They used to tell me I was building a dream/with peace and glory ahead.
October 24, 2008 10:03 AM   Subscribe

Job and apartment search turning out to be a far more painfully drawn out process than anticipated. How do I keep my sanity and some sense of optimism?

After some derailments in the direction my life was going to head for a couple years, I find myself relocated to a new city (by choice, and it's Philly, which I really do like) with a temporary living situation that is going to expire at the end of November and no source of income.

I am trying to get an entry level office job in the nonprofit field. I know this may mean getting an entry level position in some other office field first for experience. I'm being as proactive as I possibly can: I check room and job listings multiple times a day, on multiple sites; I've signed up with a temp agency; I send out emails about rooms; I send out an average of two job applications a day. The problem: I haven't had a job interview in two weeks, the temp agent I have is acting incredibly slowly with my paperwork (it will be at least another week before she can offer me a position), meeting with potential roomies ends up like the first date where they promise to call and you don't hear a peep. I think a lot of that last one has to do with the no steady source of income problem.

Every day this goes on I feel a little more frustrated and depressed.

I am staying engaged in other ways. I found a non-profit that I am going to be volunteering to help write grants for (which is a field I want to work in) and I've found knitting circles I will attend soon (right when I can afford to buy yarn again).

I'm scared that if I take a job at a store or restaurant, I will 1) not gain office experience that would be useful for the direction I am trying to go in and 2) will become comfortable, complacent and get stuck in a shitty job rut. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
posted by piratebowling to Work & Money (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've known a lot of people who've taken a store/restaurant/etc. job just to have some kind of steady income. Many have had your worry - that it'll become too easy to just do that forever.

But guess what? Nobody ever really did that, because those jobs kinda suck. So there's a good impetus to keep looking for something "real." Especially if you have specific goals like, say, breaking into the nonprofit world. (Okay, there's the one girl who stayed at the supermarket - but within three years she was managing the entire store, so that actually worked out pretty well.)

I know this doesn't address the larger issue of sanity-maintenance, but at least on the last point, I think I've seen the scenario enough times to be able to say "it's cool, don't worry, everybody does that and if you really do have larger goals than paying the rent next month, you won't get trapped."

Incidentally, welcome to Philly!
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:13 AM on October 24, 2008

What about temp agencies? That's another traditional way to do things.
posted by Phalene at 10:19 AM on October 24, 2008

Response by poster: Yes, Phalene, I've taken care of that, the results are just slow.
posted by piratebowling at 10:21 AM on October 24, 2008

Best answer: Having spent a lot of time working for temp agencies through college (and even after), and as a grants coordinator for a medium-sized nonprofit, I've got a couple of recommendations.

You say you've signed up with one temp agency? This isn't really the best way to score temp work. You should be setting up appointments with three or four temp agencies a day, if possible, until you either run out of temp agencies to sign up with or one of them finds you office work. I'd recommend this over taking a food-service job or whatever for two reasons: one, temping pays better, and two, you'll be getting the kind of office experience you'll want to have on your resume when that perfect nonprofit position opens up!

As far as doing volunteer grant writing, I think that'll be a great way for you to build experience and contacts. As someone who works in the field, however, I should let you know that grant writing is a pretty tough thing, as well as a skill that's fairly high in demand. Once you have some experience under your belt, I'd advise against ever doing it for free again. Even when I've done freelancing grant writing and editing for friends, I've charged them for it, and I'm not even all that experienced in comparison with full-time professional grant writers (I do grant writing, but it's only part of my job).
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:23 AM on October 24, 2008

Use a different temp agency. If they one you're going through is to slow for you, see what else is out there. In most cases you don't agree to be exclusive with one temp agency. Sign up with a few and you have a better chance of one of them finding you something quickly.
posted by Arbac at 10:26 AM on October 24, 2008

Um...are you sure Philadelphia is the best place for you to find what you're looking for? I don't know a damn thing about the city, so it may well be; but your situation sounds a lot like the one I found myself in back home in Cleveland. I had to move to the DC area (which is replete with non-profits, though I don't personally work for one) before I could find something good. (I would've thought NYC would be good, actually, but I imagine the competion is pretty fierce.)

That aside, volunteer work to build experience would at least mitigate things. Doing what you want to do -- even if it's not making you any money -- would surely be more gratifying than not, and could lead to something involving a steady check. Plus, the knitting thing, though it may seem like just a hobby/social club = more contacts. In other words, I think you're on the right track.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:34 AM on October 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't worry so much about taking a retail/restaurant job and getting too comfortable. First of all, it looks better to potential employers that you were working, even if it wasn't in the same field. Your volunteer work will help make up for the lack of paid experience in the field. Secondly, if you need money, you need money! How else are you going to get by? Thirdly, you're not going to get comfortable. You have clearly defined goals in life. Anything you took now would be a stepping stone to help you meet those goals.

It's probably going to be easier to find people to want to rent to you & room with you if you have a job. I don't know how you are addressing the question of how you will pay rent, but I would be a little cautious of renting to someone who didn't currently have paying work, you know?

Get a job, ANY job. Then keep looking for a better job. It will be good for you.
posted by tastybrains at 10:52 AM on October 24, 2008

Do the restaurant thing, it's a good short term fix and that is exactly what you need right now. You need to be able to walk into these places with some source of income. Also do you have someone that can be a co-signor? I made sure to tell ever place I went that even though I didn't have a job I could show proof of savings and I had a co-signor. Some places still turned me down, but most would at least consider me. Also working at a restaurant leaves your days open to interview for other jobs.

Also don't worry about getting complacent. I remember hearing this from everyone when I got out of college. For some reason at that age everyone is convinced that one wrong move and you'll wake up one day at 45 still doing the exact same minimum wage job that you "were only going to do for 6 months." You won't, trust me. Better opportunities will come along and you'll pounce on them. People said the same thing about grad school too and after a couple of years everyone can't wait to go back to school (and but the way if you no longer want to go, that's probably a really good sign that you shouldn't). Sorry for the tangent.

Also you probably want to be in DC, not Philly for non profit, however getting a place to live in DC is also extremely not fun... Would not hurt to be sending some resumes to places in DC and see if you get any bites.
posted by whoaali at 10:57 AM on October 24, 2008 [2 favorites]

I disagree with those who say you should take some job, any job. Taking a job you don't want is going to limit your time for finding a job you do want. It's also going to put you at a disadvantage to have non-office jobs on your resume if you're trying to get an office job. In the end, you have to do what you have to do to pay your bills, but I would hold out to the bitter end before taking a retail job.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:59 AM on October 24, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, there must be at least a dozen temp agencies in Philly. Sign up with all of them. Call them every day, in the morning, and say "What do you have for me tomorrow". There are hundreds of people temping; if you're the person who is right on top of them every day you're much more likely to get the job.

Re: nonprofits: Are you looking on

Also, Membership Directory for the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizaitons (PANO).
posted by anastasiav at 11:01 AM on October 24, 2008

Response by poster: Re: multiple questions about whether I really want to be in Philly.

I know there are fewer non-profits based in Philly than in DC or NYC. I also know that Philly does have quite a few smaller nonprofits, as well as the Pew foundation and seems like a perfectly fine place to get a start. Furthermore, I really can't afford to live in New York at this point in my life, nor do I really like DC or want to live there. Do you all mind if we steer away from these options to have me move again? After getting evacuated from a country and having to live in my parents basement for a while, I'd like to live in the city of my choice and be settled for a while.
posted by piratebowling at 11:05 AM on October 24, 2008

Response by poster: Also, yes, I'm checking idealist. Also checking craigslist and the greater Philadelphia cultural alliance.
posted by piratebowling at 11:06 AM on October 24, 2008

Here is a bit of information about the various Philly temp agencies. This is part of a bigger online forum discussing all-things Philadelphia and seems pretty useful (although of course with its share of yahoos, as every forum usually has).

Hope you enjoy your new city. I lived there a good portion of my life and it has a special place in my heart.
posted by medeine at 11:39 AM on October 24, 2008

Personally, even though I live in New York, I also think Philadelphia is cool, so I say "nerts" to the people telling you to move. (Nerts, I say!)

But anyway.

Yeah, I'd also sign up with a whole slew of temp agencies; not only won't agencies mind if you sign up with other agencies, they actually sort of already assume that that's what you're doing anyway. If you sign up with one that has a lot of clients, you could mention that you do tend to prefer non-profit organizations, and they may keep that in mind when they're placing you -- and hey, that'd give you a foot in the door that way.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:47 AM on October 24, 2008

Hang in there, piratebowling!

You said you'd like to work for a nonprofit and want to get into grantwriting. Do you mean grant proposal writing--grant-seeking--as opposed to administering grant programs from the grantmaker's side? If so, you might also consider prospect research: looking for and finding information about potential donors of large gifts to nonprofits. (The definition of "large" donors varies, but for most organizations it's probably at least $1,000 and for some it might start at $50,000 or more.) As infinitywaltz said about grantwriting, it can be hard work and you'd want to limit how much of it you do for free; but small nonprofits especially might be happy to have a volunteer willing to do even a little bit of it at no cost. Please be sure to have an agreement, preferably in writing, about how long/how much volunteer work you'll don't want to have to pass up a paying gig down the road because you've committed to a long-term volunteer one.

I'm not sure how you'd get started with this, but if you can find people in Philly willing to trade and share services with you that would cut your living expenses AND put you in contact with people who could help you get a job later. For example, you could help a local CSA or farmer's market write a grant proposal and they could give you a certain amount of food; or you could help a literacy-related nonprofit write press releases about an upcoming event and they could agree to let you use their computers to send resumes and search for jobs for a set number of hours per month. Or whatever suits your particular situation...but you get the idea.
posted by homelystar at 12:03 PM on October 24, 2008

I disagree with thepinksuperhero if only much time can it really be taking you to put in two job applications a day?

Not only that, but you're not going to get an apartment without a job.

You don't have to put in on your resume. Just get out there, get working, make a few friends who might be able to hook you up with a place to live, stave off the depression that comes from sitting at home all day waiting for someone to call you back.
posted by sondrialiac at 2:50 PM on October 24, 2008

I have two things to add:

1. Philly is a great city and you are smart for choosing to live there! :)

2. There are actually a lot of good points to getting a restaurant-type job right now (and like people have said, it sucks too bad for it to suck you in for the long term, trust me): A) You will meet a lot of people, some of whom might be looking for roommates. B) You will have a source of income, which is going to make you a more appealing roommie. C) You can probably work nights, which will leave your days open for you to continue your job search and volunteer work. D) When you do get the awesome non-profit job that I know you will get, you might be happy to continue to pick up a shift or two each week to supplement your income.
posted by jennyb at 2:50 PM on October 24, 2008

I know others have said this, but, seriously, for your sanity's sake, get a restaurant/retail job. There are only so many hours a day you can devote to job-searching. Having somewhere you have to be can keep you from obsessing about it all the time. (I have been there, and it one of the most stressful and suckiest routine-life things you have to go through.) You will find something, and this stressful time will be just a blip in your memory.
posted by Airhen at 4:49 PM on October 24, 2008

You could wait tables at night or do some kind of retail which would not interfere with looking for a job during the day. There is also phone solicitations, office cleaning, customer service - and that's just a quick look at the part-time listings on Philadelphia Craigslist.

nthing the suggestions that you hit EVERY temp agency in town. Even if they get pissy at you when it's clear that you're doing that, it doesn't matter. Hit them all. Call them relentlessly. You need to put a little hustle in your step. I do not mean to imply that you are not motivated, but you sound a little bit worn down - I understand why! - but you gotta get it back.

As for roommates, it's not clear whether you have a nest egg or something to fall back on in terms of savings. Do you have 3 months' worth of expenses saved up? The looking for a roommate thing is weird, man. I was just thinking the other night about the last time I tried to do it and how I'd go off on what amounted to a cross between an audition and a job interview and in more than one case I totally bonded with the people and they did all but say I had the spot, but then I'd hear crap like "oh well we decided to be fair we had to go with the first person who called us" or "someone showed up later who is getting evicted so we offered them the room". The other reason to take a night/evening job is so you can point to 1) your savings 2) your night job and then say "and i am looking to put down roots/find full time day work but until then I have this going on for me". Someone might be willing to give you a chance with that kind of story.

Also, do these ads offer phone numbers or just emails? If there's a phone number, call it, and be as upbeat and positive as you can.

Is there a reason you are only wanting temp work? And I realize you want to work at a non-profit but i think in this economy you might be well advised to take the first GOOD job you are offered and then build up your savings and your self esteem and then you can network to non profits in six months or so. plus you will be able to do more volunteering and hte like when you have your living situation and your economic situation taken care of, and that might lead to more non-profit connections.

The last thing I will mention is that there might be more rooms opening up at the end of the month. not everyone gives their roommates' two months' notice.
posted by micawber at 6:54 PM on October 24, 2008

ah, im in about the same boat

i just recently moved back to philly it really is a great place to live, but the job market right now is TERRIBLE. its been two months and im still looking. so i know exactly how hard it is, and how depressing it can be. my best advice would be to stay active, make sure you get outside and do something every day: get coffee, ride bikes, check out the galleries, etc. i dont know what kind of network you've go here, but knowing people does make it all easier to deal with (feel free to send me a message if you like).

oh and for now take any job you can get, a shitty job can be a great motivator
posted by swbarrett at 8:46 AM on October 26, 2008

Best answer: I live in Philly and work in the non-profit sector. I know that the economy is extra sucky right now, but there are definitely jobs out there. You probably know all the regular places to look (idealist, craigslist, etc.) but here are some places you might not have looked for job postings: InLiquid, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, Innovation Philadelphia. Do you have any friends that went to Penn or Temple or another local university? See if you can sneak a peak at their job boards for students. The GPCA job bank lists lots of part-time usher/ticket booth jobs at local theaters, which would be a good part-time gig and might lead to more permanent work in a non-profit setting. Don't be afraid to take a restaurant or retail job for now. You can always leave if something comes up - and it will, just be patient. Philadelphia is a GREAT city for non-profit work. Seriously, everyone I know works for a non-profit.
posted by jrichards at 8:11 AM on October 27, 2008

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