The Devils Wears Prada for nerds.
March 19, 2013 7:37 PM   Subscribe

Lately, it's been obvious that I'm terrible at making job/career decisions. Editorial edition.

I was recently hired for a job that I was psyched about on paper. Without too much detail, it's an administrative assistant/typist-style job for an important writer. On paper, sounded super professional, very stimulating, exciting, &c. I'm interested in eventually finding a full-time editorial and/or copy editing job, so it sounded up my alley.

I recently visited their office to chat with some of the staff and it turned out the job was different than I expected (which I was prepared for). The office was pretty young, mostly recent grads, and the atmosphere was cliquey. Also the work was much much heavier on technical work than on editing work, and I am far more interested in the latter. I like the technical stuff, but care much less about experience in that area than I would care about experience as a copy editor. I don't even know at this point how useful the line would be on my resume if I were pursuing an editorial assistant job in the future, because it turns out the job is more about producing exactly what is written (or spoken) than doing any proofreading or editing at all-- even fixing minor grammatical errors is verboten. Also, I knew this before I was hired, but the writer is somewhat temperamental and his assistants seem to fall in and out of favor with him in a somewhat public way within the office. Typical ego-games & drama. (Typical for academia, that is.)

If I had no other plans, I'd take the job for sure-- nothing to lose. But I also recently got into a political science summer program I applied for last year. The program is pretty competitive, taught by leaders in the field, and I was stoked to find out I'd been accepted. I worked hard on my application and gave an interview I was proud of. The program is in an area that I felt I hadn't explored enough academically when I finished undergrad and was considering graduate school. Lately graduate school has not been on my mind, but I'm still intrigued by the program.

I am basically totally failing to make an intelligent choice between my two options. The job pays very well by my standards (the most I've ever made). When I think about the job, I can come up with a lot of cons (office culture not professional/respectful enough to feel safe? "sell your soul" type job?), but I also have an attraction to the idea of seeing how it goes, having a full-time job, and making some money, finally. Plus, I know editorial assistant jobs are not glamorous, and maybe this job is more akin to one than I think. On the other hand, the summer program feels like all pros in my gut, and pays a very generous stipend. And a part of me thinks that I'm young and now is the time to dink around and have experiences and patch together a living whichever way works.

So, what should I think about this job, basically? Part of me thinks I'd be an idiot to pass it up, and part of me thinks I'd be an idiot to take it. Nothing about it seems outright abusive (and I've worked in restaurants and customer service for a long time, so I have a high threshold anyway), but I also feel like it's by no means a perfect match, and maybe the short-term experience of the program is better than the long-term experience of a slightly unpleasant job that doesn't play exactly to my career goals.

Auxiliary stuff: The job would require settling down in another city (where I've previously lived) in a week or two. The summer program would require probably sticking with the status quo for a few months (working part-time in a pharmacy & as a search-engine evaluator), then quitting my job & attending to the program, and then starting over from scratch and moving to the same city where the job is located. (I strongly want to live in that city.) The positives of staying are that there's a wedding and a baby happening in my family in the next few months, making staying at home sound like a lot of fun. The negatives are that I have no idea whether I'll be able to find a job in another city when I want to relocate at the end of the summer, so part of me thinks I should hold on to this job for dear life.

Right now my gut is telling me to stick with the status quo at home, enjoy the wedding and the baby, work my small-time retail job, go to the program, then use what is left from the stipend (several thousand dollars) to settle down in the new city while I find a job. But when I start to commit to that plan, I feel like I'm throwing away an important career step and will have a bear of a time finding another full-time job that pays so well next fall. (I'm also a little anxious to get to the city, though I like being home.) When I stick with the job idea, I feel like I'm missing out on a really cool opportunity (I've never visited or lived on the coast where the program is hosted, and I'd be surrounded by a lot of really well-respected profs and public figures).

Okay, so basically I don't know how to proceed. I don't really feel there's anyone I can ask whose opinion I would respect on a professional basis, no mentor, &c. Not only do I need help with this decision, but I really wish I had a better attack plan for making these decisions in general-- I don't want to be Asking every week when a new career decision crops up. Specific advice is definitely welcome and solicited, but also-- in general, how do you make career decisions when you have two good, somewhat balanced options to choose between? I don't doubt that my anxiety is kind of clouding my decision-making skills as of late. If you have that experience with anxiety, how do you get past it?

(PS: tl;dr, but I've been vague about specifics on purpose, so if details seem not to gel or are confusing, I can try to elaborate.)
posted by stoneandstar to Work & Money (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Go with your gut.
posted by rhizome at 8:28 PM on March 19, 2013 [2 favorites]

Jobs come and go, chances to hang out with well respected profs and public figures, living on the coast, those are less easy to come by.

You don't make the job sound very exciting or interesting. It isn't something you'll be passionate about in five years. It's a stepping stone. Maybe if it'd been what you thought it was, but being an editorial assistant? You can get that again. And again.

But you do sound like you'll be passionate about the poli sci program. It'll get you out of town, on to new vistas, and be a path to different things.

Or, as rhizome said: Go with your gut.
posted by straw at 8:41 PM on March 19, 2013

Okay, so basically I don't know how to proceed.

You actually do. Reread your post. You sound very clear about what you want to do. Do it!
posted by Wordwoman at 9:11 PM on March 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

Take the political science summer program. It'll be more enriching, and even when times get tough job-wise, you'll make it through it. You'll be more likely to thank yourself in the future for taking the summer program than for taking a job that sounds like a poor fit for your skills and for what you want out of life.
posted by ferdinandcc at 6:04 AM on March 20, 2013

The most reality-defying element to Devil Wears Prada also applies to the typist job: secretaries do not often move into editorial positions. I never understood why the movie portrayed Anne Hathaway's character as a serious candidate for an editorial position when she spent all her time answering phones, picking up dry cleaning, getting burned by Starbucks coffee, and basically doing everything little thing for her boss except writing.

Like everyone else said, it sounds like you know exactly what you should do. Go to the summer program, screw the administrative work.
posted by zoomorphic at 6:35 AM on March 20, 2013

For what it's worth, I'm not sure taking the job would necessarily help you that much to get an editorial job, though the connections could be useful. Finding an editorial job is really hard, in my experience. (I never got a full-time one despite trying for a long time and having relevant credentials.) If the political science program sounds exciting, I'd go for it! I bet it would improve your resume more than the job, too, and sounds like it's in a more dynamic field than publishing these days.
posted by mlle valentine at 6:35 AM on March 20, 2013

True, working for the writer might be a good stepping stone, but that's not what you want to do right now. There will always be jobs for administrative assistants.

I'd do the summer program, hang out, do the wedding, do the baby and basically do what you want. As long as you can afford it, I say go for it.

As for declining the job, simply say, "I've accepted a place in a summer program. I really appreciate the opportunity to meet with you and I'd love to check back in with you in the fall."

You never know, their #2 person may not work out, or they may say, "No problem, we'll get a temp for now, and you can come on board in September." (I have a nice fantasy world going on in my head.)

Life is too short to take jobs that don't sound like any damn fun when there are other options.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:58 AM on March 20, 2013

I also think it sounds like you know what you want already. Your summer school sounds like a great opportunity and, because you are financially secure, declining that job offer seems like a smart, calculated risk to take.
posted by ipsative at 7:09 AM on March 20, 2013

Often high-profile jobs are siren songs. "Sexy" jobs attract lots of people because they're sexy. Meaning the employees work harder for less, because there's just more supply than demand. The way to do it is to find a job that's not glamourous or sexy.

Like a Norwegian oil platform worker. Holy goodness, they work hard, they're well-taken care of, and they're always hiring. Because working on a North Sea oil platform is hard, hard work.

Heaps of people want to be in media, because it's cool and sexy. Because you get to meet "people", real "people". Except for the fact that in those industries, for every real "person", there's a cadre of poorly-paid staff making those "people" who they appear to be. It's a lot of fun. It's certainly an experience, but it's not a career launch as such – at least not in my experience. It's low-paid, tedious work that one does to be adjacent to Someone Amazing.

You already sound like you know what you want to do. If you drop the career path angle from the first job – imagine it never goes anywhere – would you like doing that job and that role at the expense of (what sounds like) your dream?
posted by nickrussell at 4:51 PM on March 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Go to the summer program. Go! Flee! Nobody cares what writer you worked for. Don't try to be perfect- it almost seems like you don't want to give up this admin job not because you want it, but because you're afraid to say no to the high pay and the author's name. Screw it. The only reason to do it would be the money. If that's not an IMMEDIATE issue, then flee.
posted by kettleoffish at 5:37 PM on March 20, 2013

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