naturally to me. In my current job I write reports, but find this extremely dull and would love to put my skill to something more creative and exciting! I have some ideas, which I'd be really grateful for your feedback on..

I've wondered about feature writing or copy writing -- focusing on my interests (food, clothes, home interiors, family life, motherhood, life events etc.) I have experience at structuring articles, press releases etc. and am good at getting my message across. I've thought about sending in draft articles to magazines? As for copy writing - I'm really unsure how to approach this line of work?

The other idea is editing, which again I haven't a clue how I would approach.

I recently did a creative writing night class as a first step to my 'master plan' - any tips on how to take things further would be really useful.

Thank you

littleblondies Wed 24-Feb-10 22:17:38

Hi Nic
I was online looking for homeworking opportunities and I tried Mumsnet for 1st time and saw this talk board 'Q&A with Nic Paton'. Its 10pm, about the only chance I get!

I've two preschool kids and have not returned to my NHS career after my second baby as I dont want to work full time and NHS part time wages do not cover childcare in my area for two kids. I looked at lots of different options but we decided for me to stay at home for now. This is great but not sustainable forever so I need to think about what I would like to do.
I worked my way up thru the charity and healthcare sector, mainly specialising in information analysis and database admin and management reports. I did this for 11 years and I also have admin experience to supervisor level. Some of my work was very rewarding, having a direct effect on patient care or improving work for colleagues. Other bits were stifling and a bit demeaning!
I need something that fits around my family.
I love photography (I assisted and worked in portrait studios when I was younger) I love the idea of buying and selling second hand china, retro stuff, 'upcycling' old furniture...
But I also think I need a regular money earner, so maybe retrain in proof reading or perhaps teaching assistant or child counsellor. I'm in such a muddle!
I'll read your book but thought this could be a good opportunity to get some advice.
Thanks! Good Luck!

Valpollicella Wed 24-Feb-10 23:21:35

I have no questions but just love how rspectfully these quessions have been framed grin

LackaDAISYcal Thu 25-Feb-10 00:42:49

Ooooh, this subject has been praying on my mind recently.

I am a structural engineer, or was in my former life prior to DC2 and 3. I haven't done that job for almost three years and although I'm keen to get back into the workplace, structural engingeering isn't what I want to do any more...too long hours, too much travelling, not enough sympathy for working mothers, etc etc.

Now as someone who was managing the engineering side of construction projects ranging up to £7m, I am not without a set of what I think are good, transferrable skills, yet I have no idea on how to go about looking into alternative careers. More more crucially, I am stumped as to how to get prospective employers to see that I have a great skill set that could be applied to whatever career I end up considering.

We are also in the position that I need to be earning £30K plus in order to break even after taking tax, NI and childcare costs into consideration. I would retrain, but again, childcare costs are preventing me do anything during the day as we cannot afford to pay full time care costs if I'm studying full time.

I feel like I am a complete failure and that the 15 years of a career I had before having my DD have been a complete and utter waste of time...but my brain is turning to jelly here and I NEED to work!

Any advice? thanks smile

wannafindajobbutwheretostart Thu 25-Feb-10 07:45:20

Hi Nic

I was made redundant in June last year and now want to find a job. I was working in the banking industry within a call center. I don't want to work at the same level now that I have a child and am planning more in the future. I worked my way up and do not have a degree. I'm in my mid thirties and have never had to look for a job before as I fell into my last job and then just worked up.

So my question, how do I decide what i want to do? Where do i start and how can I get a job hen the last time i looked was 12 years ago?


Tee2072 Thu 25-Feb-10 15:45:36

My maternity leave is just about over and I do not want to return to my previous career, or rather job, as a personal assistant.

I have a degree, from aeons ago, in Graphic Arts. I have kept up to date with it and know the latest technology even though I have never actually 'practiced' to borrow a word from the medical profession!!

How hard is it really to set up your own company? My current (hopefully soon to be former) employer has already offered me some contract work for after my leave is up, although not at a rate I'd be willing to work for, but at least its the beginning of a client!!

I'm in Northern Ireland if that makes any difference in your answer!

coxiegirl Thu 25-Feb-10 18:48:47

Find myself in a similar position to lots of the posters on here - qualified as a mental health nurse and loved it for 9 years, then moved and worked with a small and very unfriendly/unsupportive bunch who made it quite clear they didn't like me from day 1. Had 2 miscarriages while I was there and decided to leave, quickly had DCs 2 and 3 - now haven't worked for 3 years so I'd need to requalify...
I really lost my confidence working with that last team (note to self: next time someone says at interview "We're a really friendly team!" run like hell) - coupled with few years trapped staying at home with the children, now I'm not sure whether to retrain and go back to a job I did, once, enjoy, or.... and I'm 40 now and pensions etc seem like a really big deal all of a sudden!
Ta for any suggestions.

coxiegirl Thu 25-Feb-10 19:09:48

Oh sorry meant to say also have trained in reflexology and a couple of other complementary therapies and would love to set up on my own but not sure I could crack a market big enough to make an income like I could in nursing.... have also thought about teaching like many others here, but am aware I really enjoy training/studying and could go on ad nauseam without ever actually starting paid employment...

fatarse Thu 25-Feb-10 19:33:31

My question is simply, should you ever just say, "I'm too old to change career now?" I'm just about to return to work after my first baby and I'm 37 this yea. By the time I've re-trained in a professional career (I'm interested in studying law), I'll be in my 40's and competing with high flying twenty-somethings! I have a feeling big corporates wouldn't touch a forty-something trainee!

skiffler Thu 25-Feb-10 19:51:13

Like phdlife, I have a non-career in academia. I've been on a series of fixed-term post-doc contracts and even if there were any permanent lectureship jobs around at the moment (unlikely given the current state of HE funding) my publication record, the only thing anyone really looks at, is not fantastic and pitted with gaps corresponding to maternity leave and working part-time.

Unfortunately, I have never really found anything I enjoy as much as academic research. Obviously I've invested a fair amount of time and effort on qualifications etc, but it looks increasingly like my career is going nowhere, and I don't have the time resources to give it the kick-start it needs. So my question is, is there a point at which you should give up on trying to achieve your dream, and if so, how do you know when you've reached it and how do you find something else and overcome the idea that you're settling for second-best?

notnowdarling Sun 28-Feb-10 14:29:14

Hi Nic

Just after a bit of feedback on an idea I've got for a career change, (and would welcome feedback from others too). Thinking about coaching, specialising in women returning to work. Am currently training as a coach, and applying it within the organisation I work in, but wondering what the market would be like for doing this part time. Ladies, would you pay for this kind of coaching (obviously it was good)?

getawiggleon Wed 03-Mar-10 21:39:04

Hi Nic,

I know the deadline has passed for questions but thought I'd post anyway in case, by chance, you are able to take any more.

I have come up with an idea for my own business which I think is a pretty strong one. Having done some research I have found that someone else has beaten me to the idea. There is obviously room for more than one of these services in the market and this business is so successful that they are looking to expand further across London and also nationally if their press reports are correct.

My question is would you set up and provide competition for an already succesful (and apparently expanding) business even though the service is currently under-represented in the market -ie they are experienced and are expanding - would it be wise to compete?

And would you recommend pursuing an idea in London (where the current competition exists) or starting somewhere else in the country where I know there could potentially be a demand (even though I think that London is probably the most obvious target market)

Also, what is the most important element to focus on in my initial business plan? Would it be financials (eg sourcing of) or outlining the type of service/s we would provide/ sourcing suppliers etc?

Many thanks (if you have time to squeeze another one in, that is!)

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Sun 07-Mar-10 11:40:53

Update for those of you waiting for answers.

Nic has sent very detailed responses and we're just pulling them into a page, which should be up on the site later today or tomorrow at the latest.

Will add a link here as soon the page is live.

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Sun 07-Mar-10 14:30:39

Nic's answers are on this Q&A page.

Thanks to Nic for such thorough answers, and thanks to everybody who posted questions.

GrendelsMum Sun 07-Mar-10 19:36:37

Thank you very much, Nic! There are some really thought-provoking ideas there. And thank you to TheFirstLady for persuading him.

mrsbaldwin Mon 08-Mar-10 09:47:40

This looks really interesting. Am going to read it all this morning.

Perhaps this is Nic's next book - career makeover for women returners?

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