No income, no job prospects, and no possibility of unemployment benefits. Help me.
February 17, 2012 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I left a good job to go back to school. Now I can't find a job, but I don't qualify for unemployment. What next?

Back in 2006, I inherited a little money, and decided to quit the job I had held for four years to get a second Bachelor's degree. I lived on my small inheritance and school loans until I got my degree a year ago December. I have been looking for jobs, but so is everyone else in the world, and I am getting nowhere.

I am intelligent, well-spoken, presentable, organized, reliable, and possess a variety of skills that are useful in both corporate settings and more creative situations. Unfortunately, my resumé is a disaster because I haven't held a job in six years. If I could jump directly to the interview stage for a job, my chances of gaining employment would increase exponentially (I do very well in interviews), but my resumé, as it stands, will never make it past HR.

I don't qualify for unemployment because I haven't had a job in the past eighteen months. I never had any savings, and in order to stay afloat since I graduated, I had to empty the 401K I'd invested in at my previous job. Now that money is gone forever, and I am about to be forty years old.

I looked into Illinois' Public Aid options (I am in the Chicagoland area) but they are all for "low income" (i.e. currently employed) moms with infants, and people with serious medical issues or other problems that prevent them from being able to work, and I am none of these things. They also ask for "household size," and I have a roommate, which puts me at "two," but my roommate has a decent job, and her income has nothing to do with my situation.

I have sold everything I owned that was worth selling. I am about to run out of my university's health insurance (I took advantage of the option to buy an extension after graduation), but I have the one pre-existing condition that every PPO/HMO hates (depression). The cheapest individual insurance plan I qualify for is ~$500/mo., which I (obviously) cannot afford.

I have deferred my school loans, which is a terrible decision in the long run, but it is the only option I have.

I have no money coming in, and the much-vaunted "safety net" in the U.S. has a me-sized hole in it.

I don't know what to do next. I don't know how I am going to pay rent this month. I am willing to take on almost any job at this point: running errands for busy parents; cleaning other peoples' homes; tutoring middle- or high-school or college students in a variety of subjects, etc. I will work days, nights, and weekends. I will work 60-80 hours a week if it means that I will take home a living wage. Other than a job that would require me to wade in toxic waste, I'll take pretty much anything—though a job that offers health care (obviously) preferable to one that does not. I don't need much as compared to the "average cost of living" in Chicago: I can survive on ~$550/wk after taxes.

Any kind of advice will be dearly appreciated. Thank you.
posted by A neighbourhood park all covered with cheese to Work & Money (38 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Temp agency. Call them right now, its the best way to make ends meet.
posted by fshgrl at 1:36 PM on February 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

First, don't panic. Let's take a look at your clearly terrifying resume and figure out why it's not getting you a job.
posted by parmanparman at 1:38 PM on February 17, 2012

Hey, what are your degrees in? I don't see it above, and while it might not help, who knows?
posted by Stagger Lee at 1:39 PM on February 17, 2012

A few suggestions:

1) Your "household size" is probably one, not two, unless you claim your roommate on your tax return somehow.

2) The gap in your resume should be explained in your cover letter. You've been in school. Have you been doing anything since you graduated? Volunteer work, caring for a relative, travelling, anything?

3) nthing temp agency. Temp jobs can quickly lead to permanent jobs, and will stop that gap in your employment from getting any bigger.
posted by erst at 1:41 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Going through HR is not always the best way. Does your college have a career center? Can you network with people in your program, alumni, friends, family and all those other people out there? That's how you stand the best chance of getting an interview and thus, a job. The best gigs aren't always advertised.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:49 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, my resumé is a disaster because I haven't held a job in six years.

Do you know this for a fact (i.e. you've applied for multiple jobs and been turned down for this reason specifically), or are you assuming this based on hearsay? If you have the applicable skills and experience, it may not matter how long you've been out of the workforce.
posted by zombieflanders at 1:50 PM on February 17, 2012

Response by poster: Back when I was fresh out of college for the first time, I used temp agencies a lot. Unfortunately, things have changed radically, and they won't even talk to you, or set up an interview with you, unless you submit your resumé to them online. This is, naturally, where it ends for me.

My degrees are in Speech and Theater ('91), and English ('11).

I am... hesitant to post my resumé here, due to the off chance that someone could recognize my real-life identity.

A brief summary:

1) Various temping jobs while trying to make a go of an acting/singing career (1991-1993)

2) Assistant in a small advertising sales office (and de facto office manager) (1994-1999)

3) Webmaster at a relatively prestigious corporation, where I both coded websites and wrote/edited content (2000-2006)

The problems that arise:

1) My office software skills are woefully out of date (the last time I had to work with MS Office was 1999).

2) My html/css skills are so far out of date that I would have to start with HTML for Dummies, which would get me exactly nowhere.

3) Since graduating, I have been living off what was left of my 401K and looking for jobs.
posted by A neighbourhood park all covered with cheese at 1:54 PM on February 17, 2012

Can you wait tables? That's always good for a couple hundred a week, and if you're a theater major you should be pretty good at talking to people.
posted by katypickle at 2:03 PM on February 17, 2012

Have you talked to your school's career center? A lot of them still help alumni for years after graduation, and many of their career fairs and things are open to some very desirable employers who are looking for recent graduates. You'd get a chance to talk to employers and recruiters face to face and build a connection, which is definitely more useful.
posted by winna at 2:08 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

HTML/CSS aren't that hard to pick up. Really. Hell, you can learn it online at And to some degree, Office isn't that drastically different either. Mostly you'll just be going "where the hell do I find the insert section?" a lot. If you can get a hold of or borrow someone's computer, you can probably mostly figure that out for yourself too.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:11 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I could jump directly to the interview stage for a job, my chances of gaining employment would increase exponentially (I do very well in interviews), but my resumé, as it stands, will never make it past HR.

Other people will hopefully address the other parts of your question, but to this one: you need to be putting yourself in situations where you're making face to face interactions with people who are aware that you're a job seeker, and not just replying to job ads and postings. This means networking events, informational interviews, connections that your career center can make for you, or anything else of that ilk. The bad news is that that can sound overwhelming (at least to me - I find all that stuff exhausting, personally), but the good news is that it's also a more effective route to finding a job than applying to postings.
posted by deludingmyself at 2:19 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Have you thought of offering presentation seminars to businesses? That would be a cool use of your background while you look for work.
posted by parmanparman at 2:24 PM on February 17, 2012

Can you move? Milwaukee is cheaper than Chicago, and it's a short train ride away from your friends and family there. You can easily find a roommate in a safe neighborhood near the university. You're already used to the cold. Plus, the unemployment rate in Wisconsin is 2 points lower than it is in Illinois.
posted by desjardins at 2:25 PM on February 17, 2012

If you want to get the temp agency route and haven't already tried this, call the temp agency after you've submitted your resume and ask to set up an in-person appointment. This is the only way I was able to get anywhere with them. I also had better luck with smaller, local temp agencies versus something like OfficeTeam. Good luck!
posted by radiomayonnaise at 2:32 PM on February 17, 2012

Response by poster: parmanparman: Have you thought of offering presentation seminars to businesses? That would be a cool use of your background while you look for work.

I would love to do something like this. I am an excellent public speaker, I enjoy sharing information with people, and I have a strong (but not intimidating) presence in front of an audience. However, I haven't the first idea how to find this kind of job, let alone what I would need to know in order to prepare a presentation. Aren't people who are well-known in specific circles asked to give presentations? I don't fit that description at all.
posted by A neighbourhood park all covered with cheese at 2:36 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

There are tons of online tutorials for MS Office. If you can get access to Office through a library, friend, or, uh, "borrowed" copy, find a couple YouTube tutorials and spend a few hours playing around--make a couple documents, a presentation, a few spreadsheets and voila! You have current skills.

I don't mean to be flippant, I just think these are basic skills that will make you more employable and are much easier to get than you'd think.
posted by Meg_Murry at 2:48 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Graveyard shift. I've been seeing lots of clean-cut people working drive-thrus and drugstores after midnight.
posted by rhizome at 2:49 PM on February 17, 2012

Response by poster: Let me say that I don't mean for my responses to give the impression that I am an egotistical, self-important braggart. I can see that I'm promoting myself in such a way that it might be a turnoff. So, just to balance this out, and perhaps cut off any ill will at the pass:

I cannot cook. Anything.
I cannot draw (I could not draw a straight line with a ruler).
I have no skill with computer programming languages, and believe me, I have tried.
While I can figure out what 15%-20% of a restaurant bill is in my head with ease, I fall apart when faced with a simple algebra problem.
I couldn't identify anything under the hood of a car except maybe the battery. Oh, and the jug where the windshield washer fluid goes, because you can see the fluid in it.

So, please don't think that I'm trying to sell myself as Wonder Employee. I know where my strengths lie, and so that is what I can offer in order to get useful advice in this post.
posted by A neighbourhood park all covered with cheese at 3:08 PM on February 17, 2012

Lie about this:

1) My office software skills are woefully out of date (the last time I had to work with MS Office was 1999).

It's really basically the same especially for the stuff you'll be doing re: temp jobs. Also being in school should be listed on your resume as full time school is a substantial commitment. Also you're a theater guy? Got any friends on the tech side of things that can get you on freelance load-in calls?
posted by edbles at 3:13 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seriously? You're freaking out over nothing. Start applying to temp agencies; they don't give a rat's ass about your resume's holes. Tell them you were in school.
posted by ellF at 3:22 PM on February 17, 2012

You've been trying to figure this out for over a year, and in that time you've had a chance to build some pretty strong stories in your head about what is working, what isn't, and why. That is perfectly normal.

You've asked for help and advice. Great!

Now the hard part:

My advice is to keep on going out there, asking for recommendations on what to do. Then, just do what you hear. Unless it is clearly immoral or illegal of course. You may not have immediate success, but it will help you get out of your own way. It will force you to try things that are uncomfortable. It may put you in situations you don't feel prepared for. In the end, every one of these things will be good for you, and may even land you your next job.

You can start with some of the ideas in this thread.
posted by meinvt at 3:45 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Something doesn't add up.

You've been in school for your 2nd Bachelor's for almost 6 years?

When you were getting close to graduating, no job placement was made available to you through the school?

Your 2nd degree is in English - you must have chosen that with deliberation (after all, you went back to school for it). What types of jobs did you plan in mind with this degree?

Did you apply to p/t jobs where no/or basic resume is all you need?

It sounds like you "suddenly" found yourself with no money ir job in the near future - but you had to see it coming.

Additional insight to this may help in advising you in much more concrete and helpful ways.
posted by Kruger5 at 4:10 PM on February 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Kruger5, everything adds up. I made bad decisions. I chose to live off an inheritance and school loans instead of getting a part-time job because I was enjoying not having to work for the first time since 1994--and when I say "first time," I mean "I never once had a vacation, beyond federally mandated three-day weekends, at any point in my work history between 1994 and 2006."

I decided to get an English degree with the intent of also getting a teaching certificate, but I ran out of money for additional classes because I handled my financial situation poorly, and deluded myself into believing that I'd walk out of school and into a job with no problem. My mistakes have cost me, and cost me big, and I regret doing things the way that I did, but I can't go back and change how I did it.

My current situation is what I've stated in my question. That is what I need help with. That is my AskMe. Your questions, while I've chosen to answer them, are not helpful, and do not follow the only real AskMe rule: "Answer the question."
posted by A neighbourhood park all covered with cheese at 4:27 PM on February 17, 2012

It might be a longshot, but have you looked into teaching residencies? Many cities with "inner cities" have them, and they allow you to get certified (often for free) while working as a teacher for pretty good wages. This is one area where your recent BA in English combined with "life experience" might be seen as an asset rather than a liability.
posted by charmcityblues at 4:41 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have training in this area - the 'gaps' had to be addressed and your answers were helpful for me to properly advise you. I do not care, nor pass judgment on your decisions - we are all commonly united this way.

My 3 suggestions:

Forget Temp agencies - they are flooded with people with loads of experience. Instead, Craig's List offers you the a better, quicker route (you are fortunate to be in a city like Chicago in this regard).
Stay away from the contract positions (easy to get, no weekly salary and no health).

Second: apply to companies with 30 or less employees only - no HR. No gatekeeper. Stick to Business Writing and PR positions (brochures, whitepapers, marketing materials, handbooks, proposals, etx). Do your research - get the name, and email them with a specific value to their company. Repeat. Again, you have a lot of such companies in Chicago.

Third: Apply to well known Insurance companies (Life and Health). They will train you with pay up to 6 mos, plus commissions. What they pay matches your weekly need. You do not need any experience - they will train you for an exam as well. They take English majors right from school all the time. It's an office job, and it offers health insurance. If you don't like it, use it as a stepping stone.

Good luck.
posted by Kruger5 at 4:52 PM on February 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Kruger5 - I'm sorry I snapped at you. As you can imagine, I'm under a lot of stress, and I'm pretty ashamed about all of the things I was stupid enough to do (or not do). Thank you for the advice.

Business Writing and PR -- do I simply look for these terms on craigslist?

Insurance companies -- what kind of job am I looking for? An insurance agent? This is foreign to me.
posted by A neighbourhood park all covered with cheese at 5:36 PM on February 17, 2012

Are you on, and the like? Because you will get emails from insurance companies 3x / week. Just do some research to make sure they're reputable.
posted by desjardins at 6:21 PM on February 17, 2012

You know who is always always ALWAYS hiring? For-profit universities, like Kaplan, DeVry and such. The turnover for admissions advisors is stupidly high. It pays decently and there's health care. As long as you have a pulse (check), speak English (check), have a college degree (check) and are able to talk on the phone (probably), they'll train you.
posted by desjardins at 6:33 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Awkward Engineer explains a great way to get past the resume straight to the interview. Short Version. Long version.

But when you do this, please be more relaxed, prepared, and less defensive than you are in your responses here. I understand that you're very stressed, but you'll never get a job if you're this twitchy. Queue jumping will only help you if you're confident, or can at least fake it for a few minutes.
posted by Ookseer at 6:39 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Have you tried sending out a version of your resume that clips your early experience and first bachelors degree? It strikes me that HR folks might have an easier time understanding "I worked from 2001-2006 as a webmaster and content producer for Big Megacorp, then went back to school to get a B.A. and have recently graduated and am now looking for a new job" versus a resume that raises questions about why you went back and got a second BA. Not sure how your age scans when people meet you, but for many people it's pretty difficult to tell the difference between 30 year olds and 40 year olds, so it might be possible for you to "pass" as someone who worked for a few years before going to college and getting your degree.

I don't think any expects resumes to be exact histories, and I suspect that hiring managers aren't sure how to interpret the second degree so long after the first. By shaping it into a more conventional narrative, you both sidestep the question of "why did this person go back to school, did they get fired and were unhireable and that's all they could do?" as well as neutralizing somewhat any sort of age-discrimination factor that might be going on, where people don't want to consider a 40-year-old for an entry level position.

At this point, if you're not getting any nibbles with your current resume, I think it's likely that everything before about 2001 on your resume is hurting you more than it's helping. Chop it off. If you interview well, then by the time people are quizzically looking at your grey hair you'll have already made it past the HR hurdle and can explain your varied work history in a way that is flattering rather than confusing or offputting.
posted by iminurmefi at 6:40 PM on February 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: please be more relaxed, prepared, and less defensive than you are in your responses here.

Oh, that is absolutely not a problem. I am very relaxed, positive, confident, and usually over-prepared when I interview.

I will look at Awkward Engineer.
posted by A neighbourhood park all covered with cheese at 7:31 PM on February 17, 2012

Response by poster: desjardins: I thought Kaplan was a test prep company. I wonder if I have the experience necessary to apply for a job as an admissions advisor. I will look into it.

As for insurance companies--I still don't know what *kind* of job at an insurance company you are talking about. I'm happy to look into it of course, but what job description am I looking for?
posted by A neighbourhood park all covered with cheese at 7:34 PM on February 17, 2012

OP: No worries, I get it.

There are a number of industries that do not care if you don't have experience: all they want is to be able to train you. And for that, they need a college grad that is capable and eager to work. Insurance companies, Retail exec programs, Financial Advisor training programs, Car sales, Telemarketing, - all paid training with health.

Insurance companies: you're looking for 'become a licensed agent' jobs (some who take inbound calls from customers and take orders for property insurance. Others, such as life/health insurance may go out to see clients). The point of insurance is they need licensed bodies, they will hire fresh grads with no experience, and they training is paid, along with health insurance.

Business writing jobs: Do a combo effort. Look on CL under writing-related terms, but also make a list of local Chicago companies that are small (use to find these), less than 30 and approach them for a marketing *assistant* position. Assistants do a lot of the copy for websites, brochures, trade show material, you name it, - and every company needs this. $500+ a week, health insurance.

Very important - do not sound desperate in the initial contact with companies.

Get to CL 1st thing each morning, and email those 30-employees or less company execs every day before 9 am to get noticed quickly.
posted by Kruger5 at 8:18 PM on February 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, two BA degrees might be hurting you, and you might want to leave the older one off, particularly if it's in a field not relevant to business. I have two degrees that are not relevant to business and the first thing anyone asked in an interview was 'what's with these degrees?'

I personally find it odd and sad that people are so suspicious of non-work related education, but it is a real thing.
posted by winna at 9:45 PM on February 17, 2012

Perhaps instead of a chronological resume, use a functional resume -- one that highlights what you bring to the table -- your transferable skills. Work on a 30 second "elevator speech", if you don't already have one, summarizing what strengths and skills you offer to a company. Print up business cards and resumes. Then go to some nearby industrial parks and use your strong interpersonal skills to sell yourself to companies.

Even though you're not collecting unemployment you should still be able to attend workshops offered by the department of labor. Attend job fairs that the DOL should be advertising. It may also be possible to get some additional training money to put towards specific job skills.
posted by indigo4963 at 11:16 PM on February 17, 2012

1. Look beyond your current area for jobs. I live in DC metro area and technical writer jobs are EVERYWHERE. Every English major grad i know who rolls into town is having to swat away excess offers with sticks the recruiters are so hounding.

2. What word processing package ARE you familiar with? You graduated in 2011 with an English degree which= lots of writing papers. what program did you use for writing papers?
posted by TestamentToGrace at 2:49 PM on February 18, 2012

Also, in the meantime, get a job as a server in a restaurant. It will mean money to live on while you are searching for a job in line with your degree and skills. And there are ALWAYS restaurants hiring and willing to train you.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 2:51 PM on February 18, 2012

Check into alternative certification for teachers. charmcityblues mentions this above.

You could also find out whether requirements for teaching positions are different for private schools than they are for public schools.
posted by Sallyfur at 6:22 PM on February 18, 2012

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