How I changed careers: from sales to psychology

December 29, 2014

Todd Hale is in the midst of a career and industry switch from sales to psychology.

How did this husband and father of four navigate his way to Capella University as a student in the PhD in Industrial/Organizational Psychology program?

Q. Share a little bit about your career path to date.

    A. I’ve always been a fairly outgoing and extroverted person. I like meeting new people, and I’m not shy in groups, so that made me a pretty natural fit for sales. I graduated from high school in 1987, and I had the intent of going to college right away. But I dropped out after meeting a girl—we got married and started a family. To support my family, I jumped into the workforce—first in retail and then in business-to-business sales of everything from office equipment to petrochemicals.

Q. What about your career made you think it was time to make a change?

    A. Frankly, I had done some soul searching and thought I had more to offer the world and myself. Also, when my wife and I were talking to my middle school-age kids about the importance of higher education, I started feeling hypocritical telling them college was important when I never graduated myself.

Q. What was your main concern about making the switch?

    A. There was certainly fear. Fear of failure. I had a lot of internal conversations: What if I decide to make this investment and I don’t finish? What kind of message would that send to my kids? Can I continue working and get a degree at the same time?

    I started exploring nontraditional and distance education programs, and I asked myself: What degree program, what university, what accreditations, and how long will it take? Will my family get behind this? How are we going to pay for it? It took me about 6 months to put it together. I was determined, yet cautious and analytical. Now I only have two classes left, so failure is not an option!

Q. How did you decide on psychology as your new field of study?

    A. I analyzed my strengths and which parts of my career I liked. I was good at picking up on clients’ non-verbal cues and behaviors, which was helpful in sales. In psychology, we call that reading micro-expressions. It’s like poker players reading the “tells” of the other players at the table. I was curious about many aspects of human behavior: Why do people say one thing and behave differently? Why do so many people exhibit signs of cognitive dissonance? Why do some workers seem so engaged and hardworking, while others seem to waste time on Facebook? I wanted to research and understand these questions, and get paid to think about how people think. Psychology was a natural fit.

Q. What drew you to Capella?

    A. I had five reasons for going with Capella:

  • They had the accreditation I was looking for.
  • Their social science program has a great reputation among nontraditional universities.
  • They practice the scholar-practitioner model that the American Psychological Association (APA) recommends.
  • I met some Capella graduates who enjoyed the experience.
  • Capella has a really great career center that helps with career transition plans.

Q. How do you stay motivated?

    A. It’s definitely not easy. But I look at my wife and kids and realize I want to model lifelong learning. I want to feel like I have done the best job I can do to set a good example for them.

    And, I like thinking. I like using my brain. I have become a lifelong learner and that motivates me.

Q. Are you working as you take classes? How is that going?

    A. I work full time at St. David’s here in Austin, Texas, where I am responsible for inpatient and outpatient research programs.

    There are clear benefits I’m experiencing even though I haven’t graduated from the PhD program yet. I have already gained the skill set needed to do this job. My supervisor is a doctor who allows me to spend time at work on my dissertation because I can apply what I learn to my job here. As of now, the working title of my dissertation is “Personality Congruence Between Supervisors and Employees and Its Effect on Employee Engagement.” In essence, I’m trying to create a research protocol to scientifically study the phenomenon of personality clash in the workplace.

Q. What are the good things that have come as a result of your career change?

    A. I am experiencing a synergy that has resulted in a dramatic increase in happiness with my work-life-school balance. I am doing what I like to do, getting paid for it, even doing my schoolwork at work. That is literally a win-win-win scenario.

    From a financial standpoint, I am making as much as I was making in sales. But the intrinsic motivation I have at my job, and the ability to spend more time with my family? I can’t put a dollar figure on those things.

Q. Is there anything you’d do differently?

    A. I wish I had started sooner! I would be much further down my career trajectory. Overcoming the fear of failure is important. Fear keeps so many people from what they enjoy.

Q. What words of wisdom would you share with others who are considering a career change?

    A. Like the much wiser and wealthier Jim Koch of Sam Adams said, “If you love what you do, you will never have to work a day in your life.”

    I’m walking proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Never stop learning. Spend some time planning out your return to school and set up your support system. Work through the work-life-school equation. Consider the school and program accreditation, ensure the program meets the expectations of the industry, and choose the degree program that lines up with what you want to do for a paycheck!

Q. What’s your career path look like once you graduate?

    A. When I complete my degree, I don’t have any immediate plans to leave St. David’s. I really enjoy my job as the clinical research coordinator and I love the fact that this job does involve the application of my psychology background.

    But additionally, I would like to move into teaching (on a part-time basis) at the collegiate level in industrial/organizational psychology, research methodology, or statistics. In addition, I plan on opening up my own practice as a consultant to work with companies that are looking for ways to use the principles of industrial/organizational psychology to do things like increase profitability through increased employee retention, decreasing turnover, increased employee engagement, decreasing deviant worker behavior (loafing, wasting time, surfing the net, reading their Facebook page, etc.), and other aspects of the application of psychology in the workplace.

Q. Any last thoughts?

    A. I just thank God and my family. I wouldn’t be at this point without either. I have so much love and respect for my wife, who has made sacrifices of time while I was writing papers until 2 a.m.

    And you can find me on LinkedIn!

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