Making A Something-Level Career out of Very, Very Little.
April 27, 2013 6:39 PM   Subscribe

I have recently acknowledged that my aimlessness has kept me trapped in retail and unable to find better for myself. My goal from several months ago - to find a double-digit hourly position by the anniversary of my graduation from college - is far from accomplished. I am not giving myself another year to mess up, but I'm having some trouble discerning where I should go.

These are the facts:

1) I have a 2.5 GPA from a high-ranking Southern university. I fucked up college, too. LONG story short, mental health is more important than I thought. I was smart enough to get in, but that's pretty much all I can say and prove about my academic abilities.* I underutilized the Career Center and they have been reluctant to help me since graduation.

2) My degree has worked against me. An extended period of living in Survival Mode has decreased my inclination to do morally-rewarding non-profit work, which is precisely what my degree slots me towards. Right now, I just want to make a lot of money. Or at the very least, enough money that rent higher than $350 wouldn't leave me anxious and very, very hungry.

3) Most of my experience is administrative, with the exception of my post-college experience, which is retail. I can't help but wonder if this is going to be a significant detriment to me finding work that doesn't make me feel ashamed and depressed.**

4) I no longer speak a level of Spanish that would be valuable beyond being able to understand my current customers in retail.

This is what I would like to do:

1) Write a book. This is mostly a pipe dream and I've accepted the odds of my novel being published as Mind-Numbingly Slim, but something I'd like to do nonetheless.

2) Work as a writer for a video game company. Like the plot-writers at Bioware. I'm aware of how high the odds are stacked against me because I don't have a programming background nor experience with a publishing company, but if you have any suggestions as to where someone like me could start...please let me know?

3) Make lots of money. I don't particularly care how (with the exception listed below). Companies hiring for clerical positions have continued to avoid me like the plague and I haven't had an interview in months. I need another in.

Where do I start? Do I just totally forget about the novel and working for a video game company? Do I have to accept the fact that I'm stuck, and just quietly work my way up the retail management chain? Everyone has advised me to stay put because having 2 jobs in one year looks terrible, but I CAN'T keep living like this. I removed myself from Facebook and haven't updated my LinkedIn account in part because I haven't done as well as my peers. Also, being paid at such a low level is doing really bad things to my self-confidence and I don't have the money or the insurance to fix that.

Thank you.

*The GPA and the reasons behind it are my key roadblocks to grad school, where I'd likely take up a Masters in English. If I got in. Which is not likely.

** Pro-Domming, is not, for my current body type, an option. I am also terrified of it being a kiss of death on any attempt to leave the field afterwards.
posted by Ashen to Work & Money (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of retail chains have management development programs, and managing people is something that can translate into just about any career. If your retail job cannot advance you, find a retail chain that can.
posted by xingcat at 6:48 PM on April 27, 2013

With no experience and without even a side project to show as an example*, your video game writer idea is a pipe dream. That said, you could start with QA and embark on breaking into games from that angle. It is not impossible, but it will be hard, hard work. This is one of those things where the possibility of success is real, but will not, absolutely will not, be handed to you.

* even a text-based game is something useful
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 6:59 PM on April 27, 2013

I'm like you. I have no work skills outside my retail career, and I'm trying to pursue a screenwriting career on the side. I also want to make lots of money.

I'm not sure what retail chain you work for, but I'm in the grocery business and while the fact that it's low pay pisses me off, I can move up into management pretty quickly while pursuing my writing thing on the side.

However if your retail job is truly dead-end, then I feel for you. But keep working on those career paths that will make you the big bucks.
posted by signondiego at 7:23 PM on April 27, 2013

MeMail me, and if you can, link me to your resume. (You can leave your contact info off.) I don't have any job leads for you, but I think I might be able to help you with some other aspects of your search.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 7:29 PM on April 27, 2013

Writing a book and making a lot of money are for all intents and purposes (99.999....%) incompatible goals. But working as a writer for some kind of company might be an attainable goal if you are a very good writer. Are you already, and if so, do you have samples of your work you can send out? If so, why not try that, you never know what might catch someone's eye. But that could also take a long time, so in the meantime, do you know why companies with clerical jobs are avoiding you? Your GPA? Or other reasons?
posted by Dansaman at 7:35 PM on April 27, 2013

If you want to write, you have to write. Like, daily. Stephen King got started when he worked at a godawful laundry and lived in near squalor. Very few writers, even the guys and girls with paper things in stores, can make a go of it full time. Most of them are grinding it out after hours as their second job.

If you want to write for video games, you need to be writing games. Can't program? Use something like Twine or learn something like ChoiceScript to make interactive fiction. Or write tabletop RPGs and start there.

It's both that easy and that hard.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:38 PM on April 27, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: To quickly answer some of the questions you've raised (and thank you for answering):

I'm the lowest level of management in a retailer that leans heavily on pharmaceutical sales (CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens, etc). While HR, the DM (district manager) and the other higher-level regional folks have sworn up and down that I'd be promoted quickly through the ranks, these are also the same people who didn't want to give me than $9 an hour (I did ask, they did say no). I take their words with a grain of salt. So theoretically, I am on a fast-track to higher-level and then corporate management. But again, I don't believe them and I have leaned strongly towards not being around long enough to see if they're just gassing me up.

I do have writing samples, including two (incomplete, but near completion) fanfictions that I've been using to test my grasp of character authenticity, plot planning, etc. I've also been eying several writing competitions. I just need to find a way to circumvent the typical soul-sucked feeling I get once I'm off. I'm generally the closing manager, and I feel as if my days slip by because I spend my time at work or preparing to be there.

Also, I have no idea why my resume, nor my cover letter, fails to attract companies. I do not list my GPA. I only got one piece of feedback from a department within Rutgers University, to the effect of: "Your cover letter was the most refreshing thing I've ever read, and we really wanted to interview you, but we need someone more specialized in Access."
posted by Ashen at 8:13 PM on April 27, 2013

I think the video game thing sounds actually possible. I'm not in that industry, but I am both an advertising copywriter and a published novelist so I know a little bit about writing for money. So: gaming. You need to figure out how to break in. Do these writers go to a spec
posted by apostrophe at 9:20 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ack stupid phone, sorry. Anyway, do the gaming writers go to school for it? Like a gaming portfolio school? I don't know, but I bet some metafilter person does. Perhaps a new question to find that out.

I've got 2 published novels but still have a day job. So maybe don't count on that to support yourself.

Kudos to you for deciding to get out of retail and do something you care about. You can do it.
posted by apostrophe at 9:23 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

a college degree is worth something. not everyone focuses on gpa so don't worry too much about that. if all you want is to make more than 9 dollars an hour then I would look into businesses and there lots of opportunities. for instance an insurance agent. I know someone who has a degree in parks and recreation but works in insurance and makes a good living.

look on job boards for jobs that seem interesting. many jobs that require a bachelor's degree will pay more than 9/hr or at least have more upward momentum. I know people at my work who make 13/hr with no degree . also look at temp agencies as a possibility for entry level opportunities. some have long term contract to hire positions that might be a good foot in the door. it may be hard to find jobs right now because the job market is tough but I think you can definitely earn more using your degree and experience as a manager. Be confident about it!
posted by Jaelma24 at 9:36 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think your first priority is to get a stream of income. Apply for jobs that pay lots, and don't think too much about it. Don't be specific.

Once you have that you will have a base to work from and time to build your writing portfolio.
posted by tel3path at 4:03 AM on April 28, 2013

Also, don't spend time writing "refreshing" cover letters. Spend less time writing cover letters that simply state that you're writing to apply for a certain vacancy, and then in bullet points list how you meet each criterion mentioned in the job ad. They want 3 years' bullet dodging experience and proficiency in Access, you write:

- 23 years' bullet dodging experience
- interest in Access

The resumes and cover letters aren't "attracting" companies because in all likelihood they're getting thrown away before anyone ever reads them. The vast majority of applications you send will be thrown away unread. To increase your chances of getting through the keyword search, match the cover letter to the ad. This not only increases your chances of landing in the "to read" pile, it also increases the chances of attracting a hiring manager who may not understand the job they're hiring for. I know for a fact that I have literally had my résumé ignored because I used the word "reporting" when the keyword search was looking for the word "reports".

In general, people fail at job searches because they pour their heart and soul into it and then take rejections personally. You need to stop seeing yourself as a person and start seeing yourself as a list of keywords, and stop paying attention to the contents of rejection feedback which, even when truthful, is never going to be any use to you (you can't go back in your time machine and have learned the requisite Access skills post facto, and you could waste your life doing things like learning Access so as to get rejected by the next company that doesn't even use Access (not that it would hurt to learn Access, but you can never learn every one of the infinite number of skills that hiring companies want; if the same skill comes up over and over again that's different)). There is no rhyme nor reason to getting hired, the only thing that works is to keep applying.
posted by tel3path at 4:18 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have any management responsibilities and can't get $9 hour, your company is exploiting you in a very blatant way. The promise of climbing the ladder is just so that they can pay a very low rate that is completely inconsistent with the responsibilities. You have every reason for wanting to leave.

Not sure where you live, but customer service positions (not in retail!) in the Boston area pay double digits--usually $10-15/hour. Try applying to customer service positions at software companies and the like. Your retail skills will translate nicely. Since a lot of companies promote within before looking for outside positions, you may be able to move up that way (and once you're in a company, nobody cares about your gpa).
posted by andariel at 5:39 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't normally give this sort of advice-- normally I give the opposite advice-- but it may be that working for a non-profit is your way out. Like maybe you shouldn't do it for the rest of your life, but if it is an escape from retail hell, you should definitely take a job at a non-profit, particularly if you academic background, internship experiences, and connections provide a path for you to do that.

You can always leverage your non-profit experience into something better and more interesting. But if non-profits are your escape, go through that escape hatch.

Do I just totally forget about the novel and working for a video game company?

Mirisha Pessl wronte Special Topics in Calamity Physics while holding down a day job (in fact, I think she wrote it while at work... naughty, naughty!). Don't give up on that dream. You can do it.

Working for a video game company? Honestly: working for a video game company is a vanity job. It pays like crap and you can lose your job at any moment, so basically you are paying for the privilege of being there. The way I look at the video game industry is that there are thousands of people more desperate and more talented than I am who have far less of a need or interest in money than I do willing to take those jobs. I'm perfectly content to let them have it.
posted by deanc at 7:11 AM on April 29, 2013

Response by poster: Thank you for your answers, everyone. I've decided to pursue better-paying work that will 1) give me my weekends back and 2) stick me in a traditional 9-5, as I'm pretty sure that will give me more time and energy to write. It does not cure my career angst; however, I can't go back in time and obtain a business degree to save me from today's closing shift. I'll suck it up and deal until I'm lucky enough to find better.

Thank you again.
posted by Ashen at 4:54 AM on April 30, 2013

Call center jobs will hire almost anyone (especially with a degree) and generally start at $10+ an hour. Given that you have a degree, you can get a job at a nicer one. I recommend looking at insurance companies in your area. A call center insurance job (not sales, even, I do customer service and we don't have sales goals) generally serves as a springboard into call center management or claim adjusting if you're at all motivated.

It's not a fulfilling career by any means, but it's full time with good benefits, you get to leave work at work, and there is upward mobility. Anyway, it's a damn sight better than retail. My starting wage was $12.50, which I'm pretty sure was more than the store manager made at the Blockbuster I worked at prior. I'm making over $15 now, 4 years later.
posted by Rach3l at 5:48 PM on May 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

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