I want a new job. I'm not well qualified. What can I do?
August 13, 2013 5:56 PM   Subscribe

I've been working a data-entry job for almost two years now. I got it as a temp position shortly after finishing college. It became full-time a year later. I graduated from a good school, but late, and with mediocre grades in journalism, my major. I stuck to the temp job because I bombed out of freelance work. This failure aggravated my self-loathing and convinced me to abandon journalism, for which I have shown little talent. I abandoned it for a dead-end job. I would like a job with better chances for promotion and with better pay. How, if at all, do I find such a job, considering my mental health, which sabotages each stage of the hunt, and my poor qualifications, which don't help?

Details: I'm 25. I'm male. I live with my mother, stepfather, and brother in the suburbs north of Boston on 128. Each month, I pay about six hundred dollars in student-loan payments. I also pay three hundred thirty dollars in rent each month to my mother and stepfather. I may consolidate my loans soon, though I don't know whether I can do so. I use You Need a Budget to track my finances. I'm in therapy.

I went to the College of Communication at Boston University. I took a journalism major because I thought it would help me find a job. At the time, I feared taking an English major. Over the years, I learned that journalism didn't interest me. I didn't like buttonholing people for interviews. I didn't like looking for stories. I wrote slowly. Worst, I didn't even look for an internship. By my last semester, I had failed outright to hand in a few assignments. I graduated because a few professors gave me a lot of slack. I graduated late because I didn't turn in a prerequisite's final story until well after what should have been my graduation ceremony.

I also minored in Spanish. I haven't kept up with it, but I haven't lost it entirely.
I looked for permanent work that summer, but found none. I called a temp agency. They sent me to the job I would have for the next two years. Meanwhile, I took a freelance job with a local paper. They had me cover school committee meetings. It went all right for a few months. I didn't interview people enough. I never failed my deadline, but I never submitted stories as soon as I could have. I didn't double-check my work. This laxity lost me the job: I misquoted and misrepresented one of the committee members. My notes and my memory failed me. He corrected my mistakes at length. That paper never called me back. I was crushed, so I never called any other paper. I haven't written or published anything since.
My Current Job
So now I work for a trucking company. It takes about fifteen minutes to get there. The office occupies a pair of rooms in a noisy, dusty warehouse, right beneath an air conditioner's exhaust. I work from nine to five, Monday through Friday. The job pays fifteen dollars an hour. I log the drivers' route data into the company database. This ensures that they get paid. I also record the times at which the same-day orders leave the yard. In my boss's absence, I field e-mails from the customer and their clients. The office generally only has three people in it: me, my boss, and the day shift's lead driver. The day shift's lead driver handles most problems when my boss is away. Drivers come and go as the day progresses.
I wouldn't mind this job, but it doesn't pay me enough to leave home, and the environment is exhausting. My boss and the drivers insult each other as a way of showing cordiality. My boss complains all the time. He hopes for the company to promote him. He wants to move away from New England.

We have a decent relationship. My overuse of the Internet strained it for some time, but I've cut back considerably. Since then, I've been doing a lot more work a lot more efficiently. My boss appreciates it.
Mental Health
My mental health is much as it was when I posted this question. As I said, I'm now in therapy, so I'm slightly better. I try to go out with friends more often. I don't pay more than necessary into my loans.

Still, I can't convince myself that I'm really qualified for anything beyond what I do now. In fact, I'm convinced I can't do anything worthwhile at all. My self-efficacy is prone on the floor.

As a result, I can't project confidence at work or on my own time, never mind at interviews. I've never liked praising myself or hearing myself praised. My previous failures weigh on me. I can't remember ever having a specific ambition. I've never been good at anything. Since losing my freelance job, I haven't updated my LinkedIn profile or my resume.

I don't know what I want to do; I just want to make more money, or at the very least I want not to hate my workplace.
posted by Rustic Etruscan to Work & Money (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Seriously, Rustic Etruscan, forget you. Employers don't care about your history, your problems, or your gifts, beyond what you can demonstrate will profit them. And as far as "profit them" is relevant, sooner is better than later.
posted by paulsc at 6:10 PM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

You've been working as an administrative assistant* in the same job for two years. You manage data for X number of drivers, you manage ordering and inventory, you serve backup for customer service, you know Spanish, you answer phones**. I would think you could be well qualified to get a higher paying administrative/executive assistant job. Especially since you speak Spanish!

*Not your official title? It is now, put it on your resume. It's not lying, it's marketing.
**Here's another "marketing" tip- just because you rarely do it doesn't mean it's not worth putting on your resume. I used to think it was stupid to put obvious skills on my administrative assistant resume- who doesn't know how to answer phones, file, use Excel? A lot of people. Put it all on there.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:11 PM on August 13, 2013 [10 favorites]

Have you considered going back in the temp pool? You might come out of it with a job better suited to your temperament, and there'd likely be no interview requirement.
posted by Iridic at 6:17 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Like ThePinkSuperhero said, you have marketable skills that, at the least, qualify you for jobs that at least have different and more professional atmospheres. Here is one at your alma mater that would fit you to a T. There's more like that at that university and probably at others. (I just searched for "internet" and "writing" on that job site, BTW.)

I know it's hard, but you will have to pull the trigger on sending resumes and cover letters to jobs for which you doubt you are qualified for. You don't have to like it, but you do have to do it. You can think of it like research and development as the leader of a powerful government – yeah, a lot of stuff you fund won't pan out, but you're not going to make the gains you seek without risking the funding.
posted by ignignokt at 6:35 PM on August 13, 2013

If you really want a change of lifestyle and a ton of money, find a job in the oil field. I have friends who barely graduated high school and are making 180k a year with a two week on/two week off schedule. It's hard work, but there are plenty of positions open up for someone willing to do it.
posted by _DB_ at 6:36 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Actual competence may weaken self-confidence, as competent individuals may falsely assume that others have an equivalent understanding."

"In Choosing a Job: Don’t Ask 'What Are You Good At?', Ask Instead 'What Are You Willing to Get Good At?'"

Note that your lack of practice or focus to date doesn't make you a failure. It makes you pretty normal. And your journalistic fuckups were probably rooted in completely ordinary memory biases and/or overconfidence factors, which people are still subject to even if they're also more often underconfident. So, again, normal. FWIW, your contributions to this site mark you as well above normal in insight and understanding, so I don't mean to say you're 'just' normal. I realize you've probably heard that plenty of times and can't make yourself believe it. But you don't need to believe it so thoroughly that you forget the past. You only need to believe it well enough to strategize proceeding nonetheless toward improving your position.

ThePinkSuperHero's advice is very practical for the near-term--get another office job with slightly better circumstances and pay. You've held a detail-oriented position of responsibility ensuring that important things happen. That's worth something.

Long-term, consider what skills you might improve to get a job that's even better. If you can't get paid for your writing as a journalist, volunteer as a tech writer for an open source project. Volunteer as an author for a hobby-related web site. Etc. Or branch out and look at options that used to sound dull to you until you realized how satisfying a solid paycheck could be, and then work toward that in an online program or something. I suspect most happy people aren't working their dream jobs, and a lot of people who're working their dream jobs aren't happy at all. So it could be anything.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:07 PM on August 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

FYI: For what it's worth, you write well. So you're good at something. And you should take pride in it, and work at it exhaustively. So don't tell yourself you've never been good at anything because that's just a lie. Nurture your gift.

Also, if it's any consolation, there are a lot of people in the same boat as you. I know I am. I'm about your age, I'm an English major, my sanity is a little unsanitary. I wasn't happy at my job (office job $15/hour), so I quit. I'm about to start a new one. A little apprehensive but we'll see what happens.

I know you didn't ask to be consoled, but I know for me it always makes me feel better to know that there are other like-minded people in the same boat as me.

Start looking every night for jobs. Soul search and be honest about what will be good for you. Stop seeing yourself in negatives. I don't care what your progress is. NEVER GIVE UP.
posted by qivip at 7:21 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Piggy backing off off ignignokt's suggestion, I would in fact argue that there are a lot of administrative assistant type jobs in academia that you would qualify for, given that you have a BA and two years of office experience. Are you proficient in Microsoft Office software? Any other software skills? Can you multitask? Those are generally the basic requirements for a lot of these jobs.

You might look at jobs in communication offices specifically, like this one. Seems to me you meet the qualifications, and your journalism degree would be a plus here.

This job is not in communication, but looks like you could translate what you do now to these duties. Here's another one. And another.

You are smart, literate, and you write and speak very well. There are a ton of jobs you can do, many of which will probably be in nicer environments. Everybody here is telling you that you write well, so believe us :)
posted by DiscourseMarker at 7:37 AM on August 14, 2013

For one thing, forget journalism, it's a dying profession. I graduated with an English degree. It informs my work, but it didn't train me for my work.

Look into Customer Service jobs with utilities or large corporations. Customer Service is an excellent entry level job into corporate America. You learn how things work at the customer interface, and there are a bazillion directions that you can take once you're there.

I started out in Customer Service at the phone company. Then I went into Commercial Customer Service, then I graduated to Major Accounts, then I switched into sales, then I took internal training and became a sales engineer. The phone company was 'berry, berry good to me."

I learned a new piece of software (Salesforce.com) and now I have a new marketable skill.

Be willing to take classes and to learn new stuff and you'll always be able to work.

Create a resume that stresses the skills learned on your job. The degree? It doesn't matter. You got it. My GPA for my bachelors was 2.0. It took me 7 years to get it.

As for all that negative nelly, imposter syndrome crap, dude. No one knows how to do a job when they're first hired. To work at the phone company you go through 8 WEEKS of training, and you still have to sit with someone for a few months to get the hang of it.

Start going directly to the career section of large, local utilities and corporations. Apply for Customer Care positions. The utilities may be union jobs, with benefits and union wages. In Boston area, the corporate jobs will pay well and provide benefits as well.

Just act "as if" you weren't a giant screw up. View your experience through the rosiest light possible. Trust me, you're far ahead of others with your job experience.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:37 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding all the advice here, and noting that for intelligent and reflective people, it's not uncommon to have a rough time in your mid-twenties, so please try to be kind to yourself. And brush up your Spanish -- that's a significant asset, particularly if you're interested in public-facing jobs.
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:55 AM on August 14, 2013

I've been helping other people out lately with almost the same situation, and I see a lot of similarities here. I think what some of the other responses have said are accurate - it's not that you're "not well qualified", it's that you are either not aware of or not admitting to the qualifications you do have. I find that many people downplay the soft skills they have because they believe that those skills are either not terribly valuable or so common among people as to not be worth mentioning - both of those assumptions are wrong!

It's a hard habit to break (and you didn't specifically mention this but I'm going to say it anyway), but it's also important to stop apologizing for your perceived weaknesses and start promoting your strengths. The best example of this I can think of offhand is when we went to a friend's house for dinner the other week; she brought out some delicious looking appetizers and before anyone had even taken a bite she told us all, "I'm really sorry about the food, it's probably not very good." Don't do that! "I know your job listing is looking for someone skilled in foo, and my resume says I know foo. I've used foo for awhile, but I'm really not very good at it." This is where that mental newspaper should be rolled up and whacked across the theoretical nose (or something... I got a little caught up there). "You're looking for someone with foo? I have been doing foo for several years! Let me tell you about this time I used foo to get the company out of a sticky situation." It matters not one whit how you feel about your own competence.

The best way I've found to break out of this cycle of doubt about my own abilities is also a great interviewing technique. Make a list of skills you have (I have an interviewing book my father got me awhile ago that has tons of sample interview questions which helped form this list). Your goal is to attach a story of success to each one of those skills - doesn't matter if it sounds stupid in your head or that anyone could have done what you did, the important thing is that you are proving your abilities to the potential interviewer by backing up your claims with real world evidence.

For example, "works well under pressure" is a desirable quality in most job applicants, and a common interview question goes something like, "Tell me about a time you were faced with a difficult challenge and how you dealt with it." I relate a story about putting myself and other people in danger (and it was entirely my fault!) but extricating us from the situation in such a way that no one knew there was anything wrong until after the fact.

Maybe a million people know your payroll software. Maybe you're the one person in the office that knows the software well enough to identify an error that would have cost the company significant money/litigation/whatever and corrected that error. Those are the kinds of examples you want to enumerate and hold on to.

A lot of this is going to feel like lying. It's not. I like to consider job interviews and other situations where I am expected to speak and behave differently than how I normally would as an acting gig - you're playing the part of You, but this You is extroverted, confident, and immensely hireable.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:27 AM on August 14, 2013 [3 favorites]

Not your official title? It is now, put it on your resume. It's not lying, it's marketing.

At some places I've worked, if your resume indicated your title was "Administrative Assistant", and during a reference check your current/former manager said "Rustic Etruscan? He was a Transaction Processor," you would both be out of the running for the position you applied for and probably disqualified from applying for any position in the future. This isn't marketing, it's lying on your resume, and in organizations which take formal job titles seriously, it's a Really Big Deal.

Of course, many employers won't care. But if you don't know if they care or not, why take the chance?
posted by pullayup at 11:18 AM on August 14, 2013

If applying for new jobs isn't working out or you can't find the motivation to go through with it, sign up for a ton of temp agencies. The nice thing about temping is that you can decline any jobs that you don't actually want and you can wait until they have something you think sounds like a step up. Or even just something that's a change of pace. If you sign up with several agencies you get more offers for more gigs.

If you are interested in any particular thing, like communications for example, tell the agency. Look for agencies that specialize in things you are interested in. Be specific about what you're looking for because some agencies will use that to place in you in situations where you'll do really well. They get a bonus if you get hired (at least usually), so they have an interest in putting you somewhere you'll succeed.

I found that the smaller temp agencies were much better to work with than the large national ones. Boston Yelp has some feedback on different agencies.
posted by forkisbetter at 11:33 AM on August 14, 2013

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