I'm a grown-up, but I still don't know what I want to be...
December 15, 2013 6:40 AM   Subscribe

Having spent the last year+ underemployed, I need a new direction. I've got a bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering, a dormant PE license, and a dead-end resume. I'm currently "working" for profits from an unprofitable mechanic shop doing brakes, radiators, and whatnot. It seems like all the engineering job listings require deep, specific experience--so I'm not qualified-- or are entry-level and I'm overqualified.

Previous "real" jobs include building car washes, designing plumbing, teaching math at the community college, and, further back, as a manufacturing engineer in the railroad industry. In none of these jobs was math above arithmetic required - I used more engineering formulas as examples in math classes than I did as an engineer.

So, I'm looking for other lines of work that may suit me. Other datapoints: I take road trips out in the western US, and have taken a lot of scenic photos; I tried my hand at two small local art fairs. I'm reasonably technically oriented; I started college in CS, and still build my own computers to meet my specs. I love data, almost to neurosis - I've got mp3's out the wazoo (catalogued), and printed out the USGS quads of most of my road-trip haunts on vellum, just to have 'em. I used to be pretty fit: ran a few half-marathons and rode my bike a lot. Other past an present hobbies include homebrewing; building an engine for (and general tinkering on) my 1970 Impala; playing depressing folk and alt-country covers at open-mic nights, long hikes with my dogs, and photographing every square inch of the local botanical gardens.

In general, working for myself is a very bad idea. Working away from a desk--even outside--is appealing as an antidote to my extreme procrastination and internet-as-timesuck tendencies.

I'm looking for vocational ideas, and decided a hivemind brainstorming session might be enlightening.
posted by notsnot to Work & Money (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This is his wife.
My two cents:
He needs to try harder at the photography thing. He only did two art fairs, and refuses to set up an online shop for unknown reasons, even though lots of people at the art fairs asked about buying online....
I also think he'd be a good middle school or high school science teacher. He's actually very outgoing and generally upbeat (other than recently of course.)
I've been trying not to pressure him too much, but it's been over a year, I make decent money (we're surviving, but not saving or paying down debts in a timely manner), so him being unemployed much longer is just not really an option.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:08 AM on December 15, 2013

If you like teaching, I'd say go the substitute teacher route to see if you like it day-to-day. That job gets out at a decent hour to pursue your photography passion in the afternoons, which you should try to do more often.
posted by xingcat at 7:10 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Really depends on the kind of work you're interested in.

From your hobbies you seem to like reasonably analytical and hands-on work, but you just haven't found that job that gets your brain firing on all cylinders. Fair enough.

Personally I would encourage you to look for work that requires a mechanical engineering degree - this is your background and you should play to your strengths.

I don't agree necessarily that you are overqualified for certain jobs or under qualified for other jobs. This is not true, and sounds like an assumption on your part. From my experience, it's rare to be a perfect fit for any particular job, there will always be some learning and catching up to do.

Not sure how seriously you have looked for other opportunities - have you spoken to recruiters? Are you open to relocation to a big city (where your spouse may easily find a job as well)?

I feel you may be going about this the other way, when you should really find a fulfilling job first that makes full use of your background/skillset, and then (if you have spare time) be open to vocational activities.

Good luck!
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 7:32 AM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and we're in St. Louis, MO, and he's been applying to engineering jobs, and had only 3 interviews in the last 14 months. We could relocate if he got a great job, but we own a home, and my job (analytical chemist for a pharmaceutical company) is actually pretty good, so we probably wouldn't move for just any old job.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 7:52 AM on December 15, 2013

The energy industry is still hiring, there's a lot of plant that needs building still as well as maintenance. Might require relocation though, but the major hubs would still have plenty of opportunity for a chemist. By hubs, I mean Houston, Denver and Calgary.
posted by arcticseal at 7:58 AM on December 15, 2013

Why not use your love of data to write down all the possible career paths you could take and create a system to rank them or at least group them?

Rankings can include not only how much you enjoy them, but whether they need more degrees/an internship, what are the financial restraints and concerns, and where would you end up by retirement age. Or if you retired at all. No job is going to fulfill all your interests but you can build a life that allows you to make time for the ones you value most.
posted by emjaybee at 8:22 AM on December 15, 2013

Have you tried What Color is Your Parachute?
posted by bilabial at 8:23 AM on December 15, 2013

Mod note: Hey there - one comment deleted; please let OP speak for himself in the thread. Answerers, sounds like OP is looking for suggestions of possible jobs. Thanks.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:39 AM on December 15, 2013

If you really want to sell photos, try putting your stuff on iStockphoto or Pond5 or Shutterstock and see what happens. (Trying to sell prints to individuals isn't really a way to make much money. Licensing is marginally better. Being hired to take photos is better than still.)
I think the substitute teaching thing makes sense for now, and try tutoring in math.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:52 AM on December 15, 2013

Hallo again,

3 interviews in 14 months is low. I have a feeling this may quite likely be due to a lack of opportunities in St. Louis more than anything else (I've never been there but I googled the city).

My experience living in a large, growing city: if a person were to go applying for jobs and use recruiters, you could average 1 interview per day.

I would encourage you to be open to relocating or at least have a think about it. For example, Houston is dominated by (a) energy (b) medical and (c) banking.

It's understandable that you wouldn't uproot yourself for just any old thing, nobody sane would do that and it's a bit silly.

However, for example (as someone stated above) the energy sector provides a significant number of opportunities to all backgrounds.

You have mentioned that you are a chemist - the energy industry requires people with a chemical engineering/chemistry background for several difficult, complex problems they are trying to solve. As for a mechanical engineer, there are many, many opportunities.

Have a look around and think about it. Q1 next year is when hiring should pick up strongly, so perhaps the holidays are a time to evaluate what you want and what you're willing to compromise on.
posted by the_ancient_mariner at 9:02 AM on December 15, 2013

So, as a stopgap, to fill the immediate need for an income while you look for more, you might try this freelance photography opportunity in St. Louis. It incorporates your hobby and gets you working (and, bonus, networking with local companies that could give you an in later for a more permanent job opportunity).

I think you should also consider whether you are either selling yourself short on your resume or in interviews. Your experience and degree should qualify you for more than an entry level position, and you should be able to take your general skills and extrapolate to how they would position you for these jobs with more specific requirements.
posted by misha at 9:03 AM on December 15, 2013

Imaging + computers + a ME degree = I would think a little about getting into precision agriculture. You are at a point in your career where you have diverse items to integrate into a product architecture role, and imagining how those pieces fit together might be worth a try.
posted by jet_silver at 9:23 AM on December 15, 2013

Check the job listings at the local universities and see if anyone in Mech. E. is hiring a research assistant. Hiring priority probably goes to students but you never know.

I like the suggestion to substitute teach for a while. Look into what it takes to get certified as a teacher in St. Louis--either as a science teacher or a PE teacher (or both). You can always advise a photography, auto repair, or engineering club while you're there.
posted by elizeh at 9:58 AM on December 15, 2013

I just came in to say "energy industry." Seriously, there are jobs that let you work two weeks at a remote facility and then you get two weeks off (with no obligation to work). Alternatively, jobs in North Dakota, the Permian Basin in Texas, and a few offices in Billings MT are hiring like CRAZY right now. The work will likely be mundane and repetitive, but the pay and benefits will be good. Even if you're not interested in using the engineering degree for this sector, there are lots of jobs with hands-on work (recip compressor mechanics, engine mechanics, engineering technician doing field data collection, etc).
posted by conradjones at 10:17 AM on December 15, 2013

He needs to try harder at the photography thing. He only did two art fairs, and refuses to set up an online shop for unknown reasons, even though lots of people at the art fairs asked about buying online....

One of my parents is a full-time artist who does the fair circuit in the summer. Alone, art fairs don't produce enough income to replace a full-time job--I'm not sure how much you earn as a mechanic but to match it you would probably need to supplement fairs with contract work like wedding or graduation photos (my parent is a potter, so I'm not completely familiar with the photography hustle) and off-season sales. My parent also held winter studio sales, taught art classes, and was represented by by several galleries. Internet sales can be tough, because Etsy tends to drive prices far below the level set by professional artists at fairs and galleries. Many online sellers are dabblers/students/supporting a hobby, and significantly underprice their work. This has the effect of making work sold at a price which can support a "full-time" artist look insane in comparison ($40 for one mug?!?--well, yes, the artist developed and mixed a custom clay body, threw it by hand, formulated the glazes, painted the decoration, paid for the electricity to fire the kiln, twice, before and after applying the glaze...).

I don't know how it shook out during the peak of her career while I was in my teens and twenties, but I suspect fairs accounted for less than $25,000/year in 2013 equivalent income. And, you're self-employed, so you're essentially liable for careful small business bookkeeping if you want to keep your tax burden reasonable vs. having normal W-2 income.

Fairs themselves are also a lot of work. You need to plan your summer schedule over the preceding winter and juggle portfolio/application package submissions, because the shows you want to be in, if you're making a go at supporting yourself, are juried. In fact, prizes can be a significant part of your income if you're good. You don't want to wind up in "craft" fairs (the kind with crakly pillar candles and wooden geejaws and $5 art-on-a-stick), generally, unless you're willing to forgo big sales to "art" buyers and make small unframed prints the core of your business.

They will then take up the majority of your summer weekends, plus a substantial part of the week if you need to drive to (for instance) Louisville or Ann Arbor or Madison or Suttons Bay--there won't be enough within a day's drive to fill your schedule, and you really need to be where rich people are spending the summer to make any money. My parents made this work in large part because my other parent was a schoolteacher and could provide free labor from May through August.

You will also need to own a display, which for photography can be fairly simple, but still requires a tent, because fairs are all outdoors, and your work can't get wet. And not an inexpensive EZ-Up, because those crumple the first time they're caught in a summer storm. You'll also need a vehicle large enough to take the tent and your work to the shows, though for photography you might be able to get away with a station wagon. My parents owned VW Eurovans, which were expensive to repair and fuel compared to the cars they would have driven otherwise.

In summary: If you enjoy photography, selling your work is a great way to pay for new lenses or sock away a little extra for retirement, but I can't recommend it as a career choice when you have to option to work as an engineer.
posted by pullayup at 2:49 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hi there.

The Boulder-Denver tech area is full of a combo of both engineering and pharma jobs. I work in big pharma manufacturing, mr. lfr. is a Mech E. He has been interviewing candidates for a junior engineer for weeks, actually and they can't seem to get one in the door before they're snatched up (that's partly a problem with how they posted the job then wasted a bunch of time on the 2nd round of interviews tho, not a problem with the candidates - it's a startup and they're not the most efficient at HR). The market here is crazy - the mister says they can't seem to hire any good candidates because the good ones get snapped up / accept a position before the 2nd round of interviews. I've heard this is the case for the entire region - tech and STEM jobs are in huge demand.

So maybe that's a help. I really think the issue may be that you need to change your locale. My BIL just moved from St. Louis to Albuquerque because he said the job market in St. Louis is beyond terrible at the moment. I don't know how true that is but both he and my SIL found jobs in ABQ within a week of moving.

I hope this helps?
posted by lonefrontranger at 5:40 PM on December 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Infinity Scarf for Men   |   How to Handle Obnoxious, Intrusive Neighbor Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.