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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.

TheFirstLady Mon 22-Feb-10 12:55:15

Nic is also my DH, so please be nice to him. He has NO IDEA what I do on here all day from time to time.

ChristianaTheSeventh Mon 22-Feb-10 14:32:24

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snickersnack Mon 22-Feb-10 15:38:55

Do you think that a successful career change can be driven by "push" as well as by "pull" factors? I have an interesting and well paid job but find it hard to combine it with the demands of a young family, and am therefore considering a career change. However, because I do actually like my current job and don't have a burning passion for anything else, I find it hard to know what my next step should be. I've always assumed that career changes work best when you have a clear idea of what you want (rather than what you don't want) but would be interested to hear your views.

ApuskiDusky Mon 22-Feb-10 15:42:52

Hi Nic. Quick background - I will shortly be starting maternity leave, and fully expect that by the time I am due to return, I will either have been made redundant or offered a job I don't really want. So I am planning ahead with alternatives, the most attractive of which is self-employment as a consultant. My field has a lot of sole practitioners and small consultancies (I buy them in in my current role).

I think I am very well placed with regards to my skills and experience, but two things are making me think twice about this - the quality of my network (I know 'sellers' rather than 'buyers') and my natural tendency to be shy about business development and sales. Any suggestions on how someone can develop the skills, confidence and thick skin to develop contacts and bring in work?

NicPaton Mon 22-Feb-10 20:09:53

Hello everyone, just really to introduce myself and say I'm really looking forward to reading and (hopefully) being able to answer all your questions. Already I see there are some very interesting posts up that I shall have to go away and put some work into!

By the way, the book covers issues around deciding on a new career or new direction, retraining and getting new skills, getting a job once you've got those new skills, starting out in business or self-employment, buying a franchised business and freelancing.

So, over to you....I hope I'll be able to help.

TheFirstLady Mon 22-Feb-10 21:04:20

Hello dear. Welcome to Mumsnet. Ask him anything ladies, he is at your complete disposal.

wilbur Tue 23-Feb-10 16:18:37

Hi Nic. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts about establishing a new business, esp in difficult times. I am a freelance writer and still do some dribs and drabs of work at that while I juggle three kids at primary school. However, I have always been a keen photographer and have often done pictures and photobooks for friends and family and they have encourages me to start that as a part-time business. My weakness is marketing - I have a small budget to spend on some kind of promotion, but I don't know where to start. Is it worth hiring a PR person for a day or two to take me through some options? Do they even do that? I have set up a basic website and had some cards prined, but I know there are a lot of family photographers out there and I am looking for some advice about making my business stand out. Any thoughts?

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Tummum Tue 23-Feb-10 18:03:10

Hi Nic,

I have recently returned to work from maternity leave, and have found myself in a job I can't stand, but it is part time (4 days a week) and it's a job I can do standing on my head in a specialist industry I have worked in for 10 years.

My ideal role would be to run my own business during school hours so I can spend more time with my kids and have no childcare costs. I think I have what it takes to run a business but the biggest problem is I have no idea what sort of product or service to provide. I have considered buying a franchise, but after much research I've pretty much concluded that they are expensive and restrictive.

So my question is how do I go about finding a 'killer idea' for a business?


TopoftheMorning Tue 23-Feb-10 18:29:41

Hi Nic

I can't seem to think through how to move on to a new / better / different career. ie knowing where to start in terms of identifying a likely career that would be

a) enjoyable
b) doable
c) flexible

In terms of my own background, having spent the last 14 years working in management roles in a fairly specialist industry (but which does not require professional accreditation/ qualifications) I would love to find something different, more vocational, active or even intellectual. There are lots of things I like doing casually but nothing I could identify as an amazing talent that I know I could develop. I am, in short, a generalist. Lots of common sense, articulate, able to write well (if not dazzlingly), educated and good at communicating. But I have no professional qualifications, just a good general degree.

I think some of the struggle about identifying a new career comes because not only might there be training involved but there is then also either very low-level entry (so £ become an issue when you're a single parent with dc to support alone) OR because sometimes an ideal-seeming career is several steps away, eg, get more qualifications, get job in related industry to get experience, then try to move into preferred sector.

Any advice you can offer on just how to get started would be wonderful, thank you.

SweetGrapes Tue 23-Feb-10 19:03:59

Hi Nic,
I am an graduate engineer. Worked in a steel plant for 4 years. Then moved into IT and worked as a Java programmer for 6 years. The last 2 as a project manager. I have been out of work for 5 years now and am wondering what to do next.

I haven't really seen any part time IT work around. The only options that I can see are office type work part time or a full-on IT career. Ideally I would like to have something a bit more techy and a bit less hours - something between the 2.

Does this even exist?? Few and far between?

TheDailyWail Tue 23-Feb-10 19:09:11

My ex-colleagues are completely miserable with their work situation.

A lot of them have worked for the company for 20 years+, they're hard workers but they're (IMO) undervalued and completely demoralised.

What plan of action could they put in place to build their confidence, realise their self-worth and know their career options?


snigger Tue 23-Feb-10 19:30:28

Hello Nic

I'm currently a low-level civil servant (where we live, it's practically the only job that doesn't involve fries).

I have a knack for cooking and baking, and after a couple of forays for friends and family, am considering stepping up as a self-employed...erm...cake baker? I'm very precise and have so far taught myself from books with reference to wedding cakes, and this is something I'd like to explore, but I'm hesitant with regards to training, setting up on a 'proper' (ie legal, h&s/hmrc approved) basis, and just generally how to proceed.

I am getting a fair word of mouth reputation, and have catered dinner parties for a colleague 6 times in their own home, and that too is something I wonder about expanding, but how?

moodlum Tue 23-Feb-10 19:39:24

Hi Nic

I promised myself that I would go back to work after ds, and I am sort of doing some freelance PR and copy writing. How do you inspire yourself to really break free from being bogged down with the day to day crap and go out and sell yourself?

I keep meaning to get around to it, and given what I do, you'd think it would be a singe. Its not really about the how (I think I know that), its more the impetus that I need inspiration with.

Thanks grin

TheHouseofMirth Tue 23-Feb-10 21:44:52

Hi Nic

I'm currently a SAHM and would be looking to return to some form of paid work in about 3 years when DS2 starts school.

I drifted into my previous job (worked my way up through the same company from leaving Uni til I had DS1) doing an admin/marketing role. I don't miss it at all!

I guess I've got 3 years to train to do something I'd like to, trouble is I've got no idea what. I'm 40 and still don't know what I want to do when I grow up!

I'm (finally) starting to be at bit more self-aware and now realise I'm really good at finding stuff out (apart from how to find a new career!), I have lots of ideas but rarely see them through and having enjoyed the relative freedom of being a SAHM for 5 years I think I'd enjoy working for myself. Ideally I'd like to do something where I can earn a high hourly rate but only work 15-20 hours a week. How do I work out what I'd enjoy/be good at? There seems like a bewildering array of books around but are any of them any good? Money is very scarce but I'd happily save up and pay to get some professional advice if I thought it would actually provide concrete help...

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TopoftheMorning Tue 23-Feb-10 23:28:25

lol itwascertainly ... the last few posts I've read and thought, ooh I hope those all get a good answer too as they sound like me! (moodlum in particular)

Perhaps I am you ... I work in a political world too. Probation officer sounds interesting, why did you move on from that?

tryingabitharder Wed 24-Feb-10 00:21:05

Hi Nic,

I'm putting myself in the generalist box here too I think.

I have a chemistry degree but have worked my way from shop floor to senior management in telecomms and gained a management diploma on the way (actually, didn't finish a part time MBA due to pregnancy then reality of adding DS to the family) doing lots of different things and am basically a generalist who is sensible and decent at communicating.

I'm on a great package but just had to take 5 months off due to working myself into a breakdown, and although I'm heading back to work I just don't care about it any more and want to spend my time away from DS doing something I give a crap about. I'm just not sure I can afford to or what that should be, and am pretty scared about starting a new career and chucking in 11 years worth of hard graft.

I'm currently toying with re-training to either be a teacher (which I think I'd enjoy / be good at but seems like a cop-out option and not sure the reality would be that great plus the pay is less than in my first shop job) or going back to uni to study pyschology, which fascinates me but I've no idea how I'd pay for it, what I'd do about childcare and what kind of job I might be able to do at the end.

Whaddya think?

Ta very much smile

worriermum Wed 24-Feb-10 07:53:42

Thanks for coming on MN Nic.

When is it daft, impractical and just plain too late to start again?

I am increasingly interested in becoming a clinical psychologist. But I'd be about 52 by the time I was qualified. Would this be barking mad? I think about the years of experience I have behind me in journalism and I wonder how I could possibly compete with someone who has that much experience in my prospective new field.

At this age and stage (47), do I have to adapt my existing skills rather than making a dramatic change?

Thanks again

GettinTrimmer Wed 24-Feb-10 09:16:24

I hope you may be able to suggest something Nic.

I have a degree in English Literature, I love books and reading, since being a SAHM (since my son was born, he's now 7) I have studied French from scratch, and am doing AS Level French at evening class. I've sold Usborne books and worked as a receptionist in a local Leisure Centre part time since my ds was born, just for a bit of extra money.

I trained as a primary school teacher, but didn't pass my final teaching practice (this was 1995) since then I worked for local government in Admin roles, decided against teaching.

So far, I just haven't found my niche. Both my children are at school, I have started looking at Local Government jobs website for work in libraries, but just found out they have a recruitment freeze. I want to avoid working in a dull office.

I was thinking one option for me could be to continue studying French and when my skills are adequate use them in a job, I noticed another mumsnetter is a translator, but I would need to find out more about this role.

whifflegarden Wed 24-Feb-10 09:49:46

marking place until I have time (away from bf colicky 7 week old) to pose question.

phdlife Wed 24-Feb-10 10:35:19

G'day, I'm just going to lurk and see what gems of advice there are for people struggling to decide what to do. Having spent the better part of a decade getting qualified I then had to make a horribly stark choice between career or babies - babies won. Now I wonder what will happen when they're a bit older. Various mentors advise me to keep publishing, in order to be eligible to get back into it when I'm ready.

I think that any career where smart, nice people can tell you, perfectly seriously, to keep working for free - when they know you're looking after 2 under-3s and haven't had a job in 3 years - in the hope of one day being competitive, is possibly not a sane good career. Otoh, there's that (wasted?) decade getting qualified, the fact I'm good at it and love it, the fact I'm already 40, the fact I have no other ideas....

Like I said, just going to lurk for suggestions.

Romanarama Wed 24-Feb-10 10:40:16

Itwascertainlyasurprise it's me actually grin

Nic, please answer tummum as I have often wondered why I can't have that killer idea. I'm definitely intelligent and creative, but I'm nearly 40 and still waiting for the idea.

I've been a SAHM for 6 months now, not really by choice, as we moved for dh's job, but I did think it would be a welcome break after both working long hours and not seeing enough of our 3 kids. But I absolutely hate it, it feels so inane, and I have become apathetic, unable to use all those 3 hours to enjoy the hobbies that I used to manage to squeeze into the night instead of sleep. Is this normal? To be completely unproductive and unmotivated in any way when one has too much free time? What to do about it?

I hope to have a job by the end of the month (fingers crossed for me please!) partly to jerk me out of this apathy, mostly for the salary and to get my sense of myself as an independent human and not domestic slave back. How can I avoid wishing that I didn't have to go to the office every day 2 weeks in? My career is interesting by the way, dealing with policy in government, with excellent prospects. Part of me thinks I would much prefer to work for myself though, not risk ending up with an idiotic manager, which happens too often, and not have to deal with so much bureaucracy.

My dream would be to be Carrie from Sex and the City. I want fantastic clothes, and a column that doesn't require too much intellectual research seems fantastic. My real-life heroine is Lucy Kellaway, who I guess is similar in a way, but without the wardrobe. Do you think I can get the same fun and satisfaction from my office job, or should I be planning a more radical change?

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