I have a postgraduate degree. Now what?
September 2, 2011 12:11 PM   Subscribe

I have a Master's degree. I have no idea how to break into the career field I want. I have class issues that I think are preventing me from feeling like I CAN break into the career I want. Please help me figure out how to "place" myself as I start a job search.

In May, I finished a master's degree in linguistics and a graduate certificate program in women's studies. I originally started as a Ph.D student in linguistics, but over time I realized I don't really want to lead the academic life, at least not in linguistics. I could see myself possibly getting a Ph.D in women's studies, or something related, in the future, but I'm not ready to make that decision yet.

For this year I am adjuncting, teaching freshman comp where I got my MA. I have 3 years experience teaching college freshmen, and one year as a writing consultant to grad students. My partner and I are hoping to move somewhere totally new at the end of this academic year, and I need to figure out how to start thinking about what to do next. I am really interested in working for women's/feminist or LGBT advocacy, but I have no idea how to get started. Besides the certificate, I don't really have any volunteer or activity experience with organizations like this that would boost my resume - between work and school I've never had the time/resources to do a lot of outside activities.

Part of the problem is just money - I need a job, no matter what, so unless I get lucky and find something right away, I will need to work at Target or a coffee shop or whatever I can get.

But I think part of my problem is also class issues - specifically that despite having a BA and MA, I still think retail or food service are the only things I'm really qualified for, since that's all I've worked in outside of academia. I am from a working/lower middle class background. I was the first person in my family to go to college. To me, still, $10 an hour is a pretty good job. Making $30,000 a year is beyond my imagination. People keep telling me I have to realize the potential that my degrees give me, but I have no way of conceptualizing that in my head. To my family, more education automatically gets you a good job, but I have no concept of applying for the kinds of jobs that 'educated people' get. It doesn't help that the economy is so bad right now, so people keep telling me that I don't "get" what I have to offer and how smart I, individually, am, while I privately feel I will consider myself lucky if I manage to get a job at Target or a coffee shop. (Also I feel like I am now "too educated" to get hired someplace like Target, but have no actual skills to bring to a position that is considered more white collar.) I'm not trying to fish for compliments when I tell people I honestly have no idea what, concretely, I have now that puts me in a better position to get a job than I did with just a BA.

To me, I still have no more "real world" qualifications or skills than I did before I went to grad school. I went to a temp agency that specialized in office temps a few weeks ago, and they said I had "great basic office skills" but haven't called me at all. Everyone else I saw at the agency were people who had lots of experience as secretaries/administrative assistants, so I'm scared that even being an office assistant while I try to move into a women's-studies-related career is out of my reach.

My question is twofold: first, how do I re-orient myself into thinking that my degrees or background are "worth" more than entry-level retail, offfice or food work? How can I start getting a better handle of what kinds of jobs I should realistically look at or apply for, when my only mental map of "jobs" are either professors, or the work my non-college-educated family did? I still fundamentally feel like the type of advocacy/non profit job I want is something that I don't have the right social privilege/background to know how to get into.

Second, how can I start getting my foot in the door for looking at LGBT/women's issues type jobs? I am going to talk to the director of the women's studies program I just graduated from, but other than that, I have no idea how to network or how to look for jobs or know which ones are within my reach. I feel like so many of them want people with blogging/media backgrounds, and I don't have that at all. I can read, write, and think theoretically very, very well. I am not above doing the most entry level job I can possibly get at such an organization. I just don't know how to get started.
posted by nakedmolerats to Work & Money (17 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Now is the time to network like mad.
Make a list of everyone you know who knows something about LGBT/women's issues and advocacy. Ask each of them if they would be willing to give you some advice - depending on their situation, they prefer to talk to you on the phone, in their office or let you take them out for a cup of coffee.
Make a similar list of anyone that you know in the new city - nice of they have some connection with nonprofits or LGBT community but OK if they don't. Call them ask them for their idea about who you should talk to to get more information about opportunities in that area. You can also ask them if they have any ideas where you can find a decent interim job. (You never know!)
Make an appointment with your school's career center. They probably have lists of alumni who are open doing information interviews with anyone who attended their school. They probably won't be able to give you any direct job leads but can also give you advice on more strategies.
posted by metahawk at 12:30 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Check out jobs at idealist.org. This computer won't let me post hot links. Idealist has jobs, internships, and volunteer positions in a wide variety of organizations. .
posted by mareli at 12:38 PM on September 2, 2011

1. Join the Association of Working Class Academics. http://awcaonline.org/wordpress/. They get it.

2. Feeling like you don't have the qualifications for a real world job is astute--academic content knowledge does not equal job skills. People of privilege don't understand it, and the don't let it get in their way. They're happy to take on jobs that require project management skills, database skills, etc without actually having any of those skills, based on having an advanced degree.

3. Start developing those real world skills that will be valuable in a job--be able to work with members of the community (listening skills, empathy), database skills (ACCESS), spreadsheets (Excel), Word, be a problem solver, basic messaging/press releases and opinion pieces.

4. Call up or email people in organizations that work with LGBTQ communities and ask for an informational interview. If they're the directors, great! Ask what kind of skills you should be developing in order to do similar work. It's not a direct ask for a job--but allows you to express interest and become known. At the end, ask if there are any others in the community you should talk to --you are creating a network. If someone offers you a chance to volunteer (episodic, not full time) do it! Also attend their events. If it's not the director, but someone who is your age or doing a type of job you want, ask for an informational interview or if you can shadow him/her for a day. (be flattering--don't be threatening to take their job). Send thank you notes.

Memail me if you start the process and you're not sure where to go from there.
posted by vitabellosi at 12:41 PM on September 2, 2011

I came from a similar situation as you (first-gen college-grad).

I graduated in 09, as the economy and job market changed. Advice from my family didn't work that well.

I was a bit overwhelmed and unsure what the best way of going about it was, but what I had started with (And still continue to do this) is simply going to local organizations and calling them on informational interviews. (saw the comments as I write this, +1 to them).
Also, here's a couple askmefi threads that I found helpful and favorited.

[My family gives me a strange look too, when I told them I was going on an informational interview, because they assumed I'd have a job at the end of each one...I stopped telling them].

Also as the earlier comment mentioned, you have to go become a part of the networks (knowing people who know people who can give you advice on what job/volunteer opportunities are out there, mentoring opportunities).

Volunteering and interning are also another way to build your tangible job skills (in the case of you, 'I did X, Y,Z at a DV shelter; i.e. managed a donor database, gave talks, created pamphlets, etc),
I'm also in the non-profit sector and I've realized in this economy, there aren't many paid jobs [unless you're fundraising] but NGOs/NPOs are willing to take volunteers (yes, working for free, my working-class family was confused why I'd do that too; sorry if I'm repeating advice that you've already heard), but it has been another key way for me to build the networks.

Not sure where you're located in the USA, but people/NGOs in larger cities (NYC, CHI, SF, BOS, philly, PDX) tend to utilize internet-based resources - idealist, linkedin more than in smaller cities, rural areas.

Lastly, it took me too long to realize that you'll hear a lot of conflicting advice about the job market, how to do your resume, etc. As you process the information, select what you think is best, go with it, and learn as you go.

Askmefi has become one of the most valuable resources (check my favorites) in learning how to adjust to all of this, given my background. Asking this question is a great step.

any other questions or want to sound off more, feel free to mefimail me.
posted by fizzix at 12:57 PM on September 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

While you're adjuncting, get an internship at a non-profit and develop skills. Take grant writing and other skill based classes.

I'd also recommend visiting your school"s career center.
posted by k8t at 1:07 PM on September 2, 2011

Feeling like you don't have the qualifications for a real world job is astute--academic content knowledge does not equal job skills. People of privilege don't understand it, and the don't let it get in their way. They're happy to take on jobs that require project management skills, database skills, etc without actually having any of those skills, based on having an advanced degree.

This is unfair, because they're not passively "taking on" those jobs. They are being chosen for and hired for them. If there were more qualified candidates interviewing, presumably they would have been hired instead, but the "unqualified" ones are the ones who showed up, interviewed, and got the jobs... and part of it was probably based on the assumption both by the applicant and the employer that "they could figure it out." Heck, one of the first jobs I had required database skills and knowledge of a programming language I hadn't used before. When I pointed this out, the project director's response was, "we hired you because we were confident that you could figure out how to use whatever technologies were necessary."

The internships are going to be about learning the vocabulary and structure of the organizations you'll be working with, and that will mean that in subsequent interviews to similar organization, they'll be assured that you know how things work.

There are a bunch of paths you can take. Have you considered working in the office of a local or state politicians on LGBT policy issues?
posted by deanc at 1:37 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

This may be helpful to read in regard to the first part of your question and the way you approach work: "This Fine Place So Far From Home: Voices of Academics from the Working Class".
posted by zoetrope at 1:52 PM on September 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind that enthusiasm, motivation, and passion go a long way compared to a candidtate who has all the skills, but doesn't show those qualities.

Visit your local Job office and take the classes they offer. Learn as much as you can about the skills required to find and land a job. A vast majority of jobs are filled based on networking compared to filling out online applications, so invest your time accordingly. Informational interviews are great.

Always remember to phrase your resume, cover letter, and interview into what can you offer the company. This mindset helps a lot, and after you are offered a position then you can ask yourself more about what they can do for you.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 3:43 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Derail: is calling your MA "postgraduate" American usage or just wrong?

Otherwise nthing deanc... most corporate jobs don't require that much of a preexisting skill set and more of a willingness to engage with the task at hand and doing it well. A (any!) college degree mostly serves as a demonstration that you have basic social skills and enough conscientousness to pull that off, so degrees are what gets you the interview. After that, you're on your own. I would think that shelving your LGBT ambitions and looking for any kind of corporate entry-level jobs that you could even remotely pull off will definitely beat working in retail as far as valuable skills for a future white collar job are concerned.
posted by themel at 4:01 PM on September 2, 2011

What about adult literacy programs that focus on women? With your linguistics degree and experience teaching freshman comp, it might fit. (Even if your linguistics wasn't teaching-a-language-type linguistics, I bet you could make it sound relevant.) Volunteering to tutor/teach English at women's shelters could be a start.
posted by lillygog at 7:17 PM on September 2, 2011

Just answering this because I looked for jobs postacademia, left academia and looked for other jobs, and have job hopped many many times, so I have ideas as to how you can make the transition although I'm in an entirely different field. Also, I know what the strangers on the internet will say will not make you believe it --but most people don't really know how to change careers or even steps to take to apply for jobs. I knew at least a few grad students who obtained their PhDs, really really wanted to teach at a small college, and took really strange steps and at the end of the year did not have a job. You are probably seeing your flaws but not realizing that collectively most people have similar challenges.

If this is too basic, skip the things that you don't need.

Informational interview (Nthing what Metahawk suggests). I'll also give you one of my one answers and recommendations as to how to do this(should be buried in this question - includes my mental script, how I found pple, etc.) Now I don't really suggest these to "network", but to do the following (and have these questions when you meet with someone, too): 1) Have these pple describe what they like/don't like about their job (it sounds like you haven't clarified what type of job you want OP, so that is the objective of this step) 2) ask a salary range and if there are jobs associated with more pay, etc. (only if you want this but if the skills are similar, why not?) 3)Once you have a job title(s) that you want, have them suggest other places to look, job titles, etc. (this is key especially if you use monster, indeed,etc. to find a job) 4) ask for recommendations as to how to get into the field (ideally, you will find at least some people who have done a similar transition...maybe it is a course, a class, who knows what...but start doing whatever they suggest if a few pple mention the same thing5) have some of these people look at your Cv/resume...this is also key because different industries may organize them differently, have certain "hot" words that recruiters or HR people look for, etc., and the people in your desired job can tell you what to do.

Once you know what you want do to (and have a job title), I would see if there is a forum or organization that you can join...if they have a forum,email list,etc., you can approach more people to interview or ask questions and get a reply. If one doesn't exist, check out linkedin as there are many, many groups, some by profession.

See if you can find a list of companies that hire people in your desired field. It may be the library (in NYC we have RefUSA --don't know if your library has it or if you are even state based, but it is a start), google,linkedin, butpull up the names of companies. As many as possible. Then write a letter of introduction about yourself and send it off --it is up to you to decide but I would either offer to volunteer or ask if they are hiring. I've gotten a lot of projects this way and some pple have called up asking if I would work for them...see the letter could appear when they are too busy to place a job ad and then...your letter appears!)

A really helpful website to look for jobs IMO is indeed.com because it aggregates jobs,remembers what you entered, etc.

Interviewing. Is your advisor still around? Would he or she provide feedback? If not, as someone mentioned above, academic services at your former uni? Have them evaluate you in a practice interview. Then once you start landing them -- go even if you don't want the job (you want to learn how to interview well).

Because it sounds like you have some self-confidence issues not a criticism,we all have self-confidence issues and may take the first job that comes alone with $ -- I would find yourself some advisor(s). Someone you trust to make you say "take the job"or "don't take the job." Decide in advance what you want from your research (salary, job title,description) and wait until you get it -- work on getting any identified skills at the same time. This doesn't mean you can't take a job to hold you over even if it is coffee/food, wtc -- but the second you get the job you want, you quit and you go do that. Remember to keep your eye on the prize even if you need to take the coffee or food job...keep applying, getting the skills, etc.

Also, for you in particular, volunteering may be helpful to at least learn more about the organizations, the language used, etc.

Also, there is one thing that I think you are underselling yourself with, OP. To me, graduate school taught me in essence how to teach myself (and if you are teaching students at the college level -- you also save the same skills...did someone teach you all the steps for teaching? or material in the text but that you did not know before?) Identify the skills that you need next and go get them. If you find out in your info interviews that blogging is indeed needed, then go buy a 2$ domain name and start blogging. Or if they say go to conference X, go there. You can do it OP.

If you want to continue in memail, feel free. I do have a similar background to you in many ways. What really helped me make an early transition into a new job was a person who saw outside the box and identified at least a few steps that I should take. Just hearing that point of view helped me. Good luck.

posted by Wolfster at 7:40 PM on September 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was the first in my working class family to enter the private corporate sector. I think one can get too worked up thinking about class. Just from reading your clear and concise writing I think you've already got skills that would go far in many corporate, government and non-profit white-collar jobs.

Is the class-consciousness a subtle reflection of other confidence issues? Do you speak and present yourself well in front of others? I'm thinking about interview situations and the like. Consider some public speaking training (not one-day seminars, weekly practice like Toastmasters).

If the class thing keeps bugging you, keep one thing in mind - worthy businesses and organizations hire people not because of their background but because they have a problem they need solving. If you present yourself as the solution provider, they'll hire you.
posted by storybored at 7:59 PM on September 2, 2011

You've gotten a lot of other good comments on class issues and informational interviews and networking, so I don't have much to add on that. However, just to expand a little on what I wrote, you talk about not having any concrete skills. But running a college class is a definite skill! So is the teaching of writing -- think tutoring, ESL, etc. I can understand if you don't want to move in that direction, but freshman comp does give you some practical skills applicable to teaching and training in corporate and non-profit contexts.
posted by lillygog at 8:11 PM on September 2, 2011

The Chronicle sometimes has articles on recasting yourself for nonacademic careers.
posted by lillygog at 8:19 PM on September 2, 2011

One more thing! (I could try just posting these all in one comment, maybe next time.) Another web page that seemed to have links to good discussions on re-working your CV for non-academic jobs. Could be useful, since you mention wanting to re-orient the way you think about your degree, re: usefulness and preparation for jobs.
posted by lillygog at 8:26 PM on September 2, 2011

Something to bear in mind is that it is very common for new graduates to lack any clear idea of their own employability because they lack a reference point for their new skills against what the market is looking for. I see this all the time with my own undergraduate students. The only solution is to keep blasting away at getting a job.

While you look for something at the graduate level there is no shame in finding anything else, it is common even for some high quality grads in favourable job markets to struggle, and this is not a favourable job market.

In terms of looking for graduate level stuff, look around at the sort of things that your classmates are getting, largely speaking, you are very capable of getting the same type of position, so that provides some guidance as to what are realistic things to go after. You should always bear in mind when looking for jobs that many jobs do not get people who fit all the job criteria, I often see students saying "well, I have X, Y, Z but not A so there's no point in applying". This is the wrong approach. You should be looking for reasons to apply, not reasons not to apply. Go after things where you tick most boxes, not just things where you tick all the boxes. Bear in mind, employers have no idea about your class, all they see is your resume and then you in person at interview, get your resume right and learn some interview skills and there is no reason you shouldn't pick up a graduate job like your classmates.

(I am a senior lecturer in UK academia, from a working class background.)
posted by biffa at 1:05 AM on September 3, 2011

Volunteering or interning doesnt have to be a full-time gig, BTW. You can take on short or long term tasks that suit the rest of your schedule.

Ask for info interviews with people you admire, doing work that intrigues you, especially people who are no more than 5-10 years older that you. Develop a preamble about yourself & your interets and then questions about what they do, what they see in the future of the field/industry.

Keep in mind that For your degrees, you had to gather, analyze and synthesize information and those are skills most policy people need and rely on daily.
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 9:57 AM on September 4, 2011

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