Jobless, rudderless and miserable post-graduation.
May 6, 2013 6:04 PM   Subscribe

I am utterly, terrifyingly directionless after I left grad school early for financial reasons--I'm jobless and clueless. How can I redirect myself and get back on track?

I've read a half-dozen career books cover-to-cover (from What Colour is Your Parachute? to Po Bronson's What Should I Do With My Life?).

My special-snowflake details:
1) Liberal arts education.
2) Blood pressure (very low) and back issues that my doctor says precludes me from any job with significant standing (so most retail is out, but I've been desperately applying to the rare retail sit-down jobs).
3) In a city undergoing a bit of a crunch as the main employer (government) just laid people off and isn't hiring.
4) My spoken French simply isn't good enough for entry-level administrative jobs here. (Yes, you need French for admin jobs; less so for retail).
5) I'm in a relationship with a great guy--who makes me smile when I'd otherwise want to cry about how hopeless my life is right now--and it would break my goddamn heart to pack up and leave for a less French-centric environment. Even so, I've been applying in other cities and gotten a grand total of 0 bites.

I don't even know where to start with getting my life back on track--the things I might want to do (write, make things) seem like pie-in-the-sky dreams that I should disabuse myself of, and the things I CAN do, I can't get a job in (retail because of health issues, editing and admin stuff [have experience in both] because the market is saturated right now).

Do you have any advice for me?
posted by flibbertigibbet to Work & Money (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Are you in Quebec, Ontario, or New Brunswick?
posted by KokuRyu at 6:19 PM on May 6, 2013

Ontario. National Capital Region.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 6:23 PM on May 6, 2013

Pick a job. Any job, as long it has a title and you can narrow down five to ten companies that employ that position. Take people with that job out for coffee. Learn what they do, what their problems are. Learn the language, very literally in your case. The end goal is to get an intro to someone with the capacity to hire you--and being able to demonstrate, with your research and background knowledge, that you are the best person to hire.

At least, that's what I'm going to do. Yay graduation!
posted by tooloudinhere at 6:39 PM on May 6, 2013

Temp agencies. My brother started out with one in Ottawa and that led to a permanent position at a nonprofit that pays well. He doesn't speak French.
posted by futureisunwritten at 6:46 PM on May 6, 2013

Check out TechVibes for job listings or to research companies. You can do any number of things, like working as an account manager, to managing social media campaigns, or writing copy.

Although much has been made of the implosion of Ottawa's ICT tech sector, the city is still technology hub with lots and lots of web companies.

Start making phone calls. Don't sell yourself short - you can do more than work in retail.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:01 PM on May 6, 2013

First of all-- you need hobbies and outlets at a time like this. Join a summer sports team (I'm in Ottawa too-- message me if you want to play beer league soccer!), volunteer for the awesome summer festivals coming up (Fringefest, Bluesfest, Chamberfest, Folk fest, etc etc etc), take advantage of the summer (winter was fucking brutal this year).

Secondly, it is possible to find admin jobs here that don't require full bilingualism. I'm having trouble finding work myself so I may not be the best person to give you advice, but I do know that my last temp job (in Ottawa) was at a trade association which only dealt with English Canada. Because Quebec is so distinct when it comes to arts and culture, this association did not have much business with the francophone world. So it is possible, keep that in mind.

I have been having terrible luck with temp agencies here-- probably because I am entry level, or I'm not badgering them enough every day. But that's another good suggestion.

For admin/reception jobs, someone suggested that I open up the Yellow pages and call every "association", "organization", "society", etc and just straight up ask if they need a receptionist. I saw someone doing this in a cafe one day and damn, I admired them. I have yet to summon the ovaries to do it myself! * I've heard that a lot of non-profit org's have headquarters in Ottawa-- the phone book might be an easy way to weed out org's that would deal with French Canada.

Also- if you can say bonjour, merci, comment ca va, je m'excuse? etc, you are good for customer service in Ottawa. Seriously- half of downtown is not bilingual. Don't be afraid to mention the meagrest of french abilities on your resume. Being willing to speak french goes a long way, and you can learn a lot of vocabulary on the job.

My last advice is: do whatever you can to keep your spirits up. Go to yoga, go out for drinks with friends, go for walks, go to the museums on thursday nights when admission is free, cook nice meals for yourself. You're only young once and you've gotta take advantage of it- even if you're unemployed and the job market sucks. It could be that way for a long time, but you don't want to spend your one and only youth being depressed about the economy.
posted by winterportage at 7:14 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you're set on staying in the area, why not spend your non-job-hunting downtime improving your French? It would help you feel like you're being productive, and the basic gains you'd experience as you learn the language would help boost your self esteem. It would also help you avoid being in this situation again in the future and open up job opportunities for you. If there are free French language resources or options for practicing French, take advantage of them! If you can find a club for practicing conversational French, you might also be able to do some networking, which could lead to a job.
posted by rhythm and booze at 7:45 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

First of all, put down What Colour is Your Parachute? and Po Bronson's What Should I Do With My Life? !! These are books for trust-fund kids and/or a great job market. It seems you're not a trust-fund kid, and job market is terrible, so just focus on what you CAN do, and what's available to you. (Reading these books made me want to cry. It doesn't matter if I'd make a great architect or have a passion for making herb soap in my basement. These are not realistic options for me. I need a JOB.) Make your time outside work COUNT - spend it building relationships with friends and family, making art, etc. Read this (Article on Ask A Manager, and you may find this blog useful in general) and this(a comic! yay!). And maybe this (Sad Waffles by Melanie Crutchfield; I am definitely prone to 'sad waffle-itis'; maybe it's just me?). I also really like the "Maven Circle" blog and "Flow" by Mihaly C. Also, you are definitely definitely not alone. I'm there too. And my husband. And most of our friends. Temping worked for me in some places, and not others - worth a try!

Winterportage has great advice about getting out of the house and such.
Feel better soon!
posted by jrobin276 at 8:12 PM on May 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

There is a lot in your question that describes the negatives, i.e. what you can't do because of the market conditions and your health, but very little as to what you can do, i.e. the positives. In this situation I'd think it would be key to change your outlook by focusing on what you can offer and the general direction you want to go in (write, make things). make a list of all the things you consider might separate you from others in terms of what you offer and the reasons as to why someone would employ you against another candidate. There are reasons, you just have to find them. When you have that list you can start to put a plan into action on how to display those talents. For example if you think you have a talent for writing and a background in liberal arts you could consider pursuing that angle, if it gives you joy then it may balance out a 'just for the money' kind of job in the meantime. You can replace the grad school structure with one of your own making. Good luck.
posted by 0 answers at 5:08 AM on May 7, 2013

This was me (well, except for the blood pressure bit) in around 2003-2004. I say this partly to reassure that this will pass.

For me, the answer came with the realization that a) I could earn a master's degree faster than I could achieve fluency in French, b) I had the money to pay for it and c) it was best for me to get out of the National Capital Region. Going to Ottawa with a liberal arts (especially Poli Sci degree) with the hope of getting a good job is the white collar equivalent of blue collar dudes who show up in Fort Mac with no job and realize that you can't get one instantly and you'll pay outrageous rent while trying to get hired.

However, since you seen committed to staying in the area, volunteer and get out of the house, at least. Even if it doesn't lead to a job, you'll meet people (and tell all of them that you're looking for work), and feel better. My happiest days during my "unemployed in Ottawa" phase were the ones spent canvassing for a provincial NDP candidate. I wasn't making money, but I felt like I was doing something useful and important for the world and that's 90% of managing your mood.
posted by Kurichina at 7:22 AM on May 7, 2013

I know that if you're in the US that employers must make reasonable accomodation for folks with disabilities. So if you work in retail, but need to sit, they can give you a chair behind the register (they do this in my supermarket for a few of the folks).

Agree, start with temping.

Also, call centers. Perhaps a job in customer service with the phone company, or the electric company or anything. Here's a list of Call Center (or Centre) jobs open now. Here's a job for Rogers, which doesn't mention needing to be bi-lingual.

I find that ACTING really helps me get over the blues. I'm never so happy as when I have a plan! So start applying for these jobs. It's a numbers game. Apply early and apply often.

I started my career in Customer Service in a call center. I never imagined it would BE a career, but I liked it and I was good at it and I learned a LOT!

Stop feeling sorry for yourself and go ahead and get out there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:26 AM on May 7, 2013

Thanks guys. I feel a bit better now. I'll be taking your advice to heart.

re: temp agencies: already there, not a single one-day job has resulted from it.
re: French: normally I'd be all over the self-improvement aspect, but I have the worst tin ear imaginable, meaning that my accent is thick to the point of incomprehensibility. I'm fluent in written communication, I just plateaued on my accent years ago and I can't improve it. (I had next-to-no improvement when I was taking all-French university classes and a special French pronunciation class, working and speaking in French 30+ hours a week. I've just come to accept that it won't be getting better than it was at that peak, and it was objectively terrible then).
re: moving: I've been applying out-of-town, with the perspective of "I'll cross that bridge when I get to it," but no bites.

In fact, I haven't gotten a single interview or expression of interest since I started looking in September, not even for minimum-wage jobs.

If I don't get something by mid-June, I'll go to a call centre (which was my plan anyways). A job is a job, which is step 1.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:43 AM on May 7, 2013

If I don't get something by mid-June, I'll go to a call centre (which was my plan anyways). A job is a job, which is step 1.

What's so terrible about a call center? I'm baffled. You get training, you talk to people, you help them. You go home.

My Phone Company job allowed me to jump off, I started in customer service, and left as a Data Network Engineer. That's nothing to sneeze at.

Also, your accent may suck, but you're fluent in French m'dear. My Spanish accent sounds Cuban, but hey, it counts.

If you're not getting nibbles on your applications/resume, then have someone evaluate it for you. That indicates that it's a mess.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:51 AM on May 7, 2013

I know 3 friends who had call centre jobs at the major firms in my city. They all have strong work ethic and all 3 quit call centre jobs as soon as they were able, or were fired for failing to keep up with their quota. At least one of them burst into tears when describing her call centre job, and she had previously worked as a maid/janitor and was used to hard work and demanding bosses. In-house (and inbound-only) call centres, like Rogers, are a different kettle of fish, but telemarketing-focused ones have a very bad rep among job-seekers in this city (and are likely the place I'd get hired). They are constantly hiring because they have 100% turnover and... management of variable quality.

When I mentioned that I'd be going to a call centre soon, just to find a job (in October), two of them recommended that I use that as my last resort for when my bank account gets low or when I hit 9-12 months jobless (which I will in June).
posted by flibbertigibbet at 11:46 AM on May 7, 2013

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