What *else* can I do with a BA in English?
November 11, 2008 10:22 AM   Subscribe

I recently got a job in a pre-sales position, and I'm a bit worried that it isn't going to work out. What else can I do with my English degree and skills, especially in this economy that does *not* involve going back to school?

Okay, about a month ago I started a new job with a company that does B2B technology pre-sales. It's not going well. The job isn't bad, the pay is good, but I'm floundering and having trouble meeting my goals.1

So, I've decided to ride it out here for a while, hoping the other shoe doesn't drop, and look for something to take this job's place. Thing is, unlike while I was actively looking, the economy has taken a serious turn for the worse. Also, I'm worried that having a BA in English (no "Avenue Q" please) is going to be a problem in finding anything that pays decently enough to live on. (I just signed a lease for a 1 bedroom apartment at $750/mo, and I have student loans to deal with.)

What I want a job that's intellecutally stimulating, something creative. At the very least, I have experience in fundraising for non-profits, but my attempts at finding a development position over the summer amounted to nil. I almost got a part-time position with a temp agency with a medical college to do editing, but this company contacted me first, with a full-time position. I couldn't find any entry-level editing positions anywhere. I really, really, REALLY don't want to take an internship. I'm not up for teaching. I'm $50,000+ in debt, so going back to school isn't an option. I already have a second, part-time job. I don't drive.

What the hell can I do? Someone, point me in the right direction. I've read a few of the similar questions, and none really have helped--even the last one of these I posted! My resume is here. I'm getting a bit worried and desperate.

1 What my biggest problem is at my current job is that I have trouble making contacts. It's a telemarketing job, and while I can usually get a good conversation, and book an appointment when the prospect is bookable, I can't reach anyone. I make 200+ calls a day and end up speaking to receptionists and getting voicmail prompts rather than the IT folks I need. If someone wants to help me there, too, I'd appriciate it.
posted by SansPoint to Work & Money (12 answers total)
You probably won't like this suggestion, as it's not intellectually challenging or stimulating -- at least at first -- but you might look for a position as an executive assistant or administrative assistant. You're familiar with all the Microsoft applications that are widely used, so you'd be able to move into that sort of a position pretty easily if you don't mind being someone's personal slave. Executive assistants make a lot more money than you'd think. Try to find an assistant job in the business you want to be in.

If you're really committed to doing something with writing or editing, you could try to get a job at a publishing house as an editorial assistant. Warning: You would not be making much money for a few years, but things would even out as you moved up the ladder. You'd also be picking up valuable skills.

I once worked at a talent agency where it was traditional for people to come in as assistants and eventually move into positions as agents. For their first year or two, the employees would be living off canned sardines, but once they were promoted their income increased exponentially.

My personal experience is that, if you want to forge a career, you have to give in and pay your dues in the field for a few years first. For instance, I was a journalist. I started out at a small paper and had no insurance, then moved up to a bigger paper and had benefits but less pay, and with each promotion to a bigger publication or a better position, I earned more. But it wasn't an easy path. (And if there is one recommendation I can make, it is this: DO NOT attempt to go into journalism right now. There are no jobs, everyone is doing layoffs, and consequently everyone is seriously overworked.)

Oh. And non-profits pay less, so while you might like to work at one, remember that they aren't lucrative.
posted by brina at 10:46 AM on November 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

gently, i might suggest that getting out of school with a b.a. in english and no other experience or qualifications, "making a living wage" is about as intellectually stimulating and creative as you can hope for, until you do gather experience and qualifications.

I realize the millennial generation is unfamiliar with the concept of "paying dues" (as brina describes above) and does not find it relevant or interesting or applicable to their life, but I believe that in this economy it's going to make a comeback.

in terms of learning how to prospect, there are many excellent sales books available to you in your local library. your local librarian would be delighted to assist you in pointing you in the right direction. also, have you considered approaching the best salesperson in your department and asking if you can shadow them, or ask them for motivational reading recommendations?

honestly it sounds like you need some time to figure out what it is you want to do. no one can tell you that, except maybe a career counselor.
posted by micawber at 11:03 AM on November 11, 2008

Response by poster: I understand the concept of paying dues. I worked throughout school to pay the bills in a job not too dissimilar to this. I'd rather a lower paying job that will go somewhere than this, which may not last after a couple more months. I really, *really* don't want to do sales, but it's better than unemployment.
posted by SansPoint at 11:13 AM on November 11, 2008

Your blog site is well designed. While you're trying to break into editing or fund raising, have you considered doing some design work (on the side, perhaps)? That might give you a creative outlet while you struggle with the day-to-day gig. Since writing is your ultimate goal (which I get from your blog's "about" page), I would think that editing is more apropos.

My bigger-picture advice is not to count on work to be creatively fulfilling, at least not all the time (maybe not even most of the time). That might eventually happen for you, or you might end up making your money one way and finding creative fulfillment some other way (read grumblebee's posts, if you haven't already, for more on that).
posted by wheat at 12:18 PM on November 11, 2008

gently, i might suggest that getting out of school with a b.a. in english
English degrees qualify you for any number of jobs, don't listen to this blather.

I realize the millennial generation is unfamiliar with the concept of "paying dues"
Trite, cliched nonsense. Ignore.

Nothing is worse than telemarketing, besides maybe hard physical labor. It sucks your soul. Quit tomorrow. Move back with your folks if you have to. Look for any other kind of job, even if its not in an office. When i got out of school i spent WAY too much time temping at shitty office jobs, getting bossed around by abusive mouth-breathers. I paid no dues and built no character because all of that is horseshit. I realize now i would have been much happier and done about the same financially if I had worked at the local market or even gone back to delivering pizzas like I did in college. Maybe get a job like that if you have to, especially if it would leave some of your days free to volunteer with a non-profit on the side?
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:22 PM on November 11, 2008

Response by poster: Look, I know telesales is crap (though this isn't sales, per se), but I'd rather work this job, which at least affords a living wage, than scrounge. I'm looking for exit strategies, not admonations!
posted by SansPoint at 1:09 PM on November 11, 2008

What my biggest problem is at my current job is ...

My bf used to do cold calling. He said you have to figure out the hierarchy of a company and strategize from there. I'm probably not saying this perfectly but it goes something like this: You call people lower on the totem pole and since they're usually nicer, you build a good relationship there. Then you call someone higher up and reference the front-line person and then call someone in the middle who will be impressed by the fact that you know the bigger deal person and will then obtain the "real deal" info about you from the front-line guy. You basically want people who work at this company to start referencing you in their conversations so that eventually the people who make the real sales decisions have heard from enough people they trust that you're not a total waste of time, and will therefore give you some seconds on the phone for you to make your pitch.

Pro-tip: treat the receptionist like you're hot shit. If the receptionist makes it sound like the guy you're trying to get connected to is SERIOUSLY a big deal and ohmygod why would you be wasting Mr/Ms. Big Deal's time, treat the receptionist like you're ALSO hot shit and that his/her attitude is wasting your precious time. It's all about confidence, baby.

Second pro-tip: Read Jim Domanski's books.

In terms of future employment: You should do what you like, and do what you have experience in (you could always volunteer to find your 'passion' but I'm not quite sure you have the time or energy at the moment to do that, with two jobs and student loans). You mentioned fundraising experience. Just because the summer's over doesn't mean you can't find a fundraising-oriented job now, does it? Are you still job hunting in this field? Who are your contacts? Have you phoned them to let them know you're a freshly graduated professional? Honestly, I think the best way to find an enjoyable, intellectually stimulating job is to learn how to network. It's hard work (particularly if you're not uber-extroverted) but it can pay off.
posted by Menomena at 1:18 PM on November 11, 2008

Response by poster: Menomena - Are you still job hunting in this field? Who are your contacts?

I have two contacts. My manager at the theatre, whose contacts aren't working out for him, and another contact who doesn't have any openings. If finding a job is based on WHO you know, I'm in deeper trouble than I thought.
posted by SansPoint at 1:30 PM on November 11, 2008

Two contacts is a good start. You should use them not to get a job, but to meet new people. It's called networking for a reason. :) You attend any social event you can and meet whoever you can and then snowball from there. Don't sell yourself as the needy "please hire me" person. Just be yourself and talk about your interests and experience. This is how jobs fall into laps.

To be honest, I don't actively network. Kinda too busy for that. But it's happened organically through the stuff I've been involved in. For example, I've been offered job opportunity hookups by professors who I went to talk to about geeky media industry stuff we were studying in class and that I needed to get off my chest. The same with friends from old jobs that are ridiculously good at the networking thing and that I still keep in touch with (for more than one reason, as you can tell). Finding a job isn't necessarily based on who you know, but it's a good rule to follow if you're seeking a coveted position. And that seems to be what you're doing. Good luck! You can do this.
posted by Menomena at 1:46 PM on November 11, 2008

I also worked in non-profit fundraising. After being laid off due to budget cuts, I decided to be proactive in seeking another position, so I sent out tons of cold cover letters. You would be surprised at the response you might get. I had numerous phone interviews and two in-person interviews from doing this. A couple people even emailed me to say they didn't have any open positions, but suggested other organizations to try.
posted by All.star at 2:14 PM on November 11, 2008

Response by poster: I think the other problem I'm having with finding a fundraising job is that what I do is tele-fundraising, not typical Development work. I call people and raise money... which does not involve the same skillset.
posted by SansPoint at 2:29 PM on November 11, 2008

Hi, fellow English major here. Please don't underestimate the usefulness of your English degree. You learned how to communicate, how to read and understand, how to crank out papers under pressure, and how to research. These are useful skills.

Depending on your preferences, you can make a good living with those skills. I chose to start out in technical writing, because I liked that I had to learn things by myself, and then communicate to others what I'd learned. I also liked that I could earn a good salary. I will say that it was not especially creative. If creativity is less important to you, then this is one path you could pursue. Technical writers do not work only for software/hardware companies. They work in any industry where difficult things need to be explained to others.

I looked at your website, and it is clear that you put a lot of time into it. You have a good sense of design, and I suspect you enjoyed learning how to make it look as good as it does. Have you considered this as a job?

Or, for more creative work, what about working for an ad agency? You can start with editing, and branch into writing copy for them. You would work for agencies with diverse clients -- anything from soap to election campaigns. Would you enjoy working in a high-energy, youthful place, using your words to convince others?

Writing novels is unlikely to make you much money. Working for a publishing company will make you only a little bit more. You would work for publishing companies in larger cities. Would you love reading books before they are published, and helping them be a bit better?

As the job market slows, many people will be looking for work. Many of them might need help with their resumes. You could get all their words right for them, help them highlight their abilities, and place it pleasingly on the page. You would work for outplacement services, or small businesses that offer resume services. Would you find satisfaction in helping people craft the perfect resume for their search?
posted by Houstonian at 7:13 PM on November 11, 2008

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