English-major cliche
December 24, 2008 4:40 PM   Subscribe

Help! I've become an English-major cliche!

I graduated in 2004 with a B.A. in English and have spent the last four years floundering about, failing to get a toe-hold in any sort of sustainable employment. I've just dropped out of grad school (I'll explain later), am on the verge of turning 26, and feel (for the first time ever) that I need to come up with a plan for my future. I've seen some great advice here on meta-filter--both in terms of career stuff and life guidance--and I was hoping you guys could maybe give me some ideas. I'm especially looking to hear from any former English majors who have overcome their lack of career preparation and managed to avoid a life of frustration.

The background, as predictable as it is banal:

After graduating, I spent a year abroad, teaching English in a couple of middle schools in Europe. The experience was incredible, and I've been burning to go back ever since my return (more on that later).

Once back in the U.S., I decided--here comes the cliche part--that I wanted to be a professor. Got my letters of recommendation together, aced my GRE, sent out some applications...and was rejected by every school.

So, with my only career plan dashed, I set out to find a "professional" job. I thought, How hard can it be? I've got a degree, right? Yeah...so, after four months of unemployment, I clawed my way into a mindless, low-paying, dead-end office gig. I was amazed at how hard I had to fight--and how many personal favors I had to call in--just to get *a* job (and a miserable one at that).

I also fell into a regular freelance writing gig with a local newspaper. I absolutely love the work, and have received a lot of praise and some small-scale celebrity in my city. But it doesn't pay the bills. And I'm under no illusions that the paper (or any other print publication for that matter) would ever hire me onto their staff.

So after two years of freelancing and languishing in my office gig, I decided I needed to make a move. Quit my day job. Started a Master's degree in a foreign language (idiotic, I know, but I was seduced by the promise of returning to Europe). That was this past September. It became very clear very quickly that I had made a terrible, expensive mistake--the grad school advice on this site is right on; don't ever pursue an advanced degree in the humanities--and so I decided to cut my losses.

I won't be returning for a second semester (not a hint of regret there). But now I'm left rudderless. I'm applying for jobs--a cheerful activity in the current economy--but, honestly, I'm not really qualified to do anything. The only thing my office job taught me was to type (seriously, I've never even used a spreadsheet). I'm clumsy and illiterate when it comes to most software and am pretty turned off by technology in general.

So my question: what are my options as a not-so-recent college graduate with a degree in English? This isn't really a "what should I do with my life" question. I know what I *want* to do. The one thing I have consistently excelled in is writing. And, like I said, I've had a lot of success freelancing--and I plan to keep doing that. This is a "what *can* I do with my life question."

I feel like I would be a good copywriter. But, without a professional "book" and "3-5 years of experience," I think I'm out of luck. I hear technical communications is a good option for writers, but again, techy stuff sort of turns my stomach. Publishing would be great, but I'm stuck in the Midwest. Teaching high school would complete the cliche, although I'm not eager to invest in three years of expensive "training" just to get qualified for a brutally stressful, underpaid career.

Honestly, I'm thinking of taking up a trade. Becoming a plumber or something. They make good money, enjoy job security, have a fairly low-stress 9-5, and can pursue their true loves on the side. Plus, you get to work with your hands and actually feel like you did something in a day's work (I spent my high school summers landscaping and really enjoyed that, too).

So, are there any English majors out there who have avoided the curse of their degree? Or any creatives who have solved the day-job puzzle? Also any suggestions on a part-time gig that will keep me afloat while I'm figuring this out?
posted by sureshot to Work & Money (35 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
what are my options as a not-so-recent college graduate with a degree in English?

Can you you stomach teaching? Can you do EFL here in the U.S.? You've already done it elsewhere, but you would probably have to go back and get your teaching certificate. There's considerable demand for it some regions, although generally you will have students who speak a variety of languages at home.
posted by dilettante at 5:02 PM on December 24, 2008


Honestly, I'm thinking of taking up a trade. Becoming a plumber or something.

Why not? You local community college system will have at least one branch that specializes in technical training, and you are going to find that there are a lot of plumbers/carpenters/etc with advanced degrees and really interesting life experiences. The money can be really good, but in a lot of ways it's a much tougher way to earn a living than, say, being a professor, or sitting in an office. Your body will take a real beating, and you have to be out there doing stuff good weather and bad.
posted by Forktine at 5:04 PM on December 24, 2008


Wait -- Why were you so happy with teaching middle schools in Europe and so dismissive of the idea in the US? For one thing, what's preventing you from returning to Europe and teaching some more middle school, and what's so different about teaching it in the US (This may be obvious but I'm ignorant.)

The emotional high point of your post is how much you liked teaching in Europe

-ATL. MFA. English. :(
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:10 PM on December 24, 2008


A trade sounds like a great idea. If you end up hating it, you can save up some money while doing it while figuring out what to do next.

My opinion about a good trade is underwater welding.

Our local community college has a program that gives a lot of options, with underwater welding, you get trained in a number of trades: welding, underwater welding, SCUBA, EMT, underwater EMT, and hyberbaric chamber (which is useful underwater, but as I understand it more and more hospitals are using them for burn victims and professional athletes are using them for quick recoveries).

When some dude told me about this program I thought that it sounded so awesome and gave a person so many options for well paying trades... plus, if you are a California resident, community college classes are only $20/credit. What an investment!
posted by k8t at 5:16 PM on December 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Holy quick responses!

@ dilletante and Terrible Llama:

It 's mainly the time and money investment of becoming a teacher that turns me off. In my state, it's a good 2 years to get certified. And then a year of teaching to secure a job. And THEN another year WHILE teaching to get the Masters that guarantees a livable wage. Plus, I think you need 100 hours of observation before you can even apply for the certificate. Again, I'm just getting out of a costly grad school mistake. One bitten, twice shy.

Plus, I think it was more the foreign country that made my time in Europe so great. Not so much the actual teaching.

Also, I'm the son of a high school educator. I've seen up-close the 24/7 lifestyle it involves.

@ forktine & k8t:

underwater welding sounds absolutely rad! But I live in the Midwest...

Also, on the subject of trades, I've heard that apprenticeships are low-paying and can drag on for five or six years. Any truth to this? Is there a quicker way to a trade profession?

thanks for the great suggestions and keep 'em coming.
posted by sureshot at 5:39 PM on December 24, 2008


Also, the "emotion highpoint" of my story--at least to me--is the freelance writing. I've got a reasonably high-profile, regular gig at the newspaper that a lot of English majors would be envious of. And I really enjoy it.

It'd be nice if I could leverage my portfolio of published work...
posted by sureshot at 5:41 PM on December 24, 2008


Move to a big city and take your shot as a journalist. Start out like everyone doing the crappy work and working your way up. Difficult and risky, but the payoff could be sweet.
posted by phrontist at 5:47 PM on December 24, 2008


Is there some reason why time is a factor? (Are you in debt?)

The deal with investing time -- whether it's welding or a teaching certificate -- is that time is going to happen regardless. You're going to be 27 in two years no matter what you spend your time on, and even though it might seem like a big deal now it's not really a big deal in the long run.

And if it was the time in the foreign country that was so great, and not so much the teaching, is there anything else in that country you'd want to do? Is there some reason you'd need a graduate degree in the language, as opposed to a few community college classes?

The thing is, you sound impatient for things to start -- to have a little more money and control over direction and security -- but-- and this is totally dependent on what kind of person you are -- do you really want to leap up and go, goddammit I'm going to be a shark fisherman! Or a masseuse. Or mechanic. Or whatever.

I think it's a good idea to have a fall-back plan (I'm an English major but can do all kinds of businessy crap, so I don't starve) but your fall back plan should match your real interests.

Also. BTW. Dicking around in your twenties is pretty normal these days. I didn't get an undergrad degree until I was thirty.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:50 PM on December 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also, Peace Corps? Travel and dicking around!
posted by k8t at 5:54 PM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Hey, your twenties are the time in your life when it's OK to try different jobs, cities, relationships, etc. No big pressure to settle down — that can wait until after you're 30.

You like to write! You're published! You're a successful writer!

If I were you, I'd be looking at growth industries. That leaves newspapers out; they're the dinosaurs of the 21st century. Everywhere, newspaper circulation is down, staffers are being fired, and finances are precarious (witness the Tribune Co.'s recent bankruptcy).

You don't like techie stuff, so technical writing is definitely not for you. What kinda stuff do you like? What are your interests? What would you love to write about?
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:01 PM on December 24, 2008


Following off of K8t, why not apply to Peace Corps or Teach for America, or a similar program. (I'm not familiar with age and experience requirements, but you might want to look into Vista, Americorps, and any of a thousand church- and community-based organizations. Most will pay poorly if at all, but it's not like you are raking in the big bucks this minute, either, right?)

About the trades -- it totally depends on the trade. Some, like electrical and plumbing, have very regimented programs of school, then apprenticeship, etc. Others, like carpentry, are much more open, but the learning curve is at least as long, just not as regimented. Either way, you can usually start earning a living wage after a two-year trade program (AA or AAAS degree, usually, but sometimes a certificate instead), with the expectation of higher wages down the line. Things like precision machining will keep you indoors more, which is better in the winter.

I guess my point is that it seems to me that you have a number of paths into teaching that you are not currently exploring (eg alternative certification, TfA, Peace Corps), but if you decide you want to change direction then there are far, far worse options than the trades. But trade school is tough, and the work is tough, so don't think of it as an "easy" out. You can earn good money as a (for example) waste water plant operator, but it's a serious job with real consequences for screwing up, and the standards can be quite high.
posted by Forktine at 6:06 PM on December 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Nursing? I have a lot of international students that I mentor and between that and checking up on high school friends on Facebook, it seems like nursing is the way to get a decent paying satisfying job. Yes, this will require much more schooling and money.
posted by k8t at 6:26 PM on December 24, 2008


The median income for a court reporter is 80K, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The median for a technical writer is 63K. The training for a court reporter is shorter than getting an MS in tech comm.
posted by jadepearl at 6:51 PM on December 24, 2008


Hi, fellow English major here. How about marketing communications for a large, multinational company?
posted by Houstonian at 6:57 PM on December 24, 2008


I appreciate the license to dick around that you guys seem to be giving me. But I think that's what got me into this pickle to begin with.

@Terrible Llama
You're right. Impatience to get established is a big thing with me. Marry that to a fear of commitment, and....well, you know. At any rate, I'll poke around some other threads to learn about some other routes into teaching.

@ Houstonian:
Marketing communication? Is that what you do? I'd love to give it a shot--and there are def a few multinational corporations in my city--but I'm not sure if I can get around the whole experience thing. Any tips for breaking in?

@ jadepearl:

court reporter, huh? Interesting...
posted by sureshot at 7:11 PM on December 24, 2008


So I jump into lots of career advice threads with this little piece of wisdom, but, translation! It's what I do, and I love it. I see the mixture of things that you're looking like you're into, and I think my particular path in life might be a tenable one for you.

I moved to China when I was 20, dicked around, learned the language, taught English to pay the bills, and then found myself competent in Mandarin and standing atop a network of friends who suddenly started trying to hire me.

The beauty part about translation is that it's not really a career, it's an excuse to make other people pay you to listen while they teach you about a profession. I'm not kidding. This last year I've been trained to do movies and offered positions on-set (wasn't able to take them), I was taken in and managed a cement catalog translation project (I'd never managed anything, nor had I ever even considered doing anything with the cement industry), which then rolled over into a sales contact for this dude in California with some mines, and on a separate track I've gotten my hands dirty with a visa firm and learned to do visa consulting and how to keep up to date on immigration law. I've also been nearly handed the management of two bars (I couldn't take the jobs, but they were there if I wanted them). Right now I'm learning web backend for a client.

The catch is, of course, that I live here and put in a lot of footwork to build up my network, but I have that time because life isn't expensive here and I can afford to not work on a particular job or project if I don't want to. It took me a few aimless years to get to this point. Teaching English isn't a great option, but this is East Asia, and they'll pay you $30/hr and give you an apartment if you have an English degree and TEFL certificate, and it's a part-time job. I'm getting back into it for a few months as I've got some pricey remodeling and an operation on my leg coming up in 2009, but I still won't be doing it full-time. If you don't object to living in a foreign country, can commit to learning the language without falling into the beer-soaked expat lifestyle trap, and want to dick around productively for awhile longer, why not move over here (or anywhere!) and become a translator?
posted by saysthis at 8:17 PM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


So, are there any English majors out there who have avoided the curse of their degree?

Yes, by doing exactly what you've ruled out. 9 to 5 and enough money to support a family on one income, with no degree but my public college BA in English.

I started with technical writing and kept angling for more directly technical training and work.

If you've ever wired a stereo, you can do it. If you felt a sense of accomplishment in wiring that stereo, you should do it. Just don't be defined by it. It's your job, not your self.
posted by NortonDC at 10:01 PM on December 24, 2008


I don't want to create more competition for him, but I think there's room for one more self-employed copywriter. This guy has an office in my building and the more I've gotten to know him and seen what he does, the more I think he has a great gig. He does a hodge-podge of writing, from slogans to more lengthy website or brochure copy. He occasionally oversees other creatives--designers, printers, developers--but mostly he just writes.

He gets work by networking. He once told me he was going skiing in Utah so he looked up some ad agencies in Salt Lake City and took a day to visit them and meet some new people in the industry.

If I weren't such a techie, I'd do what he does.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 10:22 PM on December 24, 2008


I'm sure there are plenty other strong but unromantic writing jobs like jadepearl's court reporter idea. Did you consider being a Librarian? Can you work as a graphic artist or build websites? I'm not sure these are great job in this economy, but hey. I'd avoid trades that suffer from the poor economy or depress wages by using illegal immigrant labor, i.e. carpentry. I gather plumbers are paid okay if they avoid working for Roto Router.

I don't see the relation between the foreign language degree and living in the foreign country. If you like the country, you can get another job teaching English there. Maybe you could get some degree in international business while there?

p.s. I'm not sure why they tout Law school for English majors, they do not faire exceptionally well on the LSAT, though still far better than Poli. Sci. majors. lol
posted by jeffburdges at 10:44 PM on December 24, 2008


Ha, are you me?

Of my fellow English majors, we have.. let's see.. a couple journalists, a web developer, an art museum program manager, a few others who work at musems (this is DC, the Smithsonian is pretty huge), a lawyer who works on fair housing law, an artist/art teacher, a couple of newly minted PhDs in English (I do not recommend that route), a couple librarians, a master's student in international relations..

Most of these fields don't seem to have an obvious connection to English but everyone mostly ended up in them via starting at entry-level in that field and sticking with it long enough to get experience along the way. But the English major helped them land that entry-level job, stuff like communications assistant, program associate, web editor.. that gave them skills they needed as they moved up & then got more training. Not a lot of people can write well, and edit well, and communicate well in general, to be honest. I'm sure you know that.. There's proofreading, copy editing, substantive editing.. and technical writing may be worth looking into regardless, I don't think you always need serious expertise in the field, you need the writing and editing ability, first.

But uh.. pick up a trade if that's what you want to do. I guess often enough I've been a plumber for bad websites that don't work. :) Did you think about looking for jobs at your local universities/colleges? Some kind of assistant level job wherever it was available, or a skilled job requiring an English major background - they probably have staff writers and editors in several departments (alumni relations, communications, campus events and publications, etc.). Full-time staff at a lot of universities get to take classes for free (check benefits first of course, to be sure that's the case!) so you get a steady job and good benefits, plus training in whatever field you wanted via the school's course offerings - it'd just mean taking classes on top of working full-time, is all.
posted by citron at 10:48 PM on December 24, 2008


Stay the hell out of academia. It's the place where dreams go to die. Terrible wages, no opportunity for advancement...
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:57 PM on December 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Paralegal?

There's a lot of work to be done in law offices that requires writing. I have come to believe that if English majors could just break into paralegal work (it's hard to get good jobs), they could have a great career. I know it doesn't sound glamorous, but good paralegal work is incredibly valuable and can be well-paid in bigger firms.
posted by jayder at 12:42 AM on December 25, 2008


On the court reporter idea, you probably need to look very closely into the demands and requirements of the job. We have hearing reporters (somewhat different) in my line of work, and it's pretty miserable. They have to sit in pretty much one position for extended periods of time, breaks are whenever the rest of the court says so, work schedules can be kind of erratic. It's a much more restrictive kind of work than just about any office job.
posted by dilettante at 11:03 AM on December 25, 2008


Just a note on underwater welding:

I considered it. But, it appears that most of the jobs for underwater welding go to ex-Navy folks.

What about just welding?
posted by Netzapper at 1:52 PM on December 25, 2008


My wife suggests that you take some training in solar panel installation. It's a trade, it's a growing field, it works for the midwest, it's good for the world, and it could be an introduction into a landscaping career in the long run.
posted by lockedroomguy at 6:30 PM on December 25, 2008


I think the most important thing is to decide what you want to do. If you want to go back to Europe, go to Europe and teach English. Network and get a job doing something else. If you want to have a stable job that pays the bills, decide what you're comfortable doing for the rest of your life and then find a way to make it pay the bills.

It's nonsense to pick a random career or trade because it makes a livable amount of money, especially when you have a degree.
posted by mhuckaba at 8:33 PM on December 25, 2008


If you've ever wired a stereo, you can do it.

I don't even know what that means.

...a skilled job requiring an English major background...

This gets to the heart of my question. Does such a thing actually exist?

decide what you're comfortable doing for the rest of your life and then find a way to make it pay the bills

I don't mean to sound ungrateful and bitchy, but this isn't exactly helpful advice. Wouldn't this be the same thing as choosing a "random carer because it makes a livable amount of money"?
posted by sureshot at 9:32 PM on December 25, 2008


...a skilled job requiring an English major background...

This gets to the heart of my question. Does such a thing actually exist?


I think the point is that you are looking for The One Answer when there isn't one. Plenty of people have given you examples of jobs for which English majors are suited. You, not random AskMe's, need to figure out which one is going to work for you.

If you want to be a freelance writer, then be one. Plenty of people make a living doing that. I'm sure you can too.
posted by apricot at 12:07 AM on December 26, 2008 [1 favorite]


Court reporter is a pretty sweet gig I think. They do make pretty good money, and get to listen in on all manner of juicy law stuff, everything from messy divorces to capital murder trials to multimillion dollar settlement negotiations. And all you really have to do is type*. Granted you have to type quickly and accurately, but it seems like a solid option.

* its not really typing per se, they use these little steno machines that I can't really figure out how they work...
posted by T.D. Strange at 10:57 AM on December 26, 2008


Hi Sureshot,

Hmm, seeing that 22 people marked this as a favorite, it implies how common this situation is. Okay, this is going to be long, long, long but you asked :):

You didn't ask this exactly, but it sound part of the issue is you're not sure now to navigate the whole 'career/must do something with my life' thing. It sounds like you're missing a framework - so even though you're taking a lot of productive steps - like asking English majors about career choices, if might feel kind of hit or miss, or like you're just flailing. You might not be, but bear with me, because it will make the suggestions seem more sensible.

Okay, to give you the cliff notes version: There are two phases of any good search: Career Exploration and Job Search. I think one of the first issues is that your dead end job/you're getting older pressure is making you smoosh those two things together, which is like trying to lose 20 pounds in 3 days. It can be done, but not without seriously compromising your physical and psychological well-being.

So, you split it up: Career Exploration then Job Search. It's different for everyone, but here's how I've seen some people do it successfully:

The career exploration part: You sound like you're also smooshing together the two parts to career exploration: the information gathering, exploration and evaluation part and the part where you make a decision about what to pursue. I think it helps for people to see them as separate parts - because I think you aren't just asking about what type of job/careers are out there, it sounds like you might not yet have an organized strategy about how to identify, research and evaluate possible career choices (yes, plural) for you.

It might help if you take one step back. Not just in terms of "hey, you're young! you have time" or 'what do you enjoy doing?' which is sometimes a little vague... but more in terms of articulating your preferences, and criteria right now, and you prioritize them. Based on that, you'll have concrete criteria to evaluate all of the options mefi-ers are suggesting.

What I mean is you might consider giving yourself a three month hiatus from 'making a decision part of career exploration', and embrace where you are: "information gathering, exploring and evaluating options" phase. I think it messes with people's head to try to do both simulateously - people sometimes start cycling through some variation of a personal hell trip along the lines of: I must Decide! Court Reporter sounds good! Ugh, it's too difficult to break into the field, and I don't know if that's what I really wanted to do - I made a mistake before! Agh, I can't choose! Argh, I'm trapped by indecision - how do people do this? (Insert self-flagilation here).

So, step away from that poison cup. Don't try to lose 20 pounds in 3 days. Embrace and stay in the information gathering/exploring/evaluating options stage, which often goes something like:

* Not happy. Want to *explore* options. (I'm going to *decide* in 3 months based on data. On April 1 I'm the Decider!)

* Limit the choices of what you are going to explore: Something like: Court Reporter sounds good! So do a lot of other things, but since I'm not into overwhelming self abuse, I'm only going to actively explore 8 options at any one time. Four writing (like, court reporter, entry level public affairs at a university/business, Marketing communication, and one other) and four Technical Skilled (Welding, solar power installation, plumbing, electrician). As soon as I have enough data to make a decision on one of them, I will put it aside and add another - but no more than 8 at any one time. In addition to all of the great Mefi choices, you can start to get a list for writing options from places like here: http://careerservices.rutgers.edu/Menglish.html, or here: http://www.uncwil.edu/stuaff/career/Majors/english.htm.

* You need to explore each job/career option sufficiently before keeping or discarding. "Exploring sufficiently" means: I have to know a position well enough to be able to explain four things to strangers at a cocktail party: (1) the usual day to day activities of the job, (2) career market in my area - are there more than 5 openings in the field, (3) what types of careers people in that field move into in 5-10 years - If I become an entry level public relations coordinator, what other jobs do I move into? and (4) Salary range.

*Way to gather information/explore: For court reporter, for example, let me read about in the library, online, bookstore under a book like 100 careers for writing types, etc./find a court reporter to talk to/find out where court reporter jobs are posted and see how many there are and what exactly they entail/visit a court and sit in on a trial for one day to see if I like the environment/see if there is a professional association in my area.

*How do I not overwhelm myself?: In addition to being gentle with yourself - don't set yourself up for marathon 'ooh, I'll spend a saturday sorting this out by looking at all 8 options' - consider this an adventure that you only engage in between 10-30 minutes 3-5 days a week. What can you do in about 10-30 minutes? Google your local online job board and read job descriptions - usually if you read about 5 public affairs job descriptions, you can understand day to day activities or even get a sense of the salary range. Also if you see more than 5, it implies that there is a market for in your area. Or find 3 technical programs training in plumbing in your area. Just look them over online. Or to find out about career options 5-10 years, look at positions beyond your experience right now and see what kind of background you need. For example, the director of public relations at Eli Lilly might need 7 years of experience in communication marketing. Regardless of if you find something 'useful' or not, stop after 30 minutes and do more tomorrow.

*Suggested way to keep track and evaluate options: have a notebook or a spread sheet with 5-10 criteria important to you right now. You've mentioned a few. (1) career stability, (2) possibly involving writing (3) there is a market for it for me in the midwest (4) 9-5ish and perhaps others you haven't (You work in a team, or alone. You work on multiple projects, or just one at a time, you work in a area where you believe in the cause, or that's not important to you etc). As you find out about each career choice, evaluate it against your criteria - if it's meeting 7-10 of your criteria, then it's worth keeping on your list when you hit the deciding stage in April, and if it's below that, you put it aside.

* How to block people from throwing their career anxiety on you/reach out to people: Block people from "Oh, English Major - what are you going to do with that?" crap by stepping up and speaking out. So for 3 months you can start conversations with everyone confidently at meetup groups, parties, family gatherings, etc. Something like - Currently I do some freelance writing and work in administration, and for the next three months I'm in the career exploration phase as I consider the next step in my career. So I'm asking everyone about their work and what they enjoy about it. (As people tell you about their work, you can ask them questions based on your criteria, and decide if you're going to explore any of those further.) Or, conversely, you can share which 8 careers you are seriously exploring and find out if they have any insight. If not, hey, just go back to talking about whatever you were talking about before. If you just sound calm and confident, people will back off you.

* After information gathering/exploring/evaluating, then what happens?: So, usually what people have after about three months is a short list of about 3-4 of possible job choices that they then decide to pursue. Often they've explored sufficiently about 20-30 possible types of jobs. It's not an exhaustive list - never is, but some options that they could be reasonably satisfied with. In many cases, they then decide to explore those 3-4 further, moving our of the Career Exploration phase into the Job Search stage.

* Sometimes people realize that they are Skill Set-like people: They'd do writing for any type of organization, from a non profit that helps children to UPS. Or they are Content like-people: They'd do anything, writing, administration, research etc. , as long as it has to do with with fighting cancer. Or they are Work is Just What I Do So I Can Afford To Do The Things That Are Important To Me-like people. It doesn't really matter - as long as it pays the bills, save money, etc. so they can be with their family, or pursue their freelancing - or whatever moves them.

*Anyway, Job Search means a combo of tailoring their resume/cover letter for the 3-4 types of jobs they are pursuing/applying to programs that will give them the appropriate training. Often for jobs, they start by tailoring their materials before the job opens up - for example, they find a job for a position even in a state they don't live in, so they can get the work of tailoring a resume before the job they want opens up.

* Also, Job Search three months from now might mean that you just move into the field that you are interested in, but in an administrative role. Then you learn about the field and transition up after about a year or two. So for example, you might discover that you want to work at an academic institution, but you don't know what position yet. So you might apply for an admin. position like this one: http://www.norcalherc.org/c/job.cfm?site_id=730&jb=5028900....just to give you access and put food on the table.

* Finally, if there is anyway to make this enjoyable, do it. A lot of creative individuals sort of approach the experience in their own way. Writers select a beautiful notebook to keep their information in. Or they imagine it as some sort of (epic) adventure, where they are the heroine, and they journal about the ups and downs of their journey. Some really planning/data types create elaborate spreadsheets with their data and criteria to create charts (with standard deviations!). People with strong social skills decide to do all of their information gathering by making a 6 degrees of separation game to meet people in every single one of their career possibilities. Sometimes more reserved people start with the library - reading books like Po Bronson's 'what are you going to do with that', to explore.

Just to say everyone's got their own way. Many people stumble into their careers by default - which isn't a bad thing. But at some point hopefully everyone in their life consciously and thoughtfully explores and embraces what is poorly defined as 'work'. It may feel awful and awkward now, but try to appreciate the privilege of choice that you do have. So many people in the world just don't. And never, ever will. Also, as uncomfortable as this may feel - At least you won't be one of those people who feel forced to choose a career - any career - because of external pressure rather than based on your personal critera, or look back on their careers and finally realize they are just clawing their last years to retirement because they were too afraid or trapped in their job to choose something they wanted. All to say that you might find yourself in a different administrative position in 4 months - but perhaps just making more money for retirement, but you will know more about yourself and possible professional choices - and that can only be a good thing.

Mr Anitanita recently quoted someone - I can't remember who - that said something like the purpose of hope is not that things will turn out the way you want, but that you will understand (the choices you made). I see your current situation/adventure like this. I imagine that's probably a point a writer can appreciate, since its probably one of the points of both fiction and non fiction writing, now that I think about it.

Okay - this is waayyyyy too long for even me to reread. But I'm sort of shooting in the dark and trying to cover all the bases I can think of. Please take what's useful and ignore the rest - just know no offense or patronizing is intended - you sound like you have a good head on your shoulders and will figure this out one way or another. Also, IAACC, but IANYCC. (I am a career counselor, but I am not your career counselor) :)

Happy December sureshot. Mr. Anitanita and I are off to a non-honeymoon holiday to celebrate our first month in wedded bliss!
posted by anitanita at 1:22 PM on December 26, 2008 [22 favorites]


a skilled job requiring an English major background

Maybe I didn't make it clear but the next half of my sentence explained this:

they [universities and colleges] probably have staff writers and editors in several departments (alumni relations, communications, campus events and publications, etc.)

That's what I'm saying - I used to work at a university and we had staff writers in several offices (who wrote/edited copy for fundraising letters, for websites, for promoting campus events, newsletters to alumni, program copy for events sponsored by the university, press releases, official letters from senior management, etc. It's actually a lot of work). For that kind of job you need writing experience, English majors preferred. And again if you work at a college or university you can usually explore other fields by taking classes, and it wouldn't cost you extra for that, just your time. Go local colleges' websites and check the employment listings, and you might find a good job for a writer.

Did you just try searching some of those catchall job hunting sites like Monster.com just to see what the opportunities are under the job title "writer"? And don't dismiss things out of hand if you don't exactly match up with the requirements, eg, 3-5 years experience writing professionally if you only have 2 - apply anyway if you're interested in the job.

jeez I think half your problem is viewing your degree as a curse and generally being negative about most prospects and opportunities.
posted by citron at 3:54 PM on December 26, 2008


I'm a freelance writer. Before that I had various editorial and writing positions on paper pubs. I got them all through networking. But there was a time, when I was about your age, when I had all the talent and none of the experience. I worked "day jobs" (mainly telemarketing) while I built my portfolio...for unpaid writing. I also took an internship with a tiny newspaper in a tiny town in Michigan. That helped me get a substantial number of clips. Luckily, it was a paid internship. I think those are rarer now.

Along the way I picked up two graduate degrees during economic downturns. They were worth more in terms of connections I made than actual academic experience. No matter what you're doing, network! And if I had to do it all over, I would have gone for degrees in more practical subjects than English and anthropology.

Until the recession, I made a decent living freelancing. I wasn't picky about content. I wrote manuals for carpentry apprentices, unbylined real estate fluff for the local paper, various fun journalism pieces (like what you're doing with the paper -- keep that gig!) and various web content pieces. If you want to be a freelance writer, that's what I suggest you do.

Most editors want sample clips, and it sounds like you have a few already, and that should stand you in good stead. Memail me if you want to discuss further ways of getting your clips into the hands of hiring editors. Warning: it's slim pickings out there right now.

Ironically, I'm angling for a career change myself. The main reason for me is that I'm too much of a people person to really enjoy the solitude necessary for a lucrative freelance writing career, recession aside. But for a few years, it was a really delightful, boss-free lifestyle, and I know folks doing it who are quite content and solvent.

I wouldn't become a plumber or anything like that unless I really enjoyed the work. It's not worth it to do things you're not all that into.
posted by xenophile at 6:14 PM on December 26, 2008


so, i didn't read all of the comments and my answer may be and in fact most definitely is somewhat redundant, but it's worth mentioning that you can teach. i am an undergrad art education major and i plan to teach at international schools abroad once i graduate. they teach the american standard and are very well regarded. if you google search international schools there are some sites which provide information about group interviews held every spring (i believe). you may have to have some experience or at least a teaching certificate (i'm not sure, so check for yourself) but if you are accepted you sign a two year contract in a school. they help with transportation and everything, and it's great experience. i'm headed for france first so i can travel all over europe in my time off. there's also the option of A. teaching in America and travelling each summer (if you can live cheaply, this is a pretty liberating option) and B. teaching english in other countries. once again, google is your friend. good luck with your pursuits!
posted by big open mouth at 7:43 PM on December 26, 2008


Hi Sureshot,

Got your memail, and you're most welcome. Three last things, about time, money and 'Dream Job' vs. 'dreamy jobs'.

1) Turning 25 is commonly a huge professional transition stage for people -it's a big one as people often start to think - dang, a quarter of a century! Why do I not have myself together yet? Other people seem to! So between 25-30 can feel very rough, if you don't feel you've come to a peaceful place about your professional life. Like a professional biological clock, people can feel like they are running out of time.

So taking the time to explore options is really, really hard for almost everyone I've ever worked with, because most people really, really want closure, it feels so 'wasteful' to take the time, and often people aren't sure that the process/time will 'work'. Someone likened it to calming the mind during meditation - you have to consciously recommit yourself pretty much daily to return and stay in the exploration phase until you feel you have enough information to move forward.

But here's a lovely way to look at it: Imagine you turn 26 tomorrow. Imagine also that you spend the next 2 years exploring career choices. 2 years! 24 months! You'll then be 28. And if you decide based on your criteria that you've come up with three or four possible positions that are attractive, you apply to all four and get one - well then you'll be 28 and moving into a position that interests you. If the US government is to be believed, you'll retire at 67. That's 39 years you would be working in jobs that you've embraced. 39 years! Longer than your whole lifetime on the planet by about 11 years. You have time, so just give yourself the space...

....perhaps starting by considering redefining your 'dead-end' job as "the non-mentally taxing job that putting food on the table and giving me the time/motivation/space I need to explore professional options". Congratulate yourself for putting yourself in a stable position, and don't be in a rush to leave it. May it last you two years!

2) Beyond 'figuring out what they are going to do with their life', people feel stressed because they worry they won't save enough for retirement and will be left destitute, so they need to start making money, now. I remember this being a huge issue for me once, which made it confusing to me about why I was still anxious when I did finally find 'dreamy' jobs. I finally realized that I was confusing two different, although important, issues that need to be addressed separately: Choosing a career path vs. feeling financially secure. Regardless of your career choice, consider taking a course about financial planning, retirement, etc. now. I finally went out and found a wonderful financial planner who specifically worked with young women, singles, etc. to gain the knowledge and confidence I needed to feel safe about my financial future. (all that 'even investing $25 a month is great when you are young' people were right!). It really can take a lot of psychic weight - must find lucrative job now! - off your shoulders as you explore options, and gives you the skills you need to manage your financial future regardless of what job you are in 'dead end' or not.


3) Last try not to get tripped up and suffocated by the concept of a 'Dream Job/Career Path'. That's just too, too much unnecessary pressure. Or perhaps, consider expanding it to the idea of 'dreamy jobs', plural, vs. Dream Job. Many people have many dreams regarding their personal, academic and professional life. The position they work in is 'dreamy' because they like the people, it's close to home, it pays the bills and gives them time to explore and fulfill other dreams in their life. That's it. Not curing cancer, not utilizing all of the God-given talents, not making 4 times the salary they need to afford everything they want. But it's dreamy, because it part of what rounds out their life. It's good. Also, a lot of people I know don't think of their professional arc in terms of one specific perfect Dream Job, but more that they find a series of positions in a lot of different fields that interest them over the 50 years of their professional life. Before accepting any position, they reevaluate their criteria and ask if this position, right now, meets 7-10 of those criteria, and try not to take or stay in positions over a year if the position meets less than 5 criteria. In a nutshell, this is my definition of a 'dream career path' which is made up of a series of 'dreamy jobs' - One where people end up in the most unexpected places for all the right reasons.

Be well!
posted by anitanita at 11:47 AM on December 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Thanks again for your positivity, anitanita. And thanks to everyone else who has chimed in with suggestions.

I'll be exploring careers/job hunting in earnest in January, so I will keep you all posted.
posted by sureshot at 8:30 AM on December 29, 2008


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