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Engineer looks into the distance.Getty Images/iStockphoto

The question

I have a strong willingness to switch careers but just feel lost and helpless. It's all misty in front and I don't want to be persuaded by others who probably don't know what they are talking about.

I am a mechanical engineer with a mixture of experience (steel and waterworks) currently working in the Toronto area. I really wish to switch careers from engineering to finance, especially investment banking, mergers and acquisitions, IPOs, capital markets and equity research because engineering is not going anywhere in Ontario.

I was told that if I pass the Chartered Financial Analyst exam, I can start looking for jobs but without a solid finance background, it's really hard to get an interview. Will coupling with an MBA be helpful? I am already 31, so I am afraid that I am too old, but I still have the drive and motivation to make changes in my life.

I am really dissatisfied with my current career and industry right now. It's a dead end and there aren't many good jobs out there; most require relocation to Alberta.

What are my chances on landing a job in Canada? Will my chances be better in the United States? My fiancée is a U.S. citizen.

I need some advice and a solid game plan to make this switch a success.

The answer

It's never too late to start a new career – today, men and women are opting to follow their passions into new careers at all stages of life, even in their 60s.

To make sure you're making the right change for you, first consider your career change motivations. Do you want greater job satisfaction or more money? Do you want growth potential, or a less stressful job? Compare your new career against your ultimate wish list.

Second, consider the time and monetary investment a second career like this requires. Will you continue working as you study for your CFA? Or can you study full time to graduate sooner? Are you ready for 60- to 75-hour workweeks, lost income and probable lifestyle changes?

If you decide this is your passion to pursue, keep the following tips in mind:

1. Try a "career immersion experience" before you enroll in CFA courses. Companies such as Challenge Factory in Canada or Vocation Vacations in the United States let you test-drive your new career by pairing you up with an industry veteran for a hands-on job shadowing experience. This gives you a chance to see what a real day in the life of your new career offers.

2. Check to see if you qualify for the Government of Ontario's Second Career initiative, where you could receive up to $28,000 in financial assistance for tuition, living expenses, etc.

3. Be prepared to build your second career from the ground up. Employers want job candidates to hit the ground running. As a newcomer to the financial sector, your challenge will be getting that all-important first job. You'll likely have to accept an entry-level salary and work your way up again.

When it comes to an MBA, employers often regard this degree as offering excellent business skills, whereas a CFA offers specialized skills in investment analysis, portfolio strategy, asset allocation, etc. Having both ultimately puts your best face forward, but it requires immense commitment and discipline, not to mention tuition. You could however, opt for a graduate school that offers a combined program, teaching a large portion of the CFA program within the MBA's curriculum.

Finally, for the Canadian versus U.S. market, consider this: Canada is fairing much better than the U.S. in these precarious economic times both on the job creation front and in terms of financial stability. This could be significant in your career transition plans.

Julie Labrie is the vice-president of BlueSky Personnel Solutions.

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