What Should I Do Next?
April 23, 2016 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently an administrative assistant, but I've been at my current workplace for a while and want to move on. Problem is, I'm not sure what I want to do next. Can AskMe help me pick out some potential new jobs/career paths? My background/interests/various special snowflakes are beneath the fold.

For the record, I’ve read What Color is Your Parachute but it hasn’t really helped me. I’m also in therapy. I know this is long, but I want you to have all the needed information. Maybe someone here can make something out of it.

So, several things about me:

-I’m in my late twenties, with a BA in English from a small, prestigious liberal arts college. I graduated with an okay GPA (3.3). I always had weak math skills, and was much better at writing/reading. I sometimes feel this disparity kind of boxed me in in my early years in that teachers, etc. didn’t bother to foster any sort of interest in math/science because I never showed any proficiency in it.
-I also have Asperger’s. Sometimes I have trouble controlling my emotions, and I’ve had a few social fuckups at work (more on that below), but aside from that I’m managing okay. I do have some concentration issues, but they come and go. I definitely have trouble reading people/situations and making eye contact, though I try my best. Interviewing has been a struggle at times, but again, I try, and most of the feedback I’ve gotten in the past has been good. There have been times, though-- particularly at work-- where sometimes it will take me a while to form an answer, or I’ll be caught staring off into space, or whatever, and people will subsequently think I’m less bright than I actually am. At least, I think I give off that impression. I’m not extremely exceptional in the way some people on the spectrum are, but I am intelligent, and I have a degree, and one of the things I want to do in life is prove that to people.
-I’m currently an administrative assistant at a state agency that investigates complaints against judges. I’ve been here about five years. I do a lot of scanning, checking documents, some reception, and some correspondence. I don’t schedule events or make travel arrangements-- no one at my agency really travels, and honestly, our budget is small enough that we try to avoid it. Basically, my duties are more “administrative assistant” than “executive assistant.”
-There is no chance of me advancing or learning anything advanced at this job. None. Full stop, end of story. The people above me are pretty entrenched-- in order for me to get promoted they’d have to either retire or die. I’ve tried asking a few times on how they do what they do so I can at least learn, but they’ve been weirdly hesitant to do any sort of training or anything. They even say I’m “too eager.” I’ve mentioned this to my boss and he has been no help. The only other people in my office are attorneys, and I have no interest in going to law school.
-Over the past year or so, I’ve been doing some freelance writing on the side, mostly autobiographical essays with some book criticism every now and then. I haven’t gotten paid a lot, but I’ve gotten some exposure, and the position of writer is on my resume and LinkedIn. I have a WordPress that I originally intended to be a portfolio of sorts, but I’ve been bad at updating it. The biggest thing I’ve written has been an article I wrote on having Asperger’s-- it is the first thing that comes up when you Google my name, actually. I’ve kind of stopped writing for the moment, for several reasons, one of which being that I’m not sure how much I want/like it. I’d be open to writing again, just not at this point in time.
-My work knows I have Asperger’s. I don’t want to get into it, but I disclosed it after there were a couple of incidents at work. They gave me my own office-- none of the other admins have one-- and decided that it would be best if I disclose it in a mass email. I thought it was a good idea at the time, and I wanted to keep my job so I went along with it. I’m not sure if anyone else remembers it, given that it happened almost five years ago. But I still feel kind of embarrassed, and since the disclosure I have had various duties taken away from me. None of my current duties are what I was initially hired to do. I feel like I’m not really given a chance to prove myself, and I think some of my co-workers think I’m stupid. I’m kind of just the outcast in the office.
-Before this job, I was a customer service representative at an inbound call center. I was there for several months before I was laid off. I fielded calls and answered questions about a skincare product that you’ve heard of. I mostly enjoyed it, though it was my first real job out of college and I had no frame of reference. Later on I got frustrated by the lack of advancement opportunities and constantly having to talk to people, and at the time I was laid off, was starting to apply for admin assistant jobs, thinking they would be better.

-I’ve had a bunch of interests over the course of my life. A prominent one of late has been economics/finance. I didn’t take any econ courses in college or any math since pre-calculus in high school; anything related to finance or numbers was Greek to me and I never made any effort to prove to myself otherwise. I made the recent discovery, though, that I really enjoyed writing articles for this one money/budget related blog (about my own finance/money experiences, though-- nothing journalistic), and I also loved talking to people about what kind of credit card to get and credit scores. So, I decided to explore that further. I read an econ textbook recently and found it mildly interesting, and I’m an avid listener of Marketplace. I read Barbarians at the Gate recently and found it slightly confusing but really interesting, and it got me looking up various mergers on Wikipedia. I recently got a textbook about corporate finance that I plan to read.
-I also plan to take an intro to corporate finance MOOC over the summer. The course is part of a business fundamentals series that I plan to get a certification for, and once I get it I’ll put it on my resume. I think this would not only convey an interest/knowledge of finance/business, but would also stand as proof that I could start and follow through with something. This would be out of pocket-- my work doesn’t have the money to pay for further education, and in my case they probably wouldn’t want to anyway.
-I’ve loosely been considering getting an MBA at some point, but I’m not sure what I’d want to do with it. I haven’t taken the GRE or GMAT. We are talking kind of pipe dream with this one-- it may not even happen.
-Other interests I have: the city of Los Angeles, the American West/South/Texas (I’ve never been to any of those areas, but they fascinate me for some reason), entertainment industry news (I read Variety and Deadline for fun, as well as some Hollywood gossip sites), the 80s, television (I watch quite a bit of it), makeup/fashion, astrology, literature (not interested in publishing, but I do like to read). I like going down Wikipedia rabbit holes and just going wherever the wind takes me.
-I’m also bizarrely interested in American Express and have been since childhood. I even wrote an overly enthusiastic essay about it about it that some said sounded like an ad. I’m a cardholder, and when giving my opinion on CCs I recommend them whenever I can. Yes, this is an extremely bizarre interest. Yes, I’ve applied for jobs there (admin jobs, since that’s the only thing I’m qualified for right now). No, nothing has panned out.
-For other skills: I do have a really good attention to detail. I love analyzing things-- I had a lot of experience analyzing literature in college, but since then I’ve been fascinated with figuring out the whys and hows of something. I’m also persistent, and can be a really quick learner if I’m interested in the subject matter. I can type about 60 wpm. I’m really good at Internet research. I know some French and Italian, but I’m much better at reading/writing than I am at speaking. I plan to learn Spanish at some point but I don’t know when. I know my way around Microsoft Office and Adobe Acrobat, but not much else, though, again, I’m a quick learner.

What I’m looking for in a job:
-I’m in NYC and I’d like to stay there for now. I want to move to LA sometime in the future but I don’t have a set date or anything like that.
-I’d like to move out of the public/non-profit sector.
-I’m an introvert, so while I have customer service/reception experience, I’m not overly big on constant interaction with people.
-I’d like to be somewhere where I can advance in my career, or at least learn something. It’s a huge issue at my current position, and I feel like if I had at least the opportunity to advance here I might not be so frustrated. I want to be promoted, and maybe even have my own assistant one day. Business cards wouldn’t be so bad either. I guess I’m trying to say that I want to feel valued.
-This may sound weird, but I really envy my friends who have to travel for work. I’ll be lucky if I ever make it up to even Albany during my time here. I actually like traveling-- I don’t even mind dealing with the minutiae, like schedules. I wouldn’t say no to a job that required travel.
-The ability to work from home would be nice, too, but it’s not required or anything. It’s something I’d only do if I had to, and I wouldn’t make a habit of it.
-I’m not in a position where I can take something super low-paying. I also need something with health insurance-- I had skull base/brain surgery last month, and while I’m back at work, I’m not technically fully healed and won’t be for the next several months. I have periodic doctor’s appointments scheduled for at least that long. Needless to say, quitting and taking an unpaid internship someplace is not an option. Neither is moving back home.
-I guess above all else, what I want is a job that won’t treat me as a less-than because of my Asperger’s, if such a thing even exists. I’m not valued at my current job and because of that I often feel like I have nothing to offer anyone, anywhere. I want to believe that this isn’t true. I want to know that there are workplaces out there that won’t mind my quirkiness and jobs that I can do well. I want to know how to find out if a potential workplace would be like that.

If you got through this, I’ll buy you a cookie if I meet you IRL. I feel so hopeless right now, so I’d literally appreciate any advice you all could give. Thank you so much in advance!
posted by Puck Soppet to Work & Money (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
How firm are you on wanting out of public service? I ask mainly because you have a lot of protection there, and because it's reasonably easy to get a better job by changing agencies. Depending on the details of your current position, you may even be able to preserve your seniority and "tenure" this way.
posted by SMPA at 11:29 AM on April 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: SMPA, I wouldn't rule it out completely, but I'm worried that I'll run into the same problems re: lack of advancement precisely because there's so much protection. I'm also really tired of the bureaucracy, and I think the private sector would be a breath of fresh air.
posted by Puck Soppet at 11:31 AM on April 23, 2016

How about accounting? You'd have to go back to school, of course. But I've known accountants who've traveled all over the world (and not just to Albany!). You could specialize in a bunch of different areas, say, entertainment industry accounting, if you moved to LA. The job is always in demand and pays well.
posted by imalaowai at 11:35 AM on April 23, 2016

There are a couple of different ways to go about this, and you can do both at the same time: 1) figure out the career you want, then figure out how to get there 2) figure out the next small step - look for another job with better advancement potential that plays somewhat more to your interests.

I've always gotten stuck and overwhelmed with the first approach. The second has worked out for me. I've had a few different career crises, particularly in my 20s, and often they weren't terribly productive although they took up a lot of energy (your experience may vary). Ultimately what got me into a better situation was just taking a small step to a job that wasn't much of a stretch, to another job that wasn't much of a stretch, until I wound up in a role that I like and have been in for several years. YMMV, just know that there's more than one way to proceed.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 12:32 PM on April 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

Most jobs which require travel, do so because they require a lot of personal interaction. I'm an introvert myself, and have survived jobs like that, but it's tiring.

Retail is often pretty accepting of quirky, but it also often requires working your way up, so you would need to find a position with your salary/benefits requirements.

What makes you so interested and excited about AmEx? Can you boil it down in a way which you could extend to other brands? Customer service or call center for a bank might be an appropriate place to start-- the pay isn't great when you begin, but on the other hand it is reasonably easy to work your way up if you are actually interested in the subject matter and the organisation is big enough. But then you have the talking to people thing--

Can you define what would be your highest priority in your next step? Noted that health insurance and at least the same pay as you have now are base requirements, but what is the absolute highest priority for you? Subject matter? Advancement opportunities? Travel?

And just as a note of advice, you may want to wait to be a little bit more healed before you start applying for new jobs. I say this because it seems important to you to start with a clean slate and not be perceived as difficult and complicated before you begin. So you may want to make sure you feel your best when you jump and use the time now to work on yourself in ways which build either your self confidence or your cv.
posted by frumiousb at 5:57 PM on April 23, 2016

My guess is that the right next job for you has the word Analyst in the title. That seems to be the current term for a person who can draw logical conclusions and write reports but does not expect a managerial role.

Here's a specific strategy. Do that MOOC you're interested in, and do several Excel tutorials: however many you need to state confidently that you are proficient in Excel. Then start applying to/ doing informational interviews around every job you can find labeled Analyst. You won't be qualified for all of them, but the process of applying will help you figure out what other qualifications you might want to acquire.
posted by yarntheory at 7:01 PM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm not trying to be mean here but there are thousands of other people out there who want to travel and have their own admins too. Having interests in the 80s and gossip sites isn't going to get you there, sorry.

Also from what I've seen, in most American work places social skills and emotional intelligence are critical to career development and getting ahead and getting your own admin, if that is truly your goal. If you don't want to interact with people much, research comes to mind but that often requires specialized schooling. Accounting may work but most of the accountants I know have good social skills and work with people a good amount of time.

Focus on the actual skills and qualifications you bring, for example the attention to detail. Then figure out what you want to do and what you need to do to get there.
posted by seesom at 8:22 PM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's miserable being somewhere you don't feel valued, but...proceed with caution. On average, the private sector is a lot less tolerant of social difficulties/disabilities than the public. Whatever you did that got you an office at your current job might well have gotten you fired (or at least permanently damaged your career prospects) in the private sector. So, pay very close attention to the atmosphere of any workplace you might be considering.

Accounting is an interesting suggestion if you find the work manageable. You can't avoid social interaction altogether--for instance, if you do taxes, you have to deal with people concerning a sensitive topic--but it's not all the time. You can take an accounting class online or at a local school, just to see it suits your brain. (NYU offers classes, for instance. Often such classes are tax-deductible.)

But, just looking at what you say here, it doesn't sound like you hate the work you're doing so much as you don't like the sense of not being valued or able to advance (entirely reasonable). Nor does it sound as if you have a great attraction to a specific other type of job. So is there any reason you couldn't try to apply for similar jobs, just in the private sector? Comp will be an issue but, with several years' experience, you might be able to make your salary requirement.
posted by praemunire at 8:49 PM on April 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

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