What can I do in my free time which could lead to a job?
January 29, 2013 7:38 AM   Subscribe

What qualifications (certifications, skills, volunteer experiences, etc.) can I realistically pick up, for free, without actually being employed in the field which they would qualify me for?

After graduating with a STEM bachelor's in 2010, I landed in a position which I will never be promoted out of (it's in academia, and the career track is very closely tied to completion of one or more advanced degrees) and in which I'm not learning or doing anything which could conceivably lead to a better job, let alone a career. I spend close to my whole shift doing nothing--I literally read for six or seven hours each day. When I have something to do, it's simple data entry and basic customer service. Three or four times a day I receive an email which requires a boilerplate response. Asking for more work or responsibility leads to a temporary increase in the amount of data entry.

I'm applying for other jobs, but the job market seems to have shifted in the wake of the financial crisis, and it's extremely difficult for me to find jobs for which I'm even minimally qualified, even with my degree--I suspect that employers are still able to ask for, and get, as many experienced candidates as they need to fill their needs.

The upside to this job--besides the excellent health insurance--is that I can spend my entire shift doing almost anything. I do have access to a computer and the internet, though I don't have administrator privileges. So: what can I learn or do, either at work or on my own time, that could lead to a career?

Of course, there are a couple of complications:

1. "Find a job at a school which will reimburse your tuition/allow you to take free classes" is not an answer I want. That's how I wound up where I am now, and the policy turned out to be so fraught with limitations that I essentially can't take advantage of it--and Ask Metafilter has convinced me that throwing more education at my problem is not the best idea, even if it's free.

2. "IT skills," generally, are also out, but if you feel like you have an excellent suggestion I'm listening. Real talk, though: I'm a guy in his mid-thirties who has never had a job in the technology sector, who does not have a CS degree (or substitute, like math or physics), and who stepped off the upgrade hamster wheel years ago--I have a longstanding and fairly strict no-new-electronics-purchases policy. Finally, I just do not love dicking around with computers, smartphones, etc. That said, I'm certainly comfortable using them: I used to build my own computers, and I know my way around Photoshop/Indesign/Office etc. But I'm probably not going to pick up Ruby on Rails, and I'm not sure there's much I can do at this point to make myself a credible candidate for tech jobs.

3. It has to be free, or nearly so. I can't afford to pay for more education or go into more debt, and I can't, for instance, leave my job or reduce my hours to take an unpaid internship or volunteer.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (9 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
What kind of job do you actually want? Do you want to work in STEM, or in some other field? What would you ideally be doing all day?

Once you figure that out, reach out to people who have those jobs and ask them what skills and training have been most helpful to them in getting and excelling at jobs in your field. We really can't know what would be most helpful to you without knowing more specifically what your goals are, and once you figure that out, your best bet is to talk to people who are experts in that field specifically.
posted by decathecting at 8:04 AM on January 29, 2013

Not sure what state your in, but when I got a real estate agent license in CA ten years ago it was low cost and super easy.

You could take up a game that requires intellectual rigor like bridge, chess, or go in the hopes of helping your networking.
posted by bq at 8:28 AM on January 29, 2013

Your university may have open seminars on grant writing, which I'm told is a relatively marketable skill. Once you have the basics down, you can volunteer and build a portfolio while at your 9-5 until you are marketable enough to go out on your own.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 9:04 AM on January 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

You can find free online resources to learn almost any language you want, and multi-lingualism's always an asset.
posted by windykites at 10:52 AM on January 29, 2013

I've found myself in a somewhat similar situation and have just begun exploring options. Because of your STEM degree, you qualify to take the patent bar and could become a patent agent if you pass. No courses or law degrees required.
posted by Durin's Bane at 12:45 PM on January 29, 2013

A skill that seems very useful is SQL. You could find a cool dataset and have fun querying it. Sorta like metafilter's. Then make posts on meta showing us about all the cool stuff you found. Though you first might have to make an ask on how to get the data into a sql query-able form.

Anyways, queries are fun. I leave you with this: [KEEP CALM]
posted by Folk at 12:57 PM on January 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

MIT is offering more and more on its OpenCourseWare site. I mean, you'd expect them to have STEM type stuff, but my girlfriend is looking at a class on gender and global development, to give you an idea of the breadth of topics available.
posted by solotoro at 2:27 PM on January 29, 2013 [3 favorites]

This is a totally different answer... I'd look for organizations/companies that are known to promote from within. Start with a role similar to your current one but with a few expanded responsibilities, particular in a company where STEM knowledge would be an asset (I'm thinking of science publishing, organizations of professionals in a science related occupation, etc). Then you can find positions you are interested in that company and transfer (transferring within a company is one of the few places I found you can get in within the exact mix of experience you might need elsewhere).
posted by ejaned8 at 6:30 AM on January 30, 2013

Volunteer at your local bike collective. Many of the people I know who have been volunteering at mine for several years has acquired all sorts of skills that can be transferred to all sorts of salaried positions.
posted by aniola at 1:44 PM on January 30, 2013

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