I am sick of making labels. Please hope me.
October 15, 2015 7:52 AM   Subscribe

How do I transition from "pink collar" admin jobs to...anything else? Wrinkle: most likely moving to a (much) smaller city some time next year.

Without going into too much detail, I work as a legal assistant and have in various non-firm environments for the past 10 years. I am hoping to move on from this path and am looking for resources to help me do this. Personal stories of how you got out of pink collar work is also very welcome!

We are likely moving to a small university town sometime next year. A lot of the work there seems to be service industry/agri-industrial or related to the university.

I don't care what I do (even open to retail/part time etc) but don't want to do admin any more. At a loss for better alternative as all my work experience lies in this field. I do have some freelance sources of income but I would still need steady employment as well. I am not focused on a particular field for my "day job" as long as the money is decent and there are benefits.
posted by SassHat to Work & Money (6 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Have you looked at what sorts of positions are available at the university? I've worked as support staff in academia for about 15 years now (at a couple of different gigs) and my experience is that there's a lot broader scope to what's considered administrative or support positions than your typical office environment. If you don't want to work in an office at all, that advice isn't helpful, but if you just want to stop being someone's secretary, universities offer a lot of such positions.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:40 AM on October 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

For universities specifically, I have seen a lot of people make the leap from Admin Assistant to Study Coordinator - that is, assisting in the conduct of research projects. You can find more information about this role here: https://www.michr.umich.edu/education/studycoordinators

It can open up some new career paths and doesn't require a specific degree, usually. Your legal background might be helpful, and if you took some additional online training prior to your move you could be well-positioned. You'd want to check the University's job boards to see if this type of role exists there, of course.
posted by Ausamor at 8:41 AM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

If you can stand working admin a while longer you could get a job at the university and use the tuition benefits to get a degree in something that will lead to a more interesting job.
posted by Jess the Mess at 9:16 AM on October 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Anecdote: A friend of mine was able to move on from admin to accounting related work when she was in her mid thirties. This was at a major university, with a good supervisor.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 9:22 AM on October 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I made the jump from legal assistant to tax towards the beginning of my working life. This went a bit long b/c it's hard to say what strategies helped and what was dumb luck.

I had spent a couple of months trying to plot out a reasoned trajectory out of admin without luck. Part of this was because job hopping is hard, and career hopping is even harder. But a big part is that I was limited by the jobs I could imagine. Did I want to be a lawyer? An accountant? A retail clerk? The economy is made up of so many weird jobs that didn't occur to me.

Then one of our clients was murdered by her husband. Even though I only organized her paperwork and exchanged the briefest of words, it was unbearable. I stopped using key words and considered every open position. Some were clearly a bad fit. But I was looking at industries and job titles I hadn't considered. I was looking at the small companies who wrote terrible job postings because they don't have an HR person.

I ended up being hired by the company that sold me on "Like to travel? Conduct Sales Tax Audits around the US".

The company was small. Twelve employees, with HR & Payroll handled by the absent owner's daughter. It was not well managed. The owner had a good relationship with some local government officials, and this led to minimal oversight which was abused by some employees. At this point in my career, I would run at all these red flags. But it was also the exact sort of organization that didn't peg me as a pink collar worker. And it was legitimate experience where folks regularly moved to more prestigious companies after a year or two.

I definitely got lucky with the interview. Eventually, my supervisor told me how excited the hiring manager was to hire me. She was impressed to have someone on the team who had familiarity with the law and regulatory procedure. While I was clear about the limitations of my knowledge, she interpreted that I was smart enough to seek out the right answer. And my admin experience meant that I had the work ethic to do rote work that often bores entry level folks who are champing at the bit to be Thought Leaders.

All of that is true. But I had been in plenty of interviews where I struggled to convey that I was capable of a different challenge. It's easy to imagine you might be good at something else. It's difficult to feel confident enough you will be good at something else to offer you a job. And unfortunately, gender does play into it. Women are regularly expected to take on pink collar labor regardless of fit, so they're more open to the idea that you would be better served in a different role. I'm not sure how you guarantee a female interview though.
posted by politikitty at 11:54 AM on October 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

It turns out that giant block of text has unearthed a giant block of text. Like all of askme, use what you need, discard the rest.

My "elevator pitch" was that I fell into my legal assistant position because I was considering law school. I wanted exposure before applying, and since felt it wasn't a good fit.

This played into a lot of biases:

1) Recognition that a liberal arts degree does not do a great job preparing you for the real world. I know it imparts a lot of great skills. But I never had a teacher inform me of networking events. My adviser didn't point me to the career center. My degree was about my degree, and I walked out the door without any preparation for the transition. Liberal arts folks tend to be sympathetic to how rough the transition was, and business degree folks appreciate that you're acknowledging some benefit to their degree.

2) I was smart enough to consider law school. That's like, Perry Mason level!

3) I was smart enough to not jump into a pile of debt! And for a lot of people, smart enough to avoid the legal bubble!

I wasn't a legal assistant for a long time (it was coming up on a year and a half), so that's a bias I didn't have to overcome. But working for an employer that didn't mind odd resumes, I saw luck with many career-delaying reasons. Caring for family is the main one that didn't come with much baggage. One woman had been helping her siblings get through college, and had put off making a life change until their graduation. A number of divorces causing them to re-evaluate their careers. Supporting spouses and kids is sadly a harder sell because sexism etc. However you frame it, the important thing is to steer their thinking away from everybody's biggest fear: that you've tried your damnedest, but you just aren't good enough for a different job.

This is not true. Matchmaking is hard. At least in love, society typically dares us to take chances and find happiness. In business, it's preferable to avoid risk, which means that opportunity can be elusive. When I mentioned dumb luck, I wasn't being modest. The most talented people in the world still need dumb luck despite all their talent. The world runs on luck. I'm acknowledging that bias, so you can consciously shout it down.

An elevator pitch is a fine line. You don't want to be overly rehearsed and inauthentic. But there are a million facts about you that don't highlight this transition you want to make, and there are just as many ways to be pessimistic about facts that actually work in your favor. It's great when you need some healthier self-talk during the more difficult parts of transition. And it's great to always have that mental anchor in an interview, either because you're getting lost in the weeds or combating negativity (both internally or directed by the interviewer). Never say it the same way twice. But say it enough, particularly outside interview settings, that your mind goes there first instead of all the reasonable but not particularly helpful anxiety.
posted by politikitty at 12:27 PM on October 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

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