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May 15, 2011 7:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm an artist. Please help me find a day job that makes use of my bizarre love of spreadsheets.

Previously. I was an English teacher for 7 years. I quit recently because I was burnt out. I've been pursuing theater more fully. I got a job working in development for a midsize theater company in Chicago. It's two days a week and the pay is minimal, but I'm learning a ton and having a fantastic time. I've also had some freelance copywriting work to help supplement my tiny income, but it's not steady enough at this point.

So what can my other day job be? I am utterly useless waiting tables. I still love working with kids and have gotten some catch-as-catch-can babysitting gigs, but in my attempts to get nanny jobs I've found that people are generally looking for somebody willing to make a multiyear commitment. Tutoring work has been tough to get.

Here's what I think might be my secret weapon: I've learned, since leaving education and working more with fundraising and box office issues, that I am -- to many of the artsy types with whom I spend my time -- terrifyingly good at spreadsheets. Given the fact that I have always worked in the humanities, this comes as a complete surprise to me. I derive some sort of primeval, lizard-brain pleasure from making an elegant, workable spreadsheet. This amazes me because I was always pretty disorganized as a teacher. I was lousy at sorting hundreds of kids' poorly-labeled hardcopy homework assignments, but I'm great at working with computer files.

What sort of part-time/freelance work could I get/make with this skill? I had the realization (after April 15th) that I should maybe become a tax preparer, but I've heard that the pay is lousy if you're working for H+R Block or the like. Hive mind, do you have any other special snowflake ideas for me?
posted by HeroZero to Work & Money (8 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
My husband is a PhD fellow in the humanities who is knee-deep in an unusual research project right now that requires sorting, counting, spreadsheets, information processing, etc. Traditionally numbers based professions and the sciences, my point is, are not the only areas where there is demand for data analysis. What you would be looking for, at a major university, are positions for research assistants (and look in every field). You might also submit a targeted resume that emphasizes your strengths in this area to, specifically, large humanities departments. What my husband found was that it often didn't occur to his colleagues to grab funding for this kind of thing--instead using less than reliable work study students--and though work you find may be per project and grant-based (temporary), it could be a foot in the door to longer-term interesting data analysis. What's more, my husband has found that if a department acquires someone like this it often engenders more (in general) and more objective-based research (more recognition and $$ for humanities) because there is someone to assist, a selling point for you.

So job-search key words--research assistant, data analyst assistant, information processing. To keep it fun, I would look for university gigs, jobs in small offices or firms. In a large corporate environment, you would have less opportunity to learn more, do more, and see more--and less flexibility to move around and get to know the scene (or innovate). The reason I thought of university gigs, too, is because PhDs often know where they want to go, but not how to get there with the tools and technology. You would have a chance to do some project design and work with people.

Good luck!
posted by rumposinc at 8:15 AM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hit up a staffing agency. They can be pretty good at matching people with particular office skills with employers that are looking for those skills.
posted by valkyryn at 8:15 AM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


How is your proficiency with spreadsheets? Can you do pivot tables (which hardly anyone uses anyway) or write macros? Do your graphs look amazing and consistent? As you look for a source of income out of this, consider the many functions in Excel (which most would probably consider the standard). Can you do all or most of those functions? If you want to expand on your love of spreadsheets, you could look at learning Visual Basic.

You might want to also consider picking up database administration or creation. Look into learning SQL (which you can do with a how-to book). Proficiency with spreadsheets is a hop, skip, and a jump to creating and/or maintaining a database. You sound like a pretty busy person, but just grab a SQL book from the library and you'll learn within a couple weeks probably. You won't be an expert, but you'll learn enough to make yourself dangerous and you can learn on the job (hopefully!).

With that, you do become more easy for a staffing agency to place. Also, you can use these as search terms in Craigslist (SQL, visual basic, excel) and may get more hits.
posted by rybreadmed at 9:59 AM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


From Ms. Vegetable:

I play with spreadsheets all day. I work for a high-end insurance company.
1 - Learn Access.
2 - Learn VBA.
3 - Call temp agency with such skills.
4 - If temp jobs don't turn into permanent jobs:
4a - research assistant
4b - product/project management in an "office" company
4c - math/research department in an "office" company

Most people (myself included) do not use hefty-duty math in their spreadsheets on an everyday basis. More often, I'm doing arithmetic and algebra.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:16 AM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I use Excel daily and have for almost 20 years.

A couple of observations:

1) Most people in staffing agencies won't care or appreciate what your Excel skills are as long as they are at a baseline. Don't expect them, or other people who interview you, to understand your interest in spreadsheets and their logic (assuming they have any--most people use them in a disorganized manner).

2) People who love spreadsheets get seduced by long, complex formulas. People who don't love spreadsheets don't. These are hard to audit, and if there is no documentation, even harder.

3) Good web sites to persuse are :contextures.com, j-walk.com and the sites that they link to. These deal with advanced applications of Excel.

4) Learn relational database theory so that you can understand the weaknesses of Excel (of which there are many). This will help you structure spreadsheets in a coherent and logical manner and allow you to manage fairly complex spreadsheets.
posted by dfriedman at 10:35 AM on May 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


A lot of consulting and finance agencies have "design" departments that do a lot of data manipulation, etc., to produce charts and pull statistics. Some use external mapping databases to produce heat maps and the like. For this type of position, using Excel and Powerpoint hand in hand are pretty crucial. Maybe think along those lines. Some terms to add to your search list: presentation specialist, data manager. You might want to learn Powerpoint.

Many of these firms have part time as well as full time positions. Some are nights/weekends. A shame you're not in the Boston area: my department is looking for someone.
posted by clone boulevard at 5:33 PM on May 15, 2011


Ha - I'm a Wall Street refugee who fled to become a full-time music teacher. Perhaps we are alternate-universe versions of each other, and I look just like you except for an ominous beard.

(unless YOU'RE the one with the ominous beard...?!)

Anyway - I'd agree with temping. But be warned that as a temp you are often a second-class citizen. Which doesn't mean you can't enjoy it, but the people you work with know that you'll be leaving them in a week/month/year, so that will often impair the social connections you make. Still, it's worth doing to develop your spreadsheet ninja skills.

I can't help but daydream five-year plans for you. How are you at finance? Arts organizations need accountants. Or a freelance accountant/number-cruncher/financial guy for starving artists? Teaming up with a grant writer?
posted by audiodidactic at 5:33 PM on May 15, 2011


Hey, one of my friends is a spreadsheets geek. He side-stepped into a data job via temping. He claims he worked out how to do his month's job in 3 days. The promo emails from his own company do seem to always arrive during working hours.
posted by yoHighness at 12:19 AM on May 16, 2011


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