Moving and jobhunting?
July 21, 2009 12:32 PM   Subscribe

Need some advice on getting my first real job in Portland, OR. Difficulty: I don't live there yet.

I'm a geek in my early 20s, currently living in Tacoma, WA. I've made a substantial amount of progress (about three years, plus some false starts at other schools) toward a bachelor's degree in computer science and have a strong academic record, but the years of intense focus on a single subject (as well as factors in my academic environment) have caused my enthusiasm for computers and programming to burn out. At this point I'm struggling to discover something I have a passion for; I'm one of those types who can do spectacular things when inspired, and is useless when uninspired. I've worked for one quarter as a grader and two as a mentor for the school, but I have a hard time considering this a "real job" as far as my employment history goes.

I am currently living on my own in an apartment in Tacoma, and have given notice to the apartment complex that I'll be moving out at the end of the month. This pretty much means that I'll be spending at least a good chunk of August at my parents' house, while I work on moving to Portland. I do not have a driver's license and do not own a car. Past experience suggests that I don't do terribly well living with roommates. For a number of substantial but not truly urgent personal reasons, I'd like to get myself moved as promptly as is feasible.

Moving to Portland is a big deal for me - I love the feel of the place, and greatly appreciate the excellent public transportation and cyclist/pedestrian friendliness. (I suspect that I'm a city person who has never lived in a proper city.) I am aware that the job market there is horrible right now, and this difficulty is exacerbated by my lack of experience. I don't even really know how to start job-hunting, let alone how to do so in a city I don't yet live in. I have about $3000 in savings right now, but I know that'll dry up fast if I end up renting a place before securing a source of income.

I would, if at all possible, very much like to avoid manual labor or other highly repetitive tasks - past experience suggests that such things are likely to rapidly drive me into depression, and that's something I'd rather avoid. Something where I can help people by answering questions and solving problems (perhaps technology-oriented retail?) would seem to be an area where I'd be both comfortable and capable. Any suggestions for a job at which someone with strong geek(/ADD) tendencies would not feel stifled would be very welcome, as would advice for how to get such a job.

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posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps look for IT support work at businesses and schools in the Portland area, where you'll get to answer questions and solve problems. Sounds like a perfect fit for you, actually.

Best way to find these jobs is to look at Portland employment listings through newspapers, Dice/Monster/etc., and most specifically: company and school web sites.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:53 PM on July 21, 2009

you could start at the place that all undereducated and underexperienced techs start - stream. be warned, it's about one step above telemarketing. the job and the pay suck, but not as much as manual labor.

something to keep in mind: when a malcontented geek goes on the portland quest, you should realize that you're one of thousands with your exact same story. i know handfuls of people who did basically what you are looking to do and all ended up working in a coffee shop or returning home within a year. of all the people i know who live/lived in portland, i know 1 who is gainfully employed in his chosen profession. it's like moving to new york or la to break into show business. you might consider trying to be a bigger fish in a smaller pond first. have you considered olympia? same sort of people, same sort of bike culture, and fairly close to where you are now.
posted by nadawi at 12:55 PM on July 21, 2009

Don't forget to look over the border in Vancouver, WA, which is practically portland, but with sales tax. I know several geeks who started out looking in portland, but ended up working there.

Good luck, pdx-metro is a great place to live.
posted by nomisxid at 12:59 PM on July 21, 2009

I just moved to Seattle from Tacoma, and not only did I manage to find a job, but most of my friends did too (we all just graduated from UPS). The key for me was the "carpet bomb" approach to job hunting. I applied to any and everything I saw, joined a bunch of semi-reputable online job boards, and basically just blasted the internet with resumes and cover letters. After a number of promising leads fell through, a job basically landed in my lap from an obscure corner of my search. Just be tenacious.
posted by martens at 1:35 PM on July 21, 2009

I can't give you any pointers on the kinds of jobs you're looking for, or Portland, but I moved to a new city without a job about 10 months ago. I blew through a similar amount of savings, landed the crappy repetitive job, kept blowing through savings, and then got exceptionally lucky and got a good job. My advice:

1. Start applying now. Even though I started my first real job in November, I'm still hearing back from places I applied to in September 2008. (On preview: yeah, what martens said. Just remember to customize your resumes and cover letters before you send them out, because you're up against hordes).

2. Stay at your parents' place as long as you can stand it. My job pays well, but I'm still paying off credit card debt from the early months. Using your savings to travel to Portland for interviews, etc., would be a good use. Blowing it on rent, knowing that you could potentially be unemployed for a very long time - not so much. I miss my savings.

Good luck.
posted by McBearclaw at 1:50 PM on July 21, 2009

FWIW, stay in Seattle. You are much more likely to find an IT job that you like there.
I know that you know that unemployment is high, but are you willing to spend up to a year looking for a job in Portland? You will join a whole host of underemployed 20somethings who want to live here because of the biking and supposed free-spirit culture.

(Qualifications: A 20something geek. In Portland. Underemployed.)
posted by msamye at 2:18 PM on July 21, 2009

Ok...sorry if this sounds harsh and broken record-ish, but this is the truth about pdx right now: there really are no jobs. You probably know that this town is pretty much over-run with geeky, educated twenty-somethings (I am one, btw, and I get why you want to move here). I have many friends with college degrees who would be elated to find a manual labor gig. My extremely over-educated ivy-league girlfriend was a barista for a bit and now works in child care. Even getting a coffee shop gig in Portland without a connection or experience at a Stumptown is damn near impossible.

I moved here before the economic crisis, with no job, and despite my good intentions, excellent degree, experience and work ethic, I worked at Chipotle wrapping burritos for 8 months before I got a 'real' job. Now, with Oregon trailing only Michigan for the highest unemployment rate in the nation, the job market is much worse.

You'll have to weigh how much you want to live in Portland against 1) taking a job you won't like (if you can even get one, say, at Burgerville or Starbucks or wherever) and 2) probably blowing most of your savings for what will probably become a long vacation in pdx. Unless you have a couch to crash on down here while you job hunt, I probably would recommend not moving all your stuff here, signing a lease, etc. without a source of income lined-up.

All that said, I did it - and so do lots of others. And Portland is an amazing city - but any city is miserable if your broke and in a job you completely despise. Nadawi's comment about Tacoma is spot-on.

Good luck.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:23 PM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]

There are no jobs in Portland.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 2:38 PM on July 21, 2009

I hate to add to the Greek chorus, but the WSJ just did an article on this.
posted by Marnie at 2:51 PM on July 21, 2009

Other people know the city better than I do and you should probably listen to them. If you're going to move to Portland anyway, and you're going to look for an IT job, volunteer at Free Geek as much as you can. You'll get some job-related experience and it'll look good on your resume.
posted by cnc at 6:14 PM on July 21, 2009

Seriously - I know everyone else is saying it, but...
I know a ton of people who are unemployed here right now.
Don't move here without a job.
posted by j at 6:43 PM on July 21, 2009

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