I hate my job and I want out. How?
November 11, 2009 4:15 PM   Subscribe

I’ve worked for the same company for fifteen years and I recently started realizing I need to get out if I’m to maintain sanity. Problem is, I have no idea where to start, I feel like I’m trapped and my skills have atrophied to the point where it seems this is the only job I could possibly get. This is a multi-part question.

Picture the most insane Dilbert cartoon, multiply it by Office Space, add a dose of David Brent and you might get an idea of what I’m dealing with.

I have no idea where to start: Fifteen years ago there was no monster.com and most people didn’t have email addresses. My resume was done in Amipro and still says I have experience with Lotus 123. Due to some fortunate circumstances I got this job and the one before it without really trying. I was “good with computers” which, at the time, was pretty much all they needed to hear. I’ve never gone to a recruiter or a headhunter. I’ve never had a really tough interview. Last time I actually looked for a job I circled ads in the newspaper.

Question 1: Where do I start? What’s the best format to put a resume in? What websites are the best for looking for jobs? Should I just call a headhunter, tell him my skills and wait for something?

I feel like I’m trapped: Fifteen years is sort of an investment. I get quite a bit of vacation time, it would be hard to go back to only having a week. I get paid pretty well for the work I do, considering over the years my skills have deteriorated to the point where I feel like this is the only job I’m qualified for. I’ve always been a jack of all trades, master of none. I’m in healthcare I.T. but I’m not a server guy, I’m not a DBA, I’m not a network guy, etc. I support departmental applications of all shapes and sizes, most of which nobody outside of the industry has heard of. How do I work that into a resume?

I don’t think I want to stay in healthcare. I think my ideal job (besides “astronaut”) would be working in a small IT group for a medium-sized company. Honestly, I’d probably be happiest not working in IT at all but it’s really the only thing I’m good at and probably the only thing I could do where I could get paid well and have insurance.

Question 2: How do you start over? I’m 40, I have a family, I need to have health insurance. My wife cannot get health insurance for the family. I want some vacation time to spend with them. We have some savings, so I could handle a pay cut if I had to.

Question 3: Is this even a good idea right now? I have a job that I’m well paid for and if there are any jobs at all there are a million people, people with better skills, applying for them. Should I suck it up and stick it out for another couple of years? Should I just consider myself a lifer? The devil you do know, etc.

Sorry for the ranty-ness of this post. I’ve been mulling this over for years, putting it off, and now I’m worried it’s just too late. I honestly have no clue how to get started with all this.

I know I'm lucky to have a job, I know it's my own fault that I let my skills and resume lapse. Still though, I gotta get out of here. I'm in the Boston area, if that matters.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
I'd try and keep your job while looking for a new one. There's no need to quit just because you're looking for work. Keep the paychecks and healthcare coming in until you're sure you have something better lined up.
posted by kylej at 4:21 PM on November 11, 2009

That said, this is an online service which well help you create your resume.
posted by kylej at 4:22 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's no need to quit just because you're looking for work. Keep the paychecks and healthcare coming in until you're sure you have something better lined up.

The he said he would lose his sanity in that situation.

I'd say quit and take some time off, you mentioned Healthcare, but remember you would be able to keep your insurance with COBRA for up to 18 months or something like that. There's also a COBRA subsidy currently that will pay something like 2/3rds, but I think only if you get laid off. Might want to look into it. Obviously it will be expensive, even if you are laid off.

As far as updating your skills, try learning Ruby and Python, doing stuff on the web, etc. You could try learning the skills at home while at your current job. A lot of companies program internally with Java and C#. You can download Eclipse and the JVM, or Microsoft Visual Studio Express and get started with those.
posted by delmoi at 4:29 PM on November 11, 2009

If your company is willing to spring for job-related education costs, hit the books and get a boatload of IT certifications under your belt. You'll be worth more on the market, and picking up new skills is a great way to avoid feeling dated and irrelevant. Good luck!
posted by aquafortis at 4:33 PM on November 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

My god, I had to get about halfway through your question before I stopped expecting to see "posted by FishBike..." at the bottom. So many of your details and feelings match my own, on the bad days anyway. On the good days, I feel much better about my situation. Even the very high Dilbert Index (percentage of Dilbert cartoons which have actually happend at your workplace) is so familiar.

So if it would help to have someone to commisserate with, please feel free to MeFiMail me.

Getting back to one aspect of your question, the resume issue: have you kept all your e-mails and/or other documents going back 15 years? Or do you have copies of performance reviews, planning documents, or anything that would serve as a history of what you've been working on all that time?

Because you can use a lot of that stuff to start putting together a decent work history section for your resume. And then you can feature that, because to some employers at least, that kind of long and versatile work history means a lot. And you may start to feel better about yourself, too, if you can read through all of that and think "hey, you know, I actually do know a lot of stuff."
posted by FishBike at 4:56 PM on November 11, 2009

Good for you for wanting to make a change! Go for it. I echo kylej's advice: hang onto the job you have while you formulate an escape plan.

Wrangle as much vacation time as possible and take it; use the time to do the stuff you have to do to set you on the right path, like researching other fields, writing a resume, and navigating the new job search landscape.

Should I just call a headhunter, tell him my skills and wait for something?

Take personal responsibility for your career change. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't seek out help, but you shouldn't just rely on someone else to steer the process.

Be open to learning new things. Delmoi has good advice: update your professional skills.

Don't be afraid.
posted by cleverevans at 5:17 PM on November 11, 2009

Since you've been at your job for a long time and are potentially looking at jobs that are at least a little bit outside your field, I'd suggest going with a "skills-based" resume (see article and example in Wall St. Journal) Especially pay attention to some of the bullet points on the example resume. This imaginary person divides their skills into 3 different categories and then gets quite specific in the bullet points...the more numbers, percentages and details you can remember, the better-If you led a team, state how many team members you led. If you saved the company money, tell them how much. Its awesome to be able to start this project while you are still working because you still have access to the data. Also, start collecting samples of stuff you have done, screen shots, whatever examples you can get out without getting in trouble. You'll want all this stuff when you start looking for new jobs....

As far as looking for jobs, actual networking is still the best way to go about this, but I am also pretty partial to indeed.com for online searching.

And now for my word of warning-I'm a career advisor who works specifically with people who were laid off-Think long and hard before you just quit your job. Even though your job sounds miserable, being unemployed for longer than you want is miserable too....and you don't get paid or get health insurance, which is stressful. If you can spend some more time at your job while you work to build some more relevant skills and apply for stuff while you are working, you'll probably be able to slide into something better than if you just leave-You don't want to have to settle for something worse than what you have now just because you have been out of work too long. You certainly shouldn't "consider yourself a lifer" at a miserable place- start making plans to exit, just make sure you have adequate preparation to step into something BETTER not just something different.
posted by mjcon at 5:37 PM on November 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

don't just quit your job. the cobra subsidy ends as of february (unless the new stimulus thing is going to extend it, which i haven't been able to confirm). savings runs out a lot faster than you think. and when you get to a point where you're so stressed about money you will be really pissed at yourself for leaving a paying job even if you did hate it. (this is america.)

if you're near the place where you went to college, consider making an appointment with the career services department there. they are supposed to work with alumni as well. one of the counselors will be able to help you get your resume in order, or at least looking like 2009. and that will be free.

i wouldn't discount the idea of a headhunter. i have never used one, but several friends have and have very positive things to say. the headhunter's job is to find you leads, do some of that annoying "pre interview" interview stuff, and spin you and your skills to the potential company. they aren't sending you on interviews that they know you aren't right for because that reflects poorly on them.

you've been at this job for 15 years. clearly you've been doing something right in management's eyes. if you can get copies of your performance reviews (discreetly) that's good. if you can sit down and make a list of the projects you've worked on or the initiatives you've been a part of, that's good. resume advice is always saying shit like "increased sales by 14%" but not all of us have jobs that can be put in numbers like that. i certainly don't. my job is pretty intangible. so if you can come up with things you've done that made other people's jobs easier or something, that's the way to go.

finally, it's all just bullshit. it's all about who you know, not what you can do or what your cover letter says or how nice your tps reports look. be creative with your networking. spark up some old contacts. write a letter to your uncle in oregon. remind your old college roommate of that funny time that you got locked out of the dorm. whatever. remind people that you exist.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:31 PM on November 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Mod note: This is a follow up from the asker.
Two things to clarify:

1) I have no intention of quitting my job until I get a new one, though it's possible I could one day snap and walk out.

2) I don't have a college degree. I did a "tech school --> fix hardware --> work up to software" thing and got ahead by being likable and good at what I do.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:51 PM on November 11, 2009

This will likely take some time. So, given the time-sensitive nature of your need to leave your current workplace (for sanity's sake, I mean), this might not be the best answer. That said, it occurs to me that you won't be any less screwed if you jump quickly to another job at another company and find that the Dilbert experience is indeed quite widespread.
I'd recommend looking up companies in your region that have been named to national, regional, or local Best Companies to Work For lists in recent years (and, in particular, those companies who make these lists year after year). There are a number of these lists every year, especially in business publications. Once you sort out which companies are good target employers, see who they're hiring, and what skillsets they seem to be seeking in particular. Then, you know, become the person who does that job.
posted by willpie at 8:19 PM on November 11, 2009

Your first priority should be getting your resume together, there are plenty of online resources and plenty of people around you who will help you edit it. I like the idea of looking up old performance reviews to get some ideas of things to talk up about yourself. Another thing that was helpful for me was going through my Outlook calendar to remind myself of conferences I went to, committees I sat on, etc.

Your second priority is to make sure you have a nice interview suit that fits well.

You want to be immediately ready to jump on the perfect job as soon as it comes along. You have the ultimate luxury of already having a job so you can wait for the perfect thing that suits your interests and experience. Just realize that this perfect job might present itself *tomorrow* and you don't want to be caught unprepared and deciding that it's too much work to go after it. Plus, going through the process will help you articulate to yourself what it is you actually want.

Once you've prepared yourself, then you start networking and keeping your ears pricked up. Make contact with people from your past who are doing things you are interested in. Go to conferences. Talk to other people about things you are interested. Looking for a job mid-career is not the same as applying at an entry level. Don't start off by calling people and telling them you're looking for a job. Just be interested and interesting. I promise, a wonderful opportunity *will* present itself eventually.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:15 PM on November 11, 2009

You might not be a DBA guy or a network guy, but you certainly are doing technical work that can be broken down into tasks which can be connected with keywords that recruiters scan for. What kind of applications are you supporting? What are they written in and what do they do? Do you support them by writing code or scripts? What language do you write these in? What operating systems do the apps run on?

Getting credit for your work in a resume is mostly just a matter of breaking it down into tasks and connecting them to established technologies or methodologies. Most people's jobs are just "a bunch of stuff." But they do that stuff with X tool on Y platform using Z language. And hiring people like to see the X, Y, and Z.
posted by ignignokt at 9:18 PM on November 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

finally, it's all just bullshit. it's all about who you know, not what you can do or what your cover letter says or how nice your tps reports look.


Create a profile on LinkedIn. Put the word out among former colleagues and friends. Look them up on Facebook if you've lost contact.
posted by m1ndsurfer at 11:01 PM on November 11, 2009

Being "jack of all trades, master of none" is a really useful skill if you're good at it.

Maybe hammer specialists are much better at hammering than you, but if you can say "Stop hammering! That's a torx screw, maybe we have a screwdriver for that in the store room, I'll go and look" you're adding more value in that situation than the highly paid hammer specialist.

Are you good at problem solving?

Are you good at co-ordinating various different specialists in solving a problem?

Are you good at explaining arcane IT things to the very intelligent non-IT-experts who call you with IT problems?

Are you good at handling stressful situations where there are three problems that are very urgent, all needing solving at once, and twenty two people phoning you to ask about it?

Are you good at solving a problem in innovative ways using duct tape and baling wire, when everybody else in the office was still rebooting and trying again?

Are you good at mentoring incoming junior staff?

Did you ever replace a hokey old piece of software with a three line script?

- splendid, stick this stuff on your resume, it's gold.
posted by emilyw at 3:42 AM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

The easiest way to get a new job is to work through people that already know you and know what you can do. Make a list of everybody you know and ID the people that work at companies you'd like to work at, or otherwise may know someone that may be able to help you. Then start making making breakfast / lunch / happy hours plans and start asking questions. Mention that you are ready for a change, looking for a new challenge, whatever it is that you want. You won't need to ask them to help you, most of them will proactively offer to help if they think they can. If you are dealing with close friends many of them probably picked up on your misery a long time ago and were wondering when you would get out.

Your network is your #1 asset in a job search. Work it hard.
posted by COD at 6:08 AM on November 12, 2009

It sounds like you might be able to start promoting yourself as An Expert. Can you speak at conferences about cross-platform integration of the blahblahblah? Can you teach an evening class at your local med school about "IT solutions for today's health care challenges" or at your local business school or IT department about "Supporting the IT Needs of Growing and Mid-Sized Companies?" Somebody attends your conference talk; someone takes your class and then gets $1B in capital to fund his iLicorice idea; another professor hears about someone wanting to lure a great new IT manager and she thinks of you--and voila.
posted by salvia at 8:06 PM on November 12, 2009

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