Advice/Thoughts for a recent college grad who doesn't like his job.
August 12, 2012 8:51 PM   Subscribe

I just graduated college and have been working full-time for one month. I really don't like my job because I think I ended up in the wrong industry/type of business. I'm hoping for any suggestions, advice, or thoughts about how I can go about figuring out what industry/type of business/job would be a better fit for me. I am talented, smart, and hard working, but I feel like I am wasting my life because I'm not interested in my company or the work we do.

Hi everyone! I've been a long-time lurker of AskMeFi, and I look forward to contributing now that I'm a member.

For now, I'm hoping people can give me some advice and thoughts about my life and career, as I find myself particularly frustrated and angry with how things are going for me.

I just graduated from a top university (hint: we’re ranked above Harvard on the latest Forbes top colleges list—not that these rankings mean anything though) where I majored in philosophy. I wasn’t very pre-professional in college, nor was I involved in extracurricular activities, which made my job hunt more difficult since I couldn’t spin extracurricular interests into a job or focus on a particular track (e.g. economics major → banking). For most of college I thought I wanted to be a philosophy professor, so I just focused on academics and hanging out with my friends. I did very well (got a 3.8/4.0) and made some great friends. Then I did some research about the lack of tenure-track positions at good schools and I realized that I wouldn’t be secure after going to graduate school in philosophy, so I decided to look for a full-time job following graduation. (I also realized that philosophy is my personal passion, not my professional one).

I had some summer work experience, though nothing special, and I’ve ended up working for a PR/communications consulting firm in NYC full-time.

Although I’ve only been working for about a month, I have a very strong feeling that I want to leave in one year. I know most young people don’t stay at their first company very long anymore, but it is still frustrating going to work everyday feeling like I’m wasting my time.

I’m hoping for advice on two fronts: (1) how I can figure out what industry or type of work is a good fit for me; (2) whether any industries or work fits with what I think would be a good fit for me, based on what I’ve learned in my month at work.

Starting with (2), here is what I don’t like about my current job:
(a) PR/Communications is very, very time sensitive. If one of our clients needs help with a communications or PR issue, it doesn’t matter what time of day it is or if it is a weekend, we have to work (we do bill by the hour, though). I don’t like this because I don’t feel like I have a life and, to be honest, I don’t care about the issues of our clients.
(b) It is not intellectual. When confronted with an issue, the solution or procedure is usually “Just go find examples of other companies that went through the same thing and see what they did.”
(c) I don’t feel like I’m in control of what I’m doing. Since I’m in a client-focused business, it’s all about the client.
(d) My workday never really ends. This is related to (a), but also because I have a company blackberry that my superiors use to ask me to do things based on the clients’ schedule and needs.

Also, I’ll just mention that I’m not very happy with the pay. I’m earning 50k, which is a lot better than many people in this economy, but its not a great deal considering the living expenses of NYC and considering the time I work after I leave the office and on weekends. Things have been pretty slow since it’s the summer, so I haven’t really experienced what it is like to work at my company, but I’ve been told that the hours get much more intense (leaving after 8 pm) if there is a client issue (which is frequent since that’s what we work on).

In any case, are there any industries that have the opposites of (a)-(d) as working conditions? Let me say this, too: I don’t have a problem working long hours—the “good old days” of the 9-5 are over. But I don’t want to work a lot at something that I don’t care about, and when the work day ends (even if that is like 8 pm) it should end; I shouldn’t get emails on my blackberry asking me to do more stuff before the next day (that being said, maybe that wouldn’t bother me if I cared about the work I was doing). I’m having a really hard time figuring out what type of work, industry, or companies would be a good fit for me. I’ve come up with the following, but I don’t know if they match up to a possible job:

(A). I need to work with other people. I had a summer job where we worked in small teams working out particular issues for the company and we got to present those issues and our solutions in meetings. I really enjoyed working closely with other smart people for the entire work day. At my current job, I’m often told to do something that I then just email off to whoever asked for it. I understand that’s part of being new at the company, but I also think it’s a waste of my talent and intellect.
(B). I like working at an abstract level that actually applies to the concrete level. I just finished reading the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson and I love how philosophical discussions about the user experience and design influenced the actual products Apple makes. A job where conceptual thinking makes a difference in how something is done, or in imagining what is possible, would be great for me given my interest and talent in abstract thinking. Really, I feel better about the work I’m doing when I’m helping to determine how it’s going to be done. I like making a plan to accomplish something and then executing the plan.
(C). I prefer customers to clients. I hate how I basically work for the client. That can interfere with innovation since you have to do something the client is comfortable with. Although customers and clients are similar, they are also very different. I think making something that a person uses would be good for me (I currently make information that a company uses for PR/communications purposes, but I feel like that is either too abstract or just fluff; whatever the reason, it doesn’t excite me).
(D). Laid-back/more relaxed culture. My company is mostly older people and that definitely gives it a more conservative corporate feel, even though it’s a small company. I like working with young people that are a bit more laid back. I have to wear a suit to work everyday even though clients don’t come to our offices….that just doesn’t make any sense to me.

All of this seems to tell me that I should try to land a job with a start-up in California, but I’m really open to anything because life is too short not to be happy with what I’m doing. Money is important to me, but after having worked for a month, I realized interest in my work is more important, and will lead to greater overall happiness (possibly even wealth).

That leads me to (1). How do people figure out what type of job, etc, is good for them? I’m sure a big part of it is just trying different stuff; just being in this job for one month has helped me figure out a little bit what matters to me in a job. But, what are some other things that people do to figure this stuff out?

I have reached out to my friends and family about this, but most of them just say “well that’s work, it’s not supposed to be great every day” or “just be happy that you have a job in this economy.” I definitely know everyday isn’t going to be fantastic in any job, but I really think I’m in the wrong industry/type of business. And, I know the economy is terrible, but I really don’t want that to make me feel like I’m stuck at this company forever; things will change eventually and even if I have to wait it out a few years, I’d like to have an idea of where I might try going next.

My apologies for how long this is, but I wanted to give you a full picture of where I’m coming from. I really feel awful every day because of my job and I want to start being constructive about it, so this is my first step!

Thank you in advance, everyone!
posted by laffytaffy9000 to Work & Money (23 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
To:dr: welcome to work. Suck it up, be glad you have a job. First gigs are about learning how to go to work. 50K means you can save while you learn how to function and figure out your next step. 1 month is not long enough for you to have learned very much and if you leave now, why would anyone else want to hire you?
posted by Ideefixe at 9:07 PM on August 12, 2012 [9 favorites]

Working, on the whole, means doing things you might not love in exchange for money. At one month, leaving would likely be a poor decision, and reflect badly on you. A "start-up in CA" is not like the movies, where you get a swank laptop in a cool house with a pool -- and it certainly isn't one for a former philosophy student.

Chill out where you are, and figure out how to thrive. Your friends are right.
posted by ellF at 9:11 PM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Nope, this is how real life works. Suck it up, learn, put in your hours, and get good at dealing with the things that bother you right now. You have not experienced this job nearly long enough to have a set in stone idea about it.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 9:12 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

A lot of this stuff, I'm not sure about. I don't think you need to be content with what you're doing, especially with that kind of money in NYC, but I will say this: Try to do the best you possibly can, anyway, and try to stick it out for 2-3 years if you can. Something I have heard from all over the place lately is people struggling a lot more to explain job-changes that happened after a relatively brief time, especially when they're walking out without good references. On the flip side, even if you spend that entire time making your plans about what you do next, whatever you do next, if you walk out of it with a little more work experience and good references, it will go smoother. And especially as far as your discretion in how you do what you do... you will get a *ton* more of that after the year mark, in most new-grad kind of work. The first year is usually still basically "training".

Part of this is probably just the process of adjusting to work, but it's entirely reasonable to discover you're not really cut out for PR and there's no reason to try to force yourself to like it. But after some adjustment time, you may discover that you have an entirely different set of things that really are problems with the job, and that some of this is a lot more tolerable once you're used to it. I got so used to bringing work home in my previous line of work that I have to stop myself from doing it at my part-time job or I'd never have anything to do at work--but I like what I'm doing now, so it wouldn't be a chore to do it at home.
posted by gracedissolved at 9:13 PM on August 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

$50k right out of college with no special experience? Don't bitch about that if you want to garner sympathy. You might be able to find a job that's less demanding of your time, but not for that kind of money at your experience level. Being on call 24/7 is part of what they're paying you for.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:20 PM on August 12, 2012 [8 favorites]

...and I love how philosophical discussions about the user experience and design influenced the actual products Apple makes. A job where conceptual thinking makes a difference in how something is done, or in imagining what is possible, would be great for me given my interest and talent in abstract thinking...

well, it already sounds like you know what you like to do. maybe you should explore a career in UI design and user experience. or user experience for anything.
posted by gt2 at 9:26 PM on August 12, 2012

I think you need to give this longer than a month. I didn't like my first job out of school for a good six months because I thought I was too smart for it (I even asked a similar question and got the same "grow up and stop acting like an entitled whiner" type responses you're getting)...but then I actually spent some time doing it and realized there was a lot of depth I wasn't seeing, and a lot to learn that I hadn't really even understood I didn't know yet. I was at that job for two and a half years, learned a ton, and then traded up to my dream workplace working on something I wasn't passionate about, and after two years of that traded up again to another job in my dream workplace working on my dream project. So five years out of undergrad I have the job I wished for at your age - but I now know that I wasn't ready for it then. Work hard, build your network, keep your ears open, and don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If you get an opportunity to change jobs to something that sounds better, take it, even if it isn't necessarily optimal.

All that said, I think your requirements conflict. You want work-life balance, clearly, but you always want to work with driven, intelligent people in environments with a lot of interpersonal interaction? That won't happen. If you want the bright and hard-driving people you had better be prepared for the fact that some of them work 80+ hours a week, and want to. A lot of startups look laid-back in their PR material, but you had better believe there are people putting in long, long hours to pay for those brightly-colored perks. You need to figure out whether being able to occasionally turn off your phone on the weekends is more or less important to you than working with the brightest people, because it's hard to find a workplace that has both of those features.
posted by town of cats at 9:36 PM on August 12, 2012 [10 favorites]

Stick it out and suck it up. I say that with a thousand shoulder pats of understanding, really I do.

Seek out intellectual pursuits elsewhere. Pick up politics or learning about something cool as a hobby. Most people don't find their jobs intellectually stimulating, even when they're working in their beloved field, and often it's the job that turns anything you love into drudgery. Not always, but often.

So, seriously, hold on to this job for a while. Learn to see the highlights. Make yourself love it, even in some small way, and in the meantime do whatever you can to build yourself up in your job. Do whatever you can to make yourself look like a demi-god at what you do. Learn to connect with your clients, even if they're seemingly stupid/annoying/death-warmed-over. Make your clients love you. If it applies, teach yourself even better public speaking, even better ways at reading people, learn to listen. Become wise. Talk to the head people in your company after about 6 months like you're interviewing them about how they broke into this business - say you admire their tenacity and you'd like to learn how you can get to where they are. Fine tune who you are and your skills.

Save up your moolah. Don't waste it on a big TV, new cars, or too much booze, books, DVDs, and electronics. If anything, see if you can find a cheaper place, so you can save more money and get out in anywhere from 3 to 5 years.

And by the way. NEVER, EVER, EVER mention you want to leave the company. To any employee, manager, or head person. Not even if you're at a casual lunch. Not even if you're at a bar and have had a few drinks. Not even if you found a best bud in some other department who has no interest in moving up or sideways into your job. In fact, put it out of your head right now, lest you accidentally mention it to someone later. Keep your mouth shut about it, I swear.
posted by DisreputableDog at 9:38 PM on August 12, 2012 [11 favorites]

How sure are you that this is really your dislike of your field, and not growing pains/culture shock at being out of school for the first time in almost your entire life?

Agree with ThePinkSuperhero that you are doing DAMN well for someone your age. You have a job? It's a professional job with a career track rather than pulling pints or delivering pizzas? And it pays real money and is not menial shit work "paying your dues" in hopes that you someday build enough career capital to actually get by? And you didn't have to spend a year or so doing unpaid internships to get it?

Consider yourself lucky.

On a more constructive note, this is the time to think very realistically about what you'd like to be doing, and figure out how to get there. You're 22 years old. You have plenty of time to think about this and play the long game of getting where you want to be.

What do you absolutely hate about your job? What do you like? What would maybe be OK if condition X or Y were different? Can you solve for X or Y? In other words, would you like your job (or some/most aspects of your job) if you had your own business? If it was for a larger purpose like helping people, furthering a cause, or creating something beautiful? If you were showing up every day in a city you liked better, or with a group of people you didn't personally hate?

So make an inventory about all that stuff. Is there a way you can change those things? Would would it require? More school? Networking? Freelance work? Getting to the next rung up the ladder? Do those things, or take steps that will start the process of being able to do those things.

For now, don't focus so much on what other kinds of careers you'd like (the grass is always greener), but on what kind of work life you want to have and how to create it for yourself.
posted by Sara C. at 9:39 PM on August 12, 2012

I have almost exactly the same profile as you. (Except I think I have slightly less horrible hours than you do...)

Two things that have made my work situation somewhat better:
1) Make friends with your co-workers, especially if there are other new hires with similar backgrounds as yourself. I think a big transition from college to work is going from dealing with your friends all day long to dealing with colleagues whom you are obligated to be more professional with. I've found that having just someone to grab lunch and compare notes with makes my days much more enjoyable.
2) Learn on your own. I'm not sure if at your company you are just given a lot of uninteresting busy work, but a lot of times when I'm given less than exciting work, I try to learn the bigger principles at work, and that's usually pretty interesting. I've found that most of my older colleagues are pretty receptive to questions and will take the time to explain things to me.

I'm planning on sticking it out at my job for at least a year or two before considering other options, and I would urge you to do the same. I figure if I have this opportunity to be at this job, I might as well get the most learning out of it as possible before I move on.

Anyways, feel free to message me if you want to compare notes/talk further.
posted by dragonfruit at 9:43 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

A "start-up in CA" is not like the movies, where you get a swank laptop in a cool house with a pool -- and it certainly isn't one for a former philosophy student.

Okay, I started cracking up when I read this, because last month I quite literally spent a week with my company working from a laptop in a cool house with a pool, and my undergrad degree is in philosophy. (The moral: learn to code.)

That said, I agree with everyone else that you really ought to stick it out at least a year, for the sake of your resume and to prove to all potential future employers that you are an adult who takes being professional seriously.

Learn how to handle office politics. Learn how to handle showing up and getting the job done even when you don't feel like it, or when you have personal shit going on in your life. Do something great for your company that will make a great bullet point on your resume or talking point in your next interview. And work on the skills you'll need when you take your next step towards something that suits you better.
posted by 168 at 9:45 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I just finished reading the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson and I love how philosophical discussions about the user experience and design influenced the actual products Apple makes.

I didn't read the biography, so maybe you can tell me. Did Steve Jobs get to be a person who had a best-selling biography because he was "laid-back" and worked 9-5? Did he ever send anyone an email on a weekend or an evening demanding that something be done by the next morning?

You figured out early that there are a lot more people who want to be professors than actually get to be professors. This is a specific example of the general trend that most people don't get to work such a dream job that they wake up every morning, clap their hands, and say, "wahoo!" in anticipation of the work day.

Take a look at the responses. You have it pretty good right now. Apply your Yale philosophy skills to evaluate your idea of "are there any industries that have the opposites of (a)-(d) as working conditions?" That would give you a job that is:

a) not time-sensitive
b) intellectual
c) puts you in control
d) has limited hours with no work outside the office

Do you not see the humor?
posted by Tanizaki at 9:54 PM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow! Thank you for all the fast responses, everyone. I really appreciate it. I'm about to get to sleep, so I will respond to the comments in more depth tomorrow, but first: sorry for the miscommunication. I don't want to leave my job right now, that would be very, very stupid as many of you have said. I am thinking about leaving after a full year on the job, minimum. Obviously a lot can change in one year (I could end up loving working for this company, in this industry), but in the event that my feelings don't change, I want to be prepared to make my next move. So if I identified industry X as interesting to me right now, I could spend the year learning about industry X so that if I decide to leave my current job, I'd be up to speed on the important stuff going on in industry X, etc. Maybe this is trying to plan way too far in advance, but this is more what I had in mind. Thanks again everyone. Its great to know that so many people are willing to offer their advice and thoughts.
posted by laffytaffy9000 at 10:02 PM on August 12, 2012

1) how I can figure out what industry or type of work is a good fit for me;

There are a few things that I would do if I were in your shoes:

• Make a list of what you like and want and those deal breakers (it sounds like you have already started) - but keep making this in the next job or two, because it can change based on the setting. Also, some of the things on your list...are probably not related to the factors that you think they are. For example, working those hours (long, weekends, unpredictable) is likely a characteristic of NYC -- seriously, I know people who do things at 5:00 in the morning on call...I don't think that I've met anyone who doesn't work like this here unless they are earning 30K or less (it 's a choice, though).Laid-back/more relaxed and age...those two are not related (it comes from the corporate environment and what someone else dictates) evaluate this during the interview, but some places can have young people and still dress in suits. Also, a start up? If you think that you have no time now, a start up is 10X worse and they may fire you if they don't see the hours and commitments week to week. So in addition to talking to making your list, talk to lots of people in different industries.

• I think that you are a long way from defining what you truly want, but once you get there, do info interviews. I initially used it to just assess: Would this career match my must have list and not have at least the one or two big deal breakers? If you want more on this , feel free to memail me...but I think that you may spend a bit of time at your current job and the next few jobs making your list.

• Eventually, when you identify a job title and industry, be very careful and evaluate them during the interview. Some companies (HR people, etc.) may tell you what they think you want to hear in the interview. So...evaluate (are they working in cubes? Offices? How are they dressed). Ask the same question to several people because inconsistencies will pop out. Ask to talk to someone who does what you want to do at that company, because that is where you can truly assess if it is a good match or not.

(2) whether any industries or work fits with what I think would be a good fit for me, based on what

• In the end, you will have to do a hunt for a place that matches your values, skill sets, and all the other parameters, but one place of employment that you may want to consider are universities. Why? When I've worked at them in the past (and they also have jobs in PR and their own communications, which applies to you if you stay in the field) is that it is not as intense as corporate environments. They also often offer free tuition as a benefit, which may translate into your appreciation of philosophy as a passion (as a heads up, the pay is often lower, but can't get everything that you want).

Now something that jumped out at me from your a wall of text. I agree, you can absolutely go after a job that is intellectually challenging (and I agree, it makes you a much happier person...).

But something that did not occur to me when I was younger and that you can do now. You know how you are making your list? Don't stop there. Look around at your current workplace (and ideal future places) and make a list of skills that would help you get there. Got your list? Good. Now go learn them at your workplace. It may mean talking to Bob and going to lunch with him and picking his brain. Better yet, if you can find a way that it relates to what you do and your coworkers do, try to organize lunch and learns and have it blessed by your manager and HR.So you go after what skills you want. Find out of if they offer or will pay for training. Do you have down time at work and you MUST still sit there? Find podcasts and listen to the material that teaches you how to do X or read material related to your industry...but continue using the time to learn.

Evaluate the processes (especially with "timely" responses and being client oriented). This often translates into no one listening to the client and everyone running around like chickens with their heads cut off). If you make a list of what the client requests, store it, have a procedure in place...everyone will be happier. Many companies don't do this, but see if it can be put in place (mention it to a manager...they will love it and let you go with it, or act neutrally, but you can still do it on your own). Anyway, there are ways in the mean time to make your job more stimulating until you find another job at some point in the future.

Feel free to memail me if you want more input on any of the above. To be honest,I really was never happy working for anyone else and bopped around from job to job,so I've done job hunting, defining what I want, blah blah blah. I strongly believe that people should make a list of what they want and don't want in a job and go after it don't have to sit in a square cube unless you want to but YMMV.
posted by Wolfster at 10:10 PM on August 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

"(b) It is not intellectual. When confronted with an issue, the solution or procedure is usually “Just go find examples of other companies that went through the same thing and see what they did.”"

Here's an idea: Start building a library of these. Maybe you do PR/communications for clients in crisis, so you start looking at what other companies did in terms of PR and messaging after an environmental disaster (BP oil spill, Exxon Valdez), how it played in the media, maybe some media follow-ups a couple years later, look at how the company's share price reacted to the news, etc. Maybe the crisis is a teenaged starlet who got caught smoking pot with her ex-boyfriend's best friend and it's going to tank her reality show. Now you've got a library of Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears and other starlets crashing and burning and how it played in the press and how they recovered

As you do this, you'll get an idea of what happened when other companies went through the same thing, and whether their PR responses worked or not. So when someone says "Blue is having a crisis, its new Cerulean product is tanking in the market, let's do what Yellow did when it spun off Sunflower!" You can say, "That strategy was a failure but looking at the data for the past decade, I think a strong response here would be XXXX."

IOW, while you're being derivative, really start building a library of those derivative responses and track which ones work and don't. Then you'll start to be the guy to go to for new and interesting ideas, because you'll known what was tried and why it didn't work.

Two other points:
1) There's a less crackberry culture overall in the middle of the country. It's still there, but it's pretty normal to turn it off for family dinner or to leave work for a kid's T-ball game. With shorter commute times and less work-bleeding-into-life, it's a little better even when the office is just as bad.

2) If you're in an industry where there's always a client, you have to find the right client. That might mean finding a firm that serves a mix of clients that you like, but it might mean going in-house with a single client whose work you believe in. So if you can think about some of the types of clients you might like to be in-house with, you can think about honing skills that would make you stand out to them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:30 PM on August 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

As a new graduate, you often have to "do your time" at a less-then-stellar job before you can move onto bigger and better things. It doesn't matter what kind of job you have post-college, there are going to be times where you're going to have to put in time outside of the 9 to 5 routine if you want to grow professionally. If you don't, you're quickly going to be placed in the "clock watcher" box by your superiors. I worked in marketing, and 50 hours/week was pretty much the minimum. My husband works in finance and he generally works at least 60, sometimes 70 hours a week.

That said, you should always be on the lookout for new opportunities that are a better fit for you!

There's no reason to wait a year, either. Unless you've signed paperwork to the contrary, you can start your own consulting/freelance business on the side. Network like crazy! join the professional organizations in your area. Answer questions on LinkedIn. Start a blog. Get your name "out there" in your field. Soon, the right opportunity will come along.

And as Eyebrows McGee said, the midwest has a strong work ethic but it is indeed a little more relaxed. Read the Silicon Prairie job boards for ideas.
posted by Ostara at 10:40 PM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

1. Money: I think it's easy to get a slightly inflated idea of what salaries should be right out of college, because they increase a lot in the first few years. My major was in the hard sciences at a top tier school, and I got an engineering position right out of college at a CA start-up. It paid way less than I was expecting - but within three years, due to one promotion and one company change, my salary increased 44%.

2. Figuring out your next job:
2a. Look at your co-workers again. Do you want to do what any of them are doing?
2b. Look at job openings. What are some that only require a bachelor's degree and not any specific skill? Things like HR, PR (which you're doing now, obviously). If you can think about the transferrable skills now, you can start working on them now.
2c. Look at your interests. What do you find really interesting as a set of professional problems to solve? What skills do you need to get a job solving those problems?

3. Getting the most out of this job: You should try to think of this position as being about building skills and reputation.
3a. Find a co-worker whose work you admire, or whose work your co-workers admire. Think about how to be more like them.
3b. Work on improving those transferable skills you came across in your job hunt. Maybe work on more jobs involving this particular type of client, or do extra research when those jobs come up.
posted by Lady Li at 11:59 PM on August 12, 2012

I often think of jobs/great fit in terms of three things. The position has....

Right content: the topics/issues you work on are interesting/meaningful to you
Right skill set: the tasks that you do each day are interesting/meaningful to you
Right environment: the setting that you do it in, fits your work style/values, etc.

My sense is that if one of these things is off it becomes more challenging. If two are off, basically if you have any choice or options at all, you'll be looking for an out within 6 months - 1 year, or will get worn down by feeling incompetent, trapped, etc, unless you've mastered mindfulness and/or gratitude.

In your case, it seems like at least two of these things are off. The content of the work doesn't necessarily interest you, and the environment doesn't feel like a good fit. One thing that stood out is the combination of doing work at all hours, but not really being attached to the content - or the client. Wolfster and ostara are right - if you do think that the skill set - the tasks of pr are interesting - then consider finding organizations or clients where the content/client does resonate with you.

There are lots of strategies you could pursue, but if I was to limit it to two which I think might be more effective:

1. See if your alma mater has career services for alumni. Many do, sometimes for a small fee. It really doesn't help when friends and family tell you to suck it up, when what you need is some clear, tangible steps about how to do some career exploration. That's a skill set, one that wolster was talking about, and while you probably can figure it out on your own, it might help to get the support of someone who works with students, and can tell you how to use your alumni contacts.

2. I think informational interviews are awesome, but if you're going to start more low effort, high return with broader results, join linkedin if you haven't already - connect to EVERYONE you know so you can get a bigger data set, and use the search engine to find people and positions. You can type in "PR" and "Education" or "University", and everyone in your network that does PR in academic institutions will pop up. As will their resume, with information about that job (so you can learn about it), information about their previous jobs (so you can read their career path) and even future career paths (because that PR job might have been their first job ten years ago, and they've moved on to doing PR for some large foundation, or they moved from PR to communications director).

So what I'm saying is, start by taking 1-3 months to find job titles, organizations, and people who seem to have done interesting jobs. As you list them, see where they cluster - are they all working on certain topics you believe in (right content) or is all the work PR, marketing, communications, (skill set), or are they all for organizations who's mission you believe in/find interesting (environment). It's the clusters that give you a sense of where you should be looking next. Then you can do the informational interviews and spend the rest of the year making connections to move to the next job.

Please note that it's rare that someone starting in their career finds the "next job" as their "perfect job". It's more, you see what the clusters seem to be telling you, and what the job market looks like, and you try to make a move 'closer' to what's a good fit. For example, if you like PR, but would like to focus on an education campaign for and organization like Save the Children. Or maybe be the assistant director of communications for a research institute at a university, and involved in developing the overall strategy and implementation, including teaching scientists about using social media as a professional tool. I know people in roles like that, and I think their work is pretty neat. Both of them got there by figuring out what they liked, and were good at, and making small jumps into positions that got them closer to a better fitting job...where they figured out more about what they liked, and were good at, and then did informational interviews/networking to moving into a slightly better fitting job. Like lily pad jumping.

I understand what everyone is saying about sucking it up - in the end a great fitting job is not a right. But if you happen to be lucky enough to have the freedom to explore and find something that suits you even just a little bit better, I'd highly encourage you to try.

But I'm going to really encourage you to connect with a career counselor at a university to practice an informational interview, so you can get feed back on how to present your goals and your career exploration skillfully. The language you are using in your quest to find a well fitting job is slightly getting people's backs up, for a couple of reasons. Most of which have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with how stressed/angry/messy people are around work and the choices they made. Doing a mock interview will let you get some feedback to make sure your language presents your quest in the best light.

If you don't get a chance, three things:

1. I encourage you to never 'hint' at your top ranked institution again. Don't be coy. Just say it. Hinting will annoy people, which is part of the reason I think you're getting some of the 'suck it up' language here. I realize you might be sharing it to share the point that you work hard, and/or are smart, but you'll end up alienating people who supposedly 'rank' below you academically, and dollars to donuts, you'll end up talking to some CEO from the University of Vermont who will think you insufferable, and another CEO from Oxford who will find you laughable.
Without meaning to, rather than helping people find a way to connect with you, you've managed to get them to see themselves in a different class than you. Just say something like you graduated from Princeton, or had the pleasure and privilege of attending McGill.

2. Also, skip the part about your 3.8 GPA. After graduation, your GPA matters little, except in very specific situations -applying for PhD programs, or applying to certain consulting firms, for example. Once again, everyone under 3.8 but with great professional success will just roll their eyes, everyone over that now has reason to wonder why you couldn't get a 4.0. And people who think that grades are inflated, or just mean you know how to take tests, but not that you 'know' anything will wonder why you think they matter so much. None of those things will serve you. Unless specifically asked about you GPA, Instead just say that you did well, academically, professionally and personally at school. Or that you feel that at university A as a philosophy major you learned a great deal about yourself and the world you live in (or whatever is true for you), and your grades reflect your hard work, as do your critical thinking skills, etc.

3. Finally, consider that the very things you find deeply intolerable work-wise are way of life for others you speak with. Don't say that you 'shouldn't get emails on your blackberry after 8pm', because even here at metafilter, where I suspect way too many people are getting emails after 8pm, on a Sunday, even. And even though they don't want to receive those emails either, you saying that you shouldn't will set up their hackles about their professional choices and limitations, and the state of the things in the work world, and will make you sound entitled. Then you'll just get a lot narrative about how in their day, they didn't get 8pm emails because they actually HAD TO STAY AT WORK until 10pm, and walk home with only potatoes to warm their hands, so suck it up because you don't know how lucky you are, etc.

While you may or may not be entitled (maybe you don't think that anyone who doesn't want to should get those 8pm emails and be on the clock all the time either), people will be less inclined to help you if they feel you are. And I say this as a person who does work 9-5, with very smart people, in a job that is intellectually stimulating, personally rewarding and well enough paid, who believes with every fiber of my being that people should do their best in a job that is a poor fit AND commit themselves to trying every day to honor themselves by searching of one that does fit them well.

In any event, those are three examples of what a career counselor could tweak with you, as well as explain the skills you need to engage in career exploration. But a good friend or mentor could serve in the role just as well. It can be exciting to learn the skills to explore and find a position and career that does suit you well. So, good luck. I hope you find what you are looking for.
posted by anitanita at 12:14 AM on August 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

You have a lot of really great answers here! I just want to add a few things that may be obvious but are still important.

(1) how I can figure out what industry or type of work is a good fit for me

What are you good at? Most people love to do things they are good at doing. I think our "corporate culture" asks us to strengthen our weaknesses and we are left fretting about those things when in reality we should be improving our strengths. Your strengths are key.

This also leaves room to add skills that you want to be great at to your list of things to do and learn for your dream job.

(2) whether any industries or work fits with what I think would be a good fit for me, based on what I’ve learned in my month at work.

Clients and customers are the same thing and you will find the same issues. I honestly think that all of the negatives you have stated are present in almost every industry. There are deadlines, demands, and expectations that need to be dealt with. I say, learn to look at these things from a different perspective.
(a) Care about doing good work. Being punctual and reliable are great strengths to have.
(b) Finding the perfect solution even if it has already been done is a skill. Ideas don't have to be 100% original to involve creative thinking.
(c) You can control your clients by being as pro-active as possible. You can also control the situation by leading and directing your clients reactions to situations and the procedures that follow.
(d) Related to (a) and you can say you are an important asset to your team and invaluable to your clients/customers.

Good luck on your life journey! We all did it and some of us are still doing the search!
posted by MyMind at 12:17 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

(a) time sensitive. ...I don’t ... have a life and ... I don’t care about the issues of our clients.
Don't let your employer see this.
What products or services engage you. Apple is obvious, but you are surrounded by things that could/should be better. Traffic design, city planning, building technology, etc. Find an industry that engages you.

(b) It is not intellectual.
It can be. You aren't applying intellect to it. Study it, learn about what really works, read the research.

(c) I don’t feel like I’m in control ...
If you want to be more in control, you have to show that you're really good at the job; then you'll get more responsibility.

(d) My workday never really ends.
Answers above about being proactive, making sure the details are covered, etc., are accurate. People in PR do better when they like talking to customers. Look beyond the immediate question the client has, and you may find that they are interesting accomplished individuals that you might enjoy knowing. When you show a genuine interest in them, you will be much more successful with them.

(A). I need to work with other people. ... I’m often told to do something that I then just email off to whoever asked for it. ... waste of my talent and intellect.
You are working with other people. You are not applying your talent and intellect, because you don't value the work you're doing. In most jobs, if you apply your talent and intellect to solve problems, no matter how small, you will be given increased responsibility. Maybe the way billing is done could be improved. Maybe there's a better way to manage the phone system. You are declining to use your capability because you don't think the problems are worth your effort.

(B). I like working at an abstract level that actually applies to the concrete level. ... A job where conceptual thinking makes a difference in how something is done ... I feel better about the work I’m doing when I’m helping to determine how it’s going to be done. I like making a plan to accomplish something and then executing the plan.
Consider engineering. Seriously, working at an abstract level that actually applies to the concrete level and where conceptual thinking makes a difference in how something is done describes engineering. Software engineering, civil, structural, etc.

(C). I prefer customers to clients. I hate how I basically work for the client.
As long as you are employed, you are working for your boss, your company, your client, etc. I've been self-employed; I really worked for the customer.

(D). Laid-back/more relaxed culture.
I know that many people like dressing casually, and working in an atmosphere that appears non-hierarchical. I work in such an environment. I don't really care what I wear for work as long as I can get dressed and out the door efficiently, and can move comfortably. ymmv. Environments that appear non-hierarchical can be quite difficult, as there is usually (always?) a hidden hierarchy.

You lack job skills. Read Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. It's arguably the single most important job skill. Learn to find the creative approach to the work assigned, to find problems and fix them. Pay attention to what the people around you have to teach you. There's a guy at my work who is really great at fixing mechanical stuff. Every time he comes to our office to fix anything, I pay attention, and I always learn something.

No one cares about your GPA unless you're applying to grad school, or are at a reunion, and probably not even the latter. You majored in philosophy, and you have a job, a decent-paying job that doesn't involve fast food, at that, in what I hope is the worst economy of your lifetime. Work = I provide value + the employer pays me. Provide better value to your employer.

Spend some time in the career section of the library, and use your university's career services. When you really know what you're asking, do information interviews.

If you want to be self-employed, you should understand that owning a business involves working incredibly hard and taking risks. There's always a customer. It can be very rewarding, or you can be unlucky, and end up broke and exhausted.

People have been incredibly kind in this thread. You come across as arrogant, entitled and whiny. Make yourself far more valuable to your employer, or any potential employer. Listen a whole lot more. I think you are not genuinely a jerk, but 4 years of studying philosophy at an institution that takes itself Quite Seriously has not prepared you for work in the regular world. I think that's the least kind - sounding thing I've ever written on, but I think you are unaware, and that awareness will be useful. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 7:33 AM on August 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

You're getting a lot of generic responses telling you to "suck it up" and "stop bitching." I'm sorry you're getting these. A few things:

1. These PR/corporate/whatever consulting firms prey on young BA graduates and their gung-ho willingness to work. It's as simple as that. People who tell you to suck it up may not realize this. These jobs are obscene. The company expects you to burn out. They expect you to have no life, and they know you'll hate it. People who tell you to find outlets outside of work don't realize that it's likely that you'll have no "outside of work" for long stretches at a time. Watch out for words like "collegial environment" in recruiting materials. These are the places that offer concierge service because they don't expect their junior employees to have enough time to do their own laundry.

2. Unless your employer is exceptional, this is not an opportunity to "pay dues." Too many people here perpetuate this sentimental and damaging idea. Many of these firms offer little room for advancement. They expect you to leave and get replaced. A few rare exceptions will pay for a MBA for a few of their employees. To reiterate, that's rare.

3. Given that the company expects you to have no time to cook or shop, you will find that 50K doesn't go far. Given the expectations placed on you, you are underpaid. I went to a school similar to yours, and my friends in consulting were making 50K eight years ago.

Potential ways to proceed:
  • stay on a bit longer, see if you develop a liking for the fast-paced world of PR consulting (hey, it might happen!)
  • develop working relationships with coworkers, see where they go to work when they quit your firm
  • if your firm offers paid professional development, find out what you need to do to receive it (minimum duration of employment, lottery system, personal recommendations, whatever — decide if staying is worth it)
  • use your insider perspective to explore professional master's programs
To sum up, you have the sort of job that a lot of people hold down for a year or two and quit. By itself, it can offer you little except a bad takeout diet and frazzled nerves. Many, many people who have your job soon decide that a professional master's degree is an appropriate next step.
posted by Nomyte at 7:48 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

What I wish I had known in college and my first professional gig: the key to success is making people like you. (On preview, theora55 covered this ground).

Nobody is in a vacuum, and in fact it's a very small world sometimes. Someone you write off/piss off/alienate might have the power to help you or hurt you, years from now. Maybe your current coworker's spouse is in the industry you want to be in someday, and might even have the perfect job for you, but you not only have to get them to know you, you need to get them to like you/believe in you enough to make that call someday. Maybe one of these clients you can't stand could pull you on board an awesome ship. But they have to believe in you enough now to do that.

And on a related note, working with smart people is overrated. I worked with a Rhodes scholar whose office looked like something from Hoarders, who stole the broccoli out of my salad if left in the fridge, stole the postage off my envelopes, and avoided talking to others if at all possible. I've had smart managers who used their intellect to creatively screw everyone out of overtime, vacation, credit for ideas, etc. And I've been on the short end of favoritism situations, and it was AskMe who pointed out that if you're being treated unfairly, you need to figure out why the other person doesn't like you or likes the favorite better, and revise your behavior. That's the only way to positively change the situation.

So just like you would have needed to charm your professors if you needed them to write grad school letters of recommendation, you need to develop your network and work it. And not just in the phony corporate-speak way that some people spam LinkedIn--be a real person. Bring in doughnuts (or whatever), get to know kids' and spouses' names, write thank-you notes and emails. Do good work and make sure your supervisors are aware that you did it.

About broadening your horizons--take classes, listen to lectures, read non-fiction bestsellers. Sometimes the things that click will surprise you.

Good luck!
posted by lily_bart at 8:06 AM on August 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think the "suck it up, you're doing fine" answers are the wrong ones. Your job is basically the equivalent of an internship where you're supposed to show your "pluck and ambition" and the company will pick which ones they want to advance and give salary increases to and which ones they want to move on to someplace else. So "suck it up and keep your head down"-type-answers are just going to screw you over.

Your typical career path given your academic background was probably to go into management consulting, but you could transition to going into some kind of PR-consulting, if that's what you wanted to do. Organizing surveys with a team of social scientists is another kind of path I've seen people with your background go down.

What's really going to help here is to get in touch with your college classmates and see what they're doing and which sorts of jobs they have that your would like to have and work from there. What you want is to go to a company whose hiring philosophy is "hire smart people and see what they're capable of." Unfortunately for you, those are mostly consulting companies, so you're going to have to grapple with that reality for the beginning of your career so that you can get enough experience that a customer-serving company would be willing to hire you.
posted by deanc at 8:58 AM on August 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

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