Almost 30 with No Skills, How to Correct?
June 10, 2016 6:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm almost 30 with no real marketable job skills and I'm having a hard time figuring out a way to correct this.

Hi all,

Like the title of my question asks, I'm almost 30 with what I feel are no real marketable job skills and I'm struggling with coming up with an idea of how to correct this. The last 10 years of my work history has been really random because I've had a hard time finding a job that I could really click with and grow into, and I made the mistake of job hopping too frequently.

After high school I went straight into the military however had to ETS early due to military sexual trauma which culminated into PTSD so I was honorably discharged with full benefits at 21. After the military I worked a few jobs during my college years (fast food, phlebotomist, data entry, yoga teacher, dental assistant, call center, piano teacher) and after graduation in 2013 I have been stuck in the finance sector working accounts payable, auto loan underwriter and now my current job as a tax analyst.

My bachelors degree is in Communication, and this is something that I settled on after what I feel were failed attempts at biochem (in preparation for med school or nursing), social work, and interdisciplinary studies. I had no idea what to do so I picked the shortest major, switched to online classes so I could work full time and powered through.

I'm becoming very concerned about my work life. I'm unhappy at work although there are things about it I like such as good benefits and my boss is a fantastic person to work for. I know my job is ill fitting but I've never once had a job that I could really click with. I've thought about going back to school but I have no idea what I would study, and when I think long term about the type of work I'd like to do I always draw a big blank. I'm not sure why but I've always struggled with seeing myself fitting into a specific industry or career. The only thing that was remotely interesting to me, is training others. In past jobs I had the opportunity to occasionally train new hires and I loved doing that, but there aren't a lot of job listings for "trainers" and this isn't something I get to do very much of at my current job because turnover is extremely low and my team only has 6 people on it. There are times I think I'd eventually like to become a manager, however I really don't have the personality for that and I've been told by past supervisors that being in a leadership position didn't really seem well suited for me.

I'm not sure where to go from here. Without any set industry I'd like to work in, I don't want to keep job hopping because I have been told by a few hiring managers (I went on a few interviews about 6 months ago) that they were concerned that I haven't stayed in one place for very long. I've thought about staying in my current position and trying to move up, but I've been there for a year and know the position isn't a good fit for me. Going back to school probably isn't a good idea at this point as I don't know what I'd study.

Has anyone been in a similar situation? Were you stuck in ill fitting jobs and what did you do about it? Would it be more feasible to stay and try to make the job work for me, or should I just keep an eye on job postings until I find one that sounds sort of interesting that matches my weak skill set? How does one become successful or make a decent wage when they struggle with moving up?
posted by Firestorm 2018 to Work & Money (9 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, there's a lot of jobs for trainers. There's a very large professional group for people working in the training and development sector called ATD (Association for Talent Development). And a lot of those folks seemed to have stumbled ass-backwards into the career. I have always felt a little out of place at their gatherings because my degree is in education and most of the folks I meet have degrees completely unrelated to training and education.

Ultimately though it just depends on your orientation towards your work/life balance. I think, contrary to what the internet presents, the vast majority of people have done and will continue to do what you are doing now: found a random job with great benefits that doesn't follow them home at night and isn't a "callling" and stayed put because it puts food on the table and pays the bills. There's absolutely nothing wrong with being okay with that. To me it doesn't sound like your skillset is weak, it just sounds like you aren't working at something that is your passion. But I think the question you have to answer for yourself is, does that matter to you? Because it doesn't have to matter.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:41 AM on June 10, 2016 [5 favorites]

Not everyone finds themselves in a traditional career vocation - there are plenty of us who meandered to where we are today. So while you may not have to come up with a specific job title, I'd really recommend working through a few books that will help you define your skills.

"What colour is your Parachute" is a classic for this.

I also recommend:

"Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams" by Barbara Sher

"The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success" by Nicholas Lore
posted by A hidden well at 6:46 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

You may need to go back to school to prepare for a more satisfying job. Assuming you're in the US, have you looked at the Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook? It might help you to narrow down some possible careers. Here's the page that shows the jobs with the most growth in the next few years.

A friend of mine, also a veteran and your age, just graduated from a 2 yr associates degree program to be a Physical Therapy Assistant (one of the top ones on that list) and she's already making more money than I do, and my job requires a masters
posted by mareli at 6:59 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I would look at whether your current job would allow you to also do work inside Human Resources either on secondment or as a temporary transfer. Consider a premise based on a few choices:
1. Train the trainer, developing resources for new starters and continuing professional development.
2. Expanding capabilities, improving the time performance of your area.
These kinds of projects are great for finding a way to make a clear lateral to what one hopes will be a managerial opportunity.
I would privately be looking for ways to advertise your work, possibly through an industry publication or event.

The other possibility, which may be more remote but can be lucrative, is getting involved in business development at your company. I bet whoever is out selling is making a bundle with base plus commission. Selling is never easy. In your first two years one can focus on a handful of clients, which will mainly be new business. With your experience, you may be able to pitch a role where you try to sell bundles of services to reluctant existing clients by acting as an account manager. You can learn so much so fast that you may get imposter syndrome. The only way to beat it is to be realistic and aggressive on price, seek advice, and have a heart.

Many roll their eyes at sales. I suggest it because what you do is essential for all kinds of companies, organisations and people. If you looked at all of the times you have been truly comfortable, the referrals that could be created by selling tax analysis or other services could be an inexpensive way to make steps in a new direction.
posted by parmanparman at 7:33 AM on June 10, 2016

I'm not quite sure what you should do, but you are incredibly young and have many opportunities to make a change! I'm not convinced that the "follow your passion" advice always works well -- I think Cal Newport's book on this topic is interesting.

I was intrigued in your post that you said earlier you wanted to do healthcare/social work but didn't take the classes -- are you still interested in those fields? It's a lot to ask of a college student to do that coursework, but you may feel much more ready and motivated to do them now -- so don't discount that! Feel free to revisit old interests that you weren't able to follow through on before -- none of those doors are probably closed.

Good luck!
posted by heavenknows at 8:08 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am also 30 and felt lost until I got the job I have now. I recently hit my one year mark here so I talked to about 20 people who either were on my team or who I worked with. I asked them three questions:

1. What would you say is the most valuable, marketable, unique, or useful skill that I bring to the company?
2. What is a misconception that I might have, that I should challenge?
3. What can I learn in the next one to two years that will help me be successful over the next 10 years?

I was surprised that so many coworkers had useful advice to give. There seemed to be no correlation between how close I worked with someone, and how insightful they were into my skillset.

(The key is to listen and turn it into a conversation, an exploration of their opinions. All they have is what they believe - your job is to make sure you get an accurate understanding of what they thing; and then, later on, by yourself, make up your mind as to if you agree with them or not.)

Good luck! Feel free to memail me if you you want to hear more info.
posted by rebent at 8:17 AM on June 10, 2016 [6 favorites]

Seconding reading Barbara Scher's Refuse to Choose, although you may or may not find that more relatable if you feel like you have too many interests, as opposed to unsure what your real interests are.

My suggestion? Write up a list of your favorite (non-work) activities, past times and hobbies. Don't hold back, even if one of the things is "watch Netflix." Now, are there local (or perhaps even virtual) volunteer and/or Meetup activities you could pursue, that relate to or involve some of those activities? For example, let's say that you enjoy cycling so you join a local cycling meetup group. This introduces you to the local bike co-op and, as it turns out, maybe you discover you really enjoy repairing bikes, or handling day to day operational matters for a bike shop. Or, you enjoy gardening, and find a nearby organic farm or vineyard that needs help during the harvest. Volunteering with the farm/vineyard perhaps makes you realize that you love working outdoors, or the steps involved in winemaking, or running farm operations, etc. You take it from there.

The point of this suggestion is to encourage you to seek out low risk (since you aren't switching jobs or starting more college classes) introductions to how your personal interests and passions might play out in a work context- thus volunteering with related organizations. It's worth a shot, anyway, and worst case scenario you learn a few new things, make a few new friends, network, or figure out what you definitely *don't* want to do. Good luck to you!
posted by nightrecordings at 11:52 AM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

When I saw the before the jump of your question, I thought you would be somebody who'd been working retail for 7 years ... but that's a far cry from "accounts payable, auto loan underwriter and now my current job as a tax analyst."

Your career history implies that you are at least as good a position as most people three years out of college in terms of both your skills and the job market's appreciation for your skills (which, alas, can be very different things.)

The vast majority of good non-technical jobs a person in his or her 30s can have involve two basic skills: the ability efficiently to apply rules to facts with attention to detail and attention to nuance, and the ability to communicate efficiently and effectively. That's true if you're a company commander in the Army and it's true if you're a marketing coordinator for a grocery store chain and it's true for most jobs in between.

Stay in your current job for another year to two. (That advice is good.) Get promoted if you can (promotion is the GOLD STANDARD for any resume any where). (Start to) do things you can be passionate about where you meet people who are in a position to introduce you to job opportunities. Things will happen for you, guaranteed.
posted by MattD at 12:39 PM on June 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

There are many jobs for trainers - every company generally has a team of several people. I'd suggest searching using keywords such as "learning" "development" "training coordinator" "training specialist," etc. It's a field with a lot of titles, so sometimes you need to hunt.

Do you have a good relationship with your supervisor? Could you ask them to help you gain some specific skills or take on some new projects to keep you interested?
posted by Amanda B at 10:03 PM on June 10, 2016

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