I have so much to offer, and no where to give.
February 8, 2016 12:21 PM   Subscribe

I’m looking for the way out of a life of perpetual admin-assistance.

I completed my Ph.D. in English Language and Literature in 2014, but as frequent mefites know, jobs in academia are extremely difficult to come by.

I went into academia because I love people and teaching (and to a lesser extent, research). Writing has always been something I’ve excelled at, but it isn’t something I actively crave. I love people: changing lives, making a difference, human interaction, and community.

As a student I’ve always had one foot in health care in a clerical or administrative assistant setting… so I’ve worked in health care offices off and on throughout my undergraduate and graduate degree. It has been my lifeline for paying tuition, bills and now paying off debts.

But now I am desperate to get away from being an Admin Assistant. I feel like my degree has been a complete waste. I’ve had interviews for other jobs in Health Care, and I’ve done some networking over the last two years, and the advice I get is always the same:

“To get a position in [fill in the blank] you need 3+ years’ worth of experience, or a degree in [fill in the blank]”

To be clear: transferring skills is totally something I’m comfortable doing: I’ll take any project to manage if someone would give me an opportunity. I know I have excellent soft skills. I know I can write and communicate well. I know I have a rigorous attention to detail. But when there are so few jobs to go around I’m either weeded out at the “Qualifications” stage of application (thereby forfeiting any opportunity of an interview), or my attempts at transferring my skills and selling myself are looked at sympathetically but the job ultimately goes to someone with more experience or the [fill in the blank] degree.

I am so depressed with this. I’m in too much debt to go back to school (even for a year of Teachers’ College or an M.A. in Library Sciences or some such thing…). The most I can afford is a course here and there at the local Community College.

How can I move out of Admin Assistance and do something—anything—that is fulfilling. I’d even take a modest pay cut if it meant room to grow (I make approx. $55,000/year).

At the same time, I feel lucky to even have a job, albeit an unfulfilling one.
Can anyone suggest what I could be doing differently? So far I’m scouring job boards and applying to anything I think I *might* have a shot at—with no results so far.

And a related question: at this point, where my "dream" of becoming an English Professor has so spectacularly deflated, how do I get the courage to even try to follow another "dream"?
posted by Dressed to Kill to Work & Money (13 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Are you volunteering anywhere? Volunteering solves a few of your problems: you'll gain experience, it will alleviate some depression and get you out of a rut, you'll get different perspectives on your problem.

Why do you dislike being an administrative assistant? Are there ways you could make your job more stimulating?
posted by witchen at 12:45 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know that classic tenured academic positions at major universities are notoriously difficult to come by. Have you tried any other routes into academia? Are you looking at secondary schools or community colleges?

After I got my M.S. in Real Estate I applied for an adjunct position at a local community college. I've taught 1 class per semester for the last 11 years. I haven't done more because I have a primary job, my wife likes seeing me, etc. In terms of your job "wants" (changing lives, making a difference, human interaction and community) I can tell you that I've seen that 100x more in my "side gig" at the community college than I have in my day job at a multinational company with Fortune 100 clients.

People like to bag on community colleges but in my experience they're primarily populated by people who want an education that will make a real and tangible difference in their lives.
posted by mrbeebz at 1:07 PM on February 8, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Potential places to advance from administrative positions:

- Operations
- Technical documentation
- Presentation design
- Customer service
- Event coordination
- Proposal writing and coordination
- Executive/personal assistant (to get a foothold in a different industry)
- Legal assistant/paralegal

To claim those three years of experience, focus your resume to reflect your strengths in the area of work you're looking for. For example, if you want to get into a legal assistant job, you might focus your resume on how you worked with contracts, reviewed company documentation for accuracy, and set up a new filing system.

Also, don't take that 3+ years at face value. If you have even a year of experience you can present as relevant, you should go ahead and apply. You may also have some luck with professional organizations for networking. For example, to get more into technical writing, join the STC and related LinkedIn groups to see what's out there.
posted by mochapickle at 1:10 PM on February 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

If you're still open to teaching, I think you should look at teaching at private high schools. My husband has a PhD in history and spent too many years adjuncting at a state university. He realized pretty quickly that higher education teaching would never work out for him, as much as he loved teaching, so he started applying to teach at private high schools (the preferred term is "independent schools," btw.) It took him a few job cycles to get a job, but he landed an amazing job last summer and is SO much happier. It is everything he loves about teaching and nothing he hates. He has wonderful colleagues who love nerding out about teaching pedagogy as much as he does, he has interested and engaged students, and he gets to design fun courses he never could have done at State U. Obviously there are good schools and bad schools out there, but if you are still into teaching I think this could be a good avenue to explore.

Re your preferences, again it depends on the school and the area, but in our experience we found that college prep-style schools pay VERY competitively, and 55k is totally in the realm of pay even for a first- year teacher, and high COL places pay quite a bit more. (Religious private schools seemed to vary quite a bit, and some paid more the equivalent to local public schools.) He does not have a teaching certificate and found that the schools he applied for did not require one--often times your PhD is enough, especially if you have teaching/TA experience from your university. Good luck!
posted by Bella Sebastian at 1:14 PM on February 8, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do you have a particular advocacy issue that you identify with? If so, there are non-profit orgs out there--possibly many--that crave expertise like what you can offer. Your pay won't be anything much, but you'll get a lot of experience and training, and non-profits (generally) allow you a kind of leeway that you can't find in the private sector (think: developing curricula, training staff, generating/editing/proofing official org content/papers/posters/etc., you name it).

Find a 501(c)(3) that you like, see if they have job openings, get in touch with HR. Even if they don't have positions open now, they may create one for you, offer you a grant-based position, hire you as a (paid or unpaid) intern or a contractor, or put you in the rolodex for later reference. If they have an annual conference, or will be at some other conference you know about, ask about going to it and meeting representatives there.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:14 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

We have a friend who has decided to leave his professorship at a state college to be an AP Physics teacher at a tony high school.

if you want to teach, see if that might work for you. His class size is 6 students.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:18 PM on February 8, 2016

Best answer: Seconding the non-profit sector - particularly if you can combine health sector experience with analysis/reporting, maybe public policy?

And absolutely send a resume if you meet most of the other qualifications - don't let the years required stop you.
posted by A hidden well at 5:02 PM on February 8, 2016

Best answer: Nthing some of the suggestions here, just adding resources and places to look for additional information:

I don't know if this will help you or not (and you might have already looked here), but an organization called Versatile interviews many former academics who found jobs in other fields. At one point, I found it inspirational to read about the wide variety of jobs that people got into (and how they got there).

It sounds like you were very passionate about teaching and enjoyed it, so.... I found that it wasn't difficult getting sabbatical replacement type jobs (grain of salt- biology? But look, it might apply ot your field too), often in small towns/fly-over areas, but some of these jobs were advertised at the end of the year and they usually wanted a PhD in certain academic discipline, and wanted to interview and hire quickly for the upcoming year. But you see these advertised in the Chronicle for Higher Education, often at the end of the year. If you want it, it is experience, you could apply (If you don't, its understandable).

Similar to what was suggested above, it is easy to get a private high school position. There are numerous schools that want the PhD over the teaching degree. This organization was able to get me a job quickly. All it took was I filled out the packet, and was contacted by schools (I limited to a geographic area), and they flew me out for interviews (much, much easier than academic interviews....because it went fast). IME, the salary is higher for the specialized schools, but you can poke around websites of the school to confirm before taking anything. IME it was horrible match for me and did not equal university teaching, but that was me...you might love it (and it sounds like other people did too), and you lose nothing by applying.

If I were in your shoes, nthing community colllege.

Also, it sounds like you are passionate or want to connect to people and causes. I've met a few people who work at nonprofits and get a higher salary than what you are mentioning up there...but you could search around for matching your passion, skill set...I wonder if grant writing would fit in with your strengths and skills, but you'd need to talk to people that work in that industry.

Good luck - you will find a way out and onward to a job you want.
posted by Wolfster at 6:07 PM on February 8, 2016

Where are you living? Sounds like it might be a fairly big metro area? Would you be willing to move for the right position?
posted by yarntheory at 7:09 PM on February 8, 2016

Best answer: Just wanted to add that the group Wolfster mentioned, Carney Sandoe, is the same one my husband found his job through. CalWest is another good one if you're looking for west coast-based teaching positions.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 9:29 PM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, thank you so much for your thoughtful answers!

I am in Canada, but I'll still look at some of these resources for teaching and continue to poke around the public sector. There are certainly jobs there - they don't pay much but it is a starting point to getting some experience. Teaching (unless one can find a full-time job in a private school or college) is problematic because I need to be able to keep my health/medical/dental benefits. My husband tried working at our community college -- it is wildly competitive. The classes are going online and the teaching pool has shrunk dramatically. There were actually teachers on the part-time roster for 10+ years. Getting a course was like begging for scraps.

Unfortunately moving isn't in the cards for a few more years. My husband and I bought our first house in 2014 and he (also a Ph.D. grad in English) has a local job grant-writing for a charitable organization.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond. I'm going to comb through these today. :)
posted by Dressed to Kill at 3:46 AM on February 9, 2016

Temp agencies are always looking for people to place in various types of jobs and often those temp jobs turn permanent and more interesting.
posted by look busy at 1:59 PM on February 9, 2016

Check out charityvillage.com for job postings in the not-for-profit, academic and some government sectors in Canada.
posted by A hidden well at 7:08 PM on February 10, 2016

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