Career/life advice for a real world neophyte, please.
October 24, 2010 11:20 AM   Subscribe

I'm a recent college grad who has been playing the "unemployment blues" for the past 5 months and have had no real success finding full-time work. However, I've recently had two excellent interviews for an entry-level administrative assistant position at a small non-profit organization in New York (where I currently live with my parents). I'm not sure if this is the kind of work I would be able to do for more than a year (well aware that most people don't necessarily enjoy their jobs and generally have to haul ass in the early stages), and the pay is mediocre, but I am entering student loan repayment soon ($80k+ worth of debt) and need a steady paying job ASAP. Please offer me some perspective from your experiences in this situation, and help me determine if I am making the right decision.

First of all, I like what the organization is about (enriching people’s lives through music; I am all about music), which is why I was drawn to the position in the first place. However, I have been told straight up that I would be doing almost entirely support work, and that I should not delude myself into thinking that I would be directly involved in the mission of the organization. Room for advancement appears to be non-existent, unless someone in the organization leaves and they need to bump me up. The salary is only okay for paying off my bills, but I envision that it would be difficult trying to save for my future and have some semblance of a social life (which is currently practically non-existent as well, because I am broke as hell, I broke up with my girlfriend almost a year ago, and because everyone else I know is busy and broke as well).

I still linger onto the hope that someday I would be able to do what I love for a living (which is music), and perhaps foolishly believe that I can continue to do it on the side at night with as much passion and dedication as I had for it during my four years of college, when I practiced, wrote and performed as often as I could. Alas, music is not something people pay much money for or pay for at all, so that’s why I have reluctantly decided that the best solution for me is to take a job and secure myself financially before I delve back into the realm of music, possibly by heading to music school.

I am past the disappointment and resentment stages of being unemployed and feeling useless and unproductive. I feel very driven to work towards my future and I have laid out a ton of goals for myself, both simple and lofty, but it’s been a challenge and I feel like I’m slowly and voluntarily surrendering myself into becoming one of the cogs of the real world.

Thus, I am leaning towards taking the job and pursuing other options on the side, but am concerned about forcing myself into a position just so I can make money to survive. If I find a better position (which obviously entails more meaningful work, higher pay, etc.) while working at this job, I would most likely entertain an interview and accept the job if offered. At the same time, though, I do not want to be flaky and leave after just a few months of work… then again, how much of that would be a regrettable consequence?

Here are a few of the pros and cons I have thought of off the top of my head:

+ I would have a lot of responsibilities and constantly be involved in some kind of work
+ I would develop a lot of marketable skills, which would make me more versatile as I look for other work
+ Presumably less office politics to deal with

- Potentially very repetitive tasks, menial work
- Lots of cold calling (bleh, I'm good on the phone but I'm not a big fan of this; ideally I would like to eschew this part of my work but understand that I can’t)
- Very small office... I felt a bit claustrophobic when I visited
- Unsure about how I would expand my network, then again, my supervisors would probably be able to put me in touch with members of other organizations if I do exceptionally well in my work
- I would not be directly involved in working towards my career goals

I am probably making a big deal out of a little thing. I mean, this is only an entry-level position, I only just got out of college, I shouldn’t be expecting so much, so why should I stress so much over this? Sure, maybe it’s because I’m part of the generation that likes to see results and have things happen right away. But I’m trying to think. Why is it that I’m not currently doing what I love for a living? Is it because of internal factors, the external circumstances around me, or a combination of both? How can I reconcile these issues so that I am in control of my life?


1. I graduated with a B.S. in business administration (marketing emphasis) but over the past several years, have only had internships at non-profit organizations. How would you compare and assess the quality of your work and social life working in a non-profit org. vs. working in a for-profit org (e.g. a bank or marketing firm)?
2. How would I transition into the for-profit sector (say, marketing work at Nielsen) if the only experience I have on my resumé consists entirely of non-profit work, despite my business education?
3. Are there positions in the U.S. that would allow me to put or fuse the following skills and passions of mine into productive use? I apologize in advance if I’m asking for a “trophy wife” of a profession but I figured I would ask.

- Performing, Teaching, Composing, Arranging, Transcribing Music
- Writing
- Research

Please forgive me for sounding naïve and the rambling nature of this post. I am very inexperienced in the nuances of the “real world” and that is why I have come to you for help. Again, I am leaning towards taking the job, but I wanted to gather some advice and perspective from the hive mind. I would very much appreciate your responses to my questions and your ideas on an actionable, prioritized plan to take for the next six months, next year, and even a little beyond if you would be so inclined.

Thank you all in advance!
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
tl, dr. If you need the $, take the job and leave when you find the better job. It's not's survival and it happens all of the time
posted by murrey at 11:25 AM on October 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

I think the only way to figure out your career path is to start working. Take the job, learn as much as you can, make as many useful contacts as you can, and leave when you find a better job.
posted by craichead at 11:29 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

In two of the three nonprofits I've worked for, the Executive Director began in an entry level position. Granted, these were small organizations, but if your experience is in marketing, I think you'll have ample opportunity to prove yourself and move up in due time.

Take the job.
posted by anastasiav at 11:33 AM on October 24, 2010

Taking a job when you're 21 years old does not need to be the death knell of your plans and dreams. You need to be realistic, you need a paycheck, and you need to get something on your resume. Once you have a paycheck coming in, I think you'll find that paying down your loans and having a bit of disposable income will give you the space you need to think about your future.

And 80k+ in loans is an extremely high figure, you can't just push it down the road. While you're living rent free with your parents, you should use part of your paycheck to pay off as much of the principal as you can.
posted by Think_Long at 11:35 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

After I graduated with a BA several years ago, I took a short-term teaching job, then a menial and frustrating job at a school for disabled children, then a frustrating temporary job at a company that created educational supplements, then a temporary job at a company that created foreign-language learning materials. Then I found the job where I am today, working at a research center at a large university.

This is my favorite job so far, in terms of what I do, what I get paid, and how I am treated. I would not have thought that my string of temporary, menial jobs would have led to this one.

In other words, take the job you're offered, but keep asking the questions you're asking.
posted by Nomyte at 11:36 AM on October 24, 2010

Dude, most of the recent graduates I know would kill to have an opportunity like this. If you're getting hired by someone other than McDonalds or your local drug dealer in this economic climate you should count yourself lucky and take the damn job.
posted by Coobeastie at 11:39 AM on October 24, 2010 [9 favorites]

For what it's worth, my unbelievably crap first job out of college led directly to my much-less-awful second job. My much-less-awful second job made it vastly easier for me to get into grad school with a good fellowship. I think that most people's career paths involve a lot of purposeful serendipity. Take what is available, but keep your eyes peeled for opportunities and useful connections.
posted by craichead at 11:39 AM on October 24, 2010


And by the way, I started in a similar job (admin in a tiny office at a non-profit in my field, no immediate prospects for advancement) and within three years, I had been promoted there and offered two better jobs at other like-minded organizations. The secret: be very competent and very efficient, and then when you're done with your work, go around to everyone else in the office and ask if you can do some of their work. Do that well, and they'll figure out that you're worth more to them doing something other than answering the phone. But it'll take a year or two, so be patient. You're just out of college. You have lots of time and no experience, so use the former to get the latter.
posted by decathecting at 11:43 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do you need the money or not? If you need it, take the job. It's much easier to get other jobs once you're employed, BTW.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:46 AM on October 24, 2010

You're not really in a position to wait around for the perfect situation to arrive. (The perfect situation doesn't exist for anyone, btw.) If you need money, and a job that you can tolerate is being offered to you, take the job. You don't have to stay there.

If you're concerned about networking, get to know your coworkers. They may be able to introduce you to people who can help you with long-term goals.

I would not be directly involved in working towards my career goals

You are always working toward a career goal, no matter what your job is, because you are (hopefully) always acquiring skills. You might learn how a good boss operates. You may learn how to deal with difficult people. Hell, I learned a lot about behavioral science from being an audio engineer. Don't worry about this.

It pains me to throw an aphorism at a young person, but I'll do it anyway: "The winds and waters are always on the side of the ablest navigator." You can make this work for you.

(Having turned into my high school principal, I will now take my leave.)
posted by corey flood at 11:47 AM on October 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

The happiest musicians I know are the ones who have a stable 40-hour-a-week job that pays the bills, and do their music each and every afternoon and evening.
posted by miyabo at 11:48 AM on October 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

It took me about four months to find my first post-college job, it didn't pay well, and I could have done it in my sleep. I felt just like you (broke, back at home, want a career). I stuck around for a year while I figured out what the hell I wanted to do. I got a crash course in the office culture (all things my internships had NOT prepared me for). This has become immensely useful in completely unrelated things.

Take the job, but then look for a volunteer thing on the side that really involves your interests. That would knockout networking and mental stimulation.
posted by shinyshiny at 11:51 AM on October 24, 2010

Admin jobs are good for you, they teach you how things work. And nobody will hold it against you in this market. And it pays money and you need money.

Take the job and make good contacts.
posted by tel3path at 11:56 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

You would be crazy not to take this job. This is how the world works... you don't always get to wait for the "perfect opportunity"

I started as an admin for a large non-profit in NYC. At the time I was 28, I had a Masters degree related to the non-profit field, and had 5 years of managerial experience in an unrelated field. And I moved to NYC to take the job. My boss was not so nice, and I spent most of my time taking notes and writing minutes for meetings, making travel arrangements, and scheduling/arranging conferences and meetings. I did that for about a year, and since then have moved steadily up the ladder to a secure middle management position with good pay and great benefits with a different organization.

There are lots of net-working opportunities in the non-profit arean, and I have plenty of friends who have successful moved back and forth between that and corporate jobs. The skill set is a good one, and this kind of position lets you get a good handle on the work world before having more complex responsibilities on your shoulders.
posted by kimdog at 11:59 AM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

[Almost] any job is better than no job.
posted by box at 12:01 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Take the job.

That said, depending on loan type, remember there are repayment options. Stafford loans, for example, can be deferred based on unemployment and repayment can be adjusted on the basis of income.
posted by asciident at 12:13 PM on October 24, 2010

I think that you should take the job.

My personal experience, as someone who has taken a low level clerical job in a not-for-profit because the larger mission was interesting to me: take the job because despite your initial impression you never know what opportunities may open up. Take the job, make the effort to do your job as competently as possible and show an interest in and willingness to learn about the larger mission. In my case, I did this for my own sake, out of interest - and frankly, boredom. Although I saw no opportunities for advancement, I was lucky enough to work for a Director who was passionate about the mission and loved explaining how things worked at higher levels to someone who was interested in understanding it. And what do you know, the seemingly rigid and unchanging hierarchy of the organization changed suddenly and rapidly and the whole structure was reorganized. As people left and job titles changed, I had the opportunity to take on more responsibility and new projects.

Now, I am about to interview for a dream job in the organization that is much more in line with what I would like to be doing, but that would have been out of my league as an outside candidate. Although I may have know that I could do that kind of work, no one else did until I proved myself at a lower level. As a new graduate, you need to understand that the jobs you feel you are capable of doing, and the jobs you can actually get, are not the same. Entry level does not = dead end. If it does, you can leave. But take the job and use every chance you get to learn and to work with the people in your field. Even if your interaction is through low-level work, you can still make an impression. You may even enjoy the work. Administrative work can be quite challenging and complex, requiring superb organization, writing, editing, research, design, etc. I have learned a tremendous amount in my job and from my co-workers that has benefited me in many areas of my life.

Tl;dr: Take the job!
posted by Ladysin at 12:13 PM on October 24, 2010

My really craptastic and awful first job led me to graduate school (since I never wanted to work at a place like that again). I now have a I job I kind of love. So, take the job and try to do good work.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 12:20 PM on October 24, 2010

Oh, I’ve had a lifelong of jobs that were not a good job match for me, so I hear your pain.

A few ideas for you if this will help you make the switch to taking the job (in your head, not physically). Do the best that you can do there. But at the same time,

• Identify job skills that you really, really want to develop in this new work place. After you have done well at your other tasks, ask if you can take on the other task that involves, well, learning and perfecting that skill. If they give you that task, do it very well so that you can do it again.
• Once you get to meet your new coworkers, pay attention to what they do. Do any of those people have job skills that you want to develop? Can it play a role in your job? Have lunch with that person and see if you can learn what they do, etc. (and maybe ask the boss…after a few months and you do your job well…if you can learn that skill from the other person, etc. and use it to improve what you do).
• The entire time you are there, view it is just part of the path to what you want to do next (whatever it is that involves teaching/writing, etc.). But do use whatever time you have towards those goals – apply for those jobs, maybe do info interviews with people at lunch (someone who does marketing work at Nielsen, by chance). Jump as soon as you get that job. I know that people will or may steer you away from this, but I’ve job hopped many, many times. The work place does not own you – look at the path that you want and use it as a training ground. Jump when the chance presents itself.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 12:21 PM on October 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Take. The. Job. When I took my first job outside of my career "path" it was out of desperation because my unemployment benefits were about to expire. In my mind, this administrative assistant job was simply a stopgap to provide a paycheck and benefits until the economy improved and I found another job in advertising/marketing, my degreed specialty. But the adm. asst. job at this very small steel brokerage turned out to be an unexpected opportunity; within a year I'd learned enough about the business to help with sourcing, purchasing and shipping (and was rewarded salary-wise accordingly). Just by virtue of being the only person in the office with a very basic knowledge of conversational Spanish, I helped to land Volkswagen de Mexico as a customer (and was treated to several company-paid trips to Mexico as a result). Even though it was a tiny, four-person office I still managed to network with all sorts of people via telephone, whether it be the personnel at a local hotel where we regularly housed visiting customers or a steel mill whose sales staff eventually drifted off to various other companies but who remembered me whenever I was job-hunting or needed a favor. Bottom line, no matter how innocuous a particular job may seem, you never know how you may be able to mine it for future opportunities unless you try it. And, hey, in the meantime, it's a steady paycheck.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:26 PM on October 24, 2010

If you have been seriously looking for five months and this is the best offer you've landed in that time, just take it and go from there.

It'll feel good to get paid every month, and it will be better for your future career that you worked there than that you spent the time unemployed.

While you're there, think about taking advantage of the networking opportunities. Get to know people in the non-profit world and the music world as much as you can. Maybe look at moving towards a role in non-profit marketing or arts marketing.

How would you compare and assess the quality of your work and social life working in a non-profit org. vs. working in a for-profit org

That varies from organization to organization. In many non-profits people feel like they are not getting anywhere very much, it's frustrating to not have many resources etc. On the other hand in many for-profits, while people feel more of a sense of accomplishment about stuff getting done, they might not care all that deeply about what it is that they're getting done.

As for social life... well it matters quite a lot whether you're making enough that you don't have to worry too much about whether you can afford the price of a concert ticket or going out for a meal, esp at whatever kinds of places that your friends go to.

But again, it's better to have a modest paycheck than no paycheck.

And no-one will hold it against you if you move on to better things when you can.
posted by philipy at 12:28 PM on October 24, 2010

The happiest musicians I know are the ones who have a stable 40-hour-a-week job that pays the bills, and do their music each and every afternoon and evening.>>

this is what a lot of people tell themselves so that they don't have to do the real work of being a working musician (which is incredibly hard) and can justify staying at a job they don't like. I would not listen to this. I know lots of working, full-time musicians who are doing very well and are very happy...and they all started out doing shit jobs/gigs and worked their up and paid their dues. I am sort of surprised that people just out of college today think they can skip that.
posted by FlyByDay at 12:47 PM on October 24, 2010

Everyone starts at the bottom, and you're insanely lucky to be this close to getting a job at all in this market. Take the job. If you end up not liking it, then you've learned something about the kind of work you do and don't want to do.
posted by naoko at 2:12 PM on October 24, 2010

Hi, I was unemployable when I graduated less than 5 years ago. I took the first vaguely interesting job that came along. It was awesome and even though I left it, taking the job was 100% the right decision and moved me ahead in ways I could not have foreseen.

If you get an offer, take the job.

Also, nthing what corey flood said: You are always working toward a career goal, no matter what your job is, because you are (hopefully) always acquiring skills.
posted by Tehhund at 2:39 PM on October 24, 2010

Definitely take the job if offered. You are lucky that it is even tangentially related to your real interests.

My first job out of undergrad was in a towel mill warehouse. It sucked, and had zero to do with international relations, but bills had to be paid. Boy, did I work hard in grad school after that experience.
posted by candyland at 6:21 PM on October 24, 2010

Ask all the adults you know what their first job out of college was. Ninety percent of them were crap. Mine sure was. I was an office temp whose main duty was bringing coffee to management consultants. Ten years later, I have a job I truly love; I'm maybe only a couple steps away from having the job I dreamed of in my most idealistic teenage moments.

So. Take the job, recognize it for the bad fit that it may be, but be competent and do a good job. Pay down your debt and save money. Meanwhile, keep performing, apply to grad school, and seek a grad school fellowship. Again, pay down your debt, which will limit your options much more than a mediocre first job.
posted by salvia at 8:21 PM on October 24, 2010

I made coffee, filed invoices at a bank and pulled pints at a pub in the first year out of university. It's very, very, very commonly a bit of a wilderness year (or three) for many many people. Do what you need to do to pay the bills and keep pushing towards what you actually want.

Take the job.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:53 AM on October 25, 2010

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