trying to patch together a career.
April 18, 2013 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Unemployed, interested in a bunch of things, not sure how they fit together.

I’m 25 and unemployed for the past month. It’s taking me a long time to figure out my career path and it’s sort of stressful to keep having to tell people that I don’t know what I want to do. I have a few different ideas, and depending on who I talk to, somehow I keep saying a different thing. So I’m confusing myself all over the place. I’m introverted and I am not good at marketing myself, so first I need to know what I should actually say about my background when I’m looking for a job. I’m looking for jobs in both the city where I live, and my dream city which is two hours away. If I get a job in dream city, I will move there and I have a friend there who can rent me a room. It remains to be seen whether boyfriend wants to come with me or not, but I think we’ll stay together either way.

Things I think I might want to do:

• Work in arts administration: I’d love to work for a music festival. I don’t know how to get there. I’ve volunteered for many years but I was always doing dishes or something so I didn’t meet any of the important people. Plus I don’ t know how to market myself as a valuable asset since I don’t have an area of expertise. Mostly this comes down to not being assertive enough maybe, and not having my goals in mind.
• Completely change directions and go to school to become a nurse (tuition is cheap here).
• Somehow work in communications (writing)
• People tell me I should go to teacher’s college to become a music teacher. Don’t really want to but it would be the smart choice, probably.

I have a variety of work experience which I am outlining below. My degree is in liberal arts and music. I'm hoping that if I show you what jobs I've had, it will be more obvious to you than it is to me of what direction I would head towards.

• I worked for a year during university as an usher in a small performing arts theatre. It didn’t pay much more than minimum wage, but I loved being part of the team that made a show come together each night that I went to work.
• One summer I was a group leader for a summer youth program during which a group of teens learn how to start their own business. I loved this job as well, mostly because the other group leader I worked with was awesome and we worked really well together.
• For two years during university I was an employee for a concert series at my university, during which I was an usher, box office person, and media contact. I liked this job too.
• For two summers, I was a ticket seller at a very large museum. The museum was really overcrowded and loud and I often got headaches from being there, so I didn’t like this job.
• I was a summer intern for volunteer recruitment at the office for a national sports competition. I talked to volunteers on the phone all day, asking them questions from a questionnaire. I liked this job.
• I teach piano lessons
• I tried my hand at being a canvasser for charities. I found this rewarding work but I was not aggressive enough to be good at signing up lots of donors.
• I’ve been volunteering at music festivals every summer since the age of 16.
• Most recently I was an administrative assistant and receptionist for a national trade association related to media and communications. I liked this job because I got to be around a lot of interesting, creative people and also because of the broad purpose of the organization. ( I would loved to have continued working there but I was a temp, replacing someone who had another project for a couple months).

So basically I have a bunch of experiences in different cultural settings which don’t really lead to anything in particular besides the fact that I found them interesting places to work.
Sorry this got so long… here are the questions I’d like to ask:
1) If I am looking to work in arts administration in Canada some way, what should my headline be, and how should I represent my background in a way that is concise? Basically, do my previous work experiences have any value going forward? Or do I need to develop a whole other skill set before I try to work in this field.

2) For the time being I’m applying for any old receptionist job I can come across (and not getting any replies). I’m looking on, craigslist, kijiji, government job bank,, and I’m also registered in some temp agencies, but I don’t expect much from them. Are there other places I can look for cultural jobs?

3) I am very eager to go back to school but I’m completely overwhelmed by the choices. The most simple choice would be nursing. I actually applied to a college program and got in for January of this year, but before hearing that I was accepted I was offered an interesting job and decided to do that instead. For a while I thought this hesitation meant that I never really wanted to be a nurse, I was just looking for a path out of unemployment. But it keeps coming up in my mind as something I feel drawn towards because I want to do something which is basically for the good of humanity, and I would like to have a valuable skill set, as well as a path to gainful employment. Other than that, there seem to be a bajillion college courses available in everything from journalism to accounting to event management and I can’t make up my mind. So if you have a suggestion about schooling, that would be much appreciated too.
posted by winterportage to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
• People tell me I should go to teacher’s college to become a music teacher. Don’t really want to but it would be the smart choice, probably.

I warn against this. Short of a single person who plays violin in a major state orchestra, everyone I know with a music/music education degree is either unemployed and struggling or working in a completely different and unrelated field. Even if you get work as a music teacher, arts and music is the first thing cut from a school's budget and seniority matters.
posted by griphus at 11:01 AM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think you need to focus. With so many divergent thoughts, it's very difficult to figure out what to do (or for me to give you concrete advice). In order, focus on three things:

1. Do you want to find a job doing something you love, or just a job at a place you like, regardless of what the work is?

2. If you want to be doing something you love, figure out what that thing is. CHOOSE ONE. I know it's hard, but I think it's the only reasonable way to achieve it (barring random luck).

3. Once you've identified what you want to do, dive deep on what it takes to get those jobs. This is going to probably involve going outside your comfort zone. Meet people in the industry. Have informational interviews or coffee with them. My experience is that most people are more than willing to chat with young people who are interested in their field. Ask them for advice. Ask them for introductions to other people they think you should talk to. They'll probably tell you about some skills you need to acquire, and then you can go about getting them. But more importantly, you're going to be building a network who can help you find a job when you're ready for it.
posted by primethyme at 11:13 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Most of these are a tough career sell, but great for fulfilling your personal creative goals.

• Work in arts administration: no money, keep volunteering, you'll be more confident when you are sure of yourself and your career goals and the city you live in

• Completely change directions and go to school to become a nurse (tuition is cheap here).

• Somehow work in communications (writing): no money unless you are in marketing, which I switched over to, and there's a lot of sales and PR involved in this than there used to be. It's not for introverts anymore! Blog and write like the wind though.

• People tell me I should go to teacher’s college to become a music teacher. Arts are the first thing that's cut from school budgets. Do this if you want to be a $20/hour piano teacher after school, nights & weekends.

Go back to school for nursing. It sounds like you want to do it, you'll have mad skills that you can build on if you want to go deeper into medicine, or into physical therapy, etc. And you'll have a built-in social circle as a base to branch out from when doing your extracurricular creative stuff.
posted by headnsouth at 11:13 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I myself am doing the change directions and be a nurse path, but I got here after getting a decent job in my degree's field, leaving it because it wasn't fulfilling in any way, returning to the service industry, and getting fed up with a dramatic futureless job. I decided one night about a year ago that though it would take me a year, I'd start my pre-requisite courses at community colleges and get nothing less than As in all of them. I wanted it really, really badly. I wanted it more than anything I'd ever wanted. I'm starting nursing school in May.

Go back to school. Even if you decide that nursing is not 100% what you want to do, it will put you (mentally, emotionally, and financially) in a position to decide what you want to do in a few years once you've had a little more skilled work experience.
posted by sibboleth at 11:17 AM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

I was a bit of an arts administration type like you when I was 25, and I had just done a few internships and short-term contracts here and there. A friend was working for a little NGO in the museums sector, and they needed someone to help out on a bit of a project, so I did it, even if this wasn't in my area of expertise, and I had not imagined a career there. It led to a permanent contract as a project manager at the NGO, which was fantastic. Four years later, I had developed the skills and network in order to go freelance in the same sector, and that's what I'm doing now.

My advice would be to take any little work opportunities where you find them, use your friends where you can, and focus more on the work environment that you like, rather than the content of the work. And if it doesn't work out after a while, then nursing seems like a good Plan B.
posted by creeky at 11:27 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you have an inclination to be a nurse, and if you have the aptitude for it, then I'd advise pursuing that.

Nursing is a great profession and while you may not ever get rich, you will make enough to be comfortably middle class.

All of the fun artsy stuff, you can still do those things. Volunteer at various arts events.

Most of what you're remembering fondly about those jobs, summer camp, volunteering, piddly little jobs at non-profits....those were all when you had no finanical obligations. You came in, swanned around all day, and collected enough pay to keep you in Skittles and reefer. We all did this when we were in school. Good on 'ya!

Getting this kind of job as an adult and actually being able to make ends meet....not really a do-able thing to be honest. Sure, you may land a position, but it will be incredibly low paying and you'll always be financially unstabile because grants and funding and...oh noes!

You're having that mini-crisis when you realize that while you had an awesome time at university, you've graduated with a degree in OHMYGODHOWAMIEVERGOINGTOFINDAJOB!

Trust me, I feel you on this one, English Lit major here. Of course, by the time I graduated (in only 7 years!) I was already working a professional, full-time technical job. I didn't use my degree until about 25-years later, when I taught English.

So, here's the game plan (and let's stick with it here) We're going to school to get an RN. We may find some fun jobs here and there, but our goal is to graduate and get to work.

To that end, you may want to see if there are part-time or PRN jobs at a hospital near you so that you can start getting into the atmosphere of the whole thing.

The good news with nursing is that there are lots of different jobs. Husbunny was a ward nurse, a geriatric nurse, a telephonic chronic disease nurse and a care plan nurse. (Before he chucked the whole thing and became an actuary.)

It would be nice if we could find a great job doing fun things that make us super-duper happy. With luck, you'll find a job that you enjoy, with fun people and good pay. That's reality I'm afraid.

Oh, and unless I wasn't clear enough, the idea of a job in arts administration is pretty amusing and will not allow you to be financially independent from a partner or your parents.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:27 AM on April 18, 2013

I'm in a similar state of career disarray to you and I also seriously considered nursing. After a lot of thought I've decided--mostly--against. If you ask nurses themselves, they will tell you that in order to be really happy with their job you have to have a serious interest in it. People who choose nursing because it's a good career option seem to often wind up miserable. Are you really interested in nursing for nursing? I decided I'm not. On the other hand, I still haven't figured anything else out yet, so that says something too!

For 2, depending on where in Canada you are there may be other places to look for reception jobs. I'm in Montreal, and YES Montreal has been invaluable to me over the last few months. Is there a youth employment non-profit in your city, or your dream city? They could point you towards other good places to look locally, or potentially even offer free career counselling. Also, I've noticed that arts and non-profit organizations sometimes don't advertise their jobs widely. These jobs are sought-after and there's a built-in community around a lot of these organizations. Look directly at the websites of places you would want to work and, when you apply, emphasize the hell out of your years of volunteer experience! You have a combination of volunteer coordination, administrative, and on-the-ground volunteer experience that sounds like it should at least be getting you arts admin interviews.

You liked your temp job, and you got along with the people there. Send a few emails, see if anyone knows of openings that could be a good fit for you. You're in the dream networking situation with those people right now: they have direct experience working with you, they know & like you, and since you were a temp, they probably also know you must be looking for work right now. They would most likely be happy to help if you ask.
posted by snorkmaiden at 11:30 AM on April 18, 2013

If you want to work in the arts, prepare to be poor and have an unstable life. Only do it if you cannot imagine doing something else. Only do it if you're prepared for the bottom to fall out of your life at any time. Only do it if you have really fucking thick skin.

I'm not saying "DON'T DO IT" because that's what I'm doing, but the unvarnished truth is: I don't have much money, my car sucks, and my friends working in other fields have a much better quality of life than I do.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 11:42 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm a public school music teacher. I *love* my job but at this point given testing constraints, stress and doomed budgets almost everywhere it's not something I would recommend someone get into and certainly not someone who doesn't think they would like it. Most of the people I graduated with (in 2001! from a very well-regarded music school!) have lost their jobs at least a couple times in the last few years. Even in my state, which does not have budget issues except of the manufactured-out-of-whole-cloth-by-conservative-politicians kind, we are constantly defending our program from cuts and frankly, it's exhausting. If I weren't marrying someone with a much more protected job than I, I'd probably be obeying my self-preservation instincts a little better and getting out of the business.

Go be a nurse. It sounds like you kind of want to do it and you've already gotten into a program and probably could again.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:05 PM on April 18, 2013

There have been several articles predicting a huge need for medically trained people when Obama's health care plan becomes active next year. As a nurse, you would be very employable in a field that obviously appeals to you.
posted by Cranberry at 12:45 PM on April 18, 2013

These are a variety of things for you to think about, based on your queries and stuff that I have observed/experienced over time.

Nursing. My greatest concern for you is (and I do not mean this in a negative way): Do you have interest in the day-to-day work life of being a nurse? If I were in your shoes, I would see if there is somewhere in the community that you can volunteer now - a couple hours a week to both interact with patients and ask to also shadow and talk to nurses. I did this at a physical therapy center and found that the machines and X-rays were fascinating, patients, not so much.YMMV. In the past, I taught prenursing students and everyone did not have the aptitude for it and there are students who leave and do not complete the program. IF you want more info, memail me and I will share my observations.

Teaching. Rather than getting even more education, is there also a way to find out if you would like it (as in someone pays you to be a teacher?). I used this placement organization (although check if you meet the criteria for your subject area) and was hired to teach for a private school without any sort of education degree. Do figure out what a normal salary is for teaching (i.e. religious schools may not pay much so you may want to avoid those if it they are offered). They have positions throughout the world and you can pick where you would like to teach. It is only an application and you can just fill out and see if you get nibbles or not. The other option is to substitute teach in your area. If you do successfully land a teaching position, schools often pay for you to complete a masters - so you can pick up the education degree if this is what you want, or another masters related to your field. People leave the teaching profession, too, but it is a way to be paid and ask: Do I want to do this?"

If I am looking to work in arts administration in Canada some way, what should my headline be, and how should I represent my background in a way that is concise? Basically, do my previous work experiences have any value going forward? Or do I need to develop a whole other skill set before I try to work in this field.

Instead of posting this here, email people with this desired job title (hopefully people who may have some connection to you - as in a person who is listed as a graduate from your school, or a friend of a friend, but you can blind email people and get people to respond, too). Ask if you can either talk to them by phone, email, or in person (let them pick) and that it is for a limited amount(30 minutes max) of time because you just want to ask questions about career X. If you are starting to have self talk (augh! I'm an introvert) - the people you ask by email will either 1) want to help and respond or 2) forget you asked.

Anyway, these are the people that you want to ask these questions from because they successfully landed your dream job and have peers who landed your dream job. So they can look at your CV/resume and recommend best titles and any necessary skills that you need and basically, how to market yourself. They may suggest other places to look. You can also ask subtle questions about job fit if this is a concern. For example, I wanted to work in communications for a new to me field, but only wanted to work in certain locations and earn a certain salary. So you can ask about the possible range of salaries as a person who is interested in the career (and they may point you to areas that make more or less money, too). This can apply to whatever questions you have. Anywho, I was able to switch into a new to me field and did this by doing info interviews - more info about it here so that I don't type it all out again.

I’d love to work for a music festival. I don’t know how to get there. I’ve volunteered for many years but I was always doing dishes or something so I didn’t meet any of the important people.

You know all the stuff above about doing info interviews? It applies here, too. Ask what people do,how they got there, etc. Hold out until you get the position/role that you want (because randomly applying will end up with the job that you got).

Good luck. Feel free to memail -I've switched careers several times throughout my life and I can walk you through the info interview thing if you would like.
posted by Wolfster at 12:47 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

For two summers, I was a ticket seller at a very large museum. The museum was really overcrowded and loud and I often got headaches from being there, so I didn’t like this job.

This sort of sets me to wondering whether nursing might be a challenge for you, in terms of temperament. Nursing is hard on the body, and requires being physically and mentally present, responsive, and precise in situations where there's a lot going on (and a lot of people working together). It requires stamina. I know there are areas less demanding in those ways than e.g. working in an ER, but my understanding is they're sought after (other than palliative or home care) and maybe more available to people with several years' experience.

I'm thinking marketing might be better for you, maybe? You can at this point already demonstrate a commitment to the arts, which is better than having volunteered for a mish-mash of causes. That counts for something, and it would count for even more in a couple of years if you stuck with it. In my observation, extroversion helps in arts marketing, but there's room for more careful types as well. You could look for marketing assistant roles (not reception), either within arts organizations, or in the private sector + evening and weekend volunteering, to transition later. A combination I've seen get people value in the arts is several years' experience (marketing) + an MBA. Fundraising and grant-writing are essential functions in non-profits.

If you're applying for jobs in your dream city, submit resumes now with your friend's address. The big festivals are currently hiring for the summer.
posted by nelljie at 12:52 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not exactly a music festival, but what about concert promotions? That's a real business (one that, I admittedly have no experience with).
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:04 PM on April 18, 2013

I have a story for you: I went to nursing school because of the career prospects, family pressure, and a desire to help people, but three years later, I totally regret it and am not using my degree or license. Even though I was able to push through the stress of school, the reality of the career overwhelmed me. As a creative, sensitive, and introverted person, I became really depressed during school and work in the clinical setting because I was surrounded by thick-skinned, science-inclined, and outgoing people. I kept comparing myself to them and wondering why I felt so incompetent, when the real problem was that nursing was simply not a good fit for me.

Reading your question, I can really relate to you. That being said, I don't think that nursing is a simple choice because it is so much more than just helping people or developing a certain skill set. Although the employment opportunities are more widely available and lucrative than those in other fields, the caveat is that you have to be able to deal with the stress of the job - stress that comes from patients' health issues, their family members, co-workers, doctors, and even yourself.

Before you decide to go into nursing, ask yourself these questions:
1) Am I interested in applying scientific knowledge to taking care of people?
2) Would I be able to remain calm and level-headed in high-pressure situations (ex. medical emergencies)?
3) Would I be able to cope with bullying from co-workers or other members of the health care team?
4) Would I be able to work on my feet for 8+ hours a day?

I'm not trying to discourage you as much as give you a more balanced view of the nursing profession (the good AND bad, rather than just the good). As Wolfster suggested, shadow some nurses in a few different units and see how you feel.

By the way, I think you're onto something with the communications idea. Your previous jobs all seem to include a mix of publicity/media, education and social interaction, and it sounds like you enjoy that kind of work.
posted by constellations at 1:11 PM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

Are you me? Because I'm pretty sure you're my long lost career twin. I don't have a huge amount of advice for you except to recommend the NYFA Classifieds Jobs in the Arts section. It skews a bit more towards visual arts than I might like, but the postings are all very hiqh quality and they update very regularly. I'll be watching this thread and probably digging into it for some of my own career search. Best of luck!
posted by Polyhymnia at 1:30 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ok, this might be obvious to you from your experience so far, but I thought I'd lay out the arts landscape as I see it (have friends working in the area):

Office admin/box office/subscription sales – very few roles except in established houses. Jobs are mostly entry-level; can maybe progress to management, basically ends there afaik.

Arts outreach/education – might complement an existing teaching career. Is largely contract work, for life.

Marketing/communications – best bet imo. As mentioned: look for ‘marketing assistant’ positions with bigger arts organizations (more likely to be able to pay for this), or, get a marketing assistant job in a 'regular' place to get the skill-set, and continue volunteering on the side. Or do a few internships, and get a bar job at night. It will be easier to progress from something actually involving marketing than from reception, which ends up in office management in the best of all possible worlds. If you don't get anywhere this summer, would temp for now and apply to get into a marketing program. I'm not familiar with the accelerated post-grad programs offered by colleges, but you might look into those. (Or an MBA, but most people do that with a bit more experience. Not always, though, some go straight through. Would do informational interviewing and LinkedIn snooping around that for sure.)

Fundraising – three kinds: 1) minimum wage canvassing, which you’ve done, 2) grant-writing and 3) development/major gifts. More room for progression with 3), via higher paid contract work, as well as in-house salaried roles (with big companies, again). 2) is more likely to lead to high-paid contract work. Some colleges offer diplomas in fundraising. I think it's still possible to work your way up, though. Look for jobs with ‘development assistant’ rather than ‘fundraising’ in the title.

Stagecraft and management – don’t know a lot about this.

Canadian arts-specific websites: workinculture, mediajobsearchcanada, charityvillage to a lesser degree, as you've found. Your alma mater's career site. But best to go right to the sites of the organizations you're interested in.
posted by nelljie at 1:55 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

On the plus side, nursing is a super portable skill that will let you find a job almost anywhere. Being able to pack up and move cross-country and find a job quickly is fantastic.

On the downside, it's one of those jobs that is fine when you're 25 or 30, but it gets difficult to keep up with the physical demands as you get older, at least if you're doing it in a busy inpatient facility.
posted by pjaust at 7:05 AM on April 19, 2013

These are really helpful answers. I especially appreciate the comments from constellations, nelljie, wolfster and snorkmaiden about why someone like me might want to think twice before doing nursing.Thanks for taking the time to understand where I'm coming from. I am definitely interested in the aspect of using scientific knowledge to heal people but I do worry that being of a sensitive disposition could be a serious obstacle (I would like to become more thick-skinned though). I think it's excellent advice to shadow a nurse before I take the next step.

snorkmaiden: excellent! Montreal is where I want to be. I will for sure check that out!!

charmedimsure: it's encouraging to hear that you love being a public school teacher. thanks for also weighing in with the reality of what that's like when teaching music. I know that where I am there is very little budget for music in high schools, which makes me so sad.

nelljie: Your advice and info is super helpful. I hadn't thought of applying for marketing jobs, definitely something to consider.

Again thanks so much everyone who weighed in here!
posted by winterportage at 8:11 AM on April 19, 2013

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