Please help me get out of customer service.
February 8, 2014 3:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm twenty-six years old, a university graduate (humanities), and have been working in the same business-to-business customer service job for two years now. It was supposed to be a temporary thing while I figured out what I was doing with my life but I'm still here and I still have no clue, EXCEPT that I've discovered that I hate customers, I hate doing administrative support, I can't stand doing rote work and data entry and in addition to being embarrassed about my job, the work itself is making me thoroughly miserable. It is better paid and less soul-crushing than most customer service jobs, and we have considerably more autonomy than I am led to understood most other customer service positions have, but it's still a grind. I don't see any possibility for upward mobility at my current company and I want out. Please help me get a career.

Currently I am working on an undergraduate management certificate and ideally will start a master's degree within the next 3-4 years. In the meantime, however, I would desperately like a new job within the next 3-6 months and some advice would be appreciated.

Things that I have done in the past (but not professionally) that I've enjoyed have included running workshops; organizing cultural events, parties, and concerts; and student organizing. I am ok with MS office, especially excel/word, but don't have many other computer skills.

I don't need my job to be the single most satisfying thing of my life, but it would be nice if I didn't have to be embarrassed when I mention it to new people, if I could make enough money to buy a condo one day, and if it required at least some kind of mental challenge and the barest amount of novelty/stimulation.

Given the above information:
1a) What kind of jobs should I be looking for that will see these skills as an asset, but will actually PAY WELL and offer opportunities for advancement? (For comparison, I currently make $32k/year)
1b) How do I avoid being pigeonholed as a call center drone/admin assistant?
2) What kind of skills should I be working on upgrading and how can I navigate the fact that I learned these skills independently and have never used them professionally?

Any help would be very much appreciated. Thank you!
posted by sea change to Work & Money (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
1) Event planner/coordinator/operations manager; fundraiser; health educator (does similar things sometimes but would involve significant retraining). In my area (Canada) people often do many of the more event/fundraising related things by completing a 1-2 year post-grad college certificate or diploma in the named field. I don't know how different it might be in the US. Also, trade show representative/manager -- I don't think (but don't know) that this requires more schooling; I think you can work your way up from an assistant position.

1-b) Work your way up to management, here or at another call centre, and then make a lateral move to another industry; and, see 2).

2) For, e.g., event planning: get involved in or initiate events at your current workplace; volunteer your event planning skills to charities and network; initiate your own projects on your own time and publicize the crap out of them. Spend as much time as you can in this part of your life. Connect with other people who have ideas and energy -- you will meet people by participating in and creating these opportunities, and they'll know you first by your role in the event. Build a name for yourself as an organizer, so that most people who meet you know that first, and so your current job really does begin to feel more like a day job, and not like the thing that defines you.

Don't quit your current job without another job, and don't leave it for something worse just because it's different.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:09 PM on February 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I got out of customer service by moving up into management, then a lateral move to HR then out!
posted by saradarlin at 4:34 PM on February 8, 2014

I know it's not what you asked, but. You don't have to be embarrassed by your job! Do you foreclose on widows and orphans? Do you sell crack to elementary school kids? Do you actively make society a worse place? You are not your job. Your job is a small part of who you are. Your job makes the rest of your life possible. Also, owning property can suck major donkeys. Anyone who makes fun of you for renting while they're owning hasn't yet had to replace a furnace in February. But the day will come.

Once you figure out what you want the rest of your life to be, then you have a direction to start looking. Meanwhile, focus on the positive aspects of your job. How do you use the autonomy you currently have? And think about how you can adapt to the craptastic parts of your day. What have you changed about yourself to deal with shitty customers?

School isn't a panacea. All an MBA will get you at this point is another pritty piece of paper. And maybe a few more interviews. But you can do both right now.

running workshops; organizing cultural events, parties, and concerts; and student organizing

Do a job search for "workshop runner person", "cultural event organizer", "student activity organizer". Really.
posted by disconnect at 5:06 PM on February 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Hi and thank you all for your suggestions so far. Just to reiterate, I am looking for positions that involve absolutely no customer service whatsoever, in any capacity at all, ever again. I hate customers. My number one dream in life is no more customers, but my number two dream is MONEY. I am looking for career opportunities that will eventually make a substantial amount of money.

I am willing and able to go back to school, learn new skills, whatever. I gave some examples of things I've done in the past but I don't want to feel limited to those things because none of them pay and none of them have paid off.

Please just disregard the word "embarrassed" if it bothers you that much. Really.

posted by sea change at 6:27 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

In the short term, I tend to agree with the above answers, that you should try to break into management somewhere if you can. You seem to be on track for doing that already.

In the long term, the only thing I'm qualified to recommend is my own field (web programming). It can pay very well, and you'll (typically) be completely separated from customers (I've never dealt with a customer since my newspaper delivery job as a teenager). The work can be rote at times, but it always requires some analytical thinking. It's much more engaging than regular data entry, anyway.

The downside is that webdev skills are not easy to learn, and require a serious time investment if you want to get good. You can, however, learn them for free, with nothing but a computer and internet access. Knowing even some basic HTML and Javascript may be valuable even when applying for non-webdev jobs; lots of companies have websites that need to be maintained, and developers are sometimes scarce due to demand.

You don't really need a strong math background in order to learn programming. But if you don't have one, you should start learning sooner rather than later, because in my anecdotal experience, the older you get the harder it is for you to learn it from scratch.
posted by Androgenes at 9:42 PM on February 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am looking for positions that involve absolutely no customer service whatsoever, in any capacity at all, ever again.

There aren't very many of those jobs. Every job has a set of people it needs to keep happy. Sometimes those people are "customers" in the traditional sense of the word, i.e., members of the public that individually pay you money. But the rest of the time they're internal--but no less important or infuriating--constituencies like the board of directors, members of other departments, regulators, etc. Doctors and lawyers do an incredible amount of interacting with members of the public. True, we usually foist of the most tedious aspects of the "customer service" role onto assistants and nurses, but if you think that you can get out of the need to keep customers happy by changing jobs, you may be in for a rather rude awakening.

That being said, I hear you. My first job out of college--and my second for that matter--were basically entirely customer service. I decided that no matter what it took, I was going to get myself a job that didn't involve glorified forms of kissing ass eight hours a day. So I went to law school. Now I still have to keep my clients happy, and believe you me, that involves way more phone calls and way too many inane conversations than I'd prefer. But I get to tell my clients what to do at least as much as the reverse, which is a lot more gratifying, I tell you what.

Basically, you want to get out of the customer service hellhole? Go back to school. I can't recommend law school (that's from 2010, but little has changed for the better in the meantime), but something.
posted by valkyryn at 2:48 AM on February 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do with your job might be a few months or longer away. In the meantime, start volunteering with a local organization that will allow you to develop and showcase your skills.
- Animal rescue groups - need lots of fundraising, foster home monitoring, social media skills make adoptions 1000000x easier and faster, they hold and need events to keep interest (and funds) high, etc.
- The same needs exist for other cultural organizations with different focuses - education, kids health, immigration equality, elder care, specific ethnic/gender groups, environmental, civic, the list goes on.
- start as a volunteer and see where you might be able to make a difference. Organize a workshop, invite people, find funding, etc. If you are successful (and you will be!) they'll be looking to you to do more.

This plan has a few advantages:

1. It allows you to develop your skills outside of your current workplace, where you're not going to have those options at the moment. Those skills go on your resume and can be leveraged as examples in interviews.

2. You will be introduced to many new people who will see you doing a good job. Many many positions are filled through social connections. This isn't always a bad thing. You can talk to folks about needing a new job, and if they have ideas of how you might find something, and to please keep you in mind or let you know if you hear something.

3. Of course, it does some good in the world.

4. It will help you develop a strong social and cultural community o identify with as you begin rebuilding your career - this is important in terms of personal commitment and getting through the difficult times.

I'm sure there are other reasons, but that's a good start!

Figure out what you're most interested in, find a few organizations and drop into some meetings to see what you like.

Think of this as a year long project to get involved and identify a new job. Best of luck to you!
posted by barnone at 11:57 AM on February 9, 2014

Thank you to everyone who provided useful information without condescension and lecturing. I appreciate it and will take your thoughts into consideration.
posted by sea change at 5:49 PM on February 9, 2014

update: I went into front-end web development and it's awesome.
posted by sea change at 8:04 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

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