Recently graduated at 26 - feeling directionless and looking for advice
January 8, 2018 1:07 AM   Subscribe

I graduated uni recently at age 26. I did well in school (summa cum laude) and got a seemingly applicable-to-many-things degree in Business Administration. Im trying to leave my current bartending job and dip my toes in the 9-5 lifestyle, away from the usual grind of the service industry, but I don’t know the best route to get started and haven’t gotten very pointed advice from friends or family. I also feel lost on what my passion is in general. Can anyone give this floundering 26 year-old some life advice?

Back story:

In my early 20’s, I took a gap year - which turned into not one, but several years - to travel through Europe and South America, all on my own dime. I enrolled back in my university at 25 to finish up my remaining credits, and was able to finish them all online which allowed me to live in a bigger city away from my small university town. During the period while I was finishing up my credits, I lived off of income made from serving and bartending and since graduating, I’ve picked up more hours at the bar I work at.

Now, I’m just kind of directionless.

Although it gets me by, I’m BURNT OUT from the service industry and the food and beverage industry at large. I’m looking at getting into a different field and am feeling… lost. As far as my professional network goes, in my year and a half living here (in big midwestern city), I’ve made a lot of good friends, but 90 percent of them work in bars and restaurants. I also don’t necessarily have a network from school since I finished my coursework remotely. My parents are from a small to medium-sized town and didn’t go to college. They ended up getting their first jobs through word-of-mouth. All in all, I guess I’m just looking for insight on how to go about the job hunt when you don’t have a huge network. Sending out apps and applying online has been fruitless thus far. It seems like most people I know got their jobs by having already having a foot in the door.

My other issue is honing in on what I’m interested in. I’m interested in a million different things but don’t have a main passion. I've always been interested in travel, transit and tech though, and think project management could be interesting. I At this point, I’d just like to experience living semi-comfortably and have an okay work-life balance where I’m learning a new skill set. In the restaurant life, my schedule changes week-to-week and hours are always all over the place.

Any advice for this 26 year-old recent graduate? Directions to go, books to read, career paths to follow, certificates to get while I look for a job, insight on how to go about getting job, attitude adjustments, general life advice? Open to it all. Thank you, sincerely, for your responses.
posted by dontevengetmestarted to Work & Money (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
At this point, I’d just like to experience living semi-comfortably and have an okay work-life balance where I’m learning a new skill set.

These are perfectly fine and reasonable goals to work from and keep in mind as you take the fine advice others will have about practical steps. Don't even spend a moment fussing about not having a "passion" or thinking you have to have one and agonizing over figuring out what it is.

There has been a lot of hooey put out about this (I blame Oprah). Some people have one from birth, some people develop one over the course of their long lives, most people don't ever have one and get along just fine.
posted by Gnella at 2:55 AM on January 8, 2018 [9 favorites]

I might add that most things people have passions for are very competitive and difficult to make a living at (not always - there are people who have a passion for selling cars or filing TPS reports the right way, or what have you). If project management, say, is OK, and you are good enough at it to work, but you don't get out of bed each morning just bursting with enthusiasm for Gantt charts and meetings, that is OK: they call it "work" for a reason, as they say.
posted by thelonius at 3:35 AM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I highly recommend Grumblebee's insightful comment.

I also recommend thinking about whether you might want a corporate job (you mentioned doing a 9-5 lifestyle). Big C's like Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, PwC, etc., have excellent graduate schemes.
posted by Spiderwoman at 3:43 AM on January 8, 2018 [5 favorites]

I would look into something that is bar tending adjacent. Maybe a position with a restaurant supply company or liquor distributor?
posted by MadMadam at 4:09 AM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've always been interested in travel, transit and tech though, and think project management could be interesting.

Airlines, your local/regional airport, your city/county government, the regional transit authority or maybe a nonprofit/trade group that studies/advocates for transit or alternate commuting ... all of these and other non-passionate, non-sexy entities are involved in travel, transit and tech. My suggestion is to look at all of them and take *any* job that is available.

And if there isn't anything available, then apply where there is. Your first job is where you watch and learn, develop skills and relationships, perhaps find a mentor. It's not where you do your life's work.

I also recommend going to networking events, not to find work but to get familiar with that subculture in your city and start to expand your social circle beyond other bartenders. Dont buy a tux or spend a lot of money, but attend talks and panel discussions at the coworking space, events offered by major corporate donors, workshops by nonprofits or city government, etc.

An existing network makes getting thst first job easier, true. But after that you are on equal footing - everyone's external network has to be replaced by an internal/industry network that they develop themselves.
posted by headnsouth at 4:31 AM on January 8, 2018

Two main things I'd suggest:
- I'd look for mid-size firms in your area (particularly in the sectors you're interested in) and try to make a direct approach to them on your business admin skills. In my limited experience, a lot of tech companies think they don't need someone doing this until well after they actually do (because they think smarts and automation will do it) so you may be able to find a niche that way. To improve your offer to them I'd start reading about a project management methodology (Prince or PMI) and learn about Agile software development (particularly Scrum).
- are there any business oriented Meetup groups you could join? That would be another way to build your network and find opportunities that may not be advertised as vacancies.
posted by crocomancer at 4:33 AM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

I didn't have a network when I got out of college, and I learned that employers will take a chance on a temp when they won't take a chance on an FTE. If they come to like and trust you as a temp, then you have a much, much better chance when applying for a full-time job than a stranger with no connection.

I found my career through temp work. I was lost when I got out of college and had no idea what to do, so I signed up with a temp agency and started working. Temping gave me office experience, enough income to stay afloat, a chance to try a lot of different things, and connections with several in my town. I was friendly with the temp office (sent them chocolates at Christmas) and they knew the area I was interested in and would try to place me in those kinds of jobs.

I worked in a few different areas and had a few full-time job offers via temp work, which I usually took, and finally found something that stuck about 6 years after graduating. I was not terribly savvy and unknowingly missed a lot of opportunities to get my foot in the door - someone with more awareness and focus would have done better with my cards.

In addition to the advice above, see if there are any temp jobs in the areas you're interested in and apply for those.

Toastmaster and volunteering are other network-building tools you might be interested in.
posted by bunderful at 5:26 AM on January 8, 2018 [4 favorites]

Finding your passion is pretty much always a work in progress. And, frankly, you probably won't be able to discover it in a vacuum. For many people, myself included, discovering your passion is done in little baby steps as you evaluate what you like and what you don't like about your current job, then set about getting more of what you like and less of what you don't like in your next job. It's a meandering path at best, in most cases.

So your focus right now should be on getting your foot in the door someplace, doing something. Even though you finished your degree online, your university should have some sort of placement office and/or alumni association that could help. Work the network you have: even though most are in the service industry that you want to leave, they have friends, family members, and their own networks you could tap into.

At the same time, you could choose some companies that seem interesting to you and work your network to find an "in" at those, even if it's just for an informational interview. While informational interviews may seem like a waste of time, they serve two purposes: you get to make an impression on the company which could always develop into a job, and you get to find out more about a company/career path that interests you.

And if you also have an objective about learning more about yourself, I can't recommend "If You Knew Who You Were, You Could Be Who You Are" highly enough.
posted by DrGail at 5:35 AM on January 8, 2018 [3 favorites]

Your dilemma underscores why so many students value an on-campus experience for undergraduate studies, and why so many schools emphasize internships, which leverage contacts the faculty and administration have with local businesses. Even if an internship doesn't lead to a job with the company, and many interns are indeed offered employment, it is experience for a resume, and a pertinent reference for subsequent job searches.

Is possible you could look for an internship? As bunderful noted above, searching for a full time position without an internship might be difficult, especially since your experience would probably not line up perfectly with what the employer thinks they want. But, you have real advantages for potential employers. You've traveled, paying for it yourself from your own labor - emphasize this! You are a little older and more mature than a typical new grad. You have supported yourself! The fact that you actually finished college instead of being distracted by travel or the quick cash of the service industry is in your favor. Rather than the disorganized, patchy background your query seems to present, I'd focus on the industry and determination you've shown, coming from the background you described, you muscled yourself into a college degree. You've not spend your twenties in your parent's basement playing video games. You've traveled and supported yourself.

A natural opening industry would be the hospitality industry. I know you're burned out, but bartending is hard. It's hard work, fast, and you have to deal with drunks, terrible pick-up scenes, sob stories, late nights and finding the discipline to go home after work and bank your daily dose of cash tips. Don't underestimate the importance of this experience. I know dozens of bartenders and servers who drifted through their twenties and thirties, and some into their forties because they couldn't go home after work, couldn't get up to go to class, didn't save in any systematic way and after a while had been in that life for so long that whatever educational credentials were out of date. Going back to school and transitioning out of restaurants as the crux of their work and social lives was usually the only way to successfully do it. You've taken step one already.

If you could manage to look at restaurants an bars as a potential industry, you'd be an absolute natural as a restaurant/bar manager in a hotel, convention center, or resort. I wouldn't hesitate for a single second to hire you. Ascending the management scale would free you from nights and weekends significantly more in this environment vs. an independent restaurant,and in my experience there is a lot of turnover as resorts open and people move within (and without) their own chains. Four Seasons, Marriott, etc. These are not just restaurants, they are businesses that would benefit from your experience, skills and education.

I can certainly understand if you're so sick of it you want to leave altogether. In that case I think an offer of an internship in an industry you decide to focus on would be a tempting offer for an employer. Asking for informational interviews, rather than job opening interviews in the areas you'd like to explore could open doors without any feeling of obligation. And if you liked what you learned, nothing prevents you from contacting them again.
posted by citygirl at 6:43 AM on January 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

The best way to quickly break into 9-5 is to contact local placement companies. They will ask for credentials and stuff. Companies like Trillian, Manpower, Robert Half, and many more, will place you at companies in a temp-to-hire situation that has landed many people into their full time positions at bigger companies.

Besides that, go to your school's job fair and have resumes and attempt to assert yourself.

Honestly, I'm surprised your school hasn't helped with this more - I would say about 20% of my business degree was focused on career-making and career-building and resume-building and interviewing.
posted by bbqturtle at 8:15 AM on January 8, 2018

If it's any consolation, you're not alone. Lots of people who graduate from uni exhibit some version of the "I don't know what I want to do because I don't know what there is to want to do" syndrome. So, fuck that "lost on what my passion is" shit.

Advice above about temping is good. You'll very quickly get into an office-hours rhythm with decent pay and an expanding network of people who can be connections to the right thing for you.

If I were you, I'd flog the bejeebers out of the Summa Cum Laude thing. Some employers will interpret that as "very smart" (which you probably are). Others, as "very dedicated" (which you most certainly are). Either way, it makes you stand out from the crowd.

Good luck!
posted by John Borrowman at 2:43 PM on January 8, 2018

Thanks for the helpful advice everyone! This gave me some great direction and motivation.
posted by dontevengetmestarted at 9:52 PM on January 17, 2018

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