How do I get a "grown up" or "real" job?
February 15, 2012 1:50 PM   Subscribe

How do I get a "grown up" or "real" job?

I recently graduated from College with a BA in English . I ultimately want to write for TV, and I know that is kind of a process and I am working towards that, but in the meantime I have to eat and pay the bills.

Before school I worked in call centers. It's unskilled labor, if they could get a computer to do it they would. It's horrible. But with a lack of responses, a lack of confidence, and what I feel like is a meager skill set (though I swear I have to be wrong) I fell back in to a call center when they were the only people that called back.

Now, I am miserable and on top of that (and probably more importantly) not getting compensated enough to even make student loan payments.

People I graduated with seem to be moving in to "real" jobs in offices where they make salaries. I was an intern at the Austin Film Festival and my friend and former boss there is a year younger than me. A lot of the people in the jobs there (there are only 5 full time positions) don't seem to have much more prior experience, education or training, but are getting those type of jobs while I am, for lack of a better way to put it, a wage slave.

Anyone have any tips advice, or insight on what I am doing wrong? I can answer questions/provide more info as needed as I am not 100% sure what would be pertinent.
posted by djduckie to Work & Money (27 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I didn't have a real job or even any job for a really long time. And I have a great resume. Just the Wrong Age at the Wrong Time.

Then I started temping with an agency that does a lot of permanent placements, made sure I was always responsive and available, and got a real job almost immediately.

You appear to be in Austin, but I can recommend a great temp agency in Chicago; anyone interested, just memail.
posted by phunniemee at 1:55 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

You get these jobs by applying for them. I'm not being a smartass, but with employment if you don't ask, you don't get. You need to work on a CV that sells the skills you know you have but have not, for lack of a better word, surfaced. Consider the services of someone who specialises in entry-level post grads, like The Resume Girl. This will open your eyes to the jobs for which you have a skills match and are actually qualified for. Hint: with a BA, that's entry level anything that isn't like, finance or I dunno, astronaut.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:06 PM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you want to write for tv, you need to be where TV writers are. You can write umpteen dozen scripts in Austin and enter contests and such, but you have a far better chance of getting what you want in LA or NYC. In LA, you will meet dozens of others who also want to be tv writers, and they will inform, inspire, infuriate you but you will be in the place to meet people. And then, you can a job that is related to what you want to do, no matter how tangential.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:07 PM on February 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Are you still in Austin? If you want to write for TV, you have to live in LA. (I know, there are exceptions, but it will be 400% easier if you're in LA.)

Most people who are trying to be TV writers in LA get jobs as assistants. These jobs are not super hard to get as long as you can afford to work for free or cheap when you start out. You're going to want to be a little bit selective as to what kind of job you initially take, because it will dictate the tone of your resume going forward. (So: working at a name agency=good, working for some obscure post house=not as useful.)

You can also get started by temping at a studio. All the studios use temp agencies (some have one on-site) and this is an okay way to get your foot in the door. (But again, you probably want to make sure you don't get stuck with permanent gig in website maintenance or something.)

A lot of people who are trying to be writers have jobs that just-barely pay the bills and let them network a lot and work on their writing. That's one way to go, as per the above thoughts. Some other people try to have "real" day jobs, which is nicer in terms of money and developing a fallback career path, but probably not as good in terms of making contacts and getting your work out there.

If your immediate goal is just to get out of the call center, I would explore temping where you currently live, which might let you stabilize financially and save up enough to move to LA? Good luck! I don't mean to minimize your predicament- it really sucks for you that you graduated in the middle of a horrible economy, and I'm sorry.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 2:12 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

1. Look into Elance for interim freelance money.

2. Apply EVERYWHERE that you want to work for ANY position that requires less than 5 years experience. Posting says 2-3 years experience? Yeah, I'd request that too, and if I didn't get any applicants I like with that experience, I'd hire someone I did like with less experience.

3. Join every networking group and go to every industry event you can (as Ideefixe said above, being in the right market can help with this; even Dallas for theater or something would be a good option if you're looking to stay in Texas).

4. Get connections (see #3). Use them. Really. It's not scumbaggy to call on friends for favors. It is business.

5. Still nothing? Try getting a job as a production assistant, or a segment producer for a local station. Not for experience to put on a resume, but in order to meet people who can get you the job you actually want.

Being a writer will never be a "grown up" job (at least in the 9-5, 401k way that I think you're implying). It is a job, the prosperity of which will change from gig to gig. You need to just accept this fact. If you're truly passionate about it, then you have nothing to be ashamed of vis a vis your peers. You could give up your dream and go be a paralegal and make decent money, but is that really "living"? Depends on your priorities.
posted by melissasaurus at 2:20 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, with a BA in English you can get a corporate in-house communications gig, for example. That is, quite certainly, a "grown up" job. Then work on your writing stuff on the side.
posted by TinWhistle at 2:32 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I ultimately want to write for TV

Move to Los Angeles and get a job working in TV. It doesn't matter what it is (e.g. fetch coffee), you're closer than you were before.

More importantly, you need to change your mindset. You don't ultimately want to write for TV. You write for TV. Period. Whether or not your writing gets used, or what you're doing to pay the bills, are different question.

I mean ... you are writing right now, right? You're not waiting for something, right? Hint, hint.

I work in video games. People ask me all the time how to get a job working in video games. My answer is always, "Go get a job making video games right now."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:34 PM on February 15, 2012 [8 favorites]

The very unfortunate fact is that what you're 'doing wrong' is majoring in English. I'm guessing you know/knew that peril, however. Your only really reliable option to get a really reliable job is to go through a graduate program that can produce concrete, job-applicable skills.
posted by MangyCarface at 2:36 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

The very unfortunate fact is that what you're 'doing wrong' is majoring in English.

That's rubbish. A BA is not vocational training. It teaches you to think critically and develops a number of baseline employable skills. Ask any of the, you know, 20 million of us who started careers with a BA in English.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:46 PM on February 15, 2012 [14 favorites]

There are probably 20 million English majors employed as such, or having started their careers that way. Doesn't mean there's room for more- market saturation is very real when it comes to major choice. It also doesn't mean that you can't get baseline skills AND vocational training out of a different program, even looking forward with that English major under his belt.

If what he's trying now isn't working, obviously those skills by themselves are not sufficient. It doesn't help to think that it's working for someone else, or had worked for them in a different time and economy. He can use those very real baseline skills in the pursuit of a higher academic award that could come w/ said lack of vocational skills
posted by MangyCarface at 3:01 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure how much this will help you stand out in your chosen field, but I'd definitely recommend starting a blog and writing about anything related to what you're doing. Not necessarily to try to get readers, but to have a lot of content published under your name that shows that you're passionate, knowledgeable, and can actually communicate in writing.

Doing so might even help you focus your thoughts and settle on a particular niche/very specific career. (Again, not so sure how well that'll help you stand out against other potential TV writers, but it certainly won't hurt.)
posted by graphnerd at 3:01 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I see a lot of questions on Ask Mefi, how do I do X. The answer is almost always the same, go do X, or go do something that is one step closer to X than you are doing today. Your degree is not the problem. Your current job is not the problem. If you aren't willing to move to LA, or take a 2nd job to save money for the move, or find a way to get involved with TV or entertainment locally, then you should question whether or not you really want to write for TV. The gig ain't coming to you. You have to go get it. Starting now.
posted by COD at 3:02 PM on February 15, 2012 [12 favorites]

MeMailed you possible non-call-center work in Austin for an English major. :]
posted by fiercecupcake at 3:15 PM on February 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

You want to write for TV? Move to Los Angeles and get a job in TV production. Starting a "grownup job" in any other field - unless maybe it's a specialized field often used as a setting for TV like law enforcement or medicine - is going to prevent you from doing what you actually want to do.

For what it's worth, the production assistant sitting next to me right now was recently an English major.

If the "process" you mention is saving up to move to L.A., I'd suggest getting an office admin type job to start with. It'll give you the base skills you'll need to get a production job.
posted by Sara C. at 3:23 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was you. My solution was to go teach English in South Korea for a few years. I had fun, took some time to figure out what I wanted to do, made loads of new friends, traveled, and made more money than was possible for me to make back home fresh out of my undergrad. It's not for everyone, but it's well worth considering.

I now wear a suit to a grown-up job I love, make more money than I need (granted, my needs are few), and 'only' have a BA in history.
posted by fso at 3:38 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Find companies of 20 people or less (they often don't have a formalized application process or HR gatekeeper) that you like. Phone up the CEO (always start at the top) and see if they are hiring.

It's the only way.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:45 PM on February 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you looked into writing for web series while you're working to break into Hollywood? You are not going to instantly gain fame and fortune, but the bar for entry is bAsically A)a computer B)a YouTube account.
posted by nicebookrack at 3:51 PM on February 15, 2012

Response by poster: Well I have PAed and, I don't know, I really enjoyed it.

The problem with LA is that I am living hand to mouth, with no ability to save (i had savings, but then I had to have surgery, that's gone) in the most expensive city in my state. I have no safety net here and so all I hear of LA makes it sound like things would get worse. I don't want to take my eye off my dream, but I guess I am financially terrified.

I am currently in the middle of trying to produce an indie pilot. I received minimal guidance from one of my industry heroes (who is established enough to live in Austin) but we aren't friends and I don't feel secure enough to ask him to read anyting or to help me in anyway (even with a recommendation to get out there).

Make no mistake, I want to be in california, but I kind of wasted the little help I could get from my family working on two movies here (for nothing) and then fell into the job that I currently have.
posted by djduckie at 3:51 PM on February 15, 2012

You need to work a second job to save up money to move to California to also work 2 jobs.
posted by k8t at 4:30 PM on February 15, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't feel secure enough to ask him to read anyting or to help me in anyway (even with a recommendation to get out there)

MAN UP. I mean, only you can tell if asking him would really be a shitty thing to do. Maybe it is - if so, then ok. But, dude. What is the worst that can happen? You just need to read what you said and ask yourself: Really? Really?
posted by victory_laser at 2:52 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it took me a long time to get used to asking for assistance from people. However, this is the single greatest skill to cultivate. I still have anxiety about it.
posted by josher71 at 5:43 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you need an admin job. I don't know what the going rate for that is in Austin, but here in New York it's at least enough to live on, probably enough to squirrel away a little bit here and there to get you out to L.A. eventually.

Frankly, without office skills, you're not going to get a job like the ones your film festival friends have. I'm a production secretary right now (which means I oversee the office PA's), and my office wouldn't hire someone who doesn't at bare minimum know how to use a fax machine, put paper in the copier, call in lunch orders, and the like.

Also, yeah. You need to learn to ask for things. While there are only five people working full-time on a film festival, those people know people. People who want to hire some entry-level kid to do grunt-work. Call them up and ask them to recommend you and/or throw jobs your way. I know a few people who worked at that level in smaller film markets (Austin, New Orleans, Boston, SF) who eventually parlayed that into relocating to the big pond. The difference isn't talent, it's willingness to assert yourself.
posted by Sara C. at 6:58 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

One more thing.

A few years ago I was working on a popular TV series you've definitely heard of and probably seen. We had an intern, a college kid who came all the way out to New York from Detroit to do this, because it was his dream to work in television. He was so invested in this that he canvassed his entire community and all connections he may have had, anywhere, to put together the money to travel to NY, sublet an apartment, feed himself, etc. for the semester. The internship was wildly successful. He cycled through most of the departments that collaborate to make TV (production, writers' room, casting, art, costumes, locations, et al). He met producers, directors, writers, and actors. He was bright and hard working, and did anything asked of him with a smile. He had literally an entire crew's worth of people ready to help him out in any way they could.

And then everything went horribly wrong. Instead of capitalizing on all this skill-building and networking that he'd done over the course of the semester, he went back to Detroit. Like, permanently. Not just to walk in his graduation. Almost five years later, he works in a shitty service job in one of the roughest job markets in the country. Even though he easily could have parlayed his internship into a his dream career. I'm still trying to figure out why this is, but my guess is that he was afraid to actually use the connections he made.

Don't be that guy, djduckie.
posted by Sara C. at 7:46 AM on February 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'm in a similar situation as you. I too graduated with a BA in English, and as the Avenue Q song puts it simply, "What do you do with a BA in English?" My first job right out of college was in the illustrious field of retail, and after that I had a disastrous five months at a financial services company as a part of the funding specialist department (read: the company's buttmonkeys). I took a lot of time off to figure out what I wanted to do.

Long story short, I registered with a temp agency and I'm currently on my second assignment with the possibility of this assignment becoming permanent. It's the best advice I can give at the moment, especially if you register with an excellent temp agency because they'll really work with you to try to find the best possible fit for you--and even better if they can locate a job in your desired industry. Lord knows I've asked my temp agency plenty of times to refer me for jobs that involve writing or proofreading.

Once you save up enough money (which will not be easy given your loan payments, as my own checking account can attest), you should try to find a similar position in LA. And then that's when you should figure out how to break into the industry. Having a "safety net" of steady income (preferably at a job you tolerate or even like) will save you a lot of stress while you pursue your dream career.

Also, one final bit: I've noticed that jobs often go to those with good connections. I do not have these good connections; perhaps you do.
posted by soulsteelgray at 9:37 AM on February 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a front-row seat to the television industry in Los Angeles, and if you want to write for TV, you've pretty much got to be there. Film is diversifying but it seems TV is staying firmly ensconced in LA. It's a relationship business, thus you have to be around the relationships.

Does that mean you cannot try to sneak around the side via relationships in Austin? No, but your chances are much lower and you're relying much more on a few individual people rather than the opportunities present in an ecosystem.

All kinds of people arrive in LA to give it a shot, in all kinds of conditions. People use their last buck to take a bus into town, scrounge a job cleaning up at a bar, stay on a friend of a friend's couch for a few months, and they're off and running. Some people make it, some people don't.

Making it TO Los Angeles is the first step in making it IN Los Angeles. Either you believe in yourself, or not. I'm not saying it's going to be easy, or that you will make it, but people have arrived with less than you and built a life in the entertainment industry. You have to see the culture to understand it, but it is DESIGNED to gather people like you, and promote the best.
posted by nickrussell at 6:13 AM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, there are also other factors keeping me from los angeles, that may be better suited with their own question, but I'll mention them here, my girlfriend and I have 3 cats. She wanted (two of) them, now hates all of them and they think I am the greatest thing on the planet. (and though, maybe not the most masculine or adult thing to admit, I'm pretty fond of them too). Though she should have known (because it's all I've talked about for the last decade) moving to LA was the goal post graduation, she now acts like it's coming out of nowhere and she can't leave her family.

So it leaves me, more than likely moving to LA alone with three cats, or trying to find somewhere where they would be really safe (ok where i would be comfortable leaving them) and I don't have many options for that.

I guess I just need to sit down, bite the bullet and come up with a plan to get out there.
posted by djduckie at 1:49 PM on February 17, 2012

Response by poster: UPDATE!

So I did some research and in an ironic stroke of both me totally forgetting this was an option and just, well, the comments in here reminding me what my goal is and what i need to be doing:

I can transfer from the Austin call center to the "Hollywood" call center (it's really in hollywood, though it feels ridiculous saying that). It's a small pay increase, plus all the possiblities of bonuses and everything I have here. It's the same call center job, but it does get me closer to my goal. I could be in a training class out there as early as 4/6, though I htink it may be better to hold off for at least a month ( i could be wrong).

This of course brings on a whole bunch of new questions. First and foremost: AM I NUTS?

Seriously though, how do I take this plunge? Should this be another quesitons entirely to get more responses? Any insite would be great. I can provide more details as needed.
posted by djduckie at 12:01 PM on February 23, 2012

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