Expand my thinking! Or, just give me a tiny bit of hope.
February 5, 2015 9:37 PM   Subscribe

I am unemployed with no college degree, and an employment history in retail management/horticulture. I'm trying desperately to do something - anything - that will: 1) hire me and 2) pay me a living wage. I am depressed and defeated. Please help me think of things I haven't realized are possible, when I haven't even had a temp agency sign me up.

I have been unemployed for almost four months. I do not have a college degree; I have “some college.” My employment history has been managing independent retail nurseries and garden centers. In all my job history, I have only been paid a little over minimum wage, even as a manager. I am looking to leave retail because of this, but if anyone can offer insight into a paying retail career, I’m all ears. I am open to any suggestion for any job. Really. My goal is to make 20/hr, but if something started at 15 or 16/hr and had legitimate means of advancement in a year or two, I could supplement my expenses with the chunk of money I’m living off of right now.

I am in the SF Bay Area. I realize I will likely have to move. Moving will cost the chunk of money I am living on right now, so I need to move somewhere where I will absolutely find employment that pays a living wage. Complicating things emotionally for me right now is that living in Oakland is literally the only thing I like about my life. I have almost no friends or family. There is no geographic area that has an emotional/rational attachment. My apartment here is a unicorn at its laughably low rent (for the area). I can be told to move, because I know it probably has to happen. It just makes me very, very sad. I would be happy to hear recommendations of places where I could go.

I have tried applying in a few different avenues. I have applied to entry-level corporate retail jobs in both inventory management and merchandising departments. I applied for assistant manager jobs of retail stores that are headquartered here, thinking I could work into corporate in a couple years. I have applied for admin jobs, and with temp/staffing agencies. I have not had any interviews, and I have not been contacted by any of the temp agencies (and I don't mean for job offers. I mean, "if you don't hear from us in x-days after registering with us, feel free to submit an updated resume in six months"). There are a lot of temp agencies out here, though, and there are more of 'em to try.

I have tailored my resume and written a brand new cover letter for each job. Kindly don’t judge me on this Ask, but my writing skills are good, and I have had jobs specifically say they’ve hired me off my cover letter. In each cover letter I’ve worked hard to show and highlight transferable skills because I know my employment history makes me look 100% unqualified. This is my current resume, tailored for an admin job. (I’ll leave that link up for a few days and then delete it.) It works much better in tandem with a cover letter, but you get the idea. I know: it’s pretty grim. At my last job, my predecessor returned and they fired me, and that is why I’m unemployed. I genuinely like the idea of an admin job: I think I’d be great at it; I love supporting people, making everything run smoothly; and I know in a couple years I’d make enough money to support myself. I know I’ll NEVER make much money, and I’ve come to terms with that.

I’ve thought about different horticulture avenues, like landscape design. I obviously don’t have a degree, and a lot of the better-paying hort jobs are difficult to obtain: the industry is a skewed triangle with one, highly-skilled worker on top, leading a lot of very low-paid workers. There isn’t a lot of “mid-tier” area, which is where I would fall with my experience.

I’ve also thought about striking it out on my own – build rooftop gardens for SF clients! Teach backyard veggie gardening! Do independent design and installation! But I’m not sure I have the skills, or the money to keep me going as I got established.

I struggle (severely, yay) with depression, and I think I’m actually doing semi-okay depression-wise through this very hard time, but my confidence is at an all-time low. A lot of time I think I am legitimately unemployable. I do not know how I am going to support myself. I am very, very scared, and very, very defeated. I have an aunt and uncle who have offered to let me live with them. They are clear across the country, and our relationship is very awkward, but it is an option. The thought of living with them makes me literally cry myself to sleep, but I’ve been doing that anyways.

I DO feel confident that I can get a minimum-wage job to help with expenses in the meantime.

Metafilter, what jobs should I apply for? What’s my best course of action, other than to keep applying to absolutely everything I possibly can? Am I applying to the wrong things? What have I not thought of? Thank you so, so much.
posted by missmary6 to Work & Money (28 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have any interest in/have you ever looked into programming? I used to teach, but I was burning out, so I left education and went into web development. I attended Dev Bootcamp in Chicago from June to September of 2014 and started at a new job on Jan. 5, 2015. There are several bootcamps in SF; they're expensive, but coding is awesome, fun, and pretty profitable and it could be a way out of the rut you seem to be finding yourself in.
posted by protocoach at 10:01 PM on February 5, 2015

I’ve also thought about striking it out on my own – build rooftop gardens for SF clients! Teach backyard veggie gardening! Do independent design and installation! But I’m not sure I have the skills, or the money to keep me going as I got established.

Find out.
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:21 PM on February 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

Gardening would be a good transfer I think. Can you get work for an established gardener to learn the ropes? Perhaps you already know one from your retail work, ... and can highlight that you also bring sales, customer service, and plant sales knowledge. No (good) boss thinks sales and service skills are something everyone has.

There may also be mental health or other servce groups that run gardens and may be looking for a community garden coordinator. Empathy with the clients through personal experience could be valuable here, as well as management experience.

Not all nonprofits pay well, but some do.

Speaking of which, often non profits post jibs in specialized job boards, like idealist.org or greenjobsearch.org.

Again, nonprofits don't always pay well, but management in nonprotits sometimes does and there are often health benefit. And you have store management skills and know the gardening world, so that may transfer to some environmental and community NGOs.

Good luck!!!!
posted by chapps at 10:28 PM on February 5, 2015

Have you looked into any of the job training classes offered through EDD?

I have always been able to find small cash jobs as a basic bookkeeper for plumbers, locksmiths, electricians. Learning quickbooks does not take long and if I were to re-enter the job market that is the direction I would go in.
Good luck.
posted by cairnoflore at 10:40 PM on February 5, 2015

Oof. I feel your pain!

The grant writing sticks out for me -- maybe do some informational interviews at development departments at SF/Oakland/Berkeley nonprofits? Nonprofits were always looking for good writers when I was in the game. Always a need for content for fundraising emails, the website, their social media presence, etc. There are also firms that work with nonprofits (fundraising consultants I'm thinking of in particular) and they are usually on the hunt for talented admin folks and would think they have struck gold if you could provide content as well.

Take a look at NTen -- yeah, they have a tech focus but you can meet a lot of Bay Area nonprofit folk there. A quick google search will turn up other local nonprofit resources.

I will be forever irritated by the HR driven spew that all jobs now require a college degree. Bollocks. If you can get past the HR drones (and by that I mean bypass them entirely) and have a chat with someone who is actually in a position to hire you, your chances will improve markedly. Have some writing samples -- published is good, but really anything that can prove you can write!

It does mean you're going to have to get out there and network. (I'm a shy person and hate it myself, but you are [temporarily] in a jam.)

This is until you can get your dream horticultural related job, of course.

Good luck!
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 10:51 PM on February 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

From your resume, it looks like you have solid organizational experience, and an interest in ecology and education. Definitely look broader than admin jobs, maybe you can apply your skills in the non-profit world? This Farmers Market Manager position, for example, sounds like it would be up your alley.

As chapps mentioned, a lot of non-profit organizations run Community Garden programs, and with your volunteer experience, you could totally pitch yourself as the perfect fit for something like that.

I would suggest, if you do apply for a npo job, that you list your relevant volunteer experience up alongside your job experience, and not hidden at the end. Just be very clear that it's a volunteer role.
posted by nerdcore at 10:54 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Beef up the grant writing part with results. How many dollars have your clients been awarded? Are you familiar with the federal grant application process? Name the funders if they are recognizable, otherwise roughly categorize. Or highlight one or two big grants you wrote. That's the most marketable thing I see on your resume.

And consider trade school, it's a good living without a college degree and if you're reliable and do residential work there is a huge need.
posted by fshgrl at 11:08 PM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'll second that the grant-writing experience immediately struck me as super-marketable in Oakland, where there are a lot of non-profits. (In fact, I had a grant writing IV in Oakland - near Lake Merritt.) Are you dead-set on retail?

Are you getting treatment for your depression? So, I can give you some feedback here:

"my confidence is at an all-time low. A lot of time I think I am legitimately unemployable..."

You come across as confident, upbeat, kind, intelligent, interesting, and pleasant to be around -- like someone I'd want to work with. These qualities cannot be underestimated for the job-hunters! These are strong points and I'm thinking either you haven't received this feedback, or your depression is interfering with your self-perception (understandable).

I may be wandering from the job-hunt aspect of your question, but have you read Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns? The pencil-and-paper exercises can help you combat "automatic thoughts", as he calls them: those thoughts you have repeatedly and have never critically questioned. I highly recommend it, well worth reading even 10 minutes per day! And most likely at the Oakland public library. (The 'triple column technique' helped me the most, and was very easy to do and very effective for me, YMMV.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:17 PM on February 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

As far as changing careers, there's two general 1000-ft view options: broaden your skill set or narrow your skill set. If you can't make as much money as you want doing the skills you are specializing now, you should broaden your skills to include some things that are more remunerative. Employers pay for skills. The more difficult it is to find someone with your skills, the more you can demand for compensation. Lots of options here, since most of your experience is in a very small subsector. Once you identify some skills that can make you more money (and hopefully things you are interested in as well) you can choose a focus and max out your knowledge level and start earning experience. If your skills are something in demand by employers, you'll see your pay go up over time.

$20 per hour is not much in a place with costs as high as the Bay Area, as you know. I would look to relocate to a place like Boise, ID or Oregon or even parts of Alaska where cost of living is relatively low but economic growth looks positive for the foreseeable future. The Bay Area's real estate market is a ridiculous bubble and as long as you live within 100 miles of SF you are going to lose most of your paycheck to housing and other cost of living expenses.

I know how you feel about not wanting to leave the area where you have your roots spread, especially when they are thin roots. But those people who really care about you aren't going to forget you exist when you move away, and you will meet new people wherever you end up. It's very important that you feel positive about your future. Keep telling yourself that.
posted by deathpanels at 11:30 PM on February 5, 2015 [4 favorites]

First of all, you're not unemployable. Shoot, I'd employ you at $20/hr to tell me what to plant in my Oakland front yard if I hadn't *just* had to blow all my money to fix a leak. Charge individual homeowners like $100 to $300+ to rough out a planting pattern (the higher end gets increasingly more square footage, two options in the design, more detail, a detailed maintenance calendar or something). Learn the plants that meet EBMUD's drought planting guidelines, etc. Eventually get in with a few house staging companies, realtors, contractors, and local nurseries who will spread your referral.

That's just one idea, and maybe not the best if depression makes that kind of client volume difficult. Alternative approach: something like City Slicker Farms? Your combo of grant writing, planting, and sales (much like fundraising or community relations) looks like a nice fit.
posted by slidell at 12:19 AM on February 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

Admin on a farm - check with California Certified Organic and Google "sustainable food jobs". I've had good luck with this one: https://sustainablefoodjobs.wordpress.com and it looks like Slide Ranch is hiring.
posted by jrobin276 at 2:37 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

OK, I'm in another country altogether and maybe things are really different, but I think your resume needs some work. A few points:
  • Take the 'skills' heading stuff away and integrate it into the experience section.
  • For a resume tailored for an admin job, it's pretty heavy on nursery stuff. The grant writer experience would be great here if it wasn't overshadowed by the stuff that doesn't immediately seem relevant (although it is)
  • Clean up the gaps in experience and make it easier to follow by combining the two jobs in the last section to be something like 'Assistant Manager/Buyer 2007 - 2012' and remove the months from each job, which will give an impression of complete continuity (you can always clarify exact dates at an interview if needed)
  • Integrate the volunteer work into the professional experience and don't downplay it by singling it out - volunteer work is every bit as valuable in experience terms and the only different is you don't get paid for it. If you're worried about jobs overlapping, note it as part-time
  • Tidy up the writing itself - use consistent tense and descriptions (writes vs directed, ongoing vs present).
I know that looks like a lot, but it's not really. You look like you have great skills and I'd hire you in a heartbeat for pretty much anything (for a lot more than $20/hour) because you have the sort of skills and experience that are easily transferable and people that can truly write convincingly are very hard to find. I am recruiting at the moment, but I imagine that's a bit more of a move than you were thinking ;-)

If you can get a shitty job now, do so - it's generally easier to get hired if you are already working, plus money plus a reason to get up and about and interact with people in a way that isn't about finding a job (therefore likely to lead to pain). Don't let thoughts like 'I know I’ll NEVER make much money' get you down and limit your possibilities - I used to think that too after getting out of a trade (because sick of not getting paid and preferring not to die young from poisonous working conditions) and, while it took time to get a foothold, I've been in a great job with good prospects for just over ten years (just got long service leave for the first time in my life :-)).

When I was trying to get into non-trade positions, I sat down and wrote out the things I wanted to do/enjoyed doing/was good at and then worked out what kind of places do those things and thought about all the things that made a place be somewhere I would like to work (for me, it was 'I want to work somewhere that actually benefits the community, not just caring about profit'), then just started ringing every one of those places from the yellow pages - lots of jobs never get advertised and that's how I got my foot in the door (for bizarre reasons, but that's another story).

Most importantly, of course, is simply don't give up - somewhere out there is the ideal job waiting for you to find it. Trite, I know, but true.
posted by dg at 4:10 AM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

In my experience, you have to be very proactive when dealing with temp agencies. If you wait for them to call you (especially at first, before they know how good you are), you'll never get a job. But if you register for an agency* & then call first thing every morning (and at the end of the day, if the morning didn't work out) to ask if they have any openings that day you might have better luck. That's when companies are scrambling because someone just called in sick. The temp agency would rather go with someone who has shown initiative and is ready to work, rather than working their way down a phone list and hoping that someone will answer and be willing to show up. Also, sign up for multiple agencies & don't put all your eggs in one basket.

* If you have the opportunity to go in person to take the various tests, be sure to meet as many of the employees as possible while you're there. I found that having met in person (so they could see I had decent people skills and dressed appropriately) made them much more likely to try to place me.
posted by belladonna at 5:02 AM on February 6, 2015 [6 favorites]

Interior landscaping? Lots of of offices have plants that need maintenance. I believe you join an interior landscaping company and then they contract you out. That at least gets your foot in the door.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:07 AM on February 6, 2015

Are you open to finding anything right now, such as Customer Service? Not just call center work, but for instance, here's an ad for a Patient Service Representative. That's the person who greets patients when they walk in, and verifies their insurance information, etc. You have people skills, so I wouldn't hesitate to apply and mention your desire to change careers in your cover letter.

Try for a job with benefits, especially tuition reimbursement. Then sit down and figure out what you want to do. There is no shame in making money. By talking about how you will never make money, you're setting yourself up to accept being a lowly wage slave forever. The programming boot camp is a really great idea, if you could, you know, get yourself a grant to do it (or a loan?). I've known people who went from being a Customer Service Rep to entry level programmer, via an employer-based training course. They doubled their salary right off the bat, and tripled it and more as the years went on. So really, give the programming some serious thought. If not, perhaps use tuition reimbursement to go to school for landscape design, with an eye toward commercial landscaping (and you can pick up individual landscape design jobs on the side, but follow the money, honey).

But for right now, you need a gig. Check out customer service and related positions.

Resume looks pretty good, one or two thoughts: instead of the word "orchestrated," I would use "coordinated," because it feels like a more appropriate word for the position.

Would also remove the grant writing thing because it's listed as being in another city. Very confusing to an HR person who is scanning resumes. List it under other skills or at the bottom under volunteer work. Why would they hire you if you already have an ongoing job like this? And in another state? Will it take away from time on your day job? These might be the thoughts going through someone's head as they sort through the hundreds of applicants.

Consider putting a career goal at the top, such as, "obtain a position in administrative support, with opportunity for growth." Because then there is zero confusion about why someone with a garden center background is applying for an admin job. And there might be a computer program looking for keywords, and if you put administrative support somewhere on your resume, it will come up as a match.

I would be loathe to tell you to use your available funds to move to a strange city without a really well-paying job. Keep looking and seek out resources for employment assistance in your area. We are always seeing ads for job fairs and such posted at our local library, for instance. Best of luck to you!
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 5:40 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have you considered enrolling in a college horticulture program? Here's a list of them in California. They will probably all accept some of the credits you've earned in the past.
posted by mareli at 5:43 AM on February 6, 2015

I'd second the dev bootcamp idea if you have any interest. I also just graduated from one last summer and now have a junior developer job. One neat thing about the bootcamps is that in addition to training you they usually have a team of people that help you get a job by setting you up with interviews. It's in their interest to do so since they want good numbers to say "Our grads get jobs."

Customer support is also good route. There are a ton of internet companies in the Bay Area that need people for support. It's a good starting role that lets you learn about other parts of the business that you can move into. I know people that went from Customer Support to Product Management, Community Management, and Engineering.
posted by Jungo at 6:03 AM on February 6, 2015

Just a couple of thoughts, I'm sure you've already heard them:

1) I think your resume needs work. Have you had it critiqued by any career counselors, say at your city's workforce center? You have a lot of experience, but it's being buried by vague details.

For example - move your skills section to the bottom and shorten it to some more objective points; the ability to use MS Office suite should not be the first thing your potential employer sees as it sets an extremely low bar. Take the adjectives and personality descriptors out, keep it concrete. Your experience section is okay, but some of the bullets seem like multiple tasks crammed together. These are just my opinion, of course.

2) College is, of course, not right for everybody. However that bachelor's degree is a massive hurdle, as you know, especially for white-collar work. I wouldn't necessarily recommend everyone invest in that degree, however your resume indicates that you already have several years of college, just no degree. Have you ever spoken to a transfer admissions counselor at any local universities? California has an excellent transfer curriculum, and it's possible that you have a good chunk of your degree already finished from your previous experience. If not a bachelor's, have you looked at any community colleges that accept transfer credit? If no bachelor's degree, you might at least try for an associate's.
posted by Think_Long at 6:22 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

For the short term, how about a chain like Home Depot or a local Ace?
posted by latkes at 6:35 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I loved living in Oakland and if you have a cheap place there, I say, roll with it.

Here's a job as a Landscape Cost Estimator with Curtis Dennison. It's on LinkedIn.

Even if this isn't exactly right, perhaps you can join his team, or network with him for other gigs, or for some freelancing.

Here's one in Morgan Hill.

So that's a start in the right direction to stay in landscaping/horticulture.

Now if you want a regular job, how about customer service. PGE or AT&T. Or perhaps as an outdoor technician? Good union jobs, great pay and benefits. They train you, all you have to have is aptitude.

If you don't have a linkedin profile, build one and I'll link to you, just memail me.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:37 AM on February 6, 2015 [3 favorites]

Everyone is applying to general-purpose jobs right now, so it's going to take a lot of applications for a hit. As for temp companies, in the past, Mefites have said that you need to follow up or go by, not wait for them.

I would also keep a close eye on city job pages in all the surrounding and BARTable cities, and also community college listings (admin, garden stuff, etc.). Some of these jobs will not require a completed degree.

There's part time customer service work available at the Oakland Museum, and I know from personal experience that these jobs can turn into better positions in various museum departments if you're friendly, do your job well, and let the established employees know that you are interested.
posted by wintersweet at 7:47 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, your first step here is going to be updating your resume. In addition to dg's suggestions (merging volunteer and pro experience is the biggest one):

-It looks really lopsided that your previous experience is more detailed than your recent. Even if you're looking more at jobs in the horticulture field, you'll still want to flesh out your current stuff, just tailor the descriptions toward how you can use that experience in horticulture.

-Each description should be 3-4 bullet points per job/1 line per bullet point. You want it to be skim-able.

-I actually disagree with dg about removing skills, but move them to the bottom, don't use adjectives ("meticulous", "savvy", etc.), and take off 50 WPM (I would only put your typing speed on a resume if it is 95 WPM or higher)
posted by capricorn at 8:27 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

As for what type of positions to look for, you do grantwriting already so I would recommend looking at that. It's a specialized set of skills. At least in DC where I live, it is highly in demand.
posted by capricorn at 8:31 AM on February 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Physically fit people who are good at standardized tests but didn't finish college are great candidates for police and fire departments. These jobs usually start at $30+ an hour (including present value of pension benefit) and escalate to $50+ an hour before too long. A history of clinical depression may be an issue but its worth exploring.
posted by MattD at 10:31 AM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thirding the recommendation to call the temp agencies every day. First thing in the morning, call your contacts and remind them of your availability. That way your name is on their mind when the call comes in from one of their clients.

I know the economy sucks now, but that's how I survived a lot of job interregnums. And eventually one of those temp gigs turned into a freelance/contract gig, and through that I made contacts that got me into my current professional field.

So call the temp agencies every day! Once you get one or two good placements, you'll have a good reputation with them and they'll start giving you the better gigs. Just being able to write, answer phones, file, and be pleasant and responsive can be a blessing in an overwhelmed office.
posted by suelac at 10:44 AM on February 6, 2015

Move to Sacramento and get a job with the State of California. They're hiring like crazy right now. It's less than a 90 minute drive to Sacramento, so you can even look for a job and interview without moving. You rent is like to be cut by a third to half compared to living in Oakland.

Starting pay for a Staff Services Analyst, which is your general office job, is $16.25 per hour. If you have a pulse, you will get a 5% raise every year until you make $26.41 per hour. If you're good, you can be promoted within a few years to Associate Governmental Program Analyst, where maximum pay is $33.71 per hour.

The downside is that right now you're competing with a LOT of people who have college degrees, so it's going to be tough to get an interview and be hired without a degree. Write an awesome cover letter and resume and that'll help. There are lower classifications than Staff Services Analyst with lower pay scales, so it's also possible to start lower on the scale and move up.

If you do get hired, make yourself the best employee that they have. Be relentlessly positive, learn your job, bust your ass, skip your breaks, ask for more work, think about how you can improve things. That's how you get promoted.
posted by cnc at 10:59 AM on February 6, 2015 [4 favorites]

The state rec is a good one. A friend works there and loves his job--and was able to buy a house recently. If you haven't been to Sacramento in a few years, go check it out on a weekend. If you can stand the heat, it's a much more interesting place than it used to be. Fun restaurants, interesting bookstores, etc.
posted by wintersweet at 3:14 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

To improve your resume, I would add more metrics:

- how many interns/volunteers did you supervise?
- regarding the "first-ever cost of goods sold calculation", did this lead to decrease in costs or an increase in revenue?
- when you designed and wrote the catalogue, did you use specialized programs like PhotoShop or InDesign? (if yes, put those under skills, instead of personality descriptors)
- list the program you used for the email newsletter and any accounting programs that you used under skills as well. e.g. QuickBooks.

I agree with everyone to move your skills to the bottom.
posted by saturdaymornings at 5:02 PM on February 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

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