How do you get a non-tech job in the Bay Area that isn't miserable?
January 24, 2015 3:14 PM   Subscribe

I'm asking this on behalf of my wife. We moved to the Bay Area (East Bay) a few months ago because I got a job here in the tech industry. Given our costs, it's not really enough to support both of us on, but my wife is having trouble finding employment.

The details: she has a Bachelor's in Philosophy, and has completed most of a Master's, but this is on hold. She's worked a lot of jobs in the service industry, coffee shops and restaurants, and is a capable enough employee that she had shift manager positions when she was eighteen. She's had a lot of paid research assistant positions over the course of her schooling. Other than that, she's had a few odd jobs like being a contractor's apprentice.

She's been applying at restaurants and coffee shops, but she dreads this course: she suffers from very real clinical depression that's intensified since she was last doing service industry work heavily and she suspects this course will be very bad for health, and it's also seeming like service jobs around here pay worse than they do in the Midwestern city we moved here from and have fewer hours available.

She's tried applying through the UC Berkeley jobs website, but we've heard that Berkeley especially largely only publicizes these positions for legal reasons and almost exclusively fills them with internal hires. The website is also chronically unreliable in a way that eats up disproportionate amounts of her job-searching time, so she's largely given it a pass.

No temp agencies that she's contacted have gotten back to her yet.

So the question is: what do people who don't work in tech and don't want to work in the service industry do to get a job around here? Is the market actually just really bad for people in that demographic? Where can she look that she hasn't yet?

If you have any follow-up questions, email is
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I would look at nonprofit office work and public service; e.g. the Oakland Museum, community college admin positions, etc. There are also various publishers and other interesting businesses in the area, some of which post on Craigslist and some of which post on their own sites. She will have to put out tons of applications to get any responses, because a lot of people are in the same situation as you guys and there's an oversupply of qualified people for everything.
posted by wintersweet at 3:27 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I lived in the Bay Area, I used to manage apartment buildings. Free rent, maybe a salary if it's a good size building. With one partner working and the other running a building, you live rent free. My wife and I saved up a pile of $ over a decade and then splitsville.
The couple who took over the building from us....he worked in tech and she ran the building. The corporate run buildings want drones, you really want a privately owned building so you work for an owner or group of owners.
If you have good people sense, willingness to learn and take on responsibilities, you can live in the Bay Area, have a decent lifestyle and save up to move on successfully.
posted by diode at 3:30 PM on January 24, 2015 [9 favorites]

What are her MS Office skills like? Temp agencies want people who know Word and Excel at least. When I was temping, the higher I scored on their MS Office placement tests, the more and better jobs I got. (They do allow you to retake those tests after you've brushed up on your skills.)

Some temp agencies offer practice modules in the various MS Office programs (or they used to). There are also online programs like What are your wife's MS Office skills like? If she knows only the very basics, she should brush up on those programs - that might help her land more temp work.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:57 PM on January 24, 2015 [11 favorites]

If she has interest in the non-profit sector, she could try looking at job postings on Some academic sort of stuff is posted there too.
posted by AppleTurnover at 4:11 PM on January 24, 2015

Has she looked at office manager gigs? Coworking spaces and startups hire them pretty regularly, it's fun, not super stressful and is a good "in" to a more steady job.
posted by third word on a random page at 4:18 PM on January 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

Why not an admin or customer service? Just beef up Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint.)

For example here's a part-time gig in Palo Alto.

Customer Service/Clerical work with a utility is good because they train you. So AT&T or PG&E, might be good choices. AT&T and PG&E are union shops I believe, with good benefits and fair wages. You test into the job, so having had such a job before isn't always a prerequisite.

The Federal Government may have clerical jobs, this is great because once you're in, it's so freaking awesome. Do read up on the types of resume you'll need with them, it's kind of a specialized thing. But keep checking, you never know when something perfect will pop up.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:54 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Second, this is how I got my Bay Area job. There is a weird bit of in-group/out-group stuff that goes on in the Bay, and I found people oddly suspicious of me when I first moved here. I had some time to find a job, so while applying I took on volunteer gigs and added them to my resume, this seemed to help me seem more like a "not crazy" person and gave me local references which appeared to help my resume. If she is looking for possible suggestions of places to volunteer memail me - I realize this isn't a paying job, but it really does help get you inroads in the area.
posted by Toddles at 7:43 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite] is another job posting aggregator- it seems to scrape idealist as well as many other sites. And I assume she's been checking craigslist? Right now there's a research associate position in Oakland that seems like a poss. from what you've posted. In the meantime, volunteer somewhere. At least it's something on the resume, plus a bit of networking even if it isn't her field.

Unfortunately, service industry jobs are the really booming opportunities- people I know not doing tech drive for Lyft or Uber. Some people pet sit or walk dogs. I started as a gardener many years ago with some decent plant knowledge, but other people would be hired just on the basis of their willingness to work. Blue Bottle is hiring with no espresso experience. Not awesome, I know, but with coffee experience you can then sometimes get jobs inside companies at a coffee kiosk for a 9-5 with no weekends.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:21 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

No temp agencies that she's contacted have gotten back to her yet

I can't help with the rest of it, but just so she knows, temp agencies don't get back to you, you have to keep chasing them. They give jobs to the people on the top of their mental list, and you get to the top of the list by phoning them two or three times a week to see if any work is available. If you just sign up and wait for them to come to you you'll never hear back from them. Make yourself a (pleasant, upbeat) nuisance and they'll find you some work.
posted by tinkletown at 9:44 PM on January 24, 2015 [11 favorites]

No temp agencies that she's contacted have gotten back to her yet

I can't help with the rest of it, but just so she knows, temp agencies don't get back to you, you have to keep chasing them.

Yeah, this has been my experience with them. Keep bugging them with emails and phone calls so they know how interested you are. You should eventually get a response and an agent that can help you find work.

I'm in the middle of a bay area job hunt as well (it's biotech-related though...), but by far I get the most interviews through staffing agencies like Kelly Services and On Assignment.
posted by picklenickle at 10:50 PM on January 24, 2015

I used to temp in San Francisco with Alan J. Blair. They're a smaller outfit, and so everything has a bit of personal touch. I walked right into their office the first time with a copy of my resume in hand, filled out their application (which was basically a glorified W2) and smiled a lot. They had an assignment ready for me in two days to my recollection. The companies they have sent me to always seem to be looking to hire, I've been "poached" twice while temping for Alan J. Blair out of a total of four assignments. I really can't recommend them enough.
posted by books for weapons at 11:16 PM on January 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

She needs to look in San Francisco as well. It's where a lot of the jobs, and most of the job growth, are.

If she's a youngish grad of a good college, she should join the SF alumni club and go its events. Very good networking. Heck, just use LinkedIn to find old classmates to ping about job opportunities: dozens of them (100+ if she's Ivy) are mid to top level managers at tech companies of one sort or another.
posted by MattD at 4:02 AM on January 25, 2015

Virtual opportunities could be greet for her, too! I know Zirtual Assistants make $20 something an hour with benefits. And they don't hire just anyone; your wife's education and research experience would be a real advantage for her.
posted by jessca84 at 9:51 AM on January 25, 2015

If she can spare a little time to get certified, and is ok with the extroversion it requires, I'm hearing it's increasingly hard for the Bay Area to find teachers -- because, of course, they're being priced out :( Private schools tend to need less in the way of certification; a philosophy degree might be valued there.

And don't forget there's usually many non-tech jobs within big tech companies like Google or Facebook. Managerial experience might be valuable there.
posted by gusandrews at 10:25 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Has she looked at Craigslist yet? It's the obvious first place to go for a lot of people, but I know it's not as popular in some regions of the country so if you're coming from one of those it might not be as obvious to you/her to look there. There are a ton of customer service jobs there that office-based rather than the physically and emotionally grueling retail and food service one--for instance, the women's athletic clothing company Title 9 is hiring customer service reps for their call center, at least they were when I looked last week.

She could also look at entry-level Administrative Assistant and Office Manager jobs, as many of them value customer service experience. And yes, Idealist is awesome for non-profit work, though a lot of the jobs there are going to value experience with non-profits or in a specific field. Still totally worth checking!

I'm currently papering SF and the East Bay with resumes, myself, so I empathize with her! It's rough! But there are a LOT of jobs out there that she's qualified for outside of the service industry, and the spray-and-pray method (apply EVERYWHERE that you feel remotely drawn to or qualified for) should net her at least a couple invitations for an interview where she can show off how awesome she is.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:10 PM on January 25, 2015

Jobs at universities and colleges (nationwide, not just here!) are notoriously hard to get; the university I was trying to work at in the midwest took 3-4 months to get back to the top-choice candidates, even. (If the hiring manager wanted *you*, and you went through HR, it was four months until the hiring manager had any opportunity to give you a thumbs-up.) Takeaway: do not limit a job search to jobs around academia, and do not let yourself get sad if shots taken in that direction don't pan out.

It seems like jobs are way, way more common on the peninsula than in East Bay. The burrito place in Cupertino pays $18/hr to start, for example, and no one seems pissed off to be at work, either. The cost of living on the peninsula is insane, and commuting is brutal, but it's where the biggest job opportunities seem to be, because the cost of living there or commuting there is high.

Also, she has a degree, and the jobs market is supposedly pretty good; why is she going for the lowest possible entry point jobs? Or, why not apply for entry level office jobs, or are those temp-only around here?
posted by talldean at 2:43 PM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite] If she's up for a government job with the local municipal utilities.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:42 PM on January 25, 2015

I have a bunch of teacher friends and it doesn't sound like they're hard to find- for one thing, every spouse of a UC Berkeley prof teaches, seems like.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:43 PM on January 25, 2015

From a commenter that would prefer to remain anonymous:
The temporary staffing pool at the Office of the President in downtown Oakland is a great way to get a foot in the door. It's how I got into my position nine years ago. (You won't get rich working for the University, unless you're high-up senior management, but it's nice to go to work in the morning feeling like most of us are actually working towards the greater good. Yeah, I'm a sap.
posted by mathowie at 9:16 PM on January 26, 2015

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