What do you do when you enjoy math and science but have no passionate feelings about any particular career? You go to engineering school. That’s how I became a mechanical engineer by default. After a master’s degree and nearly a decade at the world’s largest technology company, I still was not passionate about the career I had chosen.
What I did enjoy was learning complex topics, analyzing data, creating charts and graphs, planning, scheduling, and budgeting. I coordinated a test lab for laser printers. The best part about my job was helping my teammates get the information they needed, quickly and accurately, from the test lab – they relied on my attention to the details of their situations. But I wasn’t overly in love with laser printers. I didn’t wake up each day excited to go to work. Something was missing.
Something I also looked forward to was the annual open enrollment period for my company’s benefit program and managing my 401(k). One year I created a spreadsheet to calculate which prescription drug program was best for my family based on the specific drugs we were taking. Several colleagues asked me to share the tool with them. One day I read an article in The Wall Street Journal about the career of financial planning, a common field for career-changers. My reaction was: “You mean there’s a career in helping people figure out which prescription drug program is best for them? How to invest their money? When they can retire? If they have the right insurance?”
I promptly went to the Internet and found the Certified Financial Planner® Board of Standards website. Within months I was signed up for a certificate program in financial planning. In all my years as a student of engineering, I never once read an entire chapter of a textbook. I read every word of every page of all six financial planning textbooks. I loved it. Finally, I had found a career I could be passionate about.
There was no doubt I was in the right career field, but finding the right job turned out to be a challenge. What they don’t tell you on the CFP® website is that in order to become a financial planner, you must avoid getting trapped by the “dark side.” By the dark side I mean all of those insurance and securities sales companies that will let you call yourself a financial planner or whatever makes you happy, as long as you sell their products. I was criticized for my analytical and introverted nature, but they all “supposed they would hire me anyway.” I endured this environment for a little over two years.
In the fall of 2011, I met a recruiter at a financial planning conference. He told me I would be a good fit for a position he was trying to fill in Rapid City, SD. At first I could not see myself moving to South Dakota. Wasn’t it flat like Kansas (my home state) but a lot colder? After a little research, my husband quickly realized that Rapid City was exactly what he was looking for in his retirement – a new place to explore, great outdoor activities, and not as many people as there are in Boise.
We decided to make the move, and I learned that real financial planning jobs do exist. The Planning Analyst position at Kahler Financial Group couldn’t be a better fit for my skills and personality. I use all of the skills I developed as an engineer – tackling complex concepts, analyzing data, paying attention to the details, planning, and helping people – but now these skills are applied to a field I really love.
Sarah Swantner, meet Fulfilling Career You Can Be Passionate About. I’m sure we’ll get along just fine.