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Life/career advice needed (Getting a Masters degree)

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by Badfish740, Oct 4, 2013.

  1. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    Ok hearth.com'ers...I need to change course in life, well sort of. Here's the deal:

    I'm 31 soon to be 32. I'm married with a beautiful two year old daughter. My wife is a teacher with a Masters degree and makes good money/is on a clear career path. She wants to stay at the high school where she teaches now and eventually retire from there. I have a government job (Same job since college-been here seven years) with great benefits but I've risen as far as I can with the degree I have (BA in History), and the hours are long and the pay is low. I also have a 60-75 minute commute. Getting a Masters in Public Administration would allow me to move into a more management oriented position and utilize the skills I already have, just at a higher level. Luckily I live relatively close to Rutgers University and they offer a lot of their classes online so I wouldn't even have to physically go there most of the time. The problem is that my schedule coupled with my commute still wouldn't make it very easy for me to take classes. So I thought of this scenario:

    I could leave my current job and go work for UPS as a package handler. There is a 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. shift that would allow me to be home with my daughter during the day (thus saving $800 a month on daycare) and still keep a normal schedule-ie: I could get home at 11:00 p.m. hit the sack, and then be up with my wife in the morning, helping her get out of the house and then watch my daughter until she gets home at 3:30. I would take most of my classes online and just fit in schoolwork whenever possible. I figure I could finish the degree in three years (it's supposed to take two years, but you have up to four years to finish) and be back out looking for a job by the time I'm 35.

    I have no doubt that I can do it/manage it, but I wonder how HR folks will look at my resume? Will their balk at the fact that I took time off from the career track in order to get my degree? Or are they used to seeing unconventional looking resumes since the economy has turned upside down? I'd also be curious to hear from other people who have done the same/similar things in order to either change or advance their careers.

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  2. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    Hang tight at your current job. The market is not healthy enough to leave a sure thing. I am very thankful to be employed when I see so many who aren't.
  3. Jags

    Jags Moderate Moderator Staff Member

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    Badfish- it has been reported (yet I don't really agree) that employers are less likely to hire a person that has been out of work for a lengthy period of time. I don't know if that really applies here because of you looking at a job with UPS, but it is a time lapse for your "field". Just tossing that out there.
  4. daveswoodhauler

    daveswoodhauler Minister of Fire

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    When you have kids, everything changes. Who carries the benefits in your family? Reason I ask is that when my wife used to teach, her health insurance rates were appx 50% of mine, and I am the one that works at an insurance company.

    Sounds like you have already done some cost analysis on the wages...I would do the same comparison on the bennies.
    (You might be losing $800 month just in benefits)

    And, like the prior posters...my vote would be for you to keep your current job and work on the masters..albeit a bit slower....most employers will look favorable to those folks that are enrolled in a degree program even though they might not have attained the degree yet.
    Good luck
  5. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    It's a tough call which is why I asked for outside advice-staying here and doing the Masters is easier said than done. My hours right now usually run about 9-6 and I have an 75 minute commute on either end. The time is just really tough to find. Also, there is no room to advance here so it's not as if the Masters is going to benefit me here-I have to go elsewhere regardless. As far as benefits, I actually carry them now-the school district pays my wife half what they would be paying in premiums not to take them. UPS benefits are actually quite good-package handlers are in the Teamsters Union and the union supplies the benefits, which would be another big reason for taking the job. They also offer tuition assistance-it's not a lot, but its something. All that said, there is still the issue of the gap in work history...
  6. festerw

    festerw Member

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    Stay where you are for right now, my wife is an executive assistant at a place she hates and finished an MBA program last year in hopes of going somewhere else (the company gave tuition assistance at least). She has applied for over 30 jobs in the past year and hasn't got past a 1st interview with any. She's ended up in a position where she is not being hired because she is overqualified for an administrative/executive assistant but underqualified to be hired a manager, director, etc.

    Long story short, don't bank on another degree to get you a better job. Right now I make $7/hour more than she does and only have an Associates Degree.
    daveswoodhauler likes this.
  7. vinny11950

    vinny11950 Minister of Fire

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    Like others have said, stay at your current job.

    I am not sure a Masters degree will make much of a difference in this economic environment.

    I have a friend who works for New York City in a civil service position. The way he climbs the ladder is by taking civil service exams, passing, and then hunting for job openings in different departments.

    Not sure if it applies to your field, but in my book, staying in your job and then looking for a better job is the way to go. Try networking with people who are doing what you want to do so you get a feel of what it takes.

    Good luck.
  8. mass_burner

    mass_burner Minister of Fire

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    I'm going to disagree with the consensus. Let me say first, I have always had a bigger appetite for risk than average. I am an independent consultant in the IT field with an LLC. How the screeners go through resumes changes, I remember last year, I was hiring a programmer for my client and he didn't want to see anybody who had been at their current job for more than 2 years. He figured those folks were the dead weight that didn't have the stuff to find a better job until they were forced to by layoff etc.

    Your resume is just a tool to get you a meeting, it should be a tease to get them curious. There are ways to emphasize what you want; and ways to downplay other things. Once your in the meeting, face-to-face, then if asked, you can explain anything. There are two things I would advise you before you do anything: 1. do you have a liquid safety fund, at least 6 months core living expenses, better 1 year. 2. do you have term life/disabilty insurance outside of your employer. At you age, it should be cheap. If you have these two covered. It puts you in a better position to take a risk. Your field may different than mine, but I guess I'm saying that taking a calculated risk may be scary, but it could pay off.
    flyingcow likes this.
  9. firebroad

    firebroad Minister of Fire

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    Badfish, I apologize if I am totally wrong, but it seems to me that you are suffering from burnout.
    Getting your Masters IS doable, you said yourself Rutgers offers online classes. It is just going to be tough. And expensive.
    Are you a State or Federal Employee? I am sure either one has other job opportunities in various branches of Government. I was working for my states' Department of Health & Mental Hygiene, burned out AND broke! I was dipping into my savings just to make ends meet, and here I was 58 years old, going on interviews! I managed to get a dream job (for my qualifications) at another State Agency, the work is easy, the perks are great, and my paycheck is $7000.00 more than it was!

    Though Mass_burner states many wise and important points that I agree with, there is no rule that states that a prospective employer wants someone who will disappear in two years. I have been working for Maryland for 26 years, and I have changed agencies twice. I have gone on many interviews, and all were impressed with my record. In fact, I sat in on an interview once, and one of the candidates had had seven jobs in 10 years--no one wanted to hire him.

    If there is any way you can keep working where you are and go to school, that is wonderful. But consider that you might be able to do a transfer to another government agency that might make your education more accessible. Whatever you decide, we're all pulling for you!!:)
  10. mass_burner

    mass_burner Minister of Fire

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    true, no rule. my example was simply to illustrate that employers are fickle. that what they consider an advantage today, may be a disandvantage in a few years time depending on the macro environment and that you shoudn't base your professional decsions on this alone.
  11. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    What makes you think a masters in such a general field like PA is actually going to get you somewhere? Is your lack of that masters holding you back or is it something else like experience or a sucky bachelor's degree. The only positions in government that I've seen benefit from a masters are management, high science, and director positions. You need to have luck, gray hair, and supervisory experience in your current role before the masters will allow you to pop up into management.

    High high education seldom gets you anywhere if your current degree gets you a package handler position. Perhaps you need to consider a different bachelor's degree in a better field. Engineering? IT? Then top that with a masters if/when you see the need.

    A masters in PA on top of a sucky bachelor's degree is still sucky. Perhaps the work you did for your bachelor's degree can mostly apply to a more marketable second bachelor's degree.
  12. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    Oh and I hold it against an applicant if they are so unloyal and uncommitted that they can't hold a job for several years. That two year itch is not something to be rewarded.
  13. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    I really appreciate all of these thoughts-it's a lot to think about. I want to respond to a few points and clear some things up that might not be clear.

    That is a big part of it. Ok, out with it, I work for a legislator (I don't like to advertise my line of work online)-I got into this because I had an interest in politics and government. I've done pretty much everything there is to do in a legislative office-constituent services, policy analysis, grants related work, community and government relations, etc... It's interesting work and I've enjoyed it but its hard on a family (nights, weekends, long hours, etc...), and I really DON'T enjoy the politics anymore-things have simply gotten too nasty. I'd much rather do government relations for a company or work in government at an agency. Many of the positions I've applied for say "Masters preferred."

    Because many of the people who hold jobs like the one I'd like to have.

    As far as I can tell, yes.

    I don't follow-the UPS job is a means to an end. Obviously I'm way overqualified, I'm just using it to get somewhere else.

    I've got the supervisory experience, (the gray hair is coming), and luck? I dunno...

    Is seven years not several?
    flyingcow and Highbeam like this.
  14. wazzu

    wazzu Member

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    I have been a fed employee for some time now and found that education has not helped me advance at all. It is more about meeting the minimum qualifications so you can get a passing score (you do not need college for that). Then the real key is to know or have a friend that knows the selecting official. It has not worked out real well for me, having education that is. Most of the people getting selected for promotions in my agency are suck-up scum and "networkers". Its just a job man, find your success in your family and hobbies. PS, I have been working without pay all week. Ha, sometimes I wonder about myself.
  15. jharkin

    jharkin Minister of Fire

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    A few thoughts....

    Im not HR, but as a hiring manager I can say that looking at resume's Ive only ever been scared off by a gap in work directly related to the applicants field when there is no good explanation for it. What scares me off more is applicants who are under 40 but have a 5 page resume because they change jobs every 2 years. That tells me if I hire them, I would waste a year on training and then just have to do it again.

    Also, to add to what others have said - the market is TOUGH. especially for management level positions. I know folks who have gone 12-18 months before finding something, and most of the time the key is to have an in.. a network... somebody in the org to recommend you. A buddy of mine just started looking - 30 applications got 27 ignores, 2 immediate rejections, and one that went 4 rounds of interviews including exams and psych evaluations before being rejected. And we know 2 VP level guys who work at the company he was applying to that would give him a recommendation internally.


    FWIW, Ive only got a bachelors and have managed to make it up to director level management (staff of 30-50 on 3 continents). Once you have been in an organization a long time its more about making the right friends and impressing key high level folks than what your resume says. But I'm talking private sector - I'm sure .gov is different.
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2013
    Hearth Mistress likes this.
  16. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    I'm still trying get past the fact that your teacher wife gets paid well and gets home at 3:30.
    My teacher wife's pay is pitiful and she rarely leaves work before 5:30 after working from 7:30 on with a 20 minute lunch break.

    My whining here may actually result in a constructive comment:
    you'll need to consider that your wife may get "tenure" even if its not called that and that whatever path you take should result in her being able to keep her current position without you having to endure a long commute. The costs associated with commuting are often way underestimated.

    I hire MS and PhD level professionals and would look unfavorably on an applicant that left a position in their field even to enable educational advancement.
    Perhaps you could wait it out a bit and find a job in your field that is closer to home (or Rutgers) and then start your masters?

    Edit: the time I most enjoyed with my young children was the pre bedtime and bedtime hours. I wouldn't have missed those for anything. Tucking them in, reading them stories, making up stories together, and discussing their day was probably the highlight of my life as a father.

    2nd Edit: Wow, I just realized that my eyes were watering after making the recollections associated with my first edit. Maybe its the 14 hour work day and subsequent margarita kicking in...maybe not.
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2013
    midwestcoast and Mrs. Krabappel like this.
  17. homebrewz

    homebrewz Minister of Fire

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    You need to make a list of the positives and negatives and carefully weigh each one. You might interview some of the faculty
    and find out how others have made it work. In a program like that, there are probably a lot of "non-traditional" students.
    You can also seek the advice of a career counselor, which might be a worthwhile investment.

    I'm not sure what entity of government you're in, but you're in.. and the time put in should transfer to another position
    and count towards retirement, etc. Perhaps you could find something at another office or part-time for a while?

    I'd have to disagree that leaving work to pursue higher education would be looked upon unfavorably. I think that's likely to be a
    slim percentage of employers. I think it shows a drive towards self-improvement and a desire to learn. Of course, if you do have
    a string of 2 year stints at jobs before grad school, that would not look so favorably. Fortunately, you do not. It all depends on the
    candidate.

    You do, perhaps, sound burnt out, which is not good. However, you are taking steps to change that situation, which is great.
    Good luck.
  18. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    At your age I was frustrated as well, even though I had a good job. That was 33 years ago. I stuck it out, looked for job expansion opportunities in what I was doing, and only made changes when I had a new position in hand and did not involve a job interruption.
    The frustration passed, jobs improved, and life went on much better that I expected.

    The exception to the general advice to keep your current job might be if you were to change fields completely. Our son was in management, saw little possible opportunity for advancement, left his job (supported by his wife with a good job and loans) and went into a completely different field with a PhD in Clinical Psychology after 4 years of additional education. He landed an excellent job. The job interruption was irrelevant.
  19. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    I guess "good" is subjective, but her salary is in the high 50s. Since mine is currently in the mid 40s, that seems "good" to me. As for leaving at 3:30, the last bell rings at 2:05 and she is contractually obligated to stay until 3:00 for students who need help, etc... Luckily she works literally minutes away from our house and my daughters daycare-if my daughter were to stay past 3:30 it would cost us a lot more than $800 a month. Her school is also very technology heavy-she has a school issued iPad (so does every student) and Mac, and everything is cloud based, so she is able to do much of the "grunt work" (grading, grade book, emails/parent communication) from home.

    We wanted to live in a rural area and are paying the price for it I guess. Obviously for her it was easier to find work close to home, but for me the jobs are mostly in the big populations centers (Trenton, Newark, New Brunswick)-all of which we live at least 40 miles from. My best hope is to find a job with more set hours and maybe a work from home option one day a week or something. My neighbor works from home every Friday and loves it.

    I just wanted to respond to these two points because they jumped out at me. This is honestly my real goal. Right now I only tuck my daughter in on the weekends, but she can't possibly stay up until I get home during the week. I hate that. I do get her ready for daycare and drop her off in the morning which is nice. Also, before we had her I was barely keeping up with having enough wood for the winter. Now every weekend (the ones when I'm not working) is a choice between spending quality time with her and catching up on collecting/cutting/splitting or the million other things to do around the house. It's also frustrating because we are friends with most of the young families at church who all live locally and want to get the kids together, etc... Apparently I'm the only one of the dads who who doesn't have a "normal" job where I'm home by 5:30-6:00 so when they get together for a potluck dinner or something on a Wednesday night my wife always has to go alone.

    Well so far I've reevaluated taking time off to get the degree and reevaluated the degree I get. I'm determined to do SOMETHING by January so that I can start the Spring semester. Thanks guys.
  20. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    I think 33 years ago I was where you are now - frustrated with my career direction. I looked for opportunities while holding my current job, made changes only after landing the new position, and life turned out better than expected.

    The exception to the general advice of keep your current job might be if you change fields completely. Our son was in management with little opportunity for advancement, he quit his job with the support of his wife and loans and obtained a PhD in Clinical Psychology, landed an excellent job with a great future, and the 4 year job interruption was irrelevant.
  21. Badfish740

    Badfish740 Minister of Fire

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    If 33 years from now I have kids with great careers, my wife by my side, a 1500SF shop, and a gasser with 1000 gallons of storage, I'll consider myself a success ;)

    I'm not looking to change but rather advance, which seems as though really leans toward staying put and getting the degree. I'm going to talk with a career counselor at Rutgers about where I want to be and how their programs can work with my crazy life.
  22. Joful

    Joful Minister of Fire

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    I did exactly what you are proposing, and it was the best move I ever made. I did it at an even worse time in the job market, and before the complicating factor of kids. After 3 years in school, I was able to double my salary. More on HR shortly, when I'm typing on a computer, instead of a phone.
  23. Redbarn

    Redbarn Member

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    I'm with Joful. Plan it well and go for it.
    I did the same thing and had no qualms when both my kids did it too.

    The safe option isn't...
  24. stee6043

    stee6043 Minister of Fire

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    A career change/break is a big decision. Only you will know the right answer for you.

    One thing I can offer is that completing an "online degree" is not as easy as most people may think. Many respected schools offer online/video classes these days. If the courses are coming from a "real school" you can rest assured it's not going to be a walk in the park even with the nearly infinite flexibility offered by video courses.

    I have two masters degrees that were primarily video based from a "real school". It took me 4 years to complete the two degrees. It's very, very easy to get burned out if you think you can take two classes per semester and also work a job and be part of a family. Plan on one class per semester and then project how long you think it should take. And plan on taking a semester or two off, just in case things like baby # 2 happen.

    You'll really enjoy the team project conference calls with the ornery two year old in the back ground. It's a blast! If you're a real gluten for punishment knock the wife up with #2, start the classes and go for it! Hammer down.

    In my opinion advanced degrees are an important part of a well rounded resume for those that want to advance within corporate America. They don't make sense for everyone, they are not a singular answer for those wanting to be "management" and they can be very expensive. But if you have the focus and drive and can handle the debt load, it's a great investment (in my opinion). And last, these days MBA's are pretty much a dime a dozen. If you want to differentiate yourself from the 1000's of other people out there with MBA's consider getting a specialized degree with some kind of business/operations emphasis that isn't an MBA. I have no idea what Public Admin entails but make sure it's something you can apply broadly if "Plan A" doesn't pan out.

    Just my two cents.
    Last edited: Oct 5, 2013
  25. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    I'm agreeing with Joful too. Refine your plan and go for it. The commute you have now is a life destroyer, and your kid is only little once. Sounds like you will end up three years from now having spend ~1000 fewer hours driving, irreplaceable memories with your child (who will be starting school), a grateful wife, and a masters degree.

    I assume you have done the research on job opportunities with the Masters.

    The hole in the resume? You restructured your life so you could get the masters, including a job with more appropriate hours.
    Swedishchef, Joful and Frozen Canuck like this.

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