Underemployed and depressed
January 28, 2010 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Waiter with a master's needs help staying proactive.

Eighteen months ago I got my master's in public administration from an Ivy League school and since then the only job I can get involves carrying a tray. If you are in a similar situation, or have been, or just know about these things, do you have any advice on how to keep from letting this feeling of total inadequacy keep me from rising above it? I started writing this because the other choice was searching idealist.org for the 20th time this week.

I'm 35. I live in NYC and don't want to move (to quote Philip Roth, everything I hate is here). I am insanely envious of acquaintances and classmates who have interesting jobs where they get to use their heads and do something with some purpose behind it and I'm bitter that I haven't been able to do the same. I do volunteer, and I actively play music in a band, but I also waste a lot of time because the thought of looking online for a job or emailing the same contacts to ask what's out there is at best pointless and at worst emasculating. All I want to do is work in the public sector for 50 grand a year and do good things for people.

Sorry this is so long. How do I stay proactive in my job search, and in my life? Previous posts have addressed this but there were enough differences from my situation that they didn't quite hit the mark. I have a good life and people who love me but my employment situation has me wasting good years of my life doing nothing. Thanks in advance.
posted by JamesWilson123 to Work & Money (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Well, this might be overly specific, but with regards to Idealist, they have to pay to put up each job posting; however, listing their organization in general is (I think) free. Thus, if you search for organizations and then go to their websites you can unearth a lot more vacancies than the conventional route via the Idealist website.

Sorry if that's blindingly obvious or less holistic than you were looking for. Good luck!
posted by threeants at 11:31 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Are you committed to the public sector? Or would you consider a temporary position in the private sector to a) pay the bills and b) build your resume? There are private sector jobs which may be as intellectually rewarding, if not as personally rewarding, as what you had trained for. And they might help improve your chances of moving into that public sector job you want.

In terms of searching for a job, the two strategies I can think of are a) widen your search to as many places as possible -- government job banks (does the US have an equivalent or the Canadian online job listings? private sector jobs from all over the country, but searchable by region), other job websites -- and b) let everyone you know know that you are looking for a job. Not just people you think might know about openings, but everyone. Be specific about what you are looking for in a job -- not what positions, but what types of work (community based or office based, administrative or analytical). But I really do mean that you should tell everyone -- weak social network ties (friends of friends, people you don't know that well) are excellent sources of information, but often don't know that they should tell you about an opening.

And keep your mind open in terms of what temporary or permanent work you are looking for -- I'm a grad student in history, but I have discovered that I actively like doing call centre work so long as I don't have to sell things to people. I just like talking on the phone. I never would have known this but for a part-time job once to make up some spare cash; now I tend towards these areas when looking for part-time or temp work. It's not what I'm trained for and it's not something I would do permanently, but it's better paid and more rewarding (for me) than serving tables. And through this work, I've realised that I'm more interested in contemporary social research than I had thought before (and that I love surveys).
posted by jb at 11:34 AM on January 28, 2010

I think you need to seriously reconsider what you think is emasculating and pointless. So far as my experience goes, you only ever find a job in your field if you do one to the two following things.

1) Look for a job online.
2) Email contacts asking about what's out there.

Repeat x 50. Or 100. Or maybe 300 for New York. I am not joking, I am not being ass, I am not being a jerk. This is how *everybody* finds a job. It is the only thing to do, and you need to keep doing it because you have no other choice! A job will not just fall in your lap.

Now, you make it extra hard on yourself by insisting on being in New York. But I can relate, I also refuse to take a job in a city I'm not willing to live in, and I am pretty picky about where I want to live. So, widen your scope a bit and be prepared to make sacrifices for geographical pickiness.

Also, give yourself some credit. Volunteering and playing in a band mean that you are active in your life. Try to make sure that your volunteering is somehow relevant to your job search, so when people ask "what have you done since graduating" you say "economy was down, it was difficult for entry levels, but i tried to stay relevant and involved with this volunteer work - plus i just love what i do so much."
posted by molecicco at 11:35 AM on January 28, 2010

I have been in exactly your situation (except not in NYC). I completed my M.S. in Molecular Biology at the age of 24 and spent the next 2 years selling cars, waiting tables, and answering phones at an 18-wheeler supply house. And this was before the economy took a crap. At times I found the whole situation depressing beyond words, so I know how you feel.

What got me through the days was trying to focus on the advantages I had over other folks with their 8-5 jobs. Namely, major flexibility and a job that usually involves lots and lots of social interactions, both at work and outside of the office. Also, working as a server is pretty much the perfect job for someone who is job-hunting - you can often be off during the day to work on resumes, job-hunting, or going on interviews, and you meet a ton of people, many of whom may have contacts in whatever field you are interested in. I actually enjoyed waiting tables because I love talking and interacting with people, and getting to sleep late is a blessing on some days - so I tried to focus on that. I made sure that my days off were productive and spent utilizing every resource at my disposal to look for a job in my field. It took me 2 years, but I got there.

As a side note, my first job post-restaurant paid far less than I made as a waitress. That was a big letdown at the time, but just realize it's a starting point, and your salary will go nowhere but up. Good luck with your job search!
posted by tryniti at 11:37 AM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I can't help you find a job in particular, but to address staying proactive, here are two things I've done when I've had to work food service jobs I'm "overqualified" for:

- Quit considering it a shameful kind of job just because you could be doing something more. You yourself are the perfect example that intelligent, talented, qualified people end up working food service sometimes. There should be no value judgment associated with doing what you have to do to pay the bills. You're going to keep feeling bad if you have the subconscious mindset that food service is only for stupid people, or unmotivated people, or what-have-you -- not to mention it's unfair, judgmental, and untrue for most of your coworkers, even though I'm sure you wouldn't express such a thing to them. There are intelligent people working all kinds of jobs, no matter how menial.

The flipside is true, too: when you do get a more meaningful job, it doesn't necessarily say anything great about you either; plenty of untalented, lazy, stupid people end up with jobs that sound really important. The job doesn't make who you are, you make who you are. Once you have the job I'm sure you'll be great at it, but don't forget that you're still great right now.

- You can do good things for people even if you're just a waiter, simply by being genuinely nice to them. Once I had a table of guys, and one of them seemed to be having a sad sort of day. His friends were playfully teasing him and it cheered him up a bit. They were actually pretty funny and encouraged me to call him some nickname or other so I did, and I whenever I came to the table I was as nice as I ever am when I'm working that sort of job: smiled a lot, etc, talked however much they wanted but stayed out of the way. The guy whose friends were trying to cheer him up actually left a comment card saying that he had some bad things happen that day, but that I had actually cheered him up by being so nice. He didn't leave his phone number or anything else like he was trying to pick me up, he just seemed grateful.

That was one of the coolest things I've ever had happen at a job, and I've had tons of political jobs where I was working directly with people to "make a difference" and all that meaningful stuff. There's nothing like knowing you made someone's day better than it would have been otherwise, and sometimes little things that waiters can do mean more to someone than bigger things. Whenever I have a food service job, I make it my goal to make people happier than they were when they came in, even -- and especially, really -- if they seem crabby at first. You don't have to be over-the-top fake nice, you just have to genuinely care about them.

- Make sure you're doing something in your free time that's fulfilling in some way, so you don't feel you're wasting your days. I actually prefer low-responsibility jobs like food service now, because when I get home I have plenty of time and energy to write, sing, read, exercise, make things, and learn things. It's nice when your career is a big source of fulfillment, but don't forget you can and should get fulfillment from other sources regardless. No matter what job I have, I don't feel I'm wasting my time when I know I read a couple books a week, watch a few documentaries, write a ton, and do special things for people I care about. Remember all the fulfilling and intellectually-stimulating things you *do* get done -- or start doing them, if you don't -- and recognize that you're doing the best you can, so don't spend time regretting things.

Once you feel better about those things, trying to find a job should be considerably less stressful. You're still going to be doing a lot of the same things -- going to work, trying to find jobs online, etc -- but whenever you take food to a table or look at job searches there should be less of that crushing despair about the future and more optimism.
posted by Nattie at 12:57 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

Why is "wasting your time" less emasculating than emailing contacts and putting yourself out there? I was in your situation six years ago. Getting to know some of my colleagues really helped, because the more I learned, the more I realized how most servers were once like myself: young-ish people with other aspirations. The idea of being "one of them" in 10 years was frightening. I got involved volunteering and interning with places I was passionate about (since most jobs are filled through networking, and the majority aren't posted in classifieds).
posted by blazingunicorn at 1:05 PM on January 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Touch base with your contacts once a quarter, to let them know how you're doing (be positive), and also because if people take time out to provide you some info, they really appreciate being kept in the loop about how you are doing. I'm well-known in town for knowing where jobs are, and I get a lot of resumes across my desk and info interview requests. I'm always happy to do it, but I'm always disappointed by how few people keep in touch, doubly so if they do get a job and don't tell me.

However, as I said, touch base once a quarter. In the meantime, work to create entirely new contacts. Cold call. Ask people if there are one or two other people you should talk to.

Being proactive in this job market means behaving like a sales person uncovering new leads and filling your sales funnel.

If you set a target of talking to 10 new people a week (it's a reasonable target) you may get some headway.

Good luck!
posted by KokuRyu at 1:09 PM on January 28, 2010

Are you only checking idealist.org? There are many many more places to look, and you can often set up RSS feeds for your searches on better-organized job aggregators like simplyhired.com. And look on individual organization's web sites as well.

Have you looked at the Chronicle of Philanthropy, opportunityknocks.org, Council on Foundations, indeed.com, careers.nonprofitoyster.com, justmeans.com

jobs.change.org is particularly helpful, as they also have a lot of relevant articles and a link to a detailed list of 97 job boards, if you're so inclined. Are you on LinkedIn?

But really, yeah, it often comes down to who you know. Start talking to people, and make new contacts!
posted by runningwithscissors at 1:50 PM on January 28, 2010 [3 favorites]

With the master's degree, there may part time work you can do in assessment--check the ACT, ETS, and Pearson sites for information about scoring essays from home and/or developing test items. This can be a good way to widen your contact base, too.

You might also consider doing some adjunct teaching at the colleges in your area.

Neither of these will likely satisfy in the long term, but they might better fulfill your interests, intellect, and needfor time to do job searches.
posted by O Blitiri at 2:30 PM on January 28, 2010

You should be looking at GS-7 and (if your Master's degree was 2 years) GS-9 Jobs on USAJOBS.GOV. (Or higher if you have relevant experience and are not just relying on education.) You should do a locality and grade based search and then apply for everything you're qualified for. (Use the "advanced search" function.)

You won't make $50K as a GS-7 in NYC, but you would as a GS-9. There are several new jobs listed each week usually. Here's the current list using those criteria.

I'd be happy to try and answer questions about the federal process via memail.
posted by Jahaza at 3:22 PM on January 28, 2010

I'd go higher than 9. Where I'm at, a B.S. puts you in GS-12 reach.
posted by ctmf at 5:10 PM on January 28, 2010

How is your restaurant job? Is it part of why you feel miserable and emasculated? If so, maybe you should consider looking for a different gig.

Does your job provide you with:
-a relaxed work environment?
-interesting coworkers?
-tasty free or greatly discounted food?
-free booze on the job?
-free drinks or other favors for your friends?
-enough money to live adequately with a bit left over for fun?
-a work week of 35 hours or less?

If you haven't checked off most of the items on this list, consider getting a new job. Waiting tables is not a picnic in the park, but it at least shouldn't contribute to your misery.

Second, the positive thing about being a waiter is that it is, truly, a brilliant way to network. For anything. Have you talked to your fellow waiters about you job search? Do you know the bussers? Do you know the kitchen staff? The hosts or hostesses? Do they all know what you're looking for? When you go out to eat, do you tell your server you're also a waiter and where you work? (Especially effective if your restaurant will let you comp people in the industry drinks or desserts).

The thing about restaurant staff is that they're generally interesting and outgoing, which means they tend to have lots of interesting friends, and interesting friends of friends, and these are the people who can hook you up with the inside job opportunities. And by and large, they're more than willing to help out a fellow waiter because they know how tough it is to be in your spot.
posted by psycheslamp at 8:22 AM on January 29, 2010

« Older New job ideas?   |   Mac file to PC file conversion help? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.