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Have you transitioned successfully out of pink-collar admin hell? How?
July 11, 2014 7:50 PM   Subscribe

I need to know how other women (or men) have crawled out of these jobs.

In spite of crippling ADHD, or perhaps depression masked as ADHD, I keep finding myself in low-level admin jobs requiring lots of organization. These are a terrible fit for me. I'm also at an age where my peers (meaning fellow graduates) are directors and managers of this and that and the other, and I'm stuck at entry-level. I could perhaps survive admin hell if I could be Director of Pink-Collar Loserness, but that's not happening anytime soon. And when I reach out to my peers about the jobs available at their organizations, they seem to make assumptions about where I'm at, saying things like "Oh, we have X position at Really Cool Organization X, but it's just admin so you wouldn't want that, right?" I would like to hear success stories of people getting out of this rut, particularly at advanced ages.
posted by ziggly to Work & Money (12 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think a good first step would be to think about what types of jobs would be a better fit for your style and strengths, and then explore what kinds of advancement or leadership opportunities are available.

I would also suggest that if it's a sense of personal satisfaction and worth you are missing, that can come from places other than the 9-5. Serving on a community board or volunteering might be a great way to not only make use of your energy, but give you a feeling of efficacy and accomplishment while opening yourself up to networking opportunities as you explore new activities.
posted by Schielisque at 8:10 PM on July 11 [3 favorites]


I did this, but it was because I found a particular thing about the job I was doing that I found interesting, and pursued training in that field. Find your niche.
posted by bleep at 8:57 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]


If the job causes distress because of its basic functions, like if it's beyond sucky for medical reasons, I do think you should work towards a transition rather than focusing on your life after 5*.

Because it's not easy to get out of admin once you're in it, unless you get lucky with opportunities and networking, and work (hard) on any non-admin tasks that come your way. Or work your way up to a management role and then transition out. But organizational issues and low morale can definitely get in the way of that.

My transition from admin/coordination is incomplete - still studying - but I've bet on health care, which I think is slightly less troubled by ageism (for some roles) than most areas in the private sector. And - one reason I'm into it - the practical, varied nature of a lot of the work can make it friendlier to people with ADHD-type inclinations than cube farm roles.

What are your interests, and what have you thought about so far?

*whoops sorry, didn't catch all of the first response -- yes, a rich extra-curricular life can help buffer against whatever happens from 9 to 5, and feed your head with other ideas. I just think it'd be good to move on those other ideas asap :)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:14 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]


Is your ADHD being treated? Because I was only able to successfully transition out of admin jobs in my early thirties after my formal diagnosis, meds, and counseling (earlier attempts were Disasters Of Which We Will Not Speak). How it happened for me was that I took an admin job at a start-up where everyone was expected to pitch in on big projects, proved my basic worth/intelligence during those times, then was offered a promotion a few months later. Honestly, this was a pattern in most of my jobs: take an admin position, get noticed as someone with potential, get special projects. But the inevitable self-destruction part of the cycle only stopped when I got my ADHD under a certain amount of control.
posted by fairfax at 10:13 PM on July 11 [6 favorites]


My transition out of pink-collar administration involved getting a reputation for being good with technology. I threw myself into learning a lot about all the software we used and was quick to help co-workers out when they were having tech issues and were too intimidated to talk to our IT staff. I eventually volunteered to run some refresher seminars for staff after we upgraded our operating system and adopted some new software, and this let me meet nearly everyone in the building. By the time I began applying to openings within our organization, at least one person on each hiring committee had taken a seminar with me or recognized my name.

There was a pretty miserable year in between in which I was juggling all my regular duties with trying to provide free tech support to anyone who had my number, but it paid off. So, I can't speak to the ADHD issue, but making myself an "expert" (really, just a slightly-more-informed-than-average person) on a necessary but unpopular subject and then leveraging that to take on projects that let me network, I did finally break free of clerkdom.
posted by northernish at 11:42 PM on July 11 [11 favorites]


It sounds like your peers can boost you out, as though with the right approach they could offer a job that fits you significantly better without your having to take the intermediate positions.
posted by michaelh at 5:16 AM on July 12


I started out as a Customer Service agent in a call center at the phone company. I worked my way up to being a Data Network Engineer by taking advantage of ANY training my company was offering. Turns out I had an aptitude for telephony. Then the union sponsored a career assessment thingy, and I did that. Turns out I had interest and aptitude in accounting. Nobody was more shocked than I was! But they offered to send me to grad school for my MBA, so I took them up on that, after some arm twisting.

So I suggest starting at a large corporation, with lots of opportunities for internal training and opportunities for advancement.

As for those other people who are doing so much better than you are. Oh well, it doesn't really matter. You can't compare your journey with another person's. All you can do is keep moving forward and to embrace every day.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:46 AM on July 12 [2 favorites]


Volunteer work to boost your qualifications.
posted by corb at 8:26 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


I've done this twice. For me, since I have kind of a creative bent and a tendency toward, uh, bossiness, the best route up was to showcase my writing skills as much as possible and be super-organized.

The first time I got out of admin I was promoted to account coordinator and eventually account exec at a marketing firm. This happened mainly because I had volunteered to take on synthesizing notes for the account team after they returned from client intake trips. After one trip at a particularly busy time, the account director wasn't going to be able to turn the notes into a report by the deadline. So I did it for her, and handed it back to her completely written and ready to send to the client, rather than in the form of bullet points. As it happened, her boss was the owner of the company. When he asked who had written it - because it wasn't her writing style - she gave me full credit for it. He decided I was being underutilized and promoted me.

I had that job for about five years, then moved to a different city to be closer to friends and family. I took a job as an executive admin for the chief legal and marketing officer at a mid-sized corporate non-profit. I took on a significant amount of admin-type project work, which showed off my project management skills, and a lot of editing tasks - which showed I had good writing skills. Later, when an mid level job came open in the marketing department, I applied for it and got it. This was probably about half due to my writing and project management skills, and half due to getting along well with the right people in the marketing department. That was a couple of years back - I'm now in a manager role in a different department.

I would suggest you find the thing you like best about your job, or the thing you're best at in your job (hopefully those will intersect). Then find an admin job that's as close to the department that does that as possible, and then impress the hell out of people every chance you get. Volunteer for work that is outside of your job description. If you routinely edit things, offer to write them. If you routinely work on projects, offer to manage them. Basically do more, and let people see you doing more, while still performing your core duties well.

Just as a note - as an executive admin, I was about 3 salary grades higher than the most-entry-level marketing role. That was a marketing coordinator. I went in at the generalist level, which was one grade higher than my admin role. So just be aware that entry level non-admin work may mean some salary back-tracking for you, depending on how much you make now.
posted by kythuen at 8:55 AM on July 12 [1 favorite]


When I've seen people do this, it's been through the training route.

Training is an admin-heavy function with very close ties to subject matter experts. The leader of training could really be either, an admin/QA/metric type person, or a subject-matter expert who muddles through the other stuff. It's debatable which is better, and actually probably should alternate once in a while.

I've seen a number of people move into training from admin and do very well there. Once they're in contact with all the subject-matter experts there, they suck all that up like a sponge while making good contacts "on the waterfront," as we say, meaning the actual ops. It's not unusual for a training person who impresses to get a shot out on the waterfront if they want it.

Unfortunately, what they do with it after that is hard to predict. About 50/50, they either excel and become some of the best leaders we've got. Or, slink back to training with their tail between their legs when it's harder than it looks from the ideal vision of the training and admin buildings. (No hard feelings, though. It increases everyone's respect for them for having tried, and makes them a better trainer.)
posted by ctmf at 12:28 PM on July 12


Yes, pay attention to the opportunities around you and find your niche, ideally in your current job, if possible. If that's not possible, keep stepping.

I got out of clerical work by taking a (very low paying and dead end...but that's a story for another time) job in the field that I received my degree in. In the process of doing that, I discovered that I had natural computer geek aptitude. This was several years before the dot com bubble started taking off, so anything IT/computer related was a growing concern. I eventually parlayed the opportunities that followed from there into a successful, non-clerical career that I enjoy.

Pro-tip: leave duties that you no longer want to do off of your resume. Use that space to emphasize the things you like to do. If you leave stuff you no longer want to do on your resume, you may get interviews for jobs having to do with that stuff, even though those were not the jobs you applied to.

I also concur with "outside of work" opportunities to build up your skills in the things you like to do. These include classes/conferences/workshops/bootcamps, internships, meetups/user groups/professional organizations, and volunteer opportunities (such as open source projects). Also, if you have no idea what your niche might be, these activities can help you find it, or at least rule things out.
posted by jazzbaby at 12:31 PM on July 12


I sort of fell into an admin role because I needed a job, and a friend knew somebody who needed an assistant. From there, I was promoted into another admin role, as an assistant to the General Counsel at a state agency.

What helped me was looking around at the bigger picture. The work wasn't my favorite, but I took that opportunity to really get to know people and make contacts. The exposure to so many high-level people in management positions really helped me see what everyone here did for a living, and what I might be good at with my particular skillset.

From there, I took a promotion to a data-entry position that wasn't admin! I actually think that job was more loathsome than my admin role, mostly because it was tedious as can be. But I attended sessions, and kept chatting up people now that I was in a less-visible role. I also practiced my tech skills and interviewed a lot internally. Sometimes because I wanted the job, and other times just to keep in contact with others in the agency.

I managed to secure the analyst position I wanted six months ago. It's a great position that opens up a lot of different roles at my agency, and keeps me busy honing my technical skills. A lot of people are retiring and we're restructuring quite a bit now, so I'm actually in a pretty good place for future advancement.

So, it's tough, but I agree with others. Remember that the admin job is work, and it's not terrible work. Do your best, even though it's not your ideal situation, and if you can, try to keep an eye out for what interests you where you are.
posted by PearlRose at 10:02 AM on July 14


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