Help me find someone to help me find a job in Chicago
January 3, 2017 5:10 PM   Subscribe

I live and work in Chicago, and I have got to find a new job. However, at 47 years of age, even with a degree from a prestigious university and plenty of skills and intelligence, my "on paper" work history leaves me no way to cobble together a résumé that would mildly interest anyone, and I am wary of services that offer to help you turn out a great C.V./cover letter/etc. (for a price, of course). The job-hunting sites online all contradict one another about everything. I don't know how to job hunt, but I'm desperate to get out of my current job--and, more importantly, into a job I can actually bear (I'm not going to shoot for the moon and say I've got to like it).

I graduated Northwestern University in 1991 with a bachelor's in Speech and Communications. I have worked as an admin in advertising, as the webmaster of Chicago's PBS station (waaaaaay too long ago for anything I knew then to translate to web work now), and as agent support in luxury real estate--plus I tutor high-school students in English and math in the evenings. I'm very good at many things for which I have no "official" professional experience. I can't afford to live on an entry-level salary (thanks, school loans and medical bills!), but I don't have the requisite years of $JOBTITLE to apply for anything much higher.

My résumé is going to be full of holes, because I went back to school in 2006 for an education degree, but ran out of money and couldn't finish the program. I also took some time off for myself and did nothing after my grandmother died, and I can't even imagine how you put those years on paper. "Bummed around for a while" doesn't exactly instill confidence in a prospective boss.

The most annoying part is that, while I was a very early adapter and I'm super tech-savvy, my age on paper instantly dings me as "probably not great with computers/social media/young people in general," not to mention that "old lady with a patchwork résumé looking for a job that pays $38,000-$42,000" is going to get me nowhere (this is what I make now, so I'm not high-balling the salary range). Plus, some of that job experience was 20 years ago.

I don't know where to start. I don't know how to start. I do know, however, that I have got to get out of this job, because it is killing me.

Can someone please point me to the starting line?
posted by tzikeh to Work & Money (42 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Do you want to teach? The New Teacher's project takes prople with your skill set and part of an education degree would be an asset.
posted by aetg at 5:12 PM on January 3, 2017

Response by poster: New Teacher's Project doesn't exist in Chicago, and they require a bachelor's degree in chosen field of teaching. I tutor high-school English and math because I'm good at it and I love it and I love teaching, but I don't have a degree in either of those subjects (even though I was just nine credits short of an English bachelor's when I had to withdraw from my Sec Ed program).
posted by tzikeh at 5:27 PM on January 3, 2017

Have you googled "skills-based resume"?

I'm not sure if they're in vogue any more because honestly this stuff is basically tea leaf reading and no one actually knows what is truly effective, but I used one and it got me good results when I was 40 and had been an underpaid psych lab research assistant forever and wanted to move into instructional technology and design.

Another thing that helped was having an online portfolio that demonstrated the skills my resume said I had.
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:33 PM on January 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

I bet some of the larger museums could use you in their Comms dept! Try the Field and the AIC. Your cover letter can fill in the "gaps" in your CV. University admin can also use tech savvy folks in many comms (rather than UT) areas.
posted by mollymillions at 5:34 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

oops, typo. "IT" not "UT"!
posted by mollymillions at 5:35 PM on January 3, 2017

I helped someone get into a great job once by redoing their resume. We used the format that is skills based and highlighted what they did at their most favorite job instead of at their last job. It got them back into a similar job and they were thrilled.

A similar approach might help here, I think. Pull up the standard resume formats on Word, use the one that focuses on skills and abilities instead of job timeline.
posted by Michele in California at 5:35 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You have a broad skillset and experience. That's actually a good thing, but it can be hard to narrow things down. I've said this here a million times, but a resume is a marketing document, not a historical record. Be honest, but remember use it to your advantage. Think of a few jobs that meet your criteria, and then backwards engineer your resume from there.

So let's say you want to work as a legal secretary, which is around the same pay range. (I'm throwing that out there because my resume is kinda random and I did that for a while and really liked it.) To find jobs like that, you'd backwards-engineer your resume to play up your strong writing, analytic, research, admin, and organizational skills, and your ability to work on deadline. Even better if you apply for firms that work with real estate, since you have germane work experience there. You'd of course leave off anything that's not germane.

Another thing. I've been reading your comments here for ages and they're smart and insightful. Stop undermining yourself by calling yourself an old woman with a patchwork resume. That's not what you are, and no one wants a candidate who says this.

What hiring managers want is someone who 1) is capable, 2) seems reasonable, 3) seems easy to get along with, 4) seems enthusiastic about the field and picks up stuff reasonable, and 5) is willing to put up with the work and the responsibilities at hand.

25% of the battle is identifying your strengths and the other 75% is genuinely believing in them.
posted by mochapickle at 5:55 PM on January 3, 2017 [31 favorites]

By the way, I'm not a huge fan of the skills-based resume because sometimes it looks like you're hiding something. You can do the same thing very well within a traditional, chronological resume -- just be sure that every job plays up a solid thread of your skills and interests (like, you're super organized, or take on those odd special projects that no one else could handle, or you are excellent at cutting costs or enacting new processes, etc.)
posted by mochapickle at 5:58 PM on January 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Spitbull - I don't want to make a lateral move. I ended up in a support position at a luxury real estate company entirely randomly, and I have got to get out. It's horrifying for so many reasons; I cry every day when I get home from work. This is not an exaggeration.

Skills at this job? Well, all of the standard admin skills apply (Office and Outlook, excellent written/spoken communication skills, a variety of proprietary software skills). I'm also the unofficial office tech support - we have an IT department for the company, but we have 18 offices in the city, many with over 100 agents, and 5 IT guys, so you know how that goes.

There are two things that I get to do at this job that I'm great at and that I enjoy. One is teaching the agents how to use our various intranet sites and our proprietary software. I love holding mini-seminars for agents on how to use the tools that the company offers for marketing, transaction management, etc. The other is copywriting/proofreading. I get to do this scattershot; it's not an official part of my job. For example, something from the Marketing department is sent out to the staff so we have a heads-up on what's coming for the agents. I take the opportunity to contact Marketing with a cleaned-up, rewritten, corrected version (they're actually happy for me to do this, oddly enough). Another example is that sometimes agents come to me with correspondence they want to send out, and will ask me to look it over/make changes and corrections.

I hope that answers your question.
posted by tzikeh at 5:59 PM on January 3, 2017

What is it called when people (consultants? sales?) come onsite to train people how to do new software? That's what's hitting me from your answer.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:02 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I promise to stop thread-sitting and walk away for a while after this comment, but the heart of my question really is how do I look for a job? Where do I start? What do I do/where do I go to get help starting a job search? I have literally no idea, and applying through all of these websites like Indeed and Monster is akin to shouting into the void as far as I can tell.
posted by tzikeh at 6:12 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

While building your resume, I'd suggest seeking out specific Meetups tailored for career changes and networking. I'd spent several months submitting resumes online with little success. I ended up landing a job through a job fair. The lesson learned was, 'people hire people'.
posted by mountainblue at 6:15 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

1) Get a copy of What color is your parachute? It is super useful.

2) Ask everyone you know -- especially acquaintances -- for job leads. This is something studies show works.
posted by Michele in California at 6:18 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think what you want is a career counselor.

Shop for one that fits your approach.
posted by amtho at 6:22 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: What is it called when people (consultants? sales?) come onsite to train people how to do new software? That's what's hitting me from your answer.

Technical trainer? That's kind of what I do, but I'm in-house at university and split my time between support and training for all supported educational technologies. I also have a degree in teaching. That + being good with computers is a great background for this kind of work. A lot of technical people haven't the first inkling how to train anyone to use the same tech. So, OP, definitely look at all the local universities and colleges for educational or instructional technology positions.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:30 PM on January 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Career counselor is your friend. Great investment.
posted by mmf at 6:30 PM on January 3, 2017

Why don't you finish your English credits at night while still working? There is a national teacher shortage looming, and Chicago should be a prime location to start. I would contact the Chicago school board (or the equivalent to NYC's DOE)- you may be surprised. I would also be surprised if they don't have transitional programs- usually you just need a certain # of undergrad credits in the area, while your degree can actually be in something else.
posted by bquarters at 6:41 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is there any reason you haven't contacted the Northwestern career office? They serve alumni in addition to current students. They may be able to provide all the services you need, but at the very least they should be able to provide some and then refer you to others for more extensive guidance.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:45 PM on January 3, 2017

Focus more on the networking part than the sending out blind resumes part. You can send out thousands of resumes with no return these days, especially since your background is nuanced. (Networking is easier said than done, but look into mixers, job fairs, meetups, LinkedIn, and any way you think you can get the word out.)

I believe your skills are broadly needed, but the opportunities might have many different job titles. One way in might be IT help desk/support (considered entry level for tech jobs), which pays well relative to an admin track. Some of those roles are more about managing programs/processes/people rather than Windows errors, and you will look for somebody who wants an educated, mature woman for once instead of another lazy kid.
posted by troyer at 7:05 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am wary of services that offer to help you turn out a great C.V./cover letter/etc. (for a price, of course)

That's an odd formulation. If you said you were wary of people offering resume-writing services because it's an unregulated industry with zero barrier to entry so how do you know if anybody's any good...then yeah, I'm totally on board. But if you're wary of the idea that people would charge money for a valuable service...? That's just odd.

Ask around and get a recommendation. When I was job searching last year, the best decision I made was hiring a (published and well-recommended) professional to redo my resume. When my colleagues heard how much I'd paid her, they laughed at me. They stopped laughing when I doubled my salary a month later. And they all immediately redrafted their resumes using the language she'd written for mine. Sure, the world's full of hacks, but a valuable service is, well, valuable.

(I'm happy to provide her contact info for anybody who's seriously interested. She ain't cheap, but she's absolutely worth it. She came highly recommended; and I've since referred others, who left equally satisfied. MeFiMail is switched on for requests.)
posted by cribcage at 8:28 PM on January 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

To me, your skills sound like they might be a good fit for property management

- the real estate stuff isn't super relevant, but adjacent.
- the informal tech support is a thing for anyone with online rent/apartment posting work
- your age might read as reliable/responsible, rather than old.
posted by mercredi at 8:28 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Cribcage - I phrased that poorly. Of course someone should charge for a valuable service. I meant that I have no way of knowing who can actually provide that valuable service and how do I know they're any good, as you say.

Doubling your salary sounds like a dream, of course, but my guess is that it wasn't solely the reworked résumé that did it -- you most likely work in a field that requires a specific degree and advanced skill set. I can't see a reworking of my job history on paper--even an extremely well-organized and targeted reworking--landing me an 80k job (or even a 60k job), with my education and employment background. Correct me if I'm wrong.
posted by tzikeh at 8:38 PM on January 3, 2017

nthing trying through connections rather than than job postings. Buy people you know coffee and ask them what they do and what they get from their work.

Many job applications now use horrid algorithmic keyword matching to automatically weed out resumes and cover letters that don't hit 85-95% exact matches, and services like jobscan have sprung up to “help”. This is bloody awful for many reasons, and leads to the less reputable career counsellors suggesting stupid keyword-stuffing SEO tricks like pasting the entire job ad in tiny white-on-white text at the end of your resume …

You have my sympathy. I'm an also-47 jobseeker with a career that's more of a verb than a noun in an industry that essentially no longer exists …
posted by scruss at 8:51 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Are you looking for a job or a career? Those are different things.

If you just need a job, go to a staffing firm. There are a few big ones in Chicago. At the very least, it will solve your immediate problem, but it is very common for companies to do a temp-to-hire thing for admin type positions. Unless you want to break in to a specific field, this is the best way to go.
posted by deathpanels at 9:38 PM on January 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I was going to say that if you can swing it financially, it would probably do wonders for your mental health to quit your job and go to a staffing agency - and sometimes those places can actually place you in temp-to-hire jobs.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:52 PM on January 3, 2017

Response by poster: I cannot swing it financially to leave my job for a staffing agency, and I absolutely 100% can't go without healthcare for a single day. Also I have no business wear, as my office is all business casual.
posted by tzikeh at 10:30 PM on January 3, 2017

Use your network!!! You have hundreds of agents in luxury real estate with corporate clients who know how great you are? Talk to them. You don't have to say anything negative about your job, just mention causally your interests or ask about businesses they work with- oh, I've actually thought about doing that or - I really enjoy this aspect of my job or aspect of my old job, you have clients that do that/ you do that? How do you like it as a full time thing? Put yourself out there as an ambitious and knowledgeable person with skills they'd be lucky to have. Maybe some real estate lawyer is looking for office manager or an events planning company needs project managers. That's a dynamic and business savvy group you're part of. Use it. Just never, never speak badly of the job you have now, don't confide how unhappy you are even over a chatty lunch or cocktails. Bargain from a position of strength: you are happy and successful but could be talked into trading up. Maybe you want to move or retire early or whatever. Make it up.

It sounds like you'd be an incredible asset to a smaller business or an executive assistant/ business-runner kind of role. You obviously know how business works, people trust your judgement and you have very marketable skills at keeping an office running and keeping sales staff looking professional. And you can write and teach and put together a curriculum. That's huge. There are all kinds of technical people out there who need those skills so they can sell theirs.
posted by fshgrl at 11:15 PM on January 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Best answer: "it's not an official part of my job"

"I'm very good at many things for which I have no "official" professional experience"

These are red herrings! Who cares if it's in your job description - on your CV you put what you've done, not what you were hired to do. Employers are interested in what you have experience doing, not what your old "official" job descriptions were.

Looks like you have experience in:
Organising training seminars
Writing Marketing materials
Office admin
Office IT support
Broadcasting, Advertising, and Real Estate industries

Your skills include:
Excellent written/spoken communication skills
Training (English, Maths, [list of software packages])
MS Office, Outlook, [list all software you're half-decent at here, maybe tailor to specific job if relevant]

At this point in life, people care about what you've done and what you can do more than they care about about what education you got or why you were out of work last decade.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:26 AM on January 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

No one in thread has recommended Ask a Manager yet - huge wealth of info and material online, for free (though I also highly recommend her book, and if you're overwhelmed by how much is on the site, quite possibly a worthwhile investment.) You can get specific info on resumes and cover letters, and there's extensive commentaries from people in positions like yours if you do a bit of reading / hunting for it.

Stuff that springs to mind: Are you good at Excel? Could you be, with a bit of practice? That's a skill that's got broad applications, and where 'I don't know how to do it right now, but I can figure it out fast' skills can both be very useful, and they're rarer than a lot of employers would like. (Another option, though harder to get practice with, is Salesforce).

You could also look at kinds of places you'd like to work - for example, you might end up being a great fit for an admin role at a school. Big universities tend to be hard to break into, but a smaller school that does its own hiring (rather than funnelling through a huge system) might have an opening if you spend some time hunting, and not all of those jobs are entry-level pay (think something like front office manager, managing programs, etc.) You'd probably have to check individual school sites or find local job postings.

There's also ways to explain the mixed history - you have a job now, so clearly you're employable! If people ask about breaks, come up with a brief explanation "I was able to take some time off around the time my grandmother died to help with family needs." or whatever.

If you can come up with a technological project or two (website for your tutoring business, maybe with some online materials people can use as a sample?) putting that on your resume can be a way to indicate you have varied tech skills. I have a professional blog where I write less frequently than I'd like, but when I've been job hunting, regular posts there have been a way to signal I have varied tech skills (the site) and am keeping up with discussions in the field (the content).
posted by modernhypatia at 5:45 AM on January 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

Don't discount staffing firms - a good chunk of their work is placing people into permanent jobs with benefits. Can't hurt to take a day off and meet with a few. Look for the professional offices, not the clerical/light industrial 'temp' agencies.
posted by look busy at 6:04 AM on January 4, 2017

I know several people who have used a particular individual in the Memphis area to upgrade their resume. Yes, she charges a fee, but man, it's been worth it. Everyone I know had such great results, if I didn't know them personally I would think it was a scam. I am 60 years old, and I really don't know anything about search optimization, which is evidently the juju magic that rules the job-search world these days.

So, my advice would be to ask around and find someone who's good at it and pay the fee. In my experience, it will be worth every penny.
posted by raisingsand at 6:10 AM on January 4, 2017

I know that midlife fatigue feeling, but I think you've got the wrong end of the stick here in a lot of ways. You know you're a good worker and learner who can train and grow with a company. You also know you need a full time job with benefits. This is doable. Your past work history sounds really explainable to me.

Starting line:
- Read Ask A Manager and if you can afford her ebooks, I recommend them.
- get a second eye on your resume
- probably you've done this but get your LinkedIn in gear
- remember that men apply for jobs when they meet 80% of the qualifications. Women wait for 100%. We don't need to.
- join networking groups in your area - I haven't tried Lean In circles but I hear good things
- as much as possible cut the negative self-talk
- agreed to cheerfully let everyone know you're looking to trade up
- I had much better responses in my last jobbhunt from Glassdoor and LinkedIn over Monster etc., but I had the best response when I was actually looking at individual sites of organizations I loved.

Job searching is really really hard so please be kind to yourself.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:24 AM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

These are red herrings! Who cares if it's in your job description - on your CV you put what you've done, not what you were hired to do. Employers are interested in what you have experience doing, not what your old "official" job descriptions were.

This is totally true! I sometimes write documents which require me to get input from multiple people in a way that resembles project management, so my resume says 'I take the lead on managing [document] projects.' I changed up the way we do a specific internal report and had meetings with the staff about how to complete the report, so my resume says I 'implemented a new internal reporting system and trained others in its use.' Neither of those things is part of my official job description and they don't represent a huge amount of my total time, but I did do them and they do reflect my skills.

It sounds like you've done similar stuff - all you have to do is dress it up and then say you did it.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:52 AM on January 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

I'll also say - a shitty workplace can make you feel as if you have no real skills and no worth as an employee. It's a hell of a lot like an abusive relationship that way. That may be part of what's going on for you right now. Maybe thinking of it in those terms could be helpful to you - it isn't that you don't have skills, it's that your current job is going out of their way, either consciously or unconsciously, to make you feel as if you have no skills.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:10 AM on January 4, 2017 [10 favorites]

As for where to look that isn't Indeed and Monster, I'd suggest LinkedIn and Built In Chicago. The latter is a website for tech companies, but there are marketing/admin/communication jobs within those companies posted there. Just as an example: my boyfriend has a degree in theater, primary work experience in theater and at an Apple retail store, and now works for a company doing client "onboarding," which means holding trainings via phone/web conference, writing documentation, and answering incoming support calls for the companies that use their software. He found his job on Built In Chicago. His company is actually well established (not funded by venture capital) and he has health insurance and stuff. You do have to be careful with startups and do your due dilligence about the stability of the company, work culture, etc. of course, but that's an option.

Another option is to look into the association world. Chicago is second only to Washington DC for number of trade associations, professional societies, etc. Associations are typically gender balanced (if not heavily female) and not super youth-focused, and often have good benefits. Association Forum is the Chicago association for people who work in associations (yes, really) and they have a job board. I work for a membership association in the real estate sector and we're hiring for a few positions right now, including a customer service position that might be a good fit for you. (Memail me if you'd like to see the listing.)

Obviously, gender and age discrimination are real, especially in the tech sector, but if you really need to get out of where you are now you're gonna have to put yourself out there. Don't weed yourself out, let the companies do the weeding. You may be surprised at what you find.
posted by misskaz at 8:04 AM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I can't network with agents in my office -- then my manager will know I'm looking for a job! I don't even have a LinkedIn thing - like I said in the OP, I've never actually applied for any job I've had. Everything has either been temp-to-perm or fell backwards into.
posted by tzikeh at 10:52 AM on January 4, 2017

So make a LinkedIn profile. Add everyone you work or have worked with. List all your skills and experience. You don't need to specify that you're looking for a job, often recruiters will just contact you anyway if you fit a vacancy they're trying to fill.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 11:50 AM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Won't making a LinkedIn profile and linking to people I work with look awfully suspicious to those people?
posted by tzikeh at 12:16 PM on January 4, 2017

Where I work, almost everyone has one. And most people are linked to pretty much everyone they know. It's not something only job seekers do. And barely anyone actually goes on there to look at what other people are up to. If someone I worked with connected to me, the only thing I'd think would be "oh, they're on LinkedIn now".
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:32 PM on January 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

In response to your most recent question - no, I don't think adding someone on LinkedIn is a sign that you're looking for a new job. I have a LinkedIn profile and regularly add people from my workplace, partner organizations, and past jobs. I'm definitely not looking for a new job, but I like that it lets me keep all of my professional contacts in one place. This might be industry specific, but I've always seen LinkedIn as a networking tool rather than a way to directly search for a new job.

I would not be suspicious if someone I managed added me, and I am connected with my supervisor and senior management team. Almost everyone in my field has a LinkedIn profile, and I suspect this is true for people in real estate.

If you make a LinkedIn profile and someone does give you a hard time about it (they won't!) there are plenty of other reasons for creating an account that you can cite to:
--organizing your professional contacts
--connecting with former colleagues or alumni groups
--responding to requests for endorsements from current/former co-workers
posted by cimton at 12:44 PM on January 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: So - just after I marked off best answers, my situation became exponentially more dire. Cribcage, I sent you a MeMail for your résumé writer suggestion, but have not heard back. If you see this, please check MeMail.

It looks like I am being given two weeks' "Personal Improvement Plan," meaning unless things drastically improve, I'm going to be let go -- on the day Donald Trump takes office.

I'm fucked. Can anyone in Chicago take in two beautiful cats? I will likely be homeless in two months.
posted by tzikeh at 8:11 PM on January 5, 2017

You're going to be OK. Really. You are.

I can take a look at your resume in a pinch. (I've been on both sides of the interview desk.) Just memail me...
posted by mochapickle at 8:16 PM on January 5, 2017

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