How can I break out of "customer service" sort of jobs?
March 25, 2010 8:06 AM   Subscribe

How can I break out of "customer service" sort of jobs?

At the beginning of 2010 I started working for an Ontario government Board in a small (7 employees and 2 long-time managers) public relations department/call centre. I'm happy to have a full-time, permanent position, but it's repetitive and I don't want to be here forever and my mind is starting to think ahead to career possibilities.

It's not the typical call centre bottleneck (hundreds of employees, a handful of managers, no room for advancement) but I'm definitely worried about being typecast into a "customer service" role. My only other full-time job before this was also in financial customer service (in-bound/out-bound, dedicated clients).

How did others break out of the customer service role?

Specifically, were you able to do this within the Ontario provincial government?

Any other thoughts on career advancement within the Ontario provincial government?
posted by cranberrymonger to Work & Money (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Well, what do you want to do?
I don’t know what I want to do, only that I want it to be at least occasionally awesome and always with decent pay and benefits. I don’t really care if I’m moving boxes or flailing against impossible deadlines in my cubicle as long as there are good people, room for fun and the money is good. I too was stuck in a customer service bottleneck- though it was in a high-tech company. I got “out” and am still in the same company, up a few levels and pay grades.

Start spending your spare time creating some reporting. Learn to use Excel and Access very well. Find ways to offer more, whatever more is for your organization. Take a few MS Office and SQL classes and even though you may have no interest in design or graphics, take a photoshop class. Image manipulation is a good skill to have, however basic your skills are in that area. Figure out what platforms your organization runs on and learn all about them. Find ways to ease the burden. If you have spare time, use it to automate something for your bosses. There are thousands of mousetraps in an organization, and they can all be improved.

Remember: No matter how cool something is, don’t push it too hard. You’ll have to develop a sense of when your pet project is making someone uncomfortable and be okay with moving on. You may never get paid more at the job, but maybe you can swing an enhanced title (service strategist, or something like that) then move on.

Also, remember that customer service/technical support is a job full of stereotypes and perfect examples of the stereotypes. Make sure that you’ve got your level of personal hygiene correct for the job you want. There are numerous askmefi posts about hygiene and dress for work. Sometimes a very skilled person will languish in a support job they’ve grown to hate for a very long time because nobody wants to promote them and then deal with the icky.
posted by terpia at 8:35 AM on March 25, 2010

Response by poster: Well, what do you want to do?

Oops - I can't believe I forgot to discuss this in the OP. I am interested in policy analysis but have no education in this area. (Seems to require an MA in Public Administration or Public Policy but maybe not? Did anyone make the leap without an MA?)
posted by cranberrymonger at 8:41 AM on March 25, 2010

Government: the traditional answer is, find an empire-builder to "mentor" you; in exchange for being his bag-man (and if necessary, taking the fall for him), he'll advance you because he values your loyalty over non-loyals who may be better fitted to the job.
posted by orthogonality at 8:49 AM on March 25, 2010

You're 25? Perfect time to go back to school and do your MPA. I have several friends who LOVED the MPA program at Queen's and all are now happily working in public policy in Toronto or Ottawa. With the glut of highly educated, motivated people wanting to work in policy these days, it's pretty hard to find this kind of work without the MPA.
posted by meerkatty at 8:56 AM on March 25, 2010

Best answer: OPS-er here (I'm in policy, never worked in customer service in OPS, though I answer quite a few calls from the public that relate to policy and legislation). I agree with the above: what do you want to do? Stats? IT? Maybe you could move onto communications, issues management because you are communicating with the public (you need writing skills too, like writing new releases, planning media events, etc.). You could move into program delivery or policy because you have a sense from the public's questions about their experience from receiving program delivery or experiencing the outcome of policy decisions. You could also stay in customer service, but just have a different role than answering phones - e.g. you could do stuff with ServiceOntario.

Look through the OPS staff directory, the ministry intranets and look for areas that you're interested in working in. Contact managers for informational interviews to get a sense of what their office/branch is about and to see if you're interested in those areas. You could also talk to your colleagues to see if they've worked in other places and get a sense of their experiences and see if it's something you'd want to do ("Oh, you worked at Ministry X? How did you like it? What did you do there?" etc.).

Also scour the OPS careers site and look for job ads that interest you, but not necessarily with an "oh yeah, I could do that" lens. You don't have to apply just yet. Just look. I've heard time and time again that the OPS is a great place to work because of all the variety. Lots and lots of different types of jobs are available.

On preview, since you want to go into policy, you can do it without a Master's. I think. That's what you can find out in info interviews. You could work in a policy office but in a job that's more focused on research/data if you're good at that, then move up to a policy advisor job. Or you could start in a program area and move into policy from there.
posted by foxjacket at 9:00 AM on March 25, 2010

My first job out of college was also customer service involving software support. I found that the job also included several responsibilities that helped me build skills outside of customer service. For example I taught customer classes (shows you can teach and build class formats and content). Also, don't be afraid to suggest projects to your boss that will help you get new skills to put on your resume. I wanted to become a marketing writer so I suggested to my boss that I become the technical writer of the group and that enabled me to take on side projects that would be get me to where I wanted to be eventually. Web work is huge, if there's anything you do for your job involving working on websites, or learning to post content then that can open up a ton of doors.

Basically, try and think how you can use your current job to build up skills you want to be using in the future. Also, see if they have a transfer process that would allow you to try something new, I believe government employees do this quite often. Those are the options I chose instead of going back to school. Good luck!
posted by modoriculous at 9:06 AM on March 25, 2010

Why don't you use the online government directory and phone up director-level folks in departments where you want to work, and find out what they are looking for?

Try to set up a 20 minute interview over coffee (if you live in the same town) or a phone interview, and ask questions.

Another avenue would be to take a certificate or diploma course in public administration, and try to choose a short program that offers either co-op or work experience.

I worked in the BC public service until November (when I got laid off). Government employees out here are kind of thankful they're not working in Ontario - the large structural deficits of your province means there will be a day of reckoning for the Ontario public service.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:21 AM on March 25, 2010

Best answer: Build your skills, like Excel and Access, maybe learn to do some training. Show your awesomeness by taking on projects, like organizing and updating the documentation. Look for colleagues who are working on interesting projects and offer to help, building skills, loyalty and contacts. A mentor is an excellent idea. Show you're serious by taking classes towards a degree. Dress just a little more professionally than the job requires. Apply for jobs; it's a good way to show people what your background includes, and it signals that you have some ambition.
posted by theora55 at 9:22 AM on March 25, 2010

I've known people who've gone from customer service to bank teller and then worked their way up through the bank, eventually ending up in more of a management or finance position than a customer service position. They were usually going to college at the time.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:34 AM on March 25, 2010

Best answer: Oh yeah, forgot to add, sign up for courses through CFLL - Centre For Leadership and Learning (if you don't know about this: go to MyOPS, log in and you'll find a link to CFLL in the left hand side bar), i.e. Intro to government, intro to policy, I think they're called now. Those are really good for the content, but great for meeting people. That's great for starting up the "Oh, you work in Ministry X doing policy? What's that like? Can I talk to your manager?" conversation. The downside to the courses is that they fill up superquick so there may not be any available ones right now, but check everyday for new postings. Also: sign up for TOPS (tomorrow's OPS), which is geared to people under 35 - another good networking opportunity. You can also find that through MyOPS. Oh and! (I keep remembering things) PIL! Policy Innovation Leadership. You should be able to access that through MyOPS too - it's an intranet about policy and has lots of policy resources.

Oh yeah - I find it kind of ironic that KokuRyu is talking about a day of reckoning for the OPS - like him/her getting laid off by the BC public service is not indicative of some structural issues over there? I definitely didn't get a doomsday feeling from today's budget speech!
posted by foxjacket at 7:46 PM on March 25, 2010

Just remembered yet another thing. :D Get seconded. You're permanent, so maybe you could work an agreement out with another branch to get a 5.5 month secondment in a policy office to get some exposure and experience in policy.
posted by foxjacket at 7:50 PM on March 25, 2010

Or a longer secondment, even.
posted by foxjacket at 7:51 PM on March 25, 2010

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