Last Night I Dreamt I Had a Marketable Skill
May 10, 2013 12:34 PM   Subscribe

I hate my job and originally only took it as a stop-gap until I found what I really loved. Unfortunately, I'm not sure what else I'm suited to do. I've been a copy editor, a social worker, and a paralegal. What on earth do I do with these skills?

I graduated from college about ten years ago. I went to a decent school where I majored in history and which landed me my very first job at a small children's publisher. I loved the job but the pay was low and there was little room for growth. I applied to editorial assistant positions at other publishers in New York for about three years without getting anywhere. Although I got several interviews and always made it to the second round, there was always someone "more experienced" than I was who got the job.

I decided that if I was never going to make any money, I might as well chuck everything and go to social work school. I specialized in families and children. Once I graduated, I applied to over a hundred jobs over several months and got nowhere. In desperation and low on funds, I took an assistant paralegal job that a friend helped me secure.

I'm thirty-two now and still haven't found "my job." I no longer expect to, but I'm almost at quitting point with my paralegal job. While some younger people or recent graduates might be more suited to strongly hierarhical settings, I'm having a lot of trouble with the expectation that I churn out mindless, micromanaged work at the behest of not-very-bright associate attorneys without the hope of ever advancing since I would need a J.D. to do so.

If you had a friend with an Ivy League degree in Modern Genocide and Total Warfare, several years of editorial assistant experience in children's books, a Master's in social work, and a year and a half of experience rganizing a near-impossible workload as a low-level paralegal at a top firm, how would you tell her to package her skills? What else could she possible do that isn't publishing, social work or paralegaling? She can't seem to get a job in the former two choices and she hates the third, but there has to be a job for writer types who like people and want a little bit of autonomy. Where on earth should I be applying? Is there anything new I can try or is it too late?

(If you recognize me from this post because you are my real-life friend and this post is high on specific detail, call me for a drink later. I'll buy you a beer.)
posted by pineappleheart to Work & Money (21 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Technical writing or editing?

Is there anything new I can try or is it too late?

It's never too late. Ever.
posted by Etrigan at 12:40 PM on May 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

I have a friend with a not entirely dissimilar background and she works as a communications specialist for a non-profit. That said, near as I can tell, she spends a lot of time churning out mindless, micro-managed work. She does have room for advancement, though.
posted by jacquilynne at 12:48 PM on May 10, 2013

Have you worked through What Color is Your Parachute?

Because I'm doing it again now and I think it will help with your frustration and also to shape your idea of what "your job" might be.

You could be almost any kind of social worker, but I think he days of sending in a resume and getting in a response are over unless you have some connection tithe person who first catches yours over the fax machine.

So, aside from the book, do you have any connections, however tenuous, to any person at any organization you might consider working in? If so, take they person out for a beer and talk about the kind of work they do and the kind of work you want to do. They can either commiserate or point you on a direction.
posted by bilabial at 12:53 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

a job for writer types who like people and want a little bit of autonomy

That + children's books + social work says "teacher" to me -- either high school or community college, I suppose in English or history.
posted by seemoreglass at 12:55 PM on May 10, 2013

Maybe grantwriting? Involves talking to people, writing, attention to detail and analytical skill. You could look for a local non-profit looking for informal grantwriting help to see if it might be up your alley.
posted by pie ninja at 12:57 PM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]


1. you should be writing and editing.

2. there are many great copy editing temp firms where you can go from getting your feet wet to full blown copy editor. If you pass their tests (which are fairly simple) you can get diverse work. Sometimes boring, sometimes fun.

3. If you want to have some real fun with your skills, check out Verbal Branding... it encompasses copywriting, editing, ideation, naming and Brand Strategy. It exists in the Advertising and Branding world. Not all marketers are evil.

4. When job markets are tight or seem closed to you... ask for informational interviews, ask for internship opportunities. 3 or 6 months of experience working for someone good or somewhere good and you are much more valuable.

5. If the paralegal gig isn't killing you, try to get some informational interviews while you are doing that gig.

6. And I second checking out grant writing. In many development departments you will do much more than that and grant writers who are good can work anywhere.
posted by bobdow at 1:08 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: P.S. I know some of you are noting that I was a copy editor but made two typos above. You are my people and I do not blame you.
posted by pineappleheart at 1:19 PM on May 10, 2013 [10 favorites]

Masters in social work? How about looking into human resources?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:20 PM on May 10, 2013

Ditto the getting connections. I am a volunteer for hospice, and they just sent out a notice to us that they are looking for a volunteer co-ordinator with either liberal arts or msw background, and want us to send them recommendations. Hospice also hires social workers on a pretty regular basis. Maybe doing some volunteering for them and getting an in that way? (They also hire people who to do their communications).
posted by nanook at 1:28 PM on May 10, 2013

Honestly, that sounds like a perfect community manager's resume. Entry-level moderation work is super low-paying but really flexible, and there are lots of jobs these days.
posted by restless_nomad at 1:28 PM on May 10, 2013

Could it be the area you're in? The area I'm about to move to (Western Massachusetts) seems to have frequent job postings for people with an MSW. The area I'm living in now doesn't.
posted by chaiminda at 1:28 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Why not for a non-profit that needs someone with social work experience and can write? Or a state, local or Federal job that requires an MSW?
posted by Ideefixe at 1:29 PM on May 10, 2013

One thing that came to mind was CASA. It's LAW and Social Work.

How about the Federal Government? My DAD is an MSW and an LCSW and he worked for the feds for 10 years. He is now enjoying a lush retirement after living abroad in Europe and Japan. Great benefits, excellent money and that there.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:57 PM on May 10, 2013

I came here to suggest communications at a non-profit, which is what I do (specifically, digital communications). The pay isn't amazing, but there's a lot of growth in the online side of things right now. Definitely a lot of churning out of content, but I get to be pretty creative on a regular basis. I've had jobs with lots of micromanagement and jobs with none.
posted by lunasol at 2:03 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Psychotherapist? Here's a thread about the pros/cons.
posted by Ouisch at 2:33 PM on May 10, 2013

- Ivy League degree in Modern Genocide and Total Warfare
- editorial assistant experience
- Master's in social work
- paralegal

Something to do with refugee /domestic human rights issues, in any of: campaigning, mediating, organizing, research, legal aid outreach/education*, resettlement?

*here's an example near me of an organization that seeks to disseminate accessible, plain-language legal information to people who can't afford lawyers.
posted by nelljie at 2:38 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could it be the area you're in? The area I'm about to move to (Western Massachusetts) seems to have frequent job postings for people with an MSW. The area I'm living in now doesn't.

That was my thought as well- would you be willing to move somewhere for a few years to get clinical experience, then move back to New York? Getting yourself on a stable career path seems like a good reason to relocate for a few years.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:55 PM on May 10, 2013

If nelljie's suggestion appeals to you at all, check out International Rescue Committee.
posted by EvaDestruction at 4:06 PM on May 10, 2013

You were frustrated with your editing career, so you quit and went into social work. That didn't work out, so you became a paralegal. The pattern you're following is: "Based on where I am, where can I go right now?"

Maybe you need to take a step back and think of something you would like to do that meets your desires in terms of advancement opportunities, income, and skills, and then work backwards to figure out what steps you need to take to get there.

You may never find the perfect career for you, but if you keep picking your jobs out of desperation, I doubt you'll make a lot of progress in the right direction.
posted by deathpanels at 4:50 PM on May 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: It's sort of more that I'm still applying for editing and social work jobs and want to know how to cast the net a little wider to include jobs I've never thought about. While it's very easy to say that I should just find a dream and chase it, my trouble getting hired in my two desired fields kind of cancels out that advice.
posted by pineappleheart at 6:39 AM on May 11, 2013

Editing teaches you to read slowly and meticulously. For me, that was the ideal preparation for law school. I had a ball, but it's less attractive these days, and being a lawyer requires 100% of your time. It didn't suit me. I make a living, which is good enough.
posted by KRS at 4:33 PM on May 11, 2013

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