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Stepping Onto a New Career Path

This week’s column discusses how HR professionals can change careers. Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.

I am an HR director with 17 years of experience in various industries including automotive, manufacturing, retail and, most recently, the property sector.

I climbed the corporate ladder and, quite frankly, I do not enjoy operating at an executive level, managing corporate politics, attending multiple board meetings and spending all my time reporting to various boards. I was initially attracted to HR because I love working with people, but the level at which I am operating at now is less about people and more about process, systems, policies and board management.

I want to change my career to one in clinical psychology. The most difficult parts about this transition are that I need to go back to college and figuring out how to keep my standard of living commensurate with my earnings as an HR director. How and where do I even start, and most importantly, how do I stay motivated while pursuing my studies and working towards a career change? 

Julia (city withheld)

Strategic career change is rarely easy and never more difficult than when executed midcareer. The challenge can be made more daunting by the cost and length of training necessary for the new target career. In this instance, both are considerable.

On the plus side, your target profession is wide open, with opportunities for entrepreneurial endeavor and the financial security this independence offers. Once you learn to bring money in your own front door, you become financially secure for the long term in a way that corporate employment cannot offer.

You mention that financial sacrifices will be necessary and this is always a challenge, but especially so when your career is established. Living with the temptations of near-constant advertising all around us, many of us spend too much, but cutting back now and beginning to change the cost of your lifestyle will ease the financial hardships that likely will become necessary before your goal is reached.

Serious career changes can take time and the sooner you start the journey, the sooner your goal comes into sight. I would suggest that you start by enrolling in the foundational courses now, if possible, scheduling online classes around your current work and other commitments.

Most people who break away from the corporate world do so by following a similar path: The new career becomes a second job, pursued at nights and weekends for as long as it takes (mine took 20 years). You cut back and save money along the way to ease the financial pressures that will come when you finally switch your primary source of income to the new career. The financial road can be bumpy, at least to start, so the further you can pursue your new career while maintaining your current one, the easier it will be to weather the financial hurdles experienced by anyone who is starting anew.

Along the way, maintain constant vigilance for applications of your new career within, or related to, your current world of work. I firmly believe that as we fully recognize how attention deficit disorder, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Asperger’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, alcohol and drug addictions, and childhood abuse impact adult performance, the more likely it is that psychological therapy will become accepted and the norm for high-performing individuals and corporations alike. I’m not sure how often we will have clinical psychologists on staff in the future, but the number of corporate relationships with psychologists is likely to increase.

As you pursue this path, you might also consider a switch to an HR job that embraces the people element you enjoyed, perhaps in a job supporting the title you hold now. As a former head of HR, I can only imagine the peace of mind that would come from having someone with the qualifications to be a real right hand, without fear that person could be after my job.

I think your concern about maintaining motivation is the least of your worries. If you want this change badly enough, you will stay motivated as you slowly work towards it while still guiding the trajectory of your current career with care and dedication.

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We’ll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know. 


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