What does resiny want to do with his life?
March 1, 2011 8:51 PM   Subscribe

Graduation approaches, and the need for direction and finding a job I want feels ever more acute. Help me figure out what kind of work I want and how to go about getting it.

I'm graduating this spring with a degree in philosophy from a fairly well-regarded small liberal arts college. I have a job for the summer and I have lined up a job teaching English overseas for a year. (Mainly as a filler). After that it's a bit of a void.

For a long time I've thought I would go to graduate school in philosophy. My enthusiasm is tempered, though, by so many people saying it's a bad idea. Originally I was going to apply to start this coming fall, but decided to wait a year to think it over more and to get a better feel for the sorts of opportunities there are outside of academia. Which raises my question.

What sorts of opportunities are there for me outside of academia that I would find fulfilling?

For a long time I was thinking about law school, and I did well enough on a practice LSAT to know that I could get into a very good school. And then everyone told me that was a terrible idea, which my research backed up.

I like writing, and I'm told I write well. A career that involved writing would be fantastic. But a lot more people want a career in writing than there are careers in writing, so I don't know how realistic that is.

I guess mainly my problem is that I have little concept of what sorts of jobs there even are. When I think of possible jobs I think:

Go to school to get a degree in education and teach: nope.
Sales: nope.
Marketing: nope.
Human resources: nope.
Juggling Excel spreadsheets all day: nope.
Entrepreneurship: nope.
Plumber/Mechanic/Electrician: nope.

I don't think there's anything wrong with those jobs, and I don't doubt that they're very meaningful for a lot of people. They're just not for me. I would feel very claustrophobic if I was plopped down in middle management of a large company. I've spent my summers working menial jobs because of financial need, so I don't really have much useful experience.

To avoid rambling, I'll stop there and answer specifics if anyone has questions. My basic question is: what kind of jobs are there that I might find intellectually stimulating and fulfilling, that I would have a prayer of getting, and that I can plan a course of action for getting? My life is such that my useful business world connections are likely to be nil.
posted by resiny to Work & Money (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
As a law student, let me say: if you're not gung-ho about it, don't go. Sounds like you're listening to your gut about that one.

In terms of jobs, if you have any particular causes or issues that you're interested in, you could potentially look into the nonprofit sector (which is obviously hard to break into as well). You won't get rich, but as a philosophy major I'm guessing that's not your absolute no. 1 motivation (?). There are some programs that will place you with a nonprofit or other social service agency, such as various AmeriCorps programs, City Year, or programs like Lutheran Volunteer Corps or Jesuit Volunteer Corps (don't have to be religious for LVC). Even just looking at the types of places where they place volunteers can give you an idea of the diversity of the types of positions and organizations out there...

A number of people I know (friends and in my family) are either in library school or are already librarians. Even a few law librarians. That might fall into your sweet spot of intellectually stimulating, but again, from what I hear, the job market is competitive.

Hopefully this has helped somewhat, if even to spark some further thinking!
posted by midatlanticwanderer at 9:05 PM on March 1, 2011

You'd be lucky to be plopped into middle management in a large company right out of undergrad. Have you ever taken some sort of career assessment test or met with a career counselor?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:38 PM on March 1, 2011

In your post, there are jobs that you don't want, and jobs that you might-want-but-aren't-sure-for-many-reasons. But there doesn't seem to be much passion that we (or you) can work with in making this decision. So I'm going to give my brutally honest, anti-MeFi response: you want the first job that'll hire you for a living wage.

I'm going to appeal to the worst-case scenario here. Worst case if you take just any job: you have a few bad months, earn a little money, then quit. In the process, you learned something about yourself and the business world, and maybe picked up a few skills. Worst case if you hold out for that perfect job, even though you have no idea what it looks like: you end up broke and living with your parents, and after a long period of this less-than-ideal situation you cave in and take just any job that comes your way.

I was in your shoes 5 years ago. Liberal arts degree, no real experience, no real drive or passion in life, not sure that I could do the office job drudgery thing. I went on a couple interviews. Then I got a random mass email from a company that saw my sparse resume on Monster.com, interviewed, and got hired. It turned out that it was right up my alley and it's looking like a lifelong career. I would never have found it if I hadn't taken just any job, because this was definitely just any job.

Then I referred a friend in to the company. She had no prospects or passion either. She knew early on that this was not her calling, but never regrets taking the job. She worked there for 2 years and spent her free time exploring her interests. After those 2 years she quit, but she had a plan, a full resume, and some money put away to fund grad school. And she had a much better sense of what she wanted to do with her life because she took a chance on a job.

I'm not advocating people taking jobs that they hate, staying in jobs that they can't stand, or missing out on their passion. But if you're like I was, then there's no way to find out if an office job is your calling without getting out there and doing it. Worst-case scenario is a full resume and some money to fuel your post-office-job direction.

Of course, if midatlanticwanderer's advice sounds good (i.e., find a job that correlates with an interest that you have), run with that. My advice is definitely the fallback plan if that doesn't pan out.

As for what kind of jobs are out there, it's hard to say, but I learned by visiting the career center and doing a bunch of searching on Monster.com. A few hours spent reading every single entry-level position could be very educational. I learned about corporate recruitment, project management, business analyst-ing, and knowledge management - domains that I never knew existed. So maybe just some reading is in order, and you can start narrowing down from there.
posted by Tehhund at 9:42 PM on March 1, 2011 [8 favorites]

This is what your school's career center is there for! I promise that it will be full of people waiting with open arms and bated breath for people to show up and figure out what to do with their lives! They have alumni connections and networks and the skills to help you find something interesting to do.

If you don't have a career center, talk to your advisor, or a dean, or an RA about hooking you up with the group of people on campus who fill that position. There's someone close by who can give more hands on and personal advice.
posted by ChuraChura at 9:56 PM on March 1, 2011

Who cares what people think is a bad idea?

What matters is what you want.

As a kid, I knew practically from the womb that I wanted to do something in the arts/media. I was told from day one that there aren't a lot of jobs in those fields, it's all about who you know, and other semi-uninformed cliches that basically shat all over my interests.

And yet. Here I am. Doing what I wanted to do from the beginning. I don't make great money, but I get by, and most days I love my work.

Also, for what it's worth, I pretty much stumbled upon my current career by accident. It sounds like you have at least a year, maybe two, mapped out for yourself post-college. That's pretty freaking great. Unless you are still strongly considering academia, I would pat yourself on the back for that and think about the rest when the time comes. Chances are between now and then the right thing will make itself known.
posted by Sara C. at 9:58 PM on March 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

what kind of jobs are there that I might find intellectually stimulating and fulfilling, that I would have a prayer of getting, and that I can plan a course of action for getting

What a silly question. All and none of them. Intellectual stimulation stems from desire; you have to first be interested in a subject. Without that desire, you have little chance of getting anything, certainly nothing you would find stimulating.

A course of action? Find something to love. Something you can do every single day for a decade—because that's how long it's going to take to gain mastery. And until you have mastery, no one will pay you shit.

I understand this isn't terribly specific advice, it's more of a warning. Because out there, right now, are millions of people that have passion for things like teaching or selling or starting companies or juggling Excel spreadsheets and all the other things you're meh about. You want to be a well-paid travel writer? You want to be an astronaut? You want to take pictures of runway models for a living? Life is a buffet, young man. The good stuff gets snatched up quick.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:18 AM on March 2, 2011

I'm nthing those folks who advise you to just get a job. Any job. A couple of years ago I posted a question asking what to do with my MA degree and within a couple of months, I had a job at a nonprofit. The job was okay and the pay was crap but I went to work every single day and treated it like the most important job in the world. I met and networked with tons of people and landed got something much better. As my old man always says, the harder you work, the "luckier" you get.

I would feel very claustrophobic if I was plopped down in middle management of a large company. I've spent my summers working menial jobs because of financial need, so I don't really have much useful experience.

Given what you've written here about your education and experience, the chances of "getting plopped down in middle management" are practically nonexistant at this point. Sorry.
posted by futureisunwritten at 4:02 AM on March 2, 2011

Response by poster: To clarify, I didn't mean I was expecting to end up in middle management in June. Obviously that's not very likely. What I meant was that I don't want to flash forward five or ten years and be stuck in middle management somewhere. Ideally whatever career path I have will veer away from that.
posted by resiny at 6:18 AM on March 2, 2011

At this point, what you need is experience. So rather than focusing on finding the Perfect Job, I would focus on just getting any kind of job experience by applying to anything that looks mildly interesting and that you're qualified for. If it turns out you hate it, quit and find something else. But you may uncover something you didn't expect. You'll also be surrounded by coworkers who could be potential goldmines of information.

Most likely, the first job you take isn't going to be your Perfect Job. It certainly could be, but I think you should look at it more as research, the field work you need to do in order to find opportunities that really ring true with you. Begin working, try to get as much variety in your job's tasks as you can, and talk to your coworkers about their experiences and the people they know. It's through trial and error that you'll find what you want to do with your life.
posted by moutonoir at 6:39 AM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

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