What to do with a worthless degree?
December 7, 2009 7:23 PM   Subscribe

What to do and where to go with an admittedly useless degree?

After 6 ridiculously long years of going to college, i graduated (2 years ago) with a degree from Portland State in Communication studies. I have tried numerous times at getting employment at the lowest levels of PR and marketing firms both big and small here in Portland. About a year ago, I was told straight up by an interviewer, that my degree, without an incredibly solid internship, was fairly meaningless in their line of work.

At least i know this now, right? I'm fully admit that getting a communications degree was a huge mistake. My personal interests lay closer to design (mostly of the graphic and industrial persuasions) and mechanics. But i'm not nearly versed well enough in those to start a career off them.

I currently work a fairly standard, boring office job, albeit for a "cool" company in Portland. They do not pay well, but we get medical. This job would have been awesome 6 years ago, but with my student loans and other bills, it'd be great to get paid in cash, not paid in "cool" points. This is also a horrendous company to network from and with.

I have no. clue. at. all. on where to go from here...I'm petrified of going back to school to attempt another degree because i can't afford it without more loans, and what if the same thing happens? What if i'm stuck with another degree that is worthless?

Mrs. Anon has suggested finding a job on the state or federal level, but i have no clue how to go about this, or even if it would be a good idea or not. I have no idea what on earth i could do in that context.

I know job hunting in Portland is insane, but we have to stay in Portland for at least 3 years, and will probably be moving to the Northeast after that.

Have at it Mefi. What on earth should i do? What's a guy waist high in school debt supposed to do with a fairly useless degree?

Posted anon, because several people in the company i work with read MeFi. Hit met up at seemingly.common.problem@gmail.com if need be.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (28 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
posted by sinfony at 7:24 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

No clue? But they told you exactly what you have to do from here. It's not going back to school for another degree.

You need to get an internship.

It doesn't sound like you can afford to quit your job to do it. But there are internships you can do in the evenings and weekends

Can Mrs. Anon take on more hours so you can work part time while you do this?

It doesn't need to be the most super fabulous internship ever, just substantive and relevant. You just need to get your foot in the door.
posted by Ashley801 at 7:28 PM on December 7, 2009

As a Communication grad student, I'd like to suggest (if you have them) emphasizing your quantitative skills - stats and methods will serve you well in a market research firm.

Did you focus on a particular type of Comm?
posted by k8t at 7:28 PM on December 7, 2009

Real estate agent?

The realty market these days is not as strong as it was before the bubble burst. But people still need to buy and sell property, buildings and houses. You can also potentially earn a nice paycheck.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 7:29 PM on December 7, 2009

I have tried numerous times at getting employment at the lowest levels of PR and marketing firms both big and small here in Portland. About a year ago, I was told straight up by an interviewer, that my degree, without an incredibly solid internship, was fairly meaningless in their line of work.

You need to try harder, and you need to mitigate the impact one person said to you at one point in time. Think about your challenges, and then think about all the work it takes to climb Mount Everest. Watch "Touching the Void" and imagine the effort, ingenuity and determination it took to crawl for three days over a jagged, rocky moraine to safety.

If you can harness even 1% of that effort to achieve your goals, you will be successful. The only difference between people living their dreams and those who are not is bloody-minded determination.

So try harder.

As well, figure out your value-proposition: what do you do, and how do you help? And who can afford your services?

Generally, PR and communications covers a variety of disciplines, from event management to creating communications collateral such as news releases and fact sheets, to media relations. Wrapping up all of this is project management and business development.

Also, work smarter.

Somebody in your town has got to have a need for the sorts of services listed above. Perhaps you can volunteer or get paid for short contracts.

Clients could include supermarket chains, non-profits, business associations, professional associations, government. Phone up every PR agency in town to see if they will throw you something. Contracting is an easy sell.

What are you doing right now? Surely you can keep your day job and focus on getting one or two small contracts or even volunteering gigs.

Invent your own event. I have a friend who created a community event from scratch in Ottawa (a similar-size town) that morphed into a job.

Portland is a big town. Phone up people working in the field. Ask for advice, because when you ask for money, people give you advice (eg, you should have interned, now you're no good) and when you ask for advice people give you money.

But don't listen to the bastards, and try harder.

And never ever call your degree useless. Negative thinking will not help you, and you need to start helping yourself.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:41 PM on December 7, 2009 [14 favorites]

There is no such thing as a useless degree - I know this because I don't have one. Go do the internship if that's what it takes. Marketing jobs are the first to go in a tough economy, so take the time now to get the relevant experience now so you'll be ready when things turn around.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 7:42 PM on December 7, 2009

Do you have any business classes? The federal government is starving for Contract Specialists. The job series is 1102. I have completely irrelevant degrees and was hired. We're the ones who are supposed to keep contractors honest. They've fallen a couple decades behind on hiring and have run in to some problems on that front.

Don't be frightened off by the "internships" either. They are 2 year training programs where you are full-time with full benefits with what amount to $9-10k raises after each year. It's not glamorous PR stuff but you do get to travel to interesting places (depending on your agency) and once you're finished and certified you can go just about anywhere.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 7:46 PM on December 7, 2009 [8 favorites]

As noted above, there is no such thing as a useless degree. Your degree is transferable. You've got two years of office (admin?) experience. If you're having a hard time getting a job in the field you want, it's probably because you're not spinning your experience the right way -- and because of the current economy. You need to build up some "eye candy" experience for employers. You can do that in your current job by volunteering for projects, doing side projects or making friends with co-workers who have access to cooler projects. You can also do volunteer work for a non-profit on evenings and weekends. And you can try freelancing. (I started working as a freelancer and consultant in my first year out of college.) You may also benefit from joining professional associations (IABC) and perhaps finding a mentor. And do information interviews and network like crazy.

My undergrad was in English and communication studies. Today I run my own marketing consulting business, which means I keep myself and other people fed with the work I do. And I'm just a kid who came from the working class area of a small town...who ran off to the city, got a "useless" degree and figured she could make a go of it in marketing. You *can* build from your degree. You need to target a job that you'd like to get and then work to build up experience that meets the criteria.
posted by acoutu at 7:49 PM on December 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Freelancing is another good idea. A lot of companies that laid off their marketers still need marketing. They are now hiring contractors, because they save a ton of money in benefits.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:00 PM on December 7, 2009

I'm a little offended you think my degree is worthless. For one thing, it doesn't fucking matter what your major was. Unless you're going to be a doctor or something specialized. You need to get some experience under your belt. Yes, you can't get experience without the job so it is a vicious circle.

You really need to play up whatever menial office job you have at the cool company. Every thing you do at the job needs to be thought of in terms of your resume and interview answers. Do you file all day? What part of that can be really called project management. Are you handling several of tasks at the same time and don't need supervision? Does that gig have a marketing department? What do they do? Can you leverage your position to get experience as a marketer? You need to meet people and gain contacts. Alums from your school. People with a degree like yours. You need to do research on the places you want to work. Get some contacts.

The thing about Marketing/PR/Advertising/etc is you are really selling yourself. If you can't sell yourself then how are you going to sell the company's products?

The other sad truth is the entry-level jobs don't pay well and involve a lot of menial tasks and bullshit hours.

If you want to get a job for the government, you need to get your game on for that. You'll run into the same problem. Lack of relevant experience and not being able to sell yourself.

Your degree is only as worthless as you think it is.
posted by birdherder at 8:11 PM on December 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

Your degree isn't useless. Well, at least no more useless than most undergrad degrees. So stop all that negative thinking.

The first thing you need to realize is that you are in extremely good company. Last time I checked, something like 56% of 20-25 year olds were unemployed. You are a recent college grad with no work experience entering the workforce in the worst economy of your lifetime in one of the most difficult cities to find a job. So first things first: stop being so damn hard on yourself.

Second - going back to school is not the answer. An internship - or some volunteer work - is a great idea. And let me tell you - internship opportunities right now in Portland ABOUND, at least in the Non Profit sector - and you can get a ton of great experience interning or volunteering in a marketing capacity at one of the zillion NPO's in town. In my own NPO office, we are constantly looking for good interns in all departments, and marketing is no exception. I won't lie to you - we like good interns for the same reason everyone else does: free labor. However, we also know that our interns aren't there just for the fun of it, and we do everything we can to help our interns further their professional careers - everything from recommendations to reviewing resumes and cover letters to using personal connections to help interns find jobs. So go to volunteer recruitment fairs and the like. Find an org you can get behind and see if they need help. I know, it isn't money, and that just fucking sucks. But alas, this is the world, town and situation in which we find ourselves.

You face the plight we, as twenty somethings in this economy and society, all face: an undergrad degree no longer equals a job and no one is hiring at the entry level because the economy sucks. We all have the insanest of student loans we took out because we were told our educations would be worth it and now that we've graduated and need to start repaying them the same people who told us they were worth it want us to work for them for free as interns (or worse, pay for your internship...we have a pseudo-joke in my office that, because we don't make our interns pay for it, we offer free internships) I'm not trying to scapegoat, I'm just trying to give you some perspective.

Good luck.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:18 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

FBI? Also, teaching positions.
posted by Ugh at 8:20 PM on December 7, 2009

You face the plight we, as twenty somethings in this economy and society, all face: an undergrad degree no longer equals a job and no one is hiring at the entry level because the economy sucks.

Meh, this is just more excuses you can console yourself with when you give up trying to get a job. I graduated from university 15 years ago when Canada was experiencing a so-called "jobless recovery." I had to line up and compete for jobs at McDonalds and as line cooks.

People in my cohort have good jobs now and families and houses and all that sort of stuff.

Remember also that unemployment tends to be concentrated in sectors like construction and manufacturing, and also in specific geographic regions.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:45 PM on December 7, 2009

I have a Communications degree.

When I was in college, my 'internship' was volunteering at the local PBS station. Not exactly glamorous, but it's television, and I did learn a lot about the field.
posted by spinifex23 at 8:49 PM on December 7, 2009

You didn't get a worthless degree, you got a college education. My tips:

1. Stop thinking so negatively.

2. Don't go to grad school- grad school is not for people who don't really know what they want to do, it's for people who have a particular area of interest and know what advanced degree is required for them to move forward in that area.

3. I'd avoid looking at federal jobs- if you don't have non-comptetitive status (i.e. previous government work, former military or peace corps expericence) it's like sending your application into a black hole. State would be a better option.

3. Network, network, network!!! Honestly, as mentioned above, unless you are a nurse, architect, or engineer, no one really gives a shit about your college major. In my experience, getting a better job isn't about your qualifications, it's about making connections. And networking isn't about being a spoiled rich kid who gets hired by their parents' friends. It is up to you to start making connections. First off, get a clear sense of what sort of job you want. Are there any relevant professional organizations you can join? Do so. Alumni association? Join it and go to a few cheesy events. Volunteer or take an internship, even if it's unpaid- you can still work full time and geta few hours in somewhere. Where would you like to work? Find a way to get in contact with someone who works there and set up an informational interview- it sounds weird, but it's simple to email someone and introduce yourself and tell them that you're thinking about making a career change and are interested in the type of work that they do, and ask them if they'd be willing to chat with you about it. Everyone likes it when people express admiration and come for advice- most people will say yes and at least schedule a phone call. These are people that can point you in the right direction- "Oh, company X does that sort of work!" or "There's a monthly social for local PR workers, you should look into that." or something. You never know, someone you talk to may end up creating a position or internship for you, or put you in touch with someone that they know is hiring.
posted by emd3737 at 9:30 PM on December 7, 2009

What are you doing in your current job that could translate into your new career? That's what you need to put on your resume. If you need to volunteer for extra assignments at work or ask to be on some committee, then do it. Everyone who's every changed careers (and that's what you are doing) has had to make their current experience relevant. Your resume isn't an inventory of your day. It's the place where you put the highlights that get you to your next job.

Your degree isn't useless, but it won't get you a job, even entry level. You need to network. Join professional associations, volunteer. Do something to build your network every day. Every single day - don't break the chain and all that stuff. You need to build momentum toward the goal and a network to help.
posted by 26.2 at 9:58 PM on December 7, 2009

You face the plight we, as twenty somethings in this economy and society, all face: an undergrad degree no longer equals a job and no one is hiring at the entry level because the economy sucks.

Meh, this is just more excuses you can console yourself with when you give up trying to get a job. I graduated from university 15 years ago when Canada was experiencing a so-called "jobless recovery." I had to line up and compete for jobs at McDonalds and as line cooks.

I think you missed the part where I said I wasn't scapegoating, just giving a little perspective.

And when you were fighting for a job at McDonalds, I doubt recent college graduates were paying to have a job. Lest we forget Ms. HuffPost intern who landed the gig to the tune of 14K. Yes, we pay to work.

Remember also that unemployment tends to be concentrated in sectors like construction and manufacturing, and also in specific geographic regions.

I also think you missed the part of the OP's post where they said they were in Portland and would remain so for three years. Portland has a notoriously high unemployment rate, especially for young, college-educated, pseudo-middle class youngsters.

Your advice, KokoRyu, is good: hard work and gusto are essential elements here - but it isn't fair nor wise to dismiss the gravity of the relevant external factors. The utopian notion that 'if you work hard enough you can do anything' is, unfortunately, an illusion.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:23 PM on December 7, 2009

You're still living in the same town as the university where you got your degree? And you got your degree only two years ago? I would strongly suggest that a trip to your Alumni Services/Career Services people at your uni is in order.

They're not as nice as some places ("Alumni of Portland State University who hold a degree or certificate (courses must be taken for credit and appear on a PSU transcript) are eligible for Career Center services. Fees may apply.") but I think that if you are this confused about where to go next, sitting down and talking to career services people from your school, who have a good idea of your background, at a free or reduced rate has the potential to be really helpful to you. They probably know quite a bit about local internships, they may know about the process needed to get hired in a variety of fields, and they will listen to you.

Another suggestion, (courtesy of my mother from when I was wending my way through undergrad with a history degree, to her absolute horror) is the book "Great Jobs for Communications Majors." You may very well know what job you want, but I would suggest reading this book (maybe borrow it from the library before you decide to buy it) to broaden your horizons and think more strategically about potential careers.
posted by librarylis at 11:01 PM on December 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

If you have a bachelors in ANYTHING that's communications/english related you can go teach English in South Korea or Japan... The pay is not the best and there are some schools with bad reputations, or places that will not honour their end of the agreement, but if you do your homework first and find a good place, you should be OK.
posted by thewalrus at 12:22 AM on December 8, 2009

Listen, a degree is really just a symbol, a status symbol. It's a valuable thing, but it's like a boy scout badge that is supposed to show that you're an educated person that can be productive. It doesn't entitle you to a job -- perhaps once upon a time it more or less did, but the times have changed.

What you really need is drive. You need to pick up on what your heart is telling you and try hard to become the best at it. Generally, if you are the best at something, people notice, and the whole world becomes your oyster.

If, for example, graphic and industrial design is what you really want to do, then jump right in. One fascinating thing I think you will find that happens when you listen to your heart is... is that things that seem impossible to the rational mind have a way of unfolding successfully in almost magical ways. I think this is because when you really love something, you start opening up and imagining and noticing opportunities you never thought of before.

Also, when you can, pack up your stuff and come down here to the Southeast. We may not be as rich as the pacific northwest (yet), but at least the weather is pleasant :)
posted by Theloupgarou at 12:59 AM on December 8, 2009

I got a degree in Multimedia, and all I knew as I left my final exam all I knew was that my degree was completely useless, and that it wouldn't get me into anything that I wanted to do.

Unlike you, I managed to go back and did a one-year diploma in literature, and I now have my dream job in publishing.

It was my degree that got me the job.

You might not realise the doors your degree will open. Having work experience will count for a lot, so having experience at 'cool' but poorly paying job COUNTS. Try getting an internship, work part time in cafes or something to pay the rent if you need to. You're starting from an employed position, you have a foot in the door for employment now. That matters.

There are all sorts of skills that you are picking up there, and all sorts of things that will help you land the next job. It's about marketing yourself, and being aware of what kinds of jobs you want to get into, and what you need to do to get into those fields.

I say this as someone who was laid off at the start of the year right when the recession was at its worst here. It all comes down to marketing and selling your strengths and skills.
posted by jonathanstrange at 3:48 AM on December 8, 2009


All counties and governments are different but here in suffolk county on long island most positions only require a 2 or 4 year degree. Very rarely do they need a type of degree. So try your local county or state for jobs.
posted by majortom1981 at 4:22 AM on December 8, 2009

People think that an undergrad degree is supposed to be vocational training. It isn't. Graduate degrees are vocational training.

A BA or BS is to make you educated. Which we lack here in the US.

I have a totally worthless degree too, which is embarassing to me when people ask about it. I try not to tell people. But I have had several cool jobs because of it. Not one of them was related to the degree, but to the fact that I had one.

Finding a job that you like is one of the hardest things ever to do.
posted by chocolatetiara at 6:38 AM on December 8, 2009

I don't even have a degree, and I'm doing just fine. I majored in illustration (until I dropped out, of course), but on my own at home I taught myself how to code HTML for fun and dabbled around in Quark & Indesign & Photoshop. I now (at the age of 30) have a secure, well-paying job (with benefits!) as a print production artist for a publication, with no qualifying degree or much prior experience (I was a childrens' librarian before).

Point is, if you plug away and keep pushing you will find an in. Do freelance, even if it is for friends. You can put that on your resume. And as for not knowing enough - everything you need to know is out there on the internet, just waiting for you. Employers, in the end, care about someone with the skills and personal drive. Your "worthless" degree is not holding you back. You are. The economy sucks right now, but if you go into battle assuming you're unqualified, employers will pick up on that attitude.
posted by Windigo at 8:21 AM on December 8, 2009

Yeah, stop tying your sense of self-worth and what is possible to a piece of paper would be a good start. The fact is, you have a degree, for tons of jobs out there simply having any Bachelors degree is enough. You should get out of the traditional mind set of trying to find some linear career path based on some college course you took and take your future into your own hands. If you're interested in design, start designing things at night. Build a portfolio. Save your money, live frugally so you can launch a small business and slowly build up clients on a freelance basis. Or pursue something else part time including unpaid internships at the weekend or at night to get some real life experience. Stop watching TV. The worst possible thing you could do is pursue another degree program right now. You have to make use of every second of free time and establish yourself in something, preferably that something you have an interest in.

Seriously man, your college degree has very little to do with what you make of yourself in life. Bill Gates is a college drop out. What's done is done, stop feeling sorry for yourself and start today fresh.
posted by the foreground at 9:24 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Go to a community college and do a vocational course in something. I hear there's a lot of money being funneled into community colleges, where credits are cheap and scholarships are available. Go do a carpentry or plumbing or nurse's aid course or whatever you like that's practical.
posted by anniecat at 10:54 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I know how you feel, btw. I have a bachelor's in economics and a master's in international development, and though I have a job (a poorly paid one), it's honestly not a job that requires a college degree, much less an expensive degree from a prestigious European university. I've pretty much forgotten everything I've learned, yet I'm still paying my stupid loans. I don't think you have a self-esteem problem.

It's pretty easy to get a bachelor's degree. There are plenty of idiots with one. There are plenty of idiots with high paying jobs and plenty of geniuses who make a fraction of what idiots make because they do important research in a lab all day.

What's not easy to get is a skill. Everyone can argue that they're analytical and have critical thinking skills, but they don't have the skills and experience that are in-demand.
posted by anniecat at 11:00 AM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I sit on hiring committees for people with all kinds of degrees, from BA to PhD. The ONLY thing the degree tells me is that the person has a strong interest in the subject -- not that they are capable of working in the field. That's what portfolios, work histories, and references are for.

Your degree isn't worthless, but it's just one relatively small piece of the puzzle.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:36 PM on December 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

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