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Career anxiety and finding a decent job
February 27, 2012 11:25 AM   Subscribe

How do I get a new job? What kind of jobs do I even qualify for? How do I get over the fact that I didn't graduate from college and present a more confident self to potential employers?

I have 87 college credits and a couple years of full-time work experience, doing a random assortment of things. Are there jobs that I qualify for that aren't "secretary" or "retail store cash register operator" ?

I fell into doing graphic and web design at a tiny non-profit. I'm not trained to do these things, I taught myself to read and write html and css (and even a smattering of javascript) and to use most of the Adobe Creative Suite passably well. The problem is I don't feel at all qualified to do these things or even assume I could translate what I know into working for a "real" company. I have a pretty serious case of impostor syndrome (which I keep reading about on here, oddly enough). I feel fairly confident in my current position, because everyone else here has even less of an idea of what constitutes good graphic design than I do, but I can't imagine that that's true at legit businesses.

I would ideally like a position in graphic/web design, but I'm willing to apply for anything I can get at this point as long as I can just make some decent money.

My previous job was working in a lab for the USDA processing soil and water samples, and before that I worked at IKEA. I don't know how to relate these two jobs AT ALL to anything I would like to do now. I also kind of hate working in an office but I don't know what other jobs exist besides retail and food service.

This is a mess. I apologize.

I guess what I'm asking is, where do I go from here? Do I look for a decent-paying but boring job doing something any functioning adult monkey could do, and work to improve my design skills in my free-time? Do I focus on finding the few design-related jobs I could conceivably qualify for?


Bonus question: How do I present my college experience in the best light? I studied mostly Psychology but it was mostly just a mess of different schools and majors. I don't even have it mentioned on my resume right now because I feel so ashamed of not having finished - I do want to go back eventually.


Thanks guys :)
posted by krakenattack to Work & Money (11 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
If you haven't already, start putting together an online portfolio of your work. If you don't have great examples from your current work, start volunteering to do design, maybe for a local charity or for an open-source project you're interested in. Then, when you apply for other graphic designer jobs, you have something tangible to point people to that shows off your skills. I recently hired a designer for contract work, and I did the whole thing online. I would not attempt to put any emphasis on your college work other than listing your dates of attendance and putting "Coursework in psychology" or whatever (do not put B.A. or B.S., as that implies you've finished the degree)

In the medium-to-long term, consider finishing your degree, in your field of interest, if possible. With the degree, you're much less vulnerable to outsourcing and are a better candidate for management if you ever decide to go that route.
posted by downing street memo at 11:32 AM on February 27, 2012


I'm speaking mostly for my experience here, but I think it's totally fine to put down your college as an "education" bullet on your resume. Obviously you can't say you have a degree from that institution, but you can certainly list the dates that you attended- like "XYZ College, 2004-2007".

If you're applying for web design or graphic design, you should have a portfolio accessible to potential employers. "Samples can be found at www.krakenattack.com" would be great, and I doubt any worthwhile employers will care about anything more than whether your work is good quality and whether you can function in their team. Neither of those things require an actual degree. Get yourself into some interviews, and I doubt that anyone will ask if you have a degree. If they do, of course, you can explain your situation.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 11:33 AM on February 27, 2012


What does 97 credits mean? How many do you need to graduate? If you're planning to go back and finish eventually, is there a reason you don't want to do that at present?
posted by lulu68 at 11:34 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd try to tie in all these things to what you bring to the table. Are you good at solving problems? Merging systems? The common thread in all these experiences is you. If I were you I would try to highlight things you bring to the table and have brought to each experience, each position.

I fell into doing graphic and web design at a tiny non-profit. I'm not trained to do these things, I taught myself to read and write html and css (and even a smattering of javascript) and to use most of the Adobe Creative Suite passably well. The problem is I don't feel at all qualified to do these things or even assume I could translate what I know into working for a "real" company. I have a pretty serious case of impostor syndrome (which I keep reading about on here, oddly enough).

I would say listen to any graphic design people who reply, but just in general, welcome to the world. A lot of people are not qualified to do their jobs. The good ones realize that and strive to get better. I don't mean "a lot" like "a lot of people like ketchup on ice cream", I mean a lot of people are not qualified to do their jobs. I personally know people who had 0 experience at doing what they are doing now, but got hired because of how they presented themselves - with specific skill sets, and as capable people.

You have got to figure out what thread runs through your experiences, and tie together your resume/self-presentation. Your design skills are meager, but highlight your successes and show what you're looking to learn, what problems you're looking to solve, and how you seek to learn to make up for your deficiencies. There will always be someone better at a task than you. Always. Understand that, and don't get scared away by that, thinking that you're horrible because there are people better at some task than you.
posted by cashman at 11:36 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Spend some time assessing the quality of the job market for graphic/web designers in the area(s) you want to live.

If the prospects look good, prepare a design portfolio, make contacts, and get your foot in the door.

If the prospects don't look good, weigh them against your other needs. Decent-paying, boring, functioning adult monkey jobs can still pay the bills while you find something better over time (either a better job or finishing your last few classes for your degree).
posted by seppyk at 11:37 AM on February 27, 2012


I think maybe you should spend a bit of thought on what it is you actually want to do. In one paragraph you say ideally you'd like graphic/web design work, and in the very next you say you hate working an office job. These thoughts are kind of at odds with each other.

It's a bit of a cliché, but give What Color Is Your Parachute a read before you decide anything.
posted by asciident at 11:42 AM on February 27, 2012


You need a skills based resume. Learning what one is and putting one together should help you to identify your relevant experiences and skills from all your previous life.
posted by tippiedog at 11:50 AM on February 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seconding the skills based resume.
posted by OsoMeaty at 1:47 PM on February 27, 2012


Read this: A Rant About Women.
When I was 19 and three days into my freshman year, I went to see Bill Warfel, the head of grad theater design (my chosen profession, back in the day), to ask if I could enroll in a design course. He asked me two questions. The first was “How’s your drawing?” Not so good, I replied. (I could barely draw in those days.) “OK, how’s your drafting?” I realized this was it. I could either go for a set design or lighting design course, and since I couldn’t draw or draft well, I couldn’t take either.

“My drafting’s fine”, I said.

...I sat in the office of someone I admired and feared, someone who was the gatekeeper for something I wanted, and I lied to his face. We talked some more and then he said “Ok, you can take my class.” And I ran to the local art supply place and bought a drafting board, since I had to start practicing.

That got me in the door. I learned to draft, Bill became my teacher and mentor, and four years later I moved to New York and started doing my own design work. I can’t say my ability to earn a living in that fickle profession was because of my behavior in Bill’s office, but I can say it was because I was willing to do that kind of thing...

And it looks to me like women in general, and the women whose educations I am responsible for in particular, are often lousy at those kinds of behaviors, even when the situation calls for it.
I am not advocating that you become a lying con-artist liar. But I do think there is some value to Shirky's article, in this scenario.

You say, "...I'm not trained to do these things, I taught myself to read and write html and css (and even a smattering of javascript) and to use most of the Adobe Creative Suite passably well. The problem is I don't feel at all qualified to do these things or even assume I could translate what I know into working for a "real" company. ...I feel fairly confident in my current position, because everyone else here has even less of an idea of what constitutes good graphic design than I do, but I can't imagine that that's true at legit businesses."

Here's how I translate that:

•  Experienced in Adobe Creative Suite. Worked on projects such as creation of logos and corporate identity, website GUI development, print collateral, [fill in the blanks, etc.]
•  Fluent in HTML, CSS, and experienced in Javascript. Worked on projects such as www.reallycoolnonprofitsite.com, www.anothercoolsite.com, www.wowlookatthis.com. Oversaw the complete development of this, this and that. Perform the ongoing maintenance on websites X, Y, Z.

Whether you say it out loud or not, your value proposition is, "Rather than the graphic design 'skills' of a recent art school grad, I bring on-the-job experience with concept development, production and pre-press. I can do creative as well as digital, and am comfortable designing for all media."

I can't imagine that that's true at legit businesses.

Ha! As if. "Legit" businesses are absolutely full of impostors. Go forth and prosper. Stop thinking of yourself as "a college dropout with some design skills" and start thinking of yourself instead as "a graphic designer who is short a few hours on her BA".
posted by pineapple at 2:49 PM on February 27, 2012 [19 favorites]


Some college is better than no college. But if you really want to have a chance in this world, you need a college degree. Opportunities for people without degrees are shrinking every year. Even if you need to go into debt, finishing school might be your best option.

If you are currently working for a nonprofit, I think you will find that your connections can open the door to opportunities at other nonprofits.
posted by twblalock at 6:22 PM on February 27, 2012


But if you really want to have a chance in this world, you need a college degree. Opportunities for people without degrees are shrinking every year. Even if you need to go into debt, finishing school might be your best option.

I'd like to respectfully disagree with this. A college degree is helpful, to be sure, but I believe that opportunities for people without degrees are actually slowly increasing right now -- what with the combined market factors of distrust over the perceived ethical failings of your average business school since 2008... the higher ed bubble that is making a standard bachelor's degree less and less attainable for all but the poorest and richest students... and the recession + recent unemployment epidemic playing havoc with job openings that are commensurate with skills and experience. When you can find MBAs and PhDs who are willingly competing for retail and food service positions, suddenly the lofty value of that piece of sheepskin gets recalibrated.

I believe that we are on the brink of seeing a societal shift in America toward rejection of the notion that professional success is entirely predicated on a college diploma. It seems that the horizon is urging young people toward "career readiness" -- whether in the shape of higher education, or learning a trade, or some combination of both, but with the acknowledgment that one size no longer fits all.

I definitely can't conceive of a scenario right now where I would advocate that someone already in the workforce should encumber debt in order to go back to school. Yes, the unemployment is slowly dropping, but there are still piles of graduates pouring out of universities right now with no place to go, and getting in the very back of that line seems like an ill-considered decision.

Don't anyone get me wrong... I am not advocating that people should wholesale walk away from college or that a degree is worthless, by any means. But I think the reality in the American workforce in 2012 is actually moving away from "degree absolutely required," not toward it. krakenattack said she wants to go back and finish, and that's great... but in the meantime, she needs to put food on the table and feel valuable in the workforce. I feel that 87 hours on the transcript instead of 120 is only a hindrance to those goals if she lets it be.

(sorry for the link dump... figured I might as well share some of the things I've read and heard that have led to my position)
posted by pineapple at 9:05 PM on February 27, 2012 [5 favorites]


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