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I just want to work!
June 8, 2011 5:08 PM   Subscribe

3.5 years out of college and I'm still looking for permanent work. I've sent out a ton of resumes, and have had a few interviews, but can't seem to get anything to stick. What am I doing wrong? What can I do better? How do I fix this?

I graduated from the University of Maine in 2008 with an all-too-common BA in English and moved to the Greater Boston Area almost immediately. I love the city, but I've been working temp assignments (when I can get them) almost the entire time. I have technical skills as well: while I don't program (yet) beyond actionscript and web development via html/css, I understand code conceptually and try to learn new languages when I have the time/don't feel utterly dispirited. There are very few types of software I am *not* experienced with. I am also the type of person who likes to spend their free time learning and developing new skills.

The financial situation:
I live with my long-term girlfriend, who has permanent work but dislikes her job. She mostly supports us, since on average, I am only just barely able to cover my share of basic expenses (rent, school loans, utilities, groceries, etc). I don't have a credit card, and am very cautious about spending money. I've been on unemployment between temp gigs, but dislike it and generally hide the fact as I get subtle comments about it from people I know. I feel like a burden most of the time.

Lately, my pay ($13/hour gross) has not been able to keep up with my school loans. Every month I'm a little bit further behind on my payments. I pay as soon as I'm able and haven't been reported to a credit agency yet, but the situation is trending steadily toward unsustainability (bitter amusement).

The job situation:
I've been sending out a ton of resumes/cover letters; literally hundreds, most electronically, but many via snail mail (doesn't seem to make a difference). Since I wasn't getting many responses, I changed strategies to sending out fewer, but taking more time to craft and tailor them to the specific target. When that produced marginal results, I attempted to focus on opportunities through networking. I've gotten a few interviews, but I always get a vibe that there is only a token interest in me and am not being considered seriously. I dress well (I think), and speak articulately (I think), and always feel well-prepared, but never have any way of getting feedback (as an aside, is there a professional/appropriate way to ask an interviewer for feedback after they've decided not to hire you?)

My assets:
I'm a decent writer. I'm modest, but I know I'm more capable than most English majors who got the degree because they didn't know what else to do. I know my formatting standards, and can proof and edit (everywhere I work, I end up being asked to 'fix up' co-worker's letters and e-mail for better clarity, flow, etc). I can do web development. I'm still have gaps of knowledge, but I've had paying clients who I've built websites for. I have an interest in and basic knowledge of design principals, and have doing a lot of reading in this area, especially concerning web design. I'm very good with computers, both with software and hardware. I could probably earn some of those silly Microsoft certifications with ease if I had the money and thought it would make a difference. Finally, I have a killer work-ethic. I happily do the jobs others are unwilling to do, I don't surf online at work, and I will stay late to get a project done if necessary. I am incredibly focused and don't get burned out easily.

My concerns:
I'm worried that my dime-a-dozen degree is all employers are seeing, if anything. I'm worried that the type of jobs I've been taking to make ends meet are pigeonholing me into more mediorce administrative work in the future. I'm worried that I need to go back to school, but can't decide what for. I'm worried that it hurts me to be more a generalist than a specialist. I'm worried that even if I decide what to go to school for, I won't get in anywhere. I'm worried that I will give up and move somewhere where I am unhappy and unchallenged.

My goals:
I want work that matters and is challenging for me. I want to make around 40k/year within the next 5 years. I want to be able to tell my girlfriend to quit her job and let me support her for a change, while she pursues her passions. I want to get lost in my work and eventually, I want it to matter on some level. I want to try a leadership role in my work. I want to be able to start saving money. I want a career. I want to be able to plan my life with my girlfriend beyond the end date of my latest assignment.

My questions:

Should I go back to school? Is it worth the additional debt?

How can a develop a professional network from scratch?

What can I do in interviews to stand out?

How do I know if I do something wrong in an interview?

And I know it's a common question, but what *are* employers looking for anyway?

Am I missing something? Is there some trick or method I've neglected?

How significant is my age (26) in this whole process?

What are some reliable alternative ways to make money?

Am I just being impatient and over-thinking this?

Am I being realistic, or are my expectations too high?



Finally,

Is anyone out there looking to hire someone like me? PM me! ;-)
posted by monkeyagent to Work & Money (47 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
clarifying question: are you responding to job postings, or are you doing cold solicitation?
posted by Think_Long at 5:16 PM on June 8, 2011


One problem is that you're in a market glutted with people with very similar skills. Rather than send out random emails, even in response to ads, you're far better off working your connections, contacts, friends of friends of friends, etc. Most jobs aren't filled by email applicants. You can't be shy.

What sort of writing do you want to do? Journalism? Textbooks? Or are you more interested in web design and development?
If I plug "writer" into CL jobs in Boston, almost everything that pops up is grant writing, communications and healthcare. Do you have any interest in these?

It's hard to set yourself apart from the pack. Do you have other interests or skills or hobbies that you can turn into an actual career?
posted by Ideefixe at 5:17 PM on June 8, 2011


I'm worried that the type of jobs I've been taking to make ends meet are pigeonholing me into more mediorce administrative work in the future.

Also, speaking to this : I'm in a similar stage of my life, and I've found agreement among a lot of my peers. At this point, what we really are looking for is a stable full time position with benefits. You don't need to hit it out of the park right away, you need to get comfortable and then really focus on your interests. It sounds like you are working on web development, but your skills are not nearly up to the professional level. If you get a job that is not in your interest area, but stable, you will feel much more comfortable in pursuing your goals.

I say this because from what you write, you may be reflexively ignoring "administrative" type positions. If that's what your experiences speak to, play that up. Re tailor your resume to reflect all of your temp work experience and how that prepares you for X position.

Finally, a key point: COMPOSE your cover letters to match the JOB DESCRIPTION, not your RESUME.
posted by Think_Long at 5:24 PM on June 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Go out to networking events, happy hours, etc where you can meet people that can either hire you, or can refer you into open opportunities. Finding a job replying to ads is the proverbial needle in a haystack. Half the time to job is filled before the ad is placed.
posted by COD at 5:29 PM on June 8, 2011


"Am I missing something? Is there some trick or method I've neglected?"

What organizations do you belong to? Jaycees, Kiwanis, church, gardening club, stained glass enthusiasts unite, club soccer, political party, underwater basketweavers of greater Boston?

Building a professional network can be difficult when you're temping; meeting people via other organizations (volunteer, hobby, sport, interest, political, etc.) can help you build a network of people of different ages and at different stages in their careers, and may open some doors.

I know it's hard when you're working long hours at crap jobs to go and do ANOTHER thing, but it's a good strategy. And might make you feel less dispirited.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:37 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


You have a pretty similar skill set to what I had coming out of college: I had a Psych BA (worthless) but had taught myself some HTML and basic web stuff. The path I took was:

1) Temping at regular admin jobs
2) One of the agencies had a "tech" branch, so I told them I could do HTML and they got me a job
3) started working full-time as a web developer, learning most of it on the job

Granted this was the late 90s and it was way easier to get web jobs, but it still might work. Also, the company I work at now (a TV network) hires "interactive producers" - the job requires some technical skills (CMS entry, etc) but also copywriting. So it might be worth looking for something like that.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:40 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


@Think_Long: I've been doing both, though less cold solicitation lately, unless I have a contact within the company or really want to work for them.

@Ideefixe: Any kind of writing is fine - at this point, I just want to put my brain to work since it currently feels like it is atrophying. I have applied to many of those grant-writing positions (though many are looking for experience with non-profits), and actually interviewed early in my job hunt at some textbook publishers. I rarely get any responses from Monster/Careerbuilder applications. I periodically tap my social network for job leads and have gotten a few interviews that way. I even went back to places that gave me interviews more than a year ago and got another interview that way.

Part of my difficulty is that I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up; I enjoy pretty much everything, and figured I'd just pursue with the first thing that felt right. In the course of the past year, this has included computer sciences, freelance writing, industrial design, law, economics, and entrepreneurship. I can see myself in any of these fields or others, but mostly just want something stable enough for me to really figure out what path I want to take.

My long term goal is to get out of boring administrative work, but I can accept it for the short term. I'm just concerned I may be backing myself into a corner. In any case, those are the jobs I'm mostly getting interviews for, so no, I'm not shying away from them, I just don't want to be a career "secretary/administrative assistant/operations associate" (or whatever they're calling the position this week).
posted by monkeyagent at 5:42 PM on June 8, 2011


Are you on LinkedIn? Do you have a portfolio of your sites and a list of references ready to go?
Have you worked on technical documentation and do you have samples of your work for potential employers? Have you had someone (not your girlfriend) review your resume?

Are you signed up with multiple temporary agencies and told them you're looking for long-term assignments and temp-to-hire? Have you flogged what technical skills you have to ask for a higher hourly rate?

In the area, I recommend Office Specialists. Randstad and PSG are fine, but they tend to be bigger and more people-mill like, and so my experiences there have run the gamut.

I've been where you are - I spent 3ish years post-dot-bust underemployed, with lots of resumes sent out and not much gained for it. My recommendation is to find the best paying admin job assignment you can, and then job hunt from there. Trust me, I was also a super generalist and didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I took long-term admin assignments (and yeah, I won't lie, they weren't great) until an internet friend said, hey, I know this job opening at our place, want me to put your resume in?

That was my previous career and it gave me the time to finally figure out where I wanted to go all these years.
posted by canine epigram at 5:49 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Graduate school in a marketable field.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 5:49 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


English? I took a degree in Art History. I spent my entire working life as a bartender, manager and bookkeeper. If I had it all to do over again I would take an associates degree in accounting from a local community college and never look back. It may not be too late for you...
posted by jim in austin at 5:51 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Can you clarify a bit more what sort of work you're hoping to get, beyond: "I eventually want to move out of boring admin work"?

I also have a BA in English and can relate to some of what you say, but I'll probably be better able to help if you can clarify this for me.
posted by asnider at 5:52 PM on June 8, 2011


Taking an office admin job for a while, even a few years, doesn't make you a career anything. I know the prospect sounds awful, but being broke and single is worse. You're not likely to be able to support another adult on your salary hereabouts anytime soon, but if you get into a full-time job with benefits and tuition reimbursement, well, you can do what I did and skill up when you do figure out which direction to strike out in.

In hindsight, if I had to tell you (or my former self) one thing, aside from the targeting resume tip Thing_Long mentioned, it would be - just pick a direction and strike out. You can (and might) change your mind. Your job doesn't define you, don't define yourself by it.
posted by canine epigram at 5:54 PM on June 8, 2011


If your skills are good administratively, go to a recruiter. I've found that a lot of people fail at basic office skills and recruiters are thrilled if you can ace Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
posted by xingcat at 6:02 PM on June 8, 2011


In the past, I haven't really been very social. I know this has been my major weakness. I have a small close-knit group of friends, and many of them no longer live nearby. I haven't run into many people close to my age at work either.

The upside? Being jobless for so long is a humbling experience. I've pretty much lost any shred of shame/embarrassment I've had about approaching strangers in the past. Consequently, I've been making a concentrated effort to go to anything I'm invited to (and can afford), whether it interests me or not.

That said, if anyone has recommendations for good low-cost, Boston-based geek-related groups (I'd kill for a decent video gaming organization) in Boston, please feel free to make recommendations.

"Are you on LinkedIn? Do you have a portfolio of your sites and a list of references ready to go?
Have you worked on technical documentation and do you have samples of your work for potential employers? Have you had someone (not your girlfriend) review your resume?

Are you signed up with multiple temporary agencies and told them you're looking for long-term assignments and temp-to-hire? Have you flogged what technical skills you have to ask for a higher hourly rate?"


Yes to all the above. I pretty much go through that list monthly and make updates where needed as well. I'm currently working with Atrium, who have been the most reliable and accommodating temp company I've worked with thus far, but I'm signed up with several others as well.

"Can you clarify a bit more what sort of work you're hoping to get, beyond: "I eventually want to move out of boring admin work"?"

Not really, it's my biggest obstacle to making a move right now. I have a very divided creative/analytical personality, and if I do too much of one, I seek the other. I'm not necessarily looking for a job better than everyone else's, I just want something that I don't hate waking up for each morning. The best I've been able to narrow it down is probably one of the fields I mentioned above. If I'm being honest about competitiveness and pay, I'm leaning ever so slightly toward industrial designer, as I know a few of those, and they seem to like what they do and have plenty of opportunities.

"If your skills are good administratively, go to a recruiter."
Maybe I'm completely naive about this, but what do you mean by "recruiter"? I've gone to a bunch of temp agencies and scored high on all their MS office tests (I even did okay on a Adobe Flash test). Or are you referring to the type of agencies you pay to help you find work? They always seemed kind of dodgy to me...
posted by monkeyagent at 6:10 PM on June 8, 2011


You may need to leave Boston for a city with better employment prospects.

I spent about a year looking for work on the west cost, and (begrudgingly) the NY Metro area. Nothing, nada, zilch. Two callbacks and one interview over a ridiculously long period of time.

During that time, I had lots of spare time, and started dating someone in the DC area. Bored, poor, and thinking "what the heck," I started looking for work down here, and had half a dozen interviews lined up within a month, and a job offer made at the very first one.

Naturally, I got dumped within days of arriving in the city, but everything else has worked out wonderfully.
posted by schmod at 6:21 PM on June 8, 2011


I might add that accounting is the lingua franca of the working world. A degree in accounting, any degree, is a free pass to the front of the line. In any job situation you will float to the top. Accounting is worshiped in business. It is also drop-dead simple. As young as you are 18 months spent getting an associates degree in accounting will pay dividends for the rest of your working life...
posted by jim in austin at 6:22 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Maybe I'm completely naive about this, but what do you mean by "recruiter"? I've gone to a bunch of temp agencies and scored high on all their MS office tests (I even did okay on a Adobe Flash test). Or are you referring to the type of agencies you pay to help you find work? They always seemed kind of dodgy to me...

No need to pay for a good recruiter; the hiring companies pay for that. I sent you a MeMail with the name of the recruiter who got me my current job, and works with the administrative staff manager at my company whenever we need new admin people. Sadly, we don't have any openings in admin or IT right now, but she may be able to help you.
posted by xingcat at 6:26 PM on June 8, 2011


"Maybe I'm completely naive about this, but what do you mean by "recruiter"? I've gone to a bunch of temp agencies and scored high on all their MS office tests (I even did okay on a Adobe Flash test). Or are you referring to the type of agencies you pay to help you find work? They always seemed kind of dodgy to me..."

If it's a legit recruiter, you don't pay them a penny. The companies who hire the recruiters to find new hires for them are the ones paying. A recruiting agency is how my husband got his foot in the door of the Canadian job market when he first moved to the country.
posted by keep it under cover at 6:27 PM on June 8, 2011


Checkout meetup.com.

I pretty much go through that list monthly and make updates where needed as well. I'm currently working with Atrium, who have been the most reliable and accommodating temp company I've worked with thus far, but I'm signed up with several others as well.

If you haven't already, you should cultivate a personal rapport with a given temp agency rep at each agency you're signed up with, and calling them - not emailing - routinely. That gets you noticed, remembered, and better luck with moving up the food chain.

I hope you're not restricting your job choices by what you might eventually like to be - that way lies brokeness. Being an industrial designer is cool and all but it means another degree, which you don't have the cash for yet. I feel for you man, I've been there, and it really bites.
posted by canine epigram at 6:40 PM on June 8, 2011


Not really, it's my biggest obstacle to making a move right now. I have a very divided creative/analytical personality, and if I do too much of one, I seek the other. I'm not necessarily looking for a job better than everyone else's, I just want something that I don't hate waking up for each morning. The best I've been able to narrow it down is probably one of the fields I mentioned above. If I'm being honest about competitiveness and pay, I'm leaning ever so slightly toward industrial designer, as I know a few of those, and they seem to like what they do and have plenty of opportunities.

OK, I can relate. When I graduated with my BA (also in English), I didn't really know what I wanted to do with it. I had thought about journalism but eventually decided against it (for reasons that I no longer recall). I took a data entry job so that I would have work. It sucked, but the people were good and it paid enough that I was able to move out of my parents' place. I stayed there nearly two years until I finally found something that I was more interested in.

I had, at some point, decided that marketing and communications was the way to go. I like to write and I'm pretty good at it, so marcomm made sense. I worked for an e-commerce company for nearly 3 years before taking my current job, which is essentially like running a small business but with a steady paycheque each month.

Despite the decision to look for work in marketing, it didn't seem to quite work out for me the way that I'd hoped. I bounced around a lot, somewhat aimlessly, before finally deciding to go to grad school with the intention of making a career out of what I'll be studying.

This doesn't exactly directly address your situation but, hopefully, knowing that you're not alone will help.

Since you're not sure of what you want to do, I'll give you some advice that has (mostly) worked for me: take an entry-level admin job. Get a permanent position, not a temp one. Once you have a steady paycheque you'll be in a better position to think about what you truly want to do with your life. You'll also be able to be somewhat selective of what you do and do not apply for, since it's not like you don't know where you're next meal is coming from.

Ultimately, though, you may need to go back to school. Not necessarily to gain more skills, but to fine-tune your education and help you figure out what you want to do longer term. (You don't necessarily have to quit working to do this; I'll be doing my Master's online through Athabasca University; if you do go for an online degree, make sure that you go to an accredited public institution, not a for-profit job like University of Phoenix.)
posted by asnider at 6:44 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


You absolutely need a specialty; being paralyzed by choice is going to keep you in the pool of people who are moderately qualified for everything and particularly qualified for nothing. It's a bad pool to be in when there are too few jobs for candidates.

As an economics major, I specialized in cross-pollenating my degree with modern tech tools like apps and dissemination methods outside of the traditional powerpoint/excel world. I also studied risk management and supplemented with business continuity courses.

I became a flexible, unique candidate, whose skills were wholly needed virtually everywhere and I ended up tailoring my jobs to my particular interests. I aimed to leave an interview qualified for the position, but with a "wow" factor. It's worked so far.

In short, stop waiting for one thing to jump out at you, pick an employable skill, learn it and apply it to your interests.
posted by dflemingecon at 6:45 PM on June 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Have you looked into writing help documentation? Seems like with your tech experience, that would be a good fit.
posted by dawkins_7 at 6:52 PM on June 8, 2011


I've been sending out a ton of resumes/cover letters

Whenever it is at all possible and appropriate, go to deliver your resume in person. Dress nicely and when you are there, make your top effort to come off as someone people would look forward to seeing every morning.

Since I wasn't getting many responses, I changed strategies to sending out fewer, but taking more time to craft and tailor them to the specific target.

Were you tailoring just the actual cover letters or the resumes themselves? Every resume should place in the foreground the relevant/specific things each employer is looking for, and place in the background or leave out the stuff that isn't relevant. If you're applying for an editing job, highlight your editing experience in your past jobs and don't devote much space to your web development experience. Vice versa for a web development job.

For cover letters, you should determine the specific things the employer is looking for, and make your best case point by point about how you meet them. Leave out everything else.

I've gotten a few interviews, but I always get a vibe that there is only a token interest in me and am not being considered seriously.

Why would any interviewer waste their own time by doing that, for an entry-level job? I think that is probably in your mind and you are hampering yourself by thinking that, probably coming off as uncomfortable and self-conscious.

What can I do in interviews to stand out?

For the sorts of jobs you're describing --

1. Ask thoughtful, intelligent questions that demonstrate interest in/enthusiasm about the job/company.

2. Be the person that people (or at least the interviewer) would look forward to seeing every day and spending more time around than they spend around their families

3. Always send the interviewer a personalized thank-you note after the interview.

(as an aside, is there a professional/appropriate way to ask an interviewer for feedback after they've decided not to hire you?)


Sure, write back and sincerely thank the interviewer for their consideration, and let them know they can keep your contact information if another position opens in the future. Then, you can just be really genuine and say you're trying to get your career off the ground and if they have any advice or feedback for you, you'd appreciate it. The worst that can happen is they just don't write back.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:06 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


dawkins_7 makes a good point. Typically, though, technical writing requires special training. It's generally a relatively shortly diploma program. Since you've already got a degree, you may be able to just do an even shorter certificate program to augment your degree.
posted by asnider at 7:28 PM on June 8, 2011


Whenever it is at all possible and appropriate, go to deliver your resume in person. Dress nicely and when you are there, make your top effort to come off as someone people would look forward to seeing every morning.

I would disagree with this advice in any situation that involves a business which consists of more than just a few people. Sorting through resumes is work for the people hiring you, and dodging their requested submission protocol is likely to make more work for them, not get your resume on the top of the pile. I'm sure that there are exceptions to this, but when they ask you to email your resume, or to submit your application using the website they maintain for that purpose, listen to them.
posted by pullayup at 7:44 PM on June 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


You absolutely need a specialty; being paralyzed by choice is going to keep you in the pool of people who are moderately qualified for everything and particularly qualified for nothing. It's a bad pool to be in when there are too few jobs for candidates.

This.

I'm currently in the novel (for me) position of being someone who can hire and fire, and who can serve as a gatekeeper to jobs in this field in the area. (I say novel because in the past I always had jobs that were off to the side of the hiring and firing process; now I am doing that work myself.) So I've been seeing a lot of both entry level and advanced candidates come past looking for work recently.

First, as far as I can tell, the majority of people supposedly looking for work really pretty much aren't. They don't bother to read the job description, they don't show up for an interview, they get partway into the hiring process and then bail abruptly, and they get outraged when told about basic job requirements like showing up on time. No really, I am serious. They are "looking for work" like Bush was "trying to find a non-military solution for Iraq" -- it's some statement of identity, not something they are actually engaged in.

So you can instantly stand out by being serious. Be organized, be informed, be well-dressed, and follow up.

Secondly, part of being serious is being willing to claw your way in the door any way you can. It's how I got my job, it's how everyone I work with got their job, and I'm pretty sure it's how you'll eventually get your job. I don't mean bribing the HR person or whacking the competition in the knee with a hammer. I mean that if you can get in the door by volunteering, you do that instead of telling me you are too busy with your hobbies. Networking is the classic way to get your foot in the door, because it fucking well works. (So do family connections, but most of us don't have them.) Don't be a schmooze machine, but you want to jump on opportunities. Ask people about their work, and listen for openness to talking more, giving you a tour, making introductions, etc.

But third, as was said above, you need some focus. Focus on an industry/field/skill (like insurance, or natural resources, or IT), or focus on a particular kind of job (eg accounting, marketing, etc) that is done across many industries. I don't want to hire a dilettante, because they will underperform and bail after they figure out what they want to do with their life. Vagueness shows, and it's not helping you.
posted by Forktine at 8:42 PM on June 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


I agree with what people are saying about picking a specialty!

I've been helping out with the hiring process in my program lately, and one thing I've noticed is that a candidate's enthusiasm for the work we're doing matters a lot. When people come in to interview, and they're clearly really excited about this opportunity, and passionate about our mission statement, and want to learn more and be a part of something, it makes an impression. I can compare that to when I was a teacher and helped hire new teachers for our school, and the people we interviewed clearly were just there for a job, not because they liked our particularly school and how we did things. They just saw a job opening on the Board of Ed website and sent in their resume. Those people do not get called in for a second interview. (It was also possible to figure out which candidates had read about the school online and were just repeating things back to us...If it sounds insincere, that person's a no-go.)

So I vote, look around for the type of work you want to do, and the types of companies you're interested in working for. Do a lot of research. It's ok to pick something and then change your mind in a few months (if a job hasn't worked out) or a few years (if something else interests you later). But find something, and start learning about it and caring about it. Get really into it. Then when you are applying for jobs, or trying to network with people in the business, let your passion show. Make it clear, like others have said, that you want to get involved in whatever way possible.
posted by violetish at 9:16 PM on June 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Move to DC.
posted by The Lamplighter at 9:23 PM on June 8, 2011


I want to offer a counterpoint. All of the jobs I've had, I got by applying and interviewing normally. I didn't have insider contacts. I didn't do informational interviews. I didn't hand-deliver my resume. None of these organizations accept "volunteers."

On the other hand, I've had a little involvement with hiring at my current job, and… all of our entry-level applicants are "serious." They come on time, they say the stupid things the job-seeker's handbook told them to say, they wear the right clothes. That's usually the least of their problems. Some of them have the right experience, and some don't. We are looking for particular experience people get in college. I imagine it's difficult and unusual for one to get this kind of experience after graduating. So, as straightforward as the job sounds, there's usually an appropriate applicant and an irrelevant applicant.

The reality is that for many people the job search is a bit of a lottery. Hiring is complicated. If there's a hiring committee, the committee members are often looking for different things, and the ultimate hire is often a "compromise" candidate, at least in my experience.

Questions like yours are very general, and some people use them to bust out their hoariest job-seeking advice. A lot of it is couched in judgmental terms. You shouldn't be "lazy," you shouldn't be "proud," you shouldn't be this or that. The job search is not a moral matter. If you're not having any luck, it's not entirely you. Sometimes things just don't work out for a long time. You will not earn any brownie points for pain and suffering. Unless there's a concrete reason to stay at a job that sucks, you have nothing to gain by "paying your dues." There are no "dues."

It probably sounds ridiculous to narrow down the scope of your search right now, when all you want is a job, any job, as long as it offers some stability. I agree, a job that pays for food and shelter (and student loans) is always one's first priority. Being choosy and taking your time to "explore careers" is a luxury that some people don't have. But if at any time you do have that luxury, you should fully avail yourself of it. I don't mean to be an ass, but the website in your profile is pretty uninspired. If that's your best foot forward, you may want to change it. Learn more about web development and design — when you can. It's pretty hard when you're unemployed and sending out several applications a week, as required by law, for jobs you most likely won't get or aren't interested in.

P.S.: I live in a suburb of DC. We're not beating employers back with sticks here, if that's the impression the comments above give.
posted by Nomyte at 9:36 PM on June 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Get some great networking books off of Amazon, seriously. The $8-$16 it'll cost you could be worth it for the skills you'll gain in finding the right job through human contacts.
posted by sunnychef88 at 10:49 PM on June 8, 2011


At this point, apply to anything and everything you're qualified for in addition to jobs you actually want that you may not be, at least on paper, qualified for.

How many resumes and cover letters are you sending out per day?

It should be close to 10 or 15 if you're looking for anything entry-levelish. And look well beyond doing anything specifically writing related. You need to get your foot in the door somewhere. I have heard the trope of, "It is easier to find a job when you have a job," enough that I don't wonder if part of the issue you are facing is the gap in employment --- I know you've done temp work, etc, but the way that is appearing on your resume could be sending up a red flag to employers....
posted by zizzle at 3:00 AM on June 9, 2011


In the past, I haven't really been very social. I know this has been my major weakness. I have a small close-knit group of friends, and many of them no longer live nearby. I haven't run into many people close to my age at work either.

Honestly, you don't need people your age. You need mentors and people with enough clout to hire. Someone up there made a comment about networking events, happy hours, and professional associations. Do what they said.

And the LinkedIn stuff. LinkedIn saved my ass twice already.

If you are tallying votes, I am anti-grad school.
posted by whatzit at 3:02 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is your CV a train wreck? I would get a 3rd party assessment of this.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:58 AM on June 9, 2011


I want to offer a counterpoint. All of the jobs I've had, I got by applying and interviewing normally. I didn't have insider contacts. I didn't do informational interviews. I didn't hand-deliver my resume. None of these organizations accept "volunteers."

I don't have actual data, but anecdotally, outside of specific fields (like academia) where this is more normal, my guess is that a lot more people get jobs the old fashioned way -- via contacts, personal entreaties, etc -- than via the meritocratic open application process.

This is part of why one needs to focus in some way, because you want to be in step with how things are done in that field or area. Where I live, with the work I do, Linkedin couldn't be more irrelevant. I probably don't even work with anyone with an account there. In another place, in another field, it might be irreplaceable.

The job search is not a moral matter.

I couldn't agree more. There are technical things one can do better or worse (well-formatted resumes, strong portfolio, appropriate clothes and behaviors), but it's not something to take as one's sense of self-worth, particularly in this economy.
posted by Forktine at 6:01 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like others above, I suggest networking. Is there an active U of Maine alumni club in Boston? Even if it's not your thing, join and go to events.

I think another angle you should work is trying to turn your temp assignments into better and more permanent jobs. Many people I know got hired on after temping somewhere. Don't look at it as a lame admin job you don't want (that attitude probably shows), look at it as an opportunity to get noticed and get into a better position. Do your assignment well, professionally, and with enthusiasm and ask for additional tasks that fit your skill set- i.e. "I noticed that the staff listings on your website are out of date. I have website design and management experience, would you like me to update it ?" "Would you like me to draft a copy of that report for you?" etc. Basically, you want to get yourself noticed and give your employers a reason to offer you a better position (Susan's going on maternity leave, maybe that temp Jim could fill in for her as Communications Officer while she's gone, that sort of thing). Obviously this won't work at all assignments, but I think you'd have better luck turning a temp job into a better job than getting hired by someone who has never met you and has a pile of similar resumes to sift through. It doesn't need to be a dream job either, but a year of steady income would probably do wonders for your sanity.
posted by emd3737 at 6:42 AM on June 9, 2011


What are you doing wrong? Two things.

First, you graduated from college in 2006 with a humanities degree. The timing means you hit the market just at the tail end of the boom, when a lot of employers were just starting to scale back their hiring and right before the economy went into a freefall from which it has yet to recover. That's just your dumb luck, but the universe isn't fair. Also, the humanities degree isn't earning you any real points beyond the mere fact of having it. It is, as you say, a dime-a-dozen degree, though possibly better than a truly generic one like "Business" or "General Studies." Still, it isn't engineering or physics or anything else strongly associated with a non-academic career path, so no help there.

Second, you're sending out resumes randomly. Unless you've got an advanced degree or other entre into a relatively small professional community, e.g. a masters in something or a law degree, that really isn't how hiring works. Even then, truly random applications are less effective than targeting businesses and firms that have some connection with you, location, education, something. But mostly, people hire people they know or whom are known by people they know.

So yes, you need to network. Others have made suggestions about how to go about that, but let me suggest getting back in touch with your alma mater's career services office. They don't just serve current students. I got my current job in part by using my law school's CSO, and in part by apply to a local firm who knew of my last employer.

Others are also right that you should probably go to local networking events. But when you do go, chat people up about their businesses and employers. Even if they aren't hiring or aren't even the person who does hiring, they'll know other people who may be. That's how networking works.

Good luck.
posted by valkyryn at 7:35 AM on June 9, 2011


If we're tallying points for grad school, I would say +1 for a hard-skills masters degree. It's a barrier-to-entry and you can put it between yourself and other candidates. I'm thinking something like CS, statistics, or accounting (maybe, less sure about accounting). Try to spend as little cash as possible on this degree and focus on getting internship experience while you're in the program. Absolutely do your homework and talk to the graduates. Be a hard-nosed consumer in this regard.

If your girlfriend is unhappy, maybe you two could move somewhere other than Boston. Boston is a very educated city so your competition for jobs is fierce, especially if you're trying to get web-design jobs. Consider a midwestern college town. One (or both) of you could go to grad school while the other one worked. Ann Arbor, MI and Madison, WI come to mind, but Ames, IA or Champaign-Urbana, IL are worth a look.
posted by everythings_interrelated at 7:44 AM on June 9, 2011


Boston is one of the most open source software-meetupy places in the US. Django, WordPress, Linux, jQuery, CouchDB, and so on.

If you hit OpenHatch and contribute to an open source software project for a few months (testing, documentation, & coding) in your spare time, you'll be in a better position in terms of your resume and networking. Open source volunteering is part of how I got my last two jobs.
posted by brainwane at 8:06 AM on June 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


(P.S. I majored in political science.)
posted by brainwane at 8:06 AM on June 9, 2011


Seconding dawkins_7; you should consider technical writing if you want to stay in IT. The Society for Technical Communication is the national organization, but they have an active Boston chapter. They've got monthly meeting, special-interest groups, workshops, etc, and they're looking for volunteers, which is a great way to make connections and signal your abilities to potential employers.
posted by evoque at 8:35 AM on June 9, 2011


Go to grad school (and intern while there) or a tech school that includes an internship.

*Either will allow you to postpone your student loans.
*Either will help you expand your network, which is the key to finding a really GOOD job.
*Either will get you work experience, which is infinitely more important than any degree.

The other thing you might be able to do is temp. I did it for years, got exposed to many types of jobs I wouldn't have considered, and was offered a permanent position by nearly everyplace I worked -- competent people with a good work ethic are not easy to come by, even in this market.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:04 PM on June 9, 2011


A few comments on previous poster's comments.

I agree he needs to specialize, and that likely means a certificate program or grad school. However, if he's barely making student loans now, even a professional advanced degree (like the one I got) isn't an automatic meal ticket, and he'll have astronomically higher debt... still with no job.

So I agree with the posters advocating full-time job by any means first, personal exploration and specialization later. Going to grad school with no work experience means that getting a job will be that much harder coming out the other end. EMD has good suggestions for how to approach being on temp assignments until you can find a way to get hired.

Tech writing may be good for some temporary work, but in my (and friends') experience, technical writers are some of the first to get cut when budgets get tight. Northeastern used to have a certificate program, and it's no longer offered. A community college certificate *might* be worth it - anything above, you may be wasting your money. Don't go to grad school unless you have tuition reimbursement, unless you have no other choice and you know what you want to do. Which you don't - but I didn't either, until I had a few years in technical documentation management position.
posted by canine epigram at 3:39 PM on June 9, 2011


I agree he needs to specialize, and that likely means a certificate program . . .

Just FYI for the OP and anyone else: many certificate programs are going to lose their financial aid eligibility in the very near future, so consider that while you make your plans.
posted by Think_Long at 3:45 PM on June 9, 2011


That's why I recommend doing it through corporate tuition reimbursement - financial aid becomes less relevant.
posted by canine epigram at 2:56 AM on June 10, 2011


It sounds like I really need to focus on networking; some of those resources look fantastic and will be very helpful in that regard. I do agree that temping has been useful for this (I've come close to getting a few permanent jobs that way), and it sounds like I should stick to temping for now while I look for full-time opportunies and figure out what I want to specialize in. I've also received some advice on my resume, so I will be working on that over the weekend as well.

As far as paying for school, my plan so far has been to wait until I get hired by someone who would do tuition reimbursement, though obviously I'd need to get hired first. I'm glad that several of you validated that strategy. Of course, if I finally figure out what I want to do and the timing is right, I may just go back to school before that happens.

I really appreciate all the advice. It has already been useful, and I will definitely refer back to this thread to see what I've followed and what I've missed.
posted by monkeyagent at 2:25 PM on June 10, 2011


Narrow your focus to a single position that you know is available, then you need to relentlessly go after it until you get it, or are violently shot down. You say you are a hard worker? Then work hard to get the job you want. There is no alternative, shortcut, or magic formula.
posted by blargerz at 2:30 PM on June 10, 2011


For anyone who reads this and has student loans (US federal), look into Income-Based Repayment. This will let you shrink your loan payments to a fraction of your income. After 25 years of paying this reduced rate, your loans are forgiven. It's really a lifesaver but the paperwork can take months to process.
posted by brackish.line at 6:37 AM on November 3, 2011


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