Only qualified for retail do I break away?
June 3, 2012 2:34 PM   Subscribe

How do you branch away from a retail career when that's all you're qualified for? How do you cultivate the passion/resolve to find something better?

I like to think I am a reasonably intelligent individual. I have a 2 year degree (an unmarketable one; I am still in debt), am an avid book reader (of nearly all genres), enjoy sociological documentaries about other cultures, and find naturopathic medicine pretty interesting. The problem? I'm just not passionate about anything and that makes finding a suitable career really difficult.

I've worked nothing but retail my entire life (I am in my 30s). I frequently receive kudos for my performance and a lot of responsibilities generally follow suit, with my being put in charge of things like training new employees or writing operational procedures for new employees to learn from. These are generally tasks that I am assigned without extra pay and am expected to do as part of my job (though my title is the same as the new employees I am delegated to 'supervise' and train). This has always been the case regardless of the companies I have worked for and assume it is just industry standard at this point.

I generally start off strong, eager to learn and be a productive employee, but after a few years I simply can't take it anymore and find a new job. This has been the cycle of my working life and it has simply burned me out. I am not a social, extroverted butterfly and working in retail has always caused me a great deal of anxiety. I do not like selling things, nor do I enjoy constantly being forced to interact with people (ie: customers). Doing these things emotionally exhausts me to the point where I isolate myself away from people to 'recover' for the next work day. The little social interaction I was comfortable with has pretty much fizzled out as a result. My relationship has sometimes suffered from the constant work-related stress/unhappiness.

Each day is spent dreading the next work day. I am bored, unchallenged, and tired of having to fake extroversion and empathy. I am ridiculously underpaid (barely above min wage) for the knowledge I am expected to have and the responsibilities I am assigned. In fact, I am making LESS now than I did selling pet food right out of high school, despite glowing performance reviews. I have been recommended for a promotion that I simply don't want but feel inclined to take since I already perform the job duties and it would come with a small (<$1) raise. However, I have no desire to manage people. I just want to be given a task and left alone to do it. I am most comfortable (and productive) performing the clerical duties of the store (ie: balancing change orders, deposits, ect.) or other 'behind the scenes' tasks. However, I do not have the training/experience to leap into more of an administrative or accounting role and have no desire to be crushed even further by more student loan debt.

The solution seems simple--just find a new, different career path. Which I have tried doing. Every moment of my free time is generally spent searching for new jobs. I have applied for countless jobs but have yet to be called for an interview. It seems non-retail jobs are all about networking--putting an introvert like me at a severe disadvantage. I feel as though I will be stuck working retail for the rest of my life, and that thought crushes me, robbing me of motivation and enjoyment.

What can I do? I've read countless self-help books, have investigated dozens of potential careers, looked into free courses/training, and have tried to assess my strengths/weaknesses to find a more ideal job match. But at the end of the day I'm nowhere different. I have some potentially marketable interests: holistic nutrition/supplements (my current industry), dogs (nutrition, behavior, training), and drawing (cartoons/comics, illustrations), but feel that a job doing any of those things will result in my not enjoying them anymore. I did work for a year as a freelance artist which was OK, but destroyed by desire to draw and was an unstable source of income that kept me constantly worrying about making ends meet.

I have come to accept that it is unrealistic and out of touch with reality to expect a lifelong career or for a job to fulfill or define me--at this point I just want a job I can tolerate, and not wish for bodily harm as an excuse not to go anymore. I don't even need to make a lot--I would be content with $15/hr and having a more stable work schedule. I'm a very fast learner but there's nothing I really 'specialize' in and despite my eagerness/ambition, jobs simply do not take chances and do on-the-job-training anymore. I do have goals and dreams (ie: live in a van and travel the US, travel abroad, eat fish tacos in the birthplace of fish tacos, run a blog/online comic) which I need my job to fund, but since things look so bleak I keep whittling those goals and dreams to nothing, hardening myself to the enjoyment they give me so I won't be disappointed by never realizing them.

Where can I go from here? I feel like I've exhausted all the venues available to me. Any advice for someone who hates their retail job but is terrified (in this economic climate) to find something better or do something as drastic as quitting and living out of a van for a while?

*Note: I have been diagnosed with a mood-related disorder, which I am on medication for. I know that this likely contributes to some of my feelings, but does not invalidate them.
posted by stubbehtail to Work & Money (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
What is your 2-year degree in? Is it in something accounting/business related? Are you qualified to do bookkeeping or work in some kind of accounting capacity, whether through coursework or work experience? Because your skill set sounds like you'd be good at that sort of thing, and in my experience it's usually work that isn't too sought-after, where someone who is good at it and enjoys it can do very well.

What about applying for some bookkeeping or accounting clerk jobs, or taking a night course or two to get certified/qualified/whatever for jobs like that?

Also, you sound like a really great candidate for starting your own business.
posted by Sara C. at 2:45 PM on June 3, 2012

Just saw this:

However, I do not have the training/experience to leap into more of an administrative or accounting role and have no desire to be crushed even further by more student loan debt.

I think you're selling yourself short, here. Either the idea that you'd be "crushed" by "student loan debt" incurred by taking a couple of night classes in order to get qualified for this sort of work, or the notion that you don't have the experience to do that.

Are there any temp agencies in your area? I think they're sometimes not great sources of income if you live in a small town, but meeting with people at a staffing agency might give you a sense of what you're truly qualified to do. I was able to get temp admin jobs at 19, with only a year of college under my belt and almost no work experience.

Also, have you looked into financial aid options for getting more school under your belt, if that's what's holding you back? If you make barely more than minimum wage, you most likely would qualify for some financial aid.
posted by Sara C. at 2:50 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

Take the manager position. As you look for a new path potential employers will like seeing you have progressed in your current work even if the field you choose is completely unrelated to retail.
posted by HMSSM at 4:04 PM on June 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

If you are good at retail but don't want to be a manager ... pursue commissioned sales. Health and fitness products and services (your field) are full of commissioned sales opportunities.
posted by MattD at 5:05 PM on June 3, 2012

Does your resume highlight your work training new employees and writing operational procedures? I think between that aspect of your retail experience and the fact that you have a 2-year degree (doesn't matter what it is) you should definitely be able to find an administrative or secretarial job. It's not amazing work, but it's not terrible either, and certainly has better earning potential than retail. My best experience in admin work was when I was working in reception for a doctor whose field I was really interested in. That kept me engaged and not bored with a role that was otherwise a bit of a slog. Maybe once you build some experience, you could work as a secretary in a university sociology department, or as a receptionist for an acupuncturist or naturopath, or a vet? The best admin people are really interested in the work of the offices they support. In a bigger office, think maybe a supplement company, you could start in customer service and move from there into marketing or something else. Admin jobs are often a good way to get your foot in the door, and it is not uncommon to move on to something else within the same company.

As far as how to get started, I think Sara C. is right that temp agencies are the best way to make the switch. That was how I got my first admin job out of uni (my degree is unrelated and like yours, largely unmarketable). In addition to applying online, keep your eye out for an open house day or even just pop into an office. I recently applied online to a temp agency and didn't hear back, but when I took my resume in to their open house, they were immediately happy to sign me on and found me a job within the week.
posted by snorkmaiden at 5:25 PM on June 3, 2012

I agree with Sara C about selling yourself short--if you're a competent, productive employee in retail you could probably learn to be productive a competent, productive employee in an entry-level accounting/administrative position. I would check out RobertHalf or AccounTemps and try to get some work. There's probably software that you'd have to learn but I would think these agencies would have a way to train you in their office or you could try to learn them as you go on these jobs.

I worked for both of these companies 15 years ago (awhile ago, granted) and I was sent on a lot of jobs that were mostly menial tasks (data entry, filing, etc) until I asked to do more administrative/accounting work and then was sent to Merrill Lynch where I eventually got a job through a friend that worked there.

The good thing about temping is you can see what's out there and then decide what you liked and didn't and when you build up your reputation with the staffing agency you'll probably get more priority for the jobs that come (and be able to pick the better jobs).

Although remember I did this 15 years ago, and the job market is really bad with lots of 20-somethings looking for work, so I would try to talk to someone in a local office first. Find out if they'd have enough work for you most weeks and how many people get eventually hired into full time positions (which was a common track when I was doing it). Also - I remember there were good and bad times to call. Mornings are really bad as they scramble to fill jobs that are coming in and late afternoons were busy too, but middle of day towards the middle of the week especially were the better times to call and pick someone's brain from what I remember.

Best of luck.
posted by theNeutral at 5:27 PM on June 3, 2012

//It seems non-retail jobs are all about networking--putting an introvert like me at a severe disadvantage.//

I'm sorry if you are, or think you are, and introvert. However, using it as an excuse is not going to get you closer to your goals. As you have learned, better opportunities are not going to fall into your lap. You have to go out and get them. If you are not willing to do that, then make peace with a life in retail, put in the hours, and find fulfillment outside of your job. Changing careers is freaking hard. There is no shame in deciding to stay where you are comfortable.

Jobs that don't involve interacting with the human race are few and far between. Even the jobs you may think will get you out of dealing with people will surprise you in the amount of time you end up interacting with others. You are apparently good in the retail world. Your current employer apparently like you. That's a lot more than many people have going for them career wise right now.

//What can I do? I've read countless self-help books, have investigated dozens of potential careers, looked into free courses/training, and have tried to assess my strengths/weaknesses to find a more ideal job match. //

None of that is doing. It's procrastinating, IMHO. If you want a new job, go out and find a new job. Stop thinking about and planning for the idea job that doesn't exist. Waiting for the ideal job can be an excuse to not take any action at all. You hate your current job and you've convinced yourself that you'll hate just about any other reasonably attainable job, except for the unidentified perfect job that doesn't really exist for 99% of us.

The power to change your life is 100% in your hands. You can choose to exercise that power, or not. It's up to you. I see potential in your previous answers about supplements and dog breeding. You obviously know a bit about those worlds, so figure out how to apply your talents in a more interesting way. Dog grooming maybe? Start a pet walking and sitting business. Hell maybe combine interests and start up something related to supplements for pets. Pet owners spend stupid money on stuff their pets don't really need. There is no reason why you can't get a piece of that action. The only thing holding you back is you. So stop doing that.
posted by COD at 5:43 PM on June 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you sound like the perfect person for civil service jobs at the local (city, county, some state agencies) level with titles like "Clerk II" and "Bookkeeper III." A lot of them have variable experience levels like HS diploma + 3 years relevant experience, AA degree + 1 year experience, etc. You have to take a civil service exam to get these jobs, which is perfect for you because that totally takes them out of the networking realm. I bet if you made this your new hobby for six months- studying for and taking civil service exams- you could get into a new job in a year or so (because once you take the test and do well, you get on the waitlist for a bunch of jobs). Most places have kickin' benefits, too. Plus you won't have to work nights, weekends, or holidays anymore.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:25 PM on June 3, 2012

Sounds like you would enjoy being an accountant or a bookkeeper. Or a paralegal. You could probably go to school part-time while you work.

You might also consider signing up with a temp agency, so that you can test out how much you do or don't enjoy an office job.
posted by Kololo at 10:14 PM on June 3, 2012

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