Help me climb onto the next rung of the career ladder
June 5, 2013 1:35 PM   Subscribe

For the past 12 years after college, I have been working in the administrative field in various paraprofessional capacities (such as being a paralegal, program coordinator, office manager, etc). I feel like I just cannot do this kind of work anymore, but don't I see where I can go from here, career wise. Hope me!

I’ve worked as a clerical admin ever since college. I never planned to make this my career, but thought that it would be the first step towards a professional track job. However, 12 years have somehow flown by, interspersed with an ill-advised detour in grad school (think an MA in the humanities/social sciences) and an administrative paraprofessional is what I have become. I am now a month into another admin job as an office manager, which I took because it paid much better than my last admin job, but I’m already realizing that the pay bump is still not compensating for the fact that I hate the major tasks of this kind of work, which include scheduling, paying bills, and ordering office supplies. And yet, as someone whose work experience is solely in administrative work, I feel stuck.

One mistake that I’ve made in my job choices has been to take civil service jobs at the administrative level, with the idea that I would learn the ropes, show management that I was a hard worker, and then eventually get promoted. I’ve since learned that by taking these jobs, I’ve locked myself into the clerical level as a state employee, so that it would be very hard to be promoted within the state hiring system.

Right now, my professional skills are predominantly admin skills. Two career moves that I’ve thought about are: something in the allied health field, which would require a large investment of time and money, probably while sticking it out my current job for at least two years while I complete prerequisites. Or, I’ve toyed with the idea of getting into the communications field, writing web content, perhaps? But, I am aware that communications is a highly competitive field and I know that I don’t have the demonstrable skills to get hired as a professional in the communications field.

Does the hivemind have any suggestions of how to get out of the admin track? Are there any skills that I could develop on my own, or through part time classes? Stories of how you jumped ship from the administrative track would be appreciated as well.

Also, I don’t want to disparage any other admins and their jobs by voicing my discontentment with being an admin. I just know that after many years of doing this kind of work, it’s not for me, but as a fellow admin, I know that it is important and very challenging work!
posted by annie_oakley to Work & Money (8 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I know some admin people that got involved with managing the web site or a Sharepoint site and were able over time to morph themselves into web geeks or Sharepoint admins. If you like working in the public sector there will not be any shortage of Sharepoint jobs anytime soon.
posted by COD at 1:49 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have upgraded my career at least twice (on my utterly useless BA in Japanese from a public school). Basically what I have done is to do some freelancing in the job I want to go into, because clients seem much easier to convince than employers. That allows me to get some practice, figure out what skills are in demand and people are paying for, and build up a small network in the new field I'm interested in.

Another good thing to do is to find a mentor who does what you want to do. A lot of people are willing to help if approached directly. If there are local organizations or meetups, that can be a great place to meet people. You'd say something like "I'm interested in getting into ____. Where would you recommend I get started?"

I think the key for me has been a lot of networking (seriously this is very important in any career), self-teaching (get on the internet and research, research, research), and a little bit of fake-it-till-you-make-it style pretending I know how to do something until I actually do.
posted by annekate at 1:55 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

SharePoint or or Access are all paths to more infomation, data manipulation type jobs.

I transitioned from Sales to being a Admin (who works extensively with SharePoint and Excel.) Crystal Reports is also pretty popular.

These are natural progressions within your current job, most places will pay for you to expand your skills in these types of programs because they marry so well to an Administrative position.

Do you think you'd like sitting in a cube working out a complex array formula? I'm happy with it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:57 PM on June 5, 2013

I've found it to be a big fat lie that one can get one's foot in the door as a receptionist or admin assistant or even executive assistant and the work up to something else. You just wind up going higher up the admin level to office manager (above which I don't really see any other rungs).

You can definitely segue to other things but you'll have to work at it and possibly take some classes and/or get some certificates. You can either see if you can take on some of these tasks at your current position or look for new jobs that combine admin with other job functions. Smaller companies or small non-profits often combine admin/receptionist/office manager with other admin, non-programming related roles:

Ideas are HR/benefits administration, internal communications, project management, strategic planning.
posted by thebazilist at 2:18 PM on June 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Grant writing at a non-profit or academic institution, especially one that requires knowledge in your area of humanities expertise.

I've known two different people in my working career who moved from exactly your job description into project management. It seems like a natural transition to me.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:41 PM on June 5, 2013

I would look into fairly small companies. Something with less than twenty people.

They're more likely to have no bureaucracy, so they are more creative in both hiring and promoting. So it's easier to transition from a sharp admin to a junior analyst.

My first non-admin job was something of nightmare. People only stayed for a year and there was a lot of hinky drama going on. But they also were willing to take a chance that a legal admin might have a knack for learning local taxes. I stayed for 18 months and made a jump to public accounting to legitimize myself. I've since built up a great career in an odd niche. Recruiters always raise an eyebrow and say "Wow, X really went out on a limb for you." "Dream candidates are expensive and the gamble obviously paid off."
posted by politikitty at 3:16 PM on June 5, 2013

One mistake that I’ve made in my job choices has been to take civil service jobs at the administrative level, with the idea that I would learn the ropes, show management that I was a hard worker, and then eventually get promoted. I’ve since learned that by taking these jobs, I’ve locked myself into the clerical level as a state employee, so that it would be very hard to be promoted within the state hiring system.

I am a clerical worker in a state system. It's true that in that kind of a system, there are essentially no merit increases: the job is what it is regardless of how good you are at it. So at a certain point you'll reach the highest step within your grade and still make $10-20K less than the professional level staff. But I have seen people change jobs from that point, generally in two ways:

A) they gain additional certifications and skills and transform their existing job into something more interesting, and then apply for a job reclassification. I've seen this happen occasionally although it largely depends on management culture. For example, I know someone who was essentially a clerical assistant, but ended up creating a lot of publications, took Photoshop classes, and pursued a certificate (or associate's, I'm not sure) in graphic design, and then their awesome boss pushed for a job reclassification to Graphic Designer instead of Clerk 4 or whatever they were. I'm sure it came with a pay bump, in addition to new duties.

B) Or they gain additional certifications, skills, degrees, etc and then apply as an internal candidate for professional-grade positions. This is way more common, and probably the easier route. Start looking at the professional positions that are advertised at your agency and see if any of them look desirable, and take note of the qualifications required. If you can get those qualifications, or already have them, start applying. It's more competitive than the low-level admin work, but you'll have a step up since you know the politics and software. A lot of these jobs are management (or faculty if you're at a university) but if it appeals to you it might be worth looking at the internal positions.

Of course, this advice only applies if you're interested in staying in state service. But sometimes it's easier to start where you are.
posted by epanalepsis at 6:11 AM on June 6, 2013

Just wanted to pop in to say thank you so much for everyone's helpful and encouraging responses! Although I marked two best answers because they are especially relevant to my specific situation, every answer in this thread has given me great ideas, and dare I say, some hope, for my next step.
posted by annie_oakley at 6:46 AM on June 6, 2013

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