I was sick for a long time. I am well now. Help me find awesome work.
July 26, 2014 11:25 AM   Subscribe

I am kind, youthful, energetic, bright, and capable and my resume is bare due to prolonged illness. I am working retail and I am bored, underpaid, and frustrated. Help me find my way.

I am bursting with a need for new, creative work. I haven’t found what to do yet though.

I was sick with a fatigue/pain/allergy/depression type illness for most of my teens and twenties. I never received any accurate diagnosis and conventional medicine had nothing to offer me. Much despair for many years.

During this time, I wasn’t able to really look inside myself and decide what I really wanted or what I was really about because I wasn’t me during this time. I was a miserable, despairing, exhausted version of myself.

After not working at all for 6 years after college, I have ended up working in a retail job for an unpleasant boss for the last 3 years, believing that was the best I could do.

More recently, I took some classes on self-help and leadership and I took the bull by the horns and organized a rather large charity event in an extremely short period of time. We raised close to $20,000 for a great cause. I pushed through all the reasons that usually have stopped me from beginning projects and finishing them. I got out in the bigger world and dealt with it.

I felt capable for the first time in a very long time. I became fearless of losing my job.

At the same time, I have found an accurate diagnosis for my illness and an effective treatment.

So here I am in my thirties, feeling great, with a bachelor’s in science, and only some retail work on my work history.

I am smart. I am actually, technically a genius as far as my IQ goes. I am good at verbal things, math, and spatial things. I got very good grades in college, despite being really sick. I am super, super nice, caring, and feel a strong connection to helping other people have what they want. I am deeply creative and don’t feel complete without work that incorporates creativity.

I am bored shitless in my job. I don’t like repetitive low-meaning tasks like working a cash register or saying the same things to people over and over.

What I love to do is gather diverse information from everywhere and create excellent solutions that positively impact other people. I love solving problems, all kinds of problems. Design problems, people problems, business problems, etc. I love puzzles like these and I love seeing other people get happier.

My resume is bare. I have all of these skills and I don’t know yet what to turn them towards.

Because I just regained a quality of life, I am hesitant to go back to school unless I feel extremely passionate about the course work.

Also, I am considering taking part time work somewhere somewhere with a pleasant work culture to make time to work on whatever comes next. So if you have any recommendations for part time work that pays decently and is pleasant.
posted by Pablito to Work & Money (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'll give a longer response later, but one quick question: Where are you located?
posted by three_red_balloons at 11:38 AM on July 26, 2014

As far as part time work, have you considered tutoring? You can charge a fairly high hourly rate if you do it privately, and as long as you're intelligent and like working with people, it would probably be a good fit. Very flexible too.
posted by litera scripta manet at 11:45 AM on July 26, 2014

There is a lot of interesting work going on now in the area of applying design skills to social issues, which sounds like a good fit for you. I know many of the people in this field, so feel free to Memail me to talk more about specifics. There actually are several good new grad programs in this area, too. A couple of examples: a "social design" MA at MICA, a "design for social innovation" program at SVA, a design MBA at CCA. None of these are about design in the sense of graphic design, etc., but rather using creativity to solve complex social issues.

I think some of these programs might be worth considering for you, but there are also a lot of orgs that you could potentially start working with now--maybe initially starting as a part-time volunteer. There are also some ways to get involved in this area online (for example, OpenIDEO). I have a long, long, list of possibilities for you but don't have time to type them all up here. Please memail and we can chat more.
posted by three_red_balloons at 11:49 AM on July 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

More recently, I took some classes on self-help and leadership and I took the bull by the horns and organized a rather large charity event in an extremely short period of time. We raised close to $20,000 for a great cause. I pushed through all the reasons that usually have stopped me from beginning projects and finishing them. I got out in the bigger world and dealt with it.

So your resume isn't totally bare- you did this.

If you enjoyed that process, one thing you could do is go around to local nonprofts and say "look, I am recovering from a lengthy illness and I want to build up my work history. I did this amazing fundraising project. Please let me intern with you part-time and help with fundraising." That would only be a first step, but I think it would be a good one.

(Also, avoid talking up your IQ.)
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:51 AM on July 26, 2014 [12 favorites]

You like to be creative and help people- so you might try a part-time gig at the public library. If you live in an urban area or in a county with a multiple-branch system this part-time gig could lead to full-time if you enjoy it. If it's a good fit many libraries will pay for at least some of you MLS, which you can get online. Depending where you live the masters degree may be necessary for much advancement. If it's not your thing, at least you'll be working someplace where you'll have access to many ways to research other paths, and where you're more respected/valued than in retail. Don't tell anyone you're a genious, and don't sound TOO negative about retail in your interview. Sure it was repetative and you felt like a cog in the machine, but you loved the customer interaction and not having to sit in a cube all day!
posted by LizardOfDoom at 12:14 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

There are all sorts of internship opportunities (paid and unpaid) at Idealist. Peruse listings and see which job descriptions pique your interest. Tailor your resume in a way that highlights what you have to offer.

Have you tried talking to a career counselor? That might give you some helpful insights as to what possible directions to consider. I also suggest drafting a realistic timeline and action plan to sustain your momentum as you embark on this transition.

Best of luck. What an exciting time for you!
posted by tackypink at 1:22 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Possible reality check: very few people enjoy repetitive, low-meaning tasks. A genius IQ qualifies you for nothing. Good grades, once you're over about 25, mean nothing. Lots of people are really creative, and many people find work without a creative component to be unfulfilling.

I say this not because I'm an asshole, but because I think it's important to remember that in many ways, you're not all that special, and there are many ways that people find fulfillment, even or especially if their jobs can't provide it. Your job is crappy, and you're probably not going to take your newfound confidence and skills and be able to jump directly into an awesome new job--you'll have to transition to it, and it'll probably be slow and thankless for a while.

You need to develop the skills that you want--you say you have "all these skills", but most of the post isn't about things you do, it's about things you are. You're super nice, you're really smart, you like puzzles etc. But none of those are skills. What do you do?

You did an event that was successful--that's awesome. Is it worth considering doing some more fundraising? Setting up and running events is a thing that's definitely a marketable skill, and having several charity events that raised a cumulative 100k is something you could (and should!) put on a resume, and could provide a background for all sorts of different jobs.
posted by MeghanC at 1:22 PM on July 26, 2014 [12 favorites]

It's great that you're nice. It's great that you have a high IQ.

Do not use these things to market yourself to potential employers.

Instead you need to say things like:

== My personality and work ethic will make me a great match for your company culture because it will allow me to fit in with your team and make an immediate positive impact in the following areas: X, Y X

== My aptitude for problem solving, analytical thinking, and creative design have enabled me to accomplish the following: X, Y, Z

Statements like that are more effective than what you've written about yourself thus far, and I want to be honest -- at this time I think you're a little airy-fairy/passive about your capabilities. Square your shoulders and start looking at yourself more analytically! Your resume isn't bare. You have a job. You've taken some classes. You've helmed a big event. These are things to emphasize! So do it. :) You've got what you need -- you're just missing the way to configure your current skills so that you can move forward.
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:59 PM on July 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to clarify. I didn't write my question as if I were writing a resume. So, I know to adjust my writing when I do that. I know not to mention my grades or IQ, for example. That was strictly to try to illustrate my raw potential, which I feel is very raw right now, in the context of my mefi question.

My real question is not, "How do I present myself better to employers?" It's "what opportunities are there out there in the wide wide world for someone with my raw abilities and preferences?"
posted by Pablito at 2:37 PM on July 26, 2014

If you enjoyed your experience organizing the charity event, you might look into party/wedding planning, meeting planning (like organizing executive off-site meetings or team-building activities) or organizing trade show attendance (which is like event planning by remote control). Companies with large sales forces (like pharmaceutical companies) need people to organize sales launches of their products, which are basically giant multi-day meetings with more entertainment and logistical problems.

What area is your BS in?
posted by Lycaste at 3:45 PM on July 26, 2014

Response by poster: BS in biology.
posted by Pablito at 5:29 PM on July 26, 2014

I am not quite sure why you are going for part-time vs full time if you want to get away from your current jobs in retail. I also don't know what pays decently means to you - for some people, decently = 30 K a year, whereas for others in needs to be significantly >$100 K. So what I am going to suggest are things that are likely to be full-time and you will have to decide with additional research if it pays well.

A pleasant work culture...BS in biology....

Believe it or not, I am going to suggest working in a lab in a hospital or university. When you review these jobs, they often want a biology undergrad degree.

I also think that you could present your background as a strength (ie, why not find a job in a lab doing research on whatever disorder that you have? If you want, of course, but it would make a powerful story in an interview).

Also, there are many, many different types of lab jobs. When I used to work in labs and look for other jobs, I would consistently find jobs that wanted pple to work with patients. It could be anything with family members/patients to get samples, prepare them for an MRI, or work in a clinical trial and go on site. I noticed that those jobs would stress pple skills as a job criterion and in my opinion, ANYONE who lasts in retail for 3 yrs has this, hands down.

In my opinion, the typical lab jobs at universities/med schools were not as stressful and as intensive than jobs you will typically find in a corporate place.

Also, pluses for you (I think):
-These jobs will usually pay for part-time courses (a couple classes a year), so if you think you want to go on and get a degree or find a passion, test it out with free classes.
-Problem solving galore. One of the cool things in addition to classes is that your department will have various types of meetings, depending on where you end up. (Examples, although I don't know if it would apply to where you end up- doctors presenting mysterious case studies weekly, journal clubs (someone presents and everyone discusses a journal in research area A), presentations of research). The reason you might enjoy these is that almost everything was presented from a problem solving approach. Here are the symptoms- why? What would someone do next? Or what is the research question - what are ways to solve this? Strengths/weaknesses of this study, etc. Now you won't do problem solving at your level, but you can get a taste for other fields this way.
-In my experience, people are really pleasant (with some exceptions) in the workplaces. It is usually an international group of people and people who are really into academic area A or B.
-If you go in at this level, it is usually expected to be a couple years until you go onward, but I think it would b a pleasant place to work IMO.

I am not sure if this is the type of work you would want/not want/you already ruled it out. I have posted in the past how to find jobs like this and if you can't find it and are interested, memail, I can either point you to it or give suggestions.

Also, since that part time clause is there (and I don't think they will part time, but one never knows), you could start by volunteering a few hours a week in a lab. I know many,many people who did this and it turned into a job for the summer (undergrads) or fulltime positions. But YMMV.


Other possibiilities. Not entirely sure how much it will help because our backgrounds are different, but I asked a "Alternative careers for a biologist" several years ago and I think some would be appropriate for someone with a BS or BA in biology. You can peruse the question and see if anything is relevant, but a few definitely piqued my interest and a few seemed to definitely involve creativity and problem-solving.

I can think of a few more ideas that might be appropriate for someone with a BA or BS in biology, but it doesn't seem like that is the main criteria that you are looking for in a job. But if it is, feel free to memail you and I can give more suggestions and point you to more resources.

Good luck.
posted by Wolfster at 7:46 PM on July 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

An explained gap on your CV makes more sense than an unexplained one.

I have a paragraph at the top of my CV explaining what I'm looking for/my current situation (looking for part-time/full time in x field etc), and explaining any obvious gaps/questions that would come up for someone looking at my CV.
So, I had that I'd been caring for family members after sudden hospitalisation, and some national/international travel, to explain a year employment gap on my CV (both true, but I didn't mention the additional major depression - but hey, at the time, I hadn't identified my own health condition, which I have now).

For you, I'd put something a line of something: Since having a previously unknown health condition treated in approx 20xx, I have taken courses, headed X charity drive, and am excited about using my Biology degree to move into fulltime/partime work in the xx field.

Always customise that last xx field bit to whatever job you are applying for. Even if you haven't customised your CV in any other way, it still gives the impression that you are Giving A Fuck.

First, just start scoping out job ads. Figure out the occupations you think you could work your way into. It's easier to customise a CV towards a specific job you want and think you could stretch into.
Trying ending up with three customised CVs - e.g. Generic, Admin focus, Lab focus, etc.
Either see if you can pick up a temporary part time job for experience along with retail, or, if you really just want to see what you are capable of now, try temping. It's a 'jump in with both feet, find out what you love, and if you hate it, it's only short term', kind of thing.
posted by Elysum at 9:50 PM on July 26, 2014

Have you considered working for a small-to-mid-sized charity for a little while? They usually have a need (even if it's completely unknown/unstated) for smart people who can do more than their job descriptions specify. It may give you a way to dabble your toes in some part of a field, while providing glimpses of other things you might want to focus more on later.

And if it's a medical or physical/mental illness related charity, they're likely to have decent part-time or flex-time policies.
posted by Tara-dactyl at 7:41 AM on September 11, 2014

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