I'm not sure what jobs I should be applying for.
November 20, 2009 9:52 PM   Subscribe

What are some decent-paying jobs for someone who has B.A. degrees in English and in Psychology, and a lot of unofficial and very specialized technical knowledge but no "official" (i.e. paid) experience with such?

Three and a half years ago, I graduated from a well-respected school with a bachelor's degree in English and another in Psychology. Of those, I've spent roughly two and a quarter working for a nonprofit in residential direct care - putting my psych degree to work for me, so to speak. There are a lot of problems with this: I'm facing major burnout, I work extremely long shifts, I'm slowly growing to hate the people I'm working with (the residents, not my coworkers), the pay is garbage and there's little or no opportunity for promotion. I'm not liking the field at all, and badly desire a career change.

In the meantime, I've also been doing a lot of hobby work on video games. Script writing and editing, localization programming (assembly languages), that sort of thing. I've gained a lot of really deep knowledge about old dead computers, some rudimentary management skills, and some really wonderful English narrative editing skills. There's also a smattering of MySQL knowledge that goes with the territory, a little bit of procedural C++, some technical writing (documentation and readmes), image editing, that sort of thing. I've been including this on my resume but it's not really "work" experience because I'm not getting any money for it, at least not in the eyes of most HR divisions.

Now I know the job market is impossible, but I have two degrees, a magna cum laude GPA, and am doing brain-breaking, psyche-draining work with an increasingly difficult population. I feel like I should be making more than $24K/year, you know? I need a change of job, but I don't know what sort of jobs I should be applying for.

So, my core question is: What sort of jobs I should be applying for? Administrative assistant? Researcher/analyst? Should I go for IT or web design, and if so, how much of a portfolio will I need to put together? I'm feeling increasingly lost and badly need to be pointed in the right direction!

As a corollary, how should I treat my technical stuff? It's vast and expansive, not to mention that it's the product of more than a decade's worth of blood, sweat, and tears, so I don't want to just make light of it with a few minor adjustments to a "Skills" list in a resume. But on the other hand, I applied at a temp agency not to long ago; they took one look at the stuff I've done as a hobby, pegged me for middle or upper management, and told me that I was overqualified for anything they had.

Here's some extra information in anticipation of responses from reading other questions. My chief loves in life are literature (both reading and writing), games of all kinds, music (both performing and listening), and problem solving. Further, I hate my job, but not only because I'm not making any money at it; the guys have all these little quirks that make everyone else mad, which they often knowingly abuse. So it's not necessarily about the money, but it wouldn't hurt to actually be able to start putting a little away...

Further, physical location is not an issue. I don't have much (if anything) put away but I can probably scrape together some change, and I have friends willing to lend me a bit of scratch to help finance a move.

I know this is a very open-ended question, but I'm frustrated and desperate. Please help!
posted by Lakmir to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Look for an entry level tech writing or QA job in the software industry. It can't hurt to apply for a job in the game industry, but it is impossible to get jobs there.

Further, I hate my job, but not only because I'm not making any money at it; the guys have all these little quirks that make everyone else mad, which they often knowingly abuse.

You might want to work on that, if you are easily irritated, people will pick on you for the rest of your life. Learn to react positively.

But on the other hand, I applied at a temp agency not to long ago; they took one look at the stuff I've done as a hobby, pegged me for middle or upper management, and told me that I was overqualified for anything they had.

That's an incredibly polite way to say fsck off. You've got to be incredible at selling yourself to walk right in to a management position. Even people with shiny MBAs from top schools are having to compromise the sort of jobs they are willing to take.


Figure out what you want to do, and get some professional experience. Noodling around is great fun, but it isn't real until you've done it under the constraints of a job. You will find that some of the stuff you think is badass-cool is completely useless in the professional world. Other things that seem irrelevant turn out to be critical.

The economy is terrible now, but people who have experience and useful skills have a much easier time finding employment. Find out what you want to do, then find out how doing that will create value for your employer. Then go do that.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:08 PM on November 20, 2009


The economy is terrible now, but people who have experience and useful skills have a much easier time finding employment. Find out what you want to do, then find out how doing that will create value for your employer. Then go do that.

That is all that needs to be said. Great advice.

As I feel the need to express myself here...

A little internet sleuthing via your MetaFilter profile page leads me to assume you are located in Massachusetts. There *ought* to be jobs out there for folks like you in a large market like Boston. However, as far as I can tell, gaming tends to be concentrated in places like the Bay Area, Montreal and Vancouver, so you may consider moving to one of these locations to pursue a career in gaming.

It's not all doom and gloom. Although EA recently laid off about 1500 workers, the company also bought or invested in a casual/online gaming company (I can't remember the exact details). As well, using Vancouver as an example, you don't necessarily have to target the large companies for a job, as there are numerous smaller game development shops out there, too. It's all just a matter of research and perseverance.

Can I repeat that? It's all just a matter of research and perseverance.

Anyway, the various websites and blogs you operate indicate you are an imaginative, creative, details-oriented, hardworking person.

But the various projects you have listed also indicate that these interests are really a hobby. You need to be careful what you show to recruiters.

Indeed, I would just avoid recruiters and temp agencies completely. They are only focused on providing value for their end-client, and not for job seekers like you.

If they told you to fuck off, as bitrot suggests above, it's no big deal. Fuck 'em.

But you still need to be careful what you present to the world. The question should always be, what does the customer want? Not what they need, but what they want. And how can I give them what they want?

Your technical skills can be documented in one bullet starting with the words "Expert in XXX technologies." If the customer or potential employer wants someone who can use Maya (and you can use Maya), then list it on your resume.

But you're really going to benefit from a) deciding what you want to do and b) researching and identifying shops where you want to work and c) calling them up. The resume then becomes little more than a formality.

Try to define your personal projects as projects, with definite accomplishments. Try to partition your website (or create a new website) so that you can narrowly define your brand according to what the customer wants.

You come off as a bit of an anime geek. There are a lot of anime geeks out there. It's too easy for a potential employer to dismiss this brand.

Finally, if your job is getting you down, change your job. You're burned out. You're going to get irritated easily. Don't worry about it. But start planning your transition. Give yourself six months to make it happen. Relax. And build your brand based on what the customers want.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:31 PM on November 20, 2009


In the meantime, I've also been doing a lot of hobby work on video games. Script writing and editing, localization programming (assembly languages), that sort of thing. I've gained a lot of really deep knowledge about old dead computers, some rudimentary management skills, and some really wonderful English narrative editing skills. There's also a smattering of MySQL knowledge that goes with the territory, a little bit of procedural C++, some technical writing (documentation and readmes), image editing, that sort of thing. I've been including this on my resume but it's not really "work" experience because I'm not getting any money for it, at least not in the eyes of most HR divisions.

I don't have too much to say but just wanted to say, hey, you're selling yourself short. I followed the link to your website and realized that I recognize the work that you've done.

Don't call it hobby work -- while it may be technically true, it sounds very casual, whereas anyone can see that the work you did on Cave Story or Assault Suits Valken or such was a very professional, very well put-together deal. It's very impressive to manage a single project with multiple people that involves management, assembly programming, translation, redesign, and so on -- let alone sixty!

So rewrite your resume to boost these up. I mean, there are jobs out there that require less of an effort than the translation projects you undergo. Make a separate section and call it something like 'ROM Reprogramming/Translation Work' or just 'Rom Hacking/Translation'. If the person reading your resume knows what it is, then they'll be impressed. If they don't, then they'll be intrigued ("what's rom 'hacking'?"). Either way, you've got a point of interest.
posted by suedehead at 10:46 PM on November 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's very impressive to manage a single project with multiple people that involves management, assembly programming, translation, redesign, and so on -- let alone sixty!

I didn't see your website, but after a quick look I'd encourage you to go after the game industry. If I was interviewing you for a job outside of games, my biggest concern would be whether you would put as much effort into the work I need you to do as you put into your game projects. If you can sustain that level of effort on what you love, you really need to stick to it. People that don't or can't appreciate your game work could very well find it offputting.

Lean to sell yourself. You need to be That Guy who seems obnoxiously self-promoting because that is who you are competing against.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:01 PM on November 20, 2009


You say assembly languages. Is this a pun? Technical stuff. But do you know Excel? One thing I have learned by reading government job AskMe's is that HR does not pick up on subtleties. You may want to ensure your CV makes more explicit promises about your capabilities; for example Excel is so far beneath me it must be the 7th circle, but I wouldn't miss putting it on my resume.
posted by gensubuser at 11:08 PM on November 20, 2009


Yeah, your website has a whole lot of complex, quality projects. Also, you take a formal, professional approach to project management - just the localization processes along that you have established are quite thorough. You've got what it takes (and more) to do what you want to do. It just comes down to being to articulate your many skills and achievements, and your commitment to quality and the ability to execute and accomplish a project (rare skills, which is why you should not be worried about this job market).
posted by KokuRyu at 12:37 AM on November 21, 2009


Take a look at entry level/junior business analysis positions as well. You might find one that's a fit, depending on what the organization is looking for.
posted by wildeepdotorg at 4:49 AM on November 21, 2009


I don't know much about games. I take it on faith that what others have said about your site is true.

What I can tell from your question is this: you are well-educated and write well.

Given that you are trying to transfer from what I think is a psychological ward of some type (?) to video game development, the best way for you to make such a transition is by networking with people who work in the industry you want to work in. You want to avoid, to the extent possible, any interaction with any HR person (at a temp agency or a target company) for as long as possible.

You want to avoid contact with these people because pretty much all HR people, with very few exceptions, are trained to put people into boxes and you don't fit into a box. You need to build relationships with people who work in the industry, and to whom you can demonstrate your knowledge of and interest in their industry.

I imagine there are directories of gaming companies, or industry conferences (Comic-Con?) that have lists of companies and their locations. If you don't know anyone in the industry start calling all the companies located in the Route 128 area.

Finally, if you are near Boston: doesn't MIT have some sort of video game program? I realize it may be an academic program but perhaps they have conferences to which industry people go.
posted by dfriedman at 7:07 AM on November 21, 2009


One other thing, related to your degrees.

I have a BA in English and ended up working in finance. A lot of people will see a degree in English (and, worse, psychology) and assume you are essentially innumerate. Be prepared to prove them wrong. This is not to say that you need to go into an interview ready to parse Fermat's Theorem or prove Poincare's Conjecture, but what it does mean is that you should expect at least some questions about your numerical reasoning ability. Business math is essentially high school math* and if you were able to graduate magna cum laude with two degrees you ought not have much trouble with this. But be aware that questions about this may come up in an interview.

*For most functions in business, that is. There are exceptions, obviously.
posted by dfriedman at 7:10 AM on November 21, 2009


Holy shit, you worked on localizing Cave Story? From your post you really talked yourself down; I had thought you dabbled a bit in hacking video games here or there but after seeing your site it looks like you're really into this stuff. I don't know if your AskMe question-asking style is anything like how you present yourself to employers, but you should definitely be selling yourself more.
posted by pravit at 11:38 AM on November 21, 2009


I would suggest that you continue to focus on doing really cool game stuff in your spare time and leverage that. Some people have gotten awesome game jobs based on their level/mod work.
posted by lrivers at 1:26 PM on November 21, 2009


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