How to Stop Being Underemployed
November 12, 2012 9:13 AM   Subscribe

I somewhat successfully moved out of this situation...But I'm too drained to make any major moves forward, even though the urgency is much greater. Please advise.

I got out of my parents' house after a final argument, and am now living with a friend with her mother and grandmother. Words cannot describe how grateful I am that they took me in without hesitation, and have been anticipating my stay through Christmas.

I really, really don't want that to be the case.

I desperately want to stand up on my own two feet, and bootstrap myself into a full-time job and a new apartment. But my $8.25/hr retail job has been sucking the life out of me at a rapid pace. I spend nearly all of my energy trying to be the Kickass Results-Bringing Employee, so that I can use my bosses as a reference for a better job. This was an easy task for the first couple of weeks. Now, I feel a sense of dread every time I have to go to work: I'm no longer so confident that retail is just a temporary place for me, one stepping stone while I recover from and compensate for all of my past mistakes.

Today, it took me three hours to write a cover letter, and I wanted to cry throughout all of it. The stream of rejection letters since May - complete with intermittent periods of not receiving any contact from prospective employers at all - has been demoralizing. Unlike a lot of my friends, I wasn't good enough to get snapped up by an organization for a full-time job. It's been 6 months since graduation, and I have yet to get my shit together. And now that I'm using up someone else's resources, I have the acute awareness that I am REALLY RUNNING OUT OF TIME.

Please help me cope and get over myself, and perhaps give me some advice on getting prospective employers to finally take an interest in me. Tough love desperately needed. I am way too broke for therapy.
posted by Ashen to Human Relations (36 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
How to write a cover letter:

Take the advertisement and job description and turn it into a set of bullet points about how you meet the criteria.

Here is how I would, for demonstration purposes, take the first paragraph of your post and turn it into bullet points:

I believe I meet your requirements:

- got out of my parents' house after final argument
- living with a friend with her mother and grandmother
- grateful that they took me in without hesitation
- interested in moving on before Christmas

Since you can't factually state "will be moving on before Christmas" you instead put "interested in moving on before Christmas". You should put this wherever it's actually true; if you vehemently had no interest in moving on before Christmas, then obviously, it would be lying to say that you did.

Don't add or take away more words from the advertised job requirements than you have to.

And that is how to write a cover letter in less than three hours.

As for the rest of it, you sound understandably depressed and traumatized and the bad feelings are hitting you now that you're safe. It doesn't mean that your given circumstances are worse than they appear or will go on forever.

Supposing you stayed in retail for a while, would that be *so* bad? Well, would it? Disappointing for sure, but *so* bad? If you keep applying and applying and applying, I promise you you will not stay in retail forever. Really. The people who do are usually the ones who sob "I'll stay in retail forever! Therefore applying is futile!" not the ones who keep on sending 20 applications a week.
posted by tel3path at 9:27 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

P.S. It's been six months since graduation, and not only have you succeeded in removing yourself from your toxic and abusive household, but you have found support from good friends who think so highly of you that they were willing to open their home to you, and you've managed to find work in a tough market even despite all the emotional toll this has taken on you.

That is not the description of someone who "[has] yet to get [her] shit together."
posted by tel3path at 9:29 AM on November 12, 2012 [45 favorites]

It took me, and most of my friends, at LEAST that long to find decent jobs, and we weren't in nearly the nerve-wracking situation you're in. It isn't a personal failing. You aren't 'not good enough.' You didn't cause the Great Recession, did you?

Your family background is making it hard but really, you can and must go easier on yourself. You've escaped a kind of situation that many people never have the strength to leave, that is an accomplishment all on its own.

You know that the phrase 'pull yourself up by your own bootstraps' is a saying that means 'something that is impossible to do,' right? You should not feel bad for accepting the help you're being given right now. Humans are social creatures, we are made to help each other. You need it right now, and one day you WILL pay it back.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:30 AM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

P.P.S. Job applicants who DON'T get a stream of rejection letters are the ones who aren't sending out a stream of applications. That's how you avoid getting rejection letters. It is not personal in any way. It's a numbers game.

Also, it's commonplace and shitty for companies not to reply or communicate about applications you've sent in. This is because they are rude and they suck. It is normal. It also is not personal in any way.
posted by tel3path at 9:31 AM on November 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

It is not too late for you to take advantage of the resources a shelter might have to offer. You don't have to move into the shelter or anything, but they may be able to hook you up with:

• Emergency Medicaid so you can get therapy
• Career resources
• Clothes
• Temporary housing (if it becomes necessary)

The first thing, the emergency Medicaid, is the most important. Because when people are abused they develop coping mechanisms, not all of which are suited for the real world. There's just no way around it. If you've grown up, say, being awoken at random hours by someone screaming at you, hitting you, damaging your property -- then you might have sleep disturbances that make it hard to get to work on time. Or you might cringe every time your boss tells you that your performance wasn't perfect, and think you're going to get fired, even if the evidence points to you being an all-around awesome employee. There are more ways your past can catch up with you than I can list. And if you do nothing to address it now, the past will catch up with you.

So that zero access to medical care? That is a situation that must be remedied as soon as possible, and a DV shelter can help you figure out how to handle it for now. Once you have the insurance situation resolved, look into a trauma program. St. Luke's Roosevelt has one that is free, and New York Presbyterian Hospital's Payne Whitney also has programs that address trauma recovery. You might also look into the SAVI program at Mt. Sinai.

If you are in Westchester County, I encourage you to call My Sister's Place in White Plains: (914) 683-1333. They can help you figure out what your next steps should be, and if they're too far away they can refer you to a nearby organization that can help. In NYC, there is Safe Horizon, and a call to them couldn't hurt as they may also have resources to which they can refer you.

Good luck. You will get through this, but you must care for yourself, and to do that you need to reach out for the appropriate resources.

posted by brina at 9:44 AM on November 12, 2012 [14 favorites]

You don't need tough love, kid. You need a giant hug. Congratulations on getting out of that abusive situation at home. Congratulations on getting it together and a job in a crappy economy despite your depression and very hard circumstances at home. Congratulations on getting up every day and putting a brave face on things and working hard at a difficult, stressful and underpaid job, and congratulations on managing to continue your time-consuming search for a better job even while your current one is sucking away your soul.

You are not "not good enough" -- the economy sucks, and your friends who got good jobs already got lucky. You are doing the right things to take care of yourself right now.

I know I'm not your real mom but I am somebody's mom, and I know what I'd say to you if you were my kid. So let me pretend for a minute, and tell you what your own mom should, but won't:

You are awesome. You are hard-working. You are smart. You've already shown you are brave and resourceful, and capable of solving difficult problems. Any employer would be lucky to have you. Those people who turned you down don't know what you're missing, and if they did they would be sorry. I'm proud of you. Keep working. Keep hoping. You have good things to share with the world.
posted by BlueJae at 9:47 AM on November 12, 2012 [22 favorites]

Echoing the others: you really are doing OK. You are motivated to improve your situation -- that's huge. Keep at it.

For cover letter help -- check college and university career center websites. Most of their model cover letters and resumes are public and extremely, extremely helpful. I'm happy to review your CL if you want to memail me.

Finally, in terms of making ends meet, have you thought about waitressing or bartending? I think those are two of the most stressful and draining jobs in the world, but you can usually make better money than retail.
posted by murfed13 at 9:48 AM on November 12, 2012

PS. I know that the above doesn't answer your question about getting a better job, stat. But addressing the anxiety and depression will help you feel more optimistic about your career search, and might also help you be more successful in that search.
posted by brina at 9:49 AM on November 12, 2012

Tough love desperately needed.

Oh, my dear, quite the opposite - you have been giving yourself "tough love" far past the point you need to. You have done an amazing thing by getting yourself out of a situation.

Have your friend and her grandmother put that "get out before Christmas" limit on you? Or is that all from you? If it is all from you, and they would be cool letting you stay until Christmas, it. You have been through some very, very hard and very challenging things, and you are still standing and on your feet and doing things. Sometimes when life is blowing at you with a full gale strength wind, it takes every bit of strength you have just to stand upright. That's what you've done. You didn't curl up into a ball and go hide, you kept going to the job you had and applying to jobs and finding a safer place to get to even with all that crap going on.

That is amazing, and you need to know that. But that was also draining, and you are absolutely within your rights to just take a deep breath and stand there for a minute now that the storms have passed. You absolutely have your shit together. You are absolutely strong. You were being a kickass employee while your home life was in shambles. You were crying while writing a cover letter, but you kept writing that cover letter even though you were crying.

You are strong. You are amazingly strong. But even the strong get to stop and catch their breath now and then - that's how they stop themselves from burning out.

Your friends have said you can stay until Christmas. Take that time to regather the strength that you've spent holding yourself together through an unbelievably difficult period. Then start moving forward again.

Again, you do not need tough love, because that's what you're giving yourself. You have already proved to yourself how tough you can be. Now you just need to pace yourself.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:51 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Agreed with the others that you are actually accomplishing some important things, here, and need to give yourself credit for them. You're rocking harder than you think!

It looks like you might be in/around Richmond, VA. There is a Workforce Connections program that has many associated programs which might help you get where you need to be somewhat more easily. If you haven't taken advantage of this resource yet, I highly encourage you to give it a go. If you're not in Richmond, search for your municipality and "workforce" or "worksource" to find similar sites. It'll generally look somewhat like the page linked above.

Aside from the job listings on these sites, the offices have professionals that can help you improve your materials, interview and search skills, and perception of what you're offering. Most have a job club with networking opportunities. Most also have employment specialists who can help you tailor your search profile to better match opportunities. And most offices get special notification of opportunities that aren't advertised elsewhere.

Have you contacted 211? They can help you figure out if you qualify for help in a number of ways, which could make your retail wage stretch further and perhaps make things a bit easier on your hosts.

Finally, have you registered with temp agencies? $2 more p/hr than what you're bringing in now is fairly standard entry-level with temping, and I think that could make a huge difference for you.

You're doing a lot. You're succeeding in ways you may not be able to appreciate until you're more stable. It's all a process, and you're doing the most important part very well: committing to it and reaching out when you need help to keep going. Don't stop doing that. It's important. You can do this. Ease up on the self-judgment.
posted by batmonkey at 9:55 AM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

But I'm too drained to make any major moves forward, even though the urgency is much greater.

Oh sweetie, what you're feeling is *normal*. Of course you're drained, you've been living in an abusive situation and you mustered the incredible amount of energy needed to get out of it. Now that you're safe, your body/mind is telling you that you need to be good to yourself to heal.

What you're feeling, most likely, is burnout. It's an entirely reasonable response to your set of circumstances. Here's a book that saved my sanity when I was burning out: Women's Burnout. It's older, but it's still relevant, and much of what is written there is applicable to men and women.

I desperately want to stand up on my own two feet, and bootstrap myself into a full-time job and a new apartment.

You are standing on your own two feet. You took action to get out of an abusive situation. You have no intention of making your current situation the long-term solution. You are still sending out job applications. You're just at a transition phase right now. Everyone goes through them in their lives. They might not all look like yours, but please understand that "being in a transition phase" is not the same thing as "not standing on your own two feet."

I'm no longer so confident that retail is just a temporary place for me, one stepping stone while I recover from and compensate for all of my past mistakes.

Whoa. Given your family's version of reality and normalcy (which they certainly would have passed on to you in part) don't start labelling yourself as making mistakes in the past and certainly don't start thinking about compensating for them until you get into counselling (when you can afford it) and get an objective view about it.

Also--I know it's hard in your situation, but please remember that it can take a very long time to find the right job or even to get interviews. That's the reality of job markets sometimes. Don't take this personally.

I wasn't good enough to get snapped up by an organization for a full-time job.

I've been in the hiring seat several times, and I can assure you it's not necessarily about being "good enough"--it's very often a case of being a good fit for the organization or the organization would love to have someone like you but they just hired someone else with your exact skill set or any one of a number of other options.

I have yet to get my shit together.

On the contrary--I think you totally have your shit together. You got out of an abusive situation and kept your sanity and your motivation and you have a job (not the job you want, of course, but a stepping-stone job)! That's something that many people take way longer to accomplish and many months afterward recovering from.

And now that I'm using up someone else's resources, I have the acute awareness that I am REALLY RUNNING OUT OF TIME.

No you're not sweetie. You're doing very well. You need to be gentle with yourself and not listen to the nasty voices in your head.

Please help me cope and get over myself, and perhaps give me some advice on getting prospective employers to finally take an interest in me.

You don't need to get over yourself. What you need is to care for yourself more and to understand that your current feelings are not only valid, but to be expected.

To cope, I strongly recommend the following:

- avoid your family and anyone else who is anything but positive and loving
- get enough sleep every night (8 hours minimum)
- drink lots of water
- do some yoga or some form of stretching to help reduce the tension (if you do it just before bed you will have a more refreshing sleep)
- do some other form of exercise if you can fit it in
- eat nutritious, comforting foods
- get some touch if you can, either human or animal.
- sit in nature some every day or take a walk. Try not to think about your worries for just 5 minutes

Tough love desperately needed.

No--lots of gentle love needed, and I think everyone reading this question will feel it for you and send you the very best wishes. You deserve the best in life and you're making some terrific moves to get there.

Good luck and hugs.
posted by Amy NM at 10:12 AM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Sweetie! You don't need tough love! You need big helpings of congratulations and "good job!" kudos for getting yourself out of that horrible situation (and in the middle of Sandy, yet!). We are all pulling for you.

I think you are feeling overwhelmed because you are finally in a safe space where you are no longer in survival mode, so now all the feelings you have had to suppress or ignore are washing over you. This is normal.

Brina has some good advice about using any of the public services and domestic violence shelters and resources available to you. Any little bit of assistance will help. And, chances are, the people you are staying with aren't setting a hard deadline for you to be gone - that's your guilt talking.

Re your job: Do you get commissions at all? Because the holiday season is ramping up and if you can stick it out just this little bit longer you can sock away some savings. But if it gets unbearable, and you find yourself having to quit for your own sake, temp agencies are the best route I know of to get your foot in the door at office jobs and other career-making jobs. They will make you take tests for Microsoft Office applications but those are pretty easy, and what they are mostly looking for is someone who can type a letter or make a spreadsheet, not the fancy advanced applications. If you are neat and clean, well-spoken and professional, and have basic Word and Excel skills that will put you miles ahead of so many applicants (seriously, one agency I temped for had to tell its employees not to wear bedroom slippers on the job!).

You have come so far. *Hugs* to you and good wishes and thoughts!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:27 AM on November 12, 2012

You are doing fantastic stuff!

And the reason you didn't get snapped up by a more desirable employer isn't that you "weren't good enough"! It might have been that your particular set of skills and experience were a harder match than than those of your classmates who found promising gigs right away; it might have been the crapshoot that is today's tough job market; it might have been that you marketed yourself less aggressively than the job-finding classmates did; who knows?

But please don't tell yourself you're "not good enough" when you have a career setback.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:37 AM on November 12, 2012

Thank you for all of your replies. I'm going to try to add details that clarify things brought up in your responses. I forgot to add them when I first wrote the post:

1) In college, I spent 2 out of 4 years dealing with undiagnosed and/or untreated depression. I spent another year futzing around on medication that didn't fully work, and grappled with a bunch of issues probably highlighted in my previous questions. I bring it up because this did devastating things to my GPA, such that I cannot apply to graduate school (a safe place to go, despite the steep price), cannot dangle said GPA to attract prospective employers, and do not have any fellowships or internships under my belt as a result. The whole "2-4 years of experience can be negotiated if you have internships" deal doesn't apply to me. Without those things, I can't excuse my resume - no matter how prettily I try to frame my lack of non-clerical experience. And the scariest element of all of this is that I barely qualify for entry-level jobs, such that my fear of being trapped in a part-time retail/restaurant cycle is not entirely unfounded. To prove this, I'll happily forward my resume...

2) My references aren't good enough. Any professor who's known me for long enough to become aware of my depression is not going to have very nice things to say about me, given my habit of disappearing mid-semester and asking for extensions. I wouldn't dare ask my thesis advisor, and I'm really worried that my professional references are going to screw with applications. Actually, when all that separated me from a TFA position was a professional reference, they *did.* Or maybe the other person's references were better. I'm not sure.

3) I don't live in Richmond, but New Brunswick, NJ (my home city). I have the numbers of several really awesome shelters, but the one I would have moved into lost complete power when Sandy hit. I'm not sure how things are this week, but I plan to touch base with them.

4) Re: the Christmas deadline: the phrasing was more like "If you end up staying until Christmas, what are you preferences for dinner etc. etc.?" But I'm drawing a hard line: two months is a really, really long time to be a guest in someone's house, and I want to make sure that I get out before their hospitality does. And furthermore, I was constantly reminded of how huge of a burden I was to my parents (like our final argument was over food and how I take up resources). That kind of thinking has stuck with me, and I genuinely don't want to be a burden to a new group of people.

5) I'm with a temp agency, but even when I chase them once a week...nothing. My friend's mother recommends joining multiple agencies, but I can't accept most of the opportunities if they require a car. It's probably important to note that my friend's helping me acquire my license. The only reason I've been getting to work without trouble is because we both work at the same store, and she doesn't mind giving me rides even when our shifts differ.

6) I'm already starting to feel my past catch up with me while at work. I try *not* to believe that not getting any of those damned customer feedback surveys reflects poorly on my ability to "make customers feel great enough that they'll give us a 5," but I'm failing. My two days as a waitress - which caused me anxiety, because I fear failure - were less stressful. Especially because my bosses start getting nervous (and start getting on me, despite going above and beyond every day) when we don't receive enough surveys. The idea of taking on two such jobs so that I actually make more than $700 a month is...daunting.

I am SO. SORRY. this was long. I hope that I addressed everything.
posted by Ashen at 10:55 AM on November 12, 2012

Ashen, the fact that you did everything you've done while at the same time suffering from depression and living in ground zero of a hurricane zone makes you pretty much akin to being Wonder Woman.

Also, it doesn't in the slightest sound like your friends are trying to push you out before Christmas -- in fact, it sounds more like they were trying to plan ahead and help provide you with any Christmas traditions you might be missing. They're trying to take care of you, not get rid of you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:01 AM on November 12, 2012 [9 favorites]

Don't assume that your professors won't give you a good reference. Depression is an illness. It is not a moral failing. Please remember that. You need to be kinder to yourself, and not assume the worst about yourself and the intentions of those around you.

No more apologies about anything. You are doing what it takes to be fine, and you will be fine!
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 11:06 AM on November 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm so glad to hear from you! Thrilled that you're out of your abusive situation and doing so well!

Don't worry so much about your job. As long as you get money, you're doing better than a LOT of people.

Start banking your money so you can move into a roommate situation or a very cheap studio apartment at the New Year.

Also, right now is not typically the hiring season. Sure, every now and then a job will pop up during the holidays, but the hiring time frame is stupid long due to people being out on vacation, etc.

Don't let this get you down! You have a gig! In retail! At Christmas!

Make hay while the sun shines. Take overtime if you can. Work holidays (double time!) whatever it takes. Bank that money.

If you have student loans, get them into forebearance, or whatever it takes to stop having to stress about them.

As for a shitty GPA and no reference. Hello, that was me. It doesn't matter, ESPECIALLY not for entry-level jobs. Also, I got into a grad school program, no problem, with a 2.0. My job paid for my MBA. Weird, but true.

Apply for call center jobs. Lots of people pooh-pooh them, but they're excellent ways to get your foot in the door at a lot of large companies. I started in Customer Service at the phone company and worked my way up to Data Engineer.

I went from $18,000 per year to over $100K. I'm not especially smart and I mouth off way too much.

As for fearing failure. Shrug your shoulders. Say to yourself, "They can kill me but they can't eat me."

Don't absorb the angst of your managers at work. For $8.50 they get a warm body who can work the register. You show up on time, you're pleasant to the customers, you do whatever they tell you. Whether or not a customer does her homework and does a survey for you, fuck that.

An aside. I hate that shit. I came, I spent money, and I don't care how awesome the associate was, I don't want to be hassled to give her a report card. You're her boss, you know how she is, don't make me do your job.

Okay. I'm better now.

Shine your bosses on. Do what you're asked, but don't fret about things over which you have no control.

As for being a guest. Offer to pay a little something every week. You'll feel better and not so much like a guest.

I'll take you up on your resume. MeMail it to me and I'll whip it into shape for you.

Stop beating yourself up. You're not a failure. You graduated from school. You're working. You're in a warm, safe environment.

Sweetie, count your blessings. The first one is that you're an AWESOME, strong and successful woman.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:09 AM on November 12, 2012 [7 favorites]

First of all, you deserve a huge hug.

Secondly, regarding the Christmas deadline, I think they are quite welcoming to you and you should let them help you. If they really are your friends--and they sound like they are--they will let you know when they feel like you are imposing. But in the meanwhile, offer to help out with food, and help cook and do laundry if you want to feel like you are contributing rather than just a burden. (For example, I pay $300 a month for weekly professional cleaning and laundry services.) If you can find housesitting gigs, maybe you can do that for a few days or a week at a time to let them have the house to themselves a bit. I'm of the opinion that you're better off making yourself comfortable (by reducing your burden on them) than deciding on an arbitrary deadline to leave their house by.
posted by ethidda at 11:24 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I second Ruthless Bunny's idea about call center jobs, as well as customer service positions. They're great ways to make a career transition because all you need to get hired is a sunny disposition and a nice smile, while at the same time they give you skills that can be a useful stepping stone towards account management, project management, or finance.

I think that what you have here is a problem of volume. When you are looking for higher-paying jobs, they are few and far between so you really have to work on your cover letter and tailor it to the position. However, lower paying jobs that you can support yourself on are relatively common, so the trick is simply to make sure you apply to a LOT of them.

I recommend having a generic cover letter that you can easily tailor to any position, along the lines of "Hello, I came across your ad on Monster today about the ____ position at ____. I'm always been interested in working for ____ because ____ and one thing that really intrigues me about the position is ____. I am a dedicated worker with a wide skill set that could be applied to this position. I hope to be able to talk with you in person to discuss why I would be a good fit for this role." With a cover letter that is easy to modify like this, you can probably apply to sixty jobs a week without much difficulty.

Also, if you do this, keep a list of the places you have applied to, so you don't get mixed up and apply for the same position twice. (It also helps you feel like you are being productive.) I recommend something like:

Name of the Company - Name of the position
Location of the position
Listed salary range (or, if they instead asked a desired salary, what I asked for)
Any notes that may be relevant

On an unrelated note, you seem like a great potential employee for any employer. People who have had to struggle through adversity are great to interact with since they have a certain toughness that makes me respect them while at the same time lacking the sense of entitlement that those people who have been sheltered often possess. Once you manage to get a certain stability under you and your life is no longer in flux, I think that you'll be very successful.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:52 AM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

1) I don't know how bad your GPA actually is, but it's impossible that you could be unqualified "even for entry-level jobs". I got a really blah first degree and my first job out of college SUCKED, but I got past that after a while. I also recommend asking the shelter, when you get to them, about career counseling services and CV rewriting services because you can't be the first abuse survivor to be struggling with a career/academic history that either is or feels shitty. I strongly suspect that you are partly undervaluing yourself - I don't disbelieve you that you didn't do as well as you could have, OK, but you are really down on yourself right now and there are almost certainly loads of good things about you that should go on a CV that you are just not seeing.

2. Did you actually see the reference that you think nobbled you? Are you certain that all of your professional contacts would give you bad references? Can you contact them and ask whether they would be able to give you a positive reference? If you hear "no", you won't be any worse off than you think you are now.

3. Oh, a hurricane on top of everything else? Cripes.

4. It sounds like your friends are fully prepared to have you stay for Christmas and this was their way of letting you know they could accommodate you. Now I fully understand that you don't want to be a burden and I fully understand that being a house guest can put a strain on relationships. Under normal circumstances I would suggest that you prepare to move on sooner rather than later, but these aren't normal circumstances, and have you considered that maybe, given all that's happened to you, they would *rather* know you would be with them for Christmas? It's a burden to worry about you being out there and lonely, too. I mean they won't be too happy at the thought of your finding a great job but, on Christmas day, sitting down to an army boot full of cold porridge while sobbing to yourself "I'm so lonely".

If I were you I would tick off the checklist of things you could be doing to be a good houseguest. Are you generally avoiding disrupting their routines? Are you cleaning up after yourself (I'm sure you are, but)? Are you, at least once a week, cooking dinner for your hosts or taking them out? Have you bought (inexpensive, but thoughtful) hostess gifts for each person? Have you asked whether there are any tasks you could do for them today? This is the kind of thing that makes hosts remember you fondly.

5. You have one temp agency, and you're chasing them once a week? You need to have ten temp agencies, and be chasing them once a day.

That said, I fully understand about not being able to get around if car travel is required. What are the public transit links like in your area? Are we talking ten miles away, or fifty miles? Is it possible to ride a bike in the winter in your area, in which case you could go ten miles and back without blinking? Is it conceivable that you could get to and fro by taxi? I know what you mean because the public transit where I live is really bad and I could only commute to jobs I could get to by train, before I got my licence. So apologies if I'm teaching my grandmother to suck eggs here, but please be ultra-sure you've explored all the options.

6. You can't control whether or not you receive feedback from customers.
posted by tel3path at 12:12 PM on November 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

I was once in a similar position to you.

3 years ago I found myself in an assisted living place, where they had let me in as an indigent. I had 30 days to find a job until I had to start paying rent (although the rent would pile up during this time). Although, I was so grateful to have a roof over my head, I hated relying on others for food, quarters for the wash, and I took to digging through the bathroom trash for soap scraps so I wouldn't have to ask someone for permission to use their stuff. After wearing the same things for a week, I was so happy to have clothes to wear that someone gave me, but crushed that I was in the situation to need that help.

I always wanted to be the helper, and not the one in need, and my ego took brutal hit after hit from these charitable works.

Job searching was no better, I faltered and strained under the weight of trying to attempt to put my life together on minimum wage, trying to explain a huge gap in my employment history, and not having any recent work I could use as references. This was made worse by finally getting a decent job at $10/ hr., showing up early (as my ride who worked in the neighborhood started work an hour before me), staying late, working my ass off, only to be let go after a month due to downsizing. I was crushed. I cursed the powers that be. I raged at the universe, and I cried until I was drained. But I got up again. I took a shotgun approach to finding a job. I applied at gas stations, supermarkets, offices, 4 temp agencies, craigslist, anything. Overqualified, underqualified, I didn't care. In fact, the job I got (that I still work at) I don't even remember applying for.

But the fact of the matter is, that although I had probably 1,000 unanswered resumes and applications out there (and 10-20 people kind enough to take the time to reject me), I got two hits for interviews. Two. And they both offered me a job. I consulted with some people in my life, and I picked the company I work at now. I went from data entry, to customer service, and after 3 years of employment I now handle Product Development. I have no schooling in this industry. I was hired because of personality, and an ability to type somewhat quickly and accurately. Nothing more.

Minimum wage jobs aren't a place to prove yourself, to my experience, indispensability only guarantees being placed on the schedule right up to 40 hours (they'll be damned if they're going to be paying overtime!). I worked for 1 year at a chain cafe-restaurant before finding myself homeless, and I couldn't get out of the hole, and I had to take a second job in order to pay for the gas to get to my first job. But I never took the steps you're taking, which is to try to get out of a bad situation before it gets too bad.

My advice? Take the "charity." Allow it to give you humility, not humiliation. As best as you can, be the bright, sunny spot in your friend's house. Make yourself a welcome and grateful guest. Don't be servile, scraping or over-apologetic, but just help out where and when you can. And remember, a year from now, when you're sitting in your studio apartment, think of where you came from. And remember, 3 years from now, when you're sitting in your two bedroom, where you came from. And pay it forward if the situation presents itself. And then you'll know how good it feels to help someone out, especially to one who appreciates the help and is grateful for it.
posted by Debaser626 at 12:49 PM on November 12, 2012 [10 favorites]

This is possibly the least profound comment you could get, but if it makes you feel any better, you would have to really, really screw up to get fired from your job until after Christmas. Retail+Holiday Shopping=your hours will increase, your boss will be crazy, and your customers will be crazy. It'll be stressful, but don't internalize your boss' stress as a metric of your performance. Working retail or in a restaurant around Christmas is like living in Bizarro Land - it's not your fault.

And again, they will be super busy, so you would have to really, really, really screw up to get fired.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:01 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

2) My references aren't good enough. Any professor who's known me for long enough to become aware of my depression is not going to have very nice things to say about me, given my habit of disappearing mid-semester and asking for extensions. I wouldn't dare ask my thesis advisor, and I'm really worried that my professional references are going to screw with applications. Actually, when all that separated me from a TFA position was a professional reference, they *did.* Or maybe the other person's references were better. I'm not sure.

This speaks to me of one simple truth. You have not asked them.

Look you are worried what they might say, bur seriously, you are making their excuses for them. If you ask them and they don't want to be a good reference they will say so. They wont google the job you are applying for and email the business telling them what a louse you are. You have nothing to lose if you...


Ask if they are willing to give you a good recommendation. When I did this after college I was very very surprised by the responses: One professor I excelled with academically said "I don't think you'd make a very good employee in that field, your style of work is all wrong" I was SHOCKED that my assumptions were so wrong.

At the happy professors prompting I ended up using a professor that HATED me, because his response was "Well the way you stuck to your guns all the time showed that you can probably make it in that field, pulling an F into a C showed the kind of backbone you'll need in the private sector"

Don't throw away the gifts of your past until you've opened them.
posted by French Fry at 1:45 PM on November 12, 2012 [3 favorites]

Regarding your point 4: One adult really isn't that much of a burden for a household that isn't otherwise in a precarious position, no matter what your mother/parents told you. However, you probably qualify for food stamps or the local equivalent, and you should definitely accept them! For general reference, under similar conditions I ended up receiving $212/month (so much money for one person, I simply had no idea), and that's basically why I'm not camping in a friend's yard now.

Also, food service is a whole other level of hell beyond working straight-up retail -- I know that and I've never even waited tables, which I understand is worse yet. Don't beat up on yourself about anything that happens at work. (As far as the surveys go though, don't be afraid to manipulate people a little about filling them out -- when I was a manager, invariably the person who got the greatest number of positive customer service contacts was the one whom I heard asking customers for good reviews the most persistently.)
posted by teremala at 1:49 PM on November 12, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm too drained to make any major moves forward

What you've been through in the last weeks and months is extremely stressful - it would be very strange if you were not absolutely drained . What you need is give yourself a bit of a break. Do the self care stuff others have pointed out - sleep, eat healthily, spend time outside every day. Don't spend 3 hrs writing a cover letter, of 5 minutes - go to your job and let that be enough for now. Give yourself permission to slow way down for a little while.

even though the urgency is much greater

Nope, it really is not. When I finished my masters from a top university in the UK I spent a year temping, doing mostly data entry, trying to not become an accountant. I then gave in and started to train to become an accountant and it turns out I'm reasonably good at it and enjoy what I do. I work for a multinational and get to work internationally and do all manner of stuff I like. So there is life after underemployment, even after unemployment but I digress.

Before I saw the light and embraced accountancy I lived in my aunt and uncle's home. I paid them a small amount of board and otherwise saved my cash and made myself useful around the house.

For the last two decades their assorted (it's the second marriage for both of them and they each have children from their first marriages) adult children, their families and nieces (that'd be me) moving in an out of their home quite regularly. For me that year was the first of several stints with them.

I hear you say they're your family - that's not the same as my situation. But it is because they had previously done this kind of thing for non family. Some people just enjoy helping people out when they need help. As long as you are a good houseguest they may enjoy having you around and may well like the idea of giving you a little bit of a breathing space and safe haven to allow you to calm down some and plan your next steps carefully, as opposed to rushing into poor decisions because you feel you need to get out of there asap.

Be kind to yourself and be a good houseguest and stay until Xmas. Use the next couple of weeks to do nothing but rest. Then start to think about your next steps. What do you want to do and where do you want to be. You are absolutely not wasting your time at the moment.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:04 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look, this is not a great economy. I graduated in June of 2000 and it literally took me until May of 2001 to get my first real job. That's almost a year. That was a good economy and everyone in my class had a job except me. It's 11 almost 12 years on and I'm fine and you will be too, but you've got to get a grip.

The first thing you need to do is realize that unemployment is at 8% and much, much, higher among recent college grads. There are a lot of recent grads in your shoes right now. So stop looking at yourself as a failure.

If I were you, I would do a few things: (1) look for a temp job that pays more than $.25 hour. Waiting tables, bar tending, and temp office work should all pay more than what you are currently making. If you can get a night job, so much the better. (2) Start volunteering somewhere that would be relevant to the field you want to work in (3) find networking events in your local area and go as often as you can.

In your question, you say you are fluent in spanish. Well great. My mother in law volunteers as an interpreter all the time, maybe you could do that. Find something relevant to what you want to do in the future and start volunteering. It will give you contacts, it will give you something to list on your resume, it will give you something to take pride in.

As for writing cover letters, here is what I tried to do when I was in your situation. Have a basic template of your knowledge, skills, and abilities. Then when an opportunity pops up, research the employer and add something specific about that particular employer into your resume. That's all you have to do. Once you get a template up and running, it really shouldn't take three hours to write one.

And yeah, food stamps all the way. No guilt about this. When you make it and you will, promise yourself that you will donate to food banks. In other words, pay it forward.
posted by bananafish at 4:38 PM on November 12, 2012

Hey, you are doing great! You are in a really difficult situation with a lot of challenges on your plate at once and you are doing a GREAT JOB of dealing with all of it. Please know that and believe what people here are telling you. Please don't be so hard on yourself.

There has been so much great advice here. I just wanted to pop in and link to an old comment that I favorited awhile back, which has a good starting template for a cover letter. I actually just used a variation of this and got a reply back the next day. Hopefully this may be helpful in some way when you're sending out resumes.

Restless Bunny has offered to help out with your resume, and I know from reading posts of hers in the past that she'll do a great job. I would also be more than happy to help you out with it as well if you'd like another input. I've written resumes for friends and family members in the past, not to mention looked over lots of them for my job. Please feel free to memail me if you'd like some more help or input on anything.

Right now you're going through a tough patch, but please hang in there and know that it will pass. It will definitely pass - these things always do. Keep an open mind to anything that might come your way and something may show up out of left field one of these days. Accept any help that people offer you right now and remember it, because in the future you will no doubt be in a position when someone will need your help and you will be in a position to show the same generosity and kindness that others showed to you.

Anyway, keep your spirits up and know you're doing the best you can with what you have. You'll get through this. Please feel free to memail me for any reason. Keep your chin up.
posted by triggerfinger at 4:56 PM on November 12, 2012

There's a lot of great advice here. I wanted to chime in with a couple of New Brunswick specific tips, since I used to live in the area. Mainly, I want to address your getting around situation. I don't know how familiar you are with the busses in the area, but they can be used to get around. It's not awesome, and a car is definitely better, but my old roommate lived in a house on S 8th in Highland park for 5 years without ever having a car. Now, obviously you can't get a job delivering stuff. But as long as you can show up to work on time, it's nobody's business how you get to work, and I'm pretty sure that potential employers aren't even allowed to ask.

Similarly, Rutgers runs a free bus system through parts on New Brunswick and Piscataway. It's supposed to be for students, but nobody checks if you're actually a student or not. There are just too many kids at the school. So consider those red busses your free transit. Rutgers also runs all kinds of career-hunting type events. Once again, nobody will check your student ID at the door, so if you can find out when they are, you should go (I still get emails about them sometimes, so I'll send them your way if one comes up soon).

Finally, I really encourage you to go hard at the temp work. The best way to get a job is to already be working at the place where the job is. Your energies are better spent scouring the earth for a temp job than they are being an exemplary retail worker.

Good luck. Like everyone else, I'm very impressed by you.
posted by Ragged Richard at 6:06 PM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Everyone else here has said nearly everything I would, but I want to tell you: employers don't give a good goddamn about your GPA--at least none I have worked for, and not I when screening resumes myself.

Based on your questions here, you write well--better in fact, than some of the MA-holding people I work with. Good writing skills are in high demand, truly. If you're at all organized, I bet you could eventually find some sort of PA or office assistant type gig that would pay the bills. The economy is horrible right now, so please don't take this lack of job interviews personally.

As everyone else has said, you have shown incredible fortitude and courage. If I were in NJ or you were in SF, I'd invite you to Christmas dinner, but honestly, it sounds like your host family is trying to let you know you're welcome to join them. MeMail me if you want someone else to look at your resume or cover letter. Hugs and best wishes.
posted by smirkette at 8:17 PM on November 12, 2012

Adding my voice to the chorus of those who want to give you a big hug for getting out of that abusive situation. That takes such an amount of strength and wonder you are drained.

One of the things I found most helpful when trying to compose my own cover letter was to look at a bunch of sample letters and adapting some of the best ideas to fit my own situation. has a huge collection of sample letters for almost every situation.

The other great site you should check out, if you haven't already, is the Riley Guide. This has every job search resource you could think of and then some. I used it quite heavily when I was job searching. (It's where I found the above cover letter site)

As far as GPA goes...I've never been asked for it. (Trust me, mine would not be an asset!)

Best of luck to deserve it.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:53 PM on November 12, 2012

Thank you so much for your awesome responses. I can't highlight all of them as Best Answers, so know that you're all awesome and I *really* needed to hear (read?) this!

I have an interview in 2 hours; it's another part-time job, but with a leasing company. I'm hoping with all my heart that I get the job AND that employees get a discount on apartments...Will update when I return!
posted by Ashen at 5:23 AM on November 13, 2012

Update: Interview didn't go so well...The hiring manager wanted someone with whom she had a *spark,* and I could tell that she just wasn't feeling me. In fact, the interview ended after only 30 minutes, and she told me that I could expect to hear from her after about a week. NOT a good sign; I've usually been hired on the spot, if at all. But now I'm sitting in my room, nauseous and shaky, because that was a $13/hr job that had potential to become full-time.

I can't shake the feeling that I'm an utter mess right now. It's interviews like that which make me feel absolutely hopeless.
posted by Ashen at 9:32 AM on November 13, 2012

the interview ended after only 30 minutes

Sounds completely standard to me.

and she told me that I could expect to hear from her after about a week. NOT a good sign; I've usually been hired on the spot, if at all.

This is completely typical. I have interviewed for many jobs both retail and office-based, and the majority of the time when I've been hired, it has NOT been on the spot. For all you know, they totally liked you but they had another person coming in right after you, and they didn't want to make a decision before seeing every candidate.

I can't shake the feeling that I'm an utter mess right now. It's interviews like that which make me feel absolutely hopeless.

IT'S NOT THE INTERVIEW. It's how you are seeing the interview, which is through the distorted lens of your depression/anxiety/stress/whatever.

Please check out those shelter resources mentioned upthread, if you haven't already.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:57 AM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Update: Interview didn't go so well...The hiring manager wanted someone with whom she had a *spark,* and I could tell that she just wasn't feeling me. In fact, the interview ended after only 30 minutes, and she told me that I could expect to hear from her after about a week. NOT a good sign; I've usually been hired on the spot, if at all. But now I'm sitting in my room, nauseous and shaky, because that was a $13/hr job that had potential to become full-time.

Dude, you don't know if the interview went well or not! Most people do not get hired on the spot, and a thirty minute interview sounds pretty long to me.

Cut yourself some slack.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 9:57 AM on November 13, 2012

If you're used to food service/retail... yeah they hire you on the spot.

Almost else nobody does.

Consider that your very limited experience may not have equipped you to judge this. Therefore you should not feel so very terrible.
posted by French Fry at 11:18 AM on November 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

You don't know this. It's very unusual in my experience for people to be hired on the spot.

At the end of every interview, you must ask, "When should I plan on hearing from you?" and when they say "end of next week" ask "If I haven't heard from you by Friday afternoon, is it all right if I contact you?"

Then, in your thank-you letter, you end it with "As we discussed, I will wait to hear from you by the end of next week, and I will be in touch if I have not heard from you by Friday afternoon."

As for him looking for someone with whom he had a "spark" - you think that would be the reason you didn't get it. I wasn't there, but I admit I think that's possible, because you are really stigmatizing yourself at the moment. I find that getting compliments and flattery only gets me more compliments and flattery, whereas abuse gets me more negativity from the general public. This whole "selfesteem" of which They speak is supposed to be independent of others, but actually, it's self-respect that's more independent of others. "Selfesteem" is more like a mood and is highly dependent on what others think of us. It can also become something of a feedback loop. I hesitated to say this because I think you could easily iterate it into being anxious about coming across as anxious, but that's not what I'm getting at.

What you must try to do is to expect your interactions with others to be lucky and successful. You might as well go in with high expectations, because you'll soon ferret it out if you're interacting with someone who's not of good character. It's also okay if your energy levels are a bit low at the moment. You don't *have* to sparkle wittily. But you could spin your current mood into "demure" for the length of an interview.

It might also help to imagine the biopic that will one day be made about you, the amazing young woman who overcame abuse, got by with a little help from her many wonderful and well-deserved friends, and succeeded brilliantly in all the ways she least expected. Which actress is going to play you at this point in the movie?

Another thing I think is important to point out is, you're just feeling really down right now, and you have been taught to hate and devalue yourself all your life. You could earn a Nobel Prize tomorrow and you would still probably find half a dozen excellent reasons why it's actually quite bad news and you don't deserve it and are going to be stripped of it when They find out. You're discounting the positive, in other words. Try to do less of that.
posted by tel3path at 12:00 PM on November 13, 2012

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