Climbing back on a dead horse
October 8, 2019 11:47 PM   Subscribe

I desperately need work. I'm fighting horrible depression, 18 months of unemployment, and a myriad of insecurities about my spotty work history before that. I need someone (in LA or online) who can listen to my background (see inside), rebuild my resume, and help me pick some short term career goals. How do find someone who can help me through this when I have no money?

The real question is above the fold, the rest of this is just unspooling the specifics of my stressors.

Right now, anything that asks about my employment history gives me huge amounts of anxiety and insecurity because I've made a lot of irresponsible choices (a la ant and the grasshopper) in the past decade. It rarely felt like I was choosing poorly in the moment, but right now I'm 35 and borrowing money from my parents to pay rent.

There's a certain amount of "get a job. any job." that I need to confront in the short term, but it's at a critical level I've never faced before. And it's unlikely that any stop gap will help me find a real direction to take my career.

Most recently, I had a very niche job in a niche industry that I got through my at-the-time roommate. The job I had before that, I got through my at-the-time boyfriend. The job I had before that, I got from my at-the-time best friend. I haven't been hired solely on my merits for a non-retail job since I was 20.

When I lost my most recent job, it was an unexpected layoff. They've called me in for short term (2-3 day) projects since then, but nothing consistent, and nothing in the past 4 months.

I have a couple creative-ish jobs in my work history (graphic design, vfx compositing, photography), but no portfolio for any, and the time it would take to brush up my skills enough to put a decent one together is more than I can spare.

I haven't had a job in a professional environment in close to a decade. My wardrobe would be hard pressed to come up with interview clothes, much less a week of business-casual outfits.

I didn't go to college. All of my time and energy has gone to creative pursuits, and while I definitely know who I am as an artist, that dream hasn't come together in a way that can support me.

throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like you’re having a tough time and perhaps your anxiety and stress are getting in the way of moving forward. Perhaps you can start with something like Trader Joe’s—no new wardrobe required, regular paycheck, and good benefits. Once you’re back on your feet, then you might have more space to contemplate longer-term career options.
posted by stillmoving at 12:04 AM on October 9, 2019 [16 favorites]

I agree with stillmoving. I think right now you're afraid of the idea that you haven't had a "real" job in a long time, afraid that you're an unemployable person who by a series of flukes been employed several times, etc.

Even if that stuff were partially true—and I have no reason to believe it is but I'm guessing you feel it right now anyway—it'll feel less powerful to you if you can get yourself working, especially if the job is not terrible. That's not a trivial thing to do, but I think it's a good thing to focus on before you worry about the bigger-picture stuff (what you want your career to look like). Prove to yourself you can get a job and do it and everything else will feel much less unattainable.
posted by Polycarp at 12:30 AM on October 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yep. TJs/Starbucks is a nice suggestion. Get used to showing up in a place, being around people, nothing that requires your brain when you're off the clock so you can use that time to plan next steps.

I reject the idea that this filler job will hurt you in finding longer term career options. Actually, I wager that's precisely where you'll find the lead for next job, the way you've always found work through soft social ties. How do you create those soft social ties? Get out of the house every day and interact with as many people as you can stand.

Just sayin, when I had a dumb filler-job making coffee, my favorite coworker (a former stay at home mom returning to the work force and using this filler job to plan her next step, which turned out to be graphic design, a job she found through our other coworker, a laid-off advertising copywriter)....sent me an ad for a job that I was indeed a great fit for, a job which I loved and still think about fondly.

You never know what's just around the corner.
posted by athirstforsalt at 1:45 AM on October 9, 2019 [18 favorites]

This is actually a super normal service for a job training center/workforce development program to provide. Jewish Vocational Services of Southern California, for instance. Many such programs are free or low-cost precisely because, well. You're assumed not to have a job. Theoretically the Employment Development Department of CA will also provide this to you, I have no idea how well they do this and whether or not it works, but they do this out of their WorkSource Centers.
posted by peppercorn at 1:46 AM on October 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

If groceries or coffee aren't your thing, you might also try REI or Costco, both of which tend to have very happy employees for retail.
posted by athirstforsalt at 1:47 AM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Here to add to the chorus that getting a filler job is a fine way to go from here, and not a backwards step or a negative thing.

I took a filler job when I moved to London, literally the first place that would hire me for tedious work that I was overqualified for, so I could make the move there with a way to pay my rent. Over a few years it turned into the much better job I'm in now, which I wouldn't ever have expected at the time.

Sometimes when you are in a position like this, it pays to put your pride aside and throw yourself into the world, with a kind of "do with me what you will, fate" attitude. And see where that takes you, and what small but potentially big opportunities you might find.

Good luck! Or more aptly, just keep swimming.
posted by greenish at 3:02 AM on October 9, 2019 [7 favorites]

The public libraries in big cities often have resources to help folks in positions like yours - I’m in a small city myself and my library still offers one-on-one resume help, career counseling, mock interviews and connections to other resources. This might be a good starting point:

In general - good luck. It can feel insurmountable but you are far from alone.
posted by nuclear_soup at 4:34 AM on October 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

Definitely look for job search support groups; the emotional toll of unemployment is real, and you can also get some real feedback on what works in your geographic area. It sounds to me like you have a talent for taking an opportunity from a friend and doing great work there. That's not a bad thing.

Reading between the lines, if you've mostly worked in very niche areas or focused on creative pursuits, it's easy to forget how much of the work actually works for money and not for passion or for resume building. A lot of online career advice focuses on a very particular area of white collar work. Getting out there to work in any way, from taking on very small design projects from small businesses to working in retail can help you regain a sense of that and might help you find your sense of possibility again.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:20 AM on October 9, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yes, trying to find a job can be such a hard experience. There's great advice above. I also wanted to throw in temp agency as an option. They will help you find something you're qualified for. It can also help you get back in your job feet for now
posted by Kalmya at 5:39 AM on October 9, 2019 [7 favorites]

Are you ok with physical labor? The southwest carpenter’s union is headquartered in LA. Construction is flexible, and they are desperate for responsible people. A good laborer will progress quickly, and the benefits and pension are hard to beat. Almost no one is a traditional student in that career.
posted by chuke at 5:43 AM on October 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

I would cautiously recommend a temp/employment agency. I temped during a recession, and the experience of always being new,an outsider, and presumed stupid was wearing. I did end up with a good FT job.

Call centers are ubiquitous, but they are factories where you are nitpicked and criticized unless you are super-positive about the place, and fit in with the managers. They can be quite soulless.

Take some time to remind yourself of your value. You have skills and value, you deserve good work at fair pay.
posted by theora55 at 6:32 AM on October 9, 2019 [3 favorites]

In LA especially, it is a totally believable backstory to say, "So, I'm an artist, and most of my adult life I have worked whatever jobs were handy when art wasn't somehow paying the bills. I am aiming toward more stability now. My work history looks weird as hell, but here's the applicable skills I have and how I can use them here in this place."

You might also try building out a skills-based resume, for one thing just to reframe your perspective, and then also as a marketing tool for the paragraph above, where you explain how these four seemingly-unrelated skills/experiences make you a great candidate for the position. Take the focus off where the paycheck actually came from and spend some time braindumping all the skills you used at those jobs instead, skills you have as an artist, skills you have from your hobbies and interests, and even skills you have from good and bad life experiences. What all do you know how to do? How many ways can you think of to Lego those bits together into different job profiles?

There's absolutely nothing wrong with getting a retail gig for now. You later make that part of the narrative: "So, as a transitional move, I spent a year working at Costco while I learned coding and network administration via the library* at night, and I actually learned a lot of valuable lessons about supply chain and customer service doing that, which is why I'm a great candidate for your distribution center IT department!"

It's your story, you have a lot of control over what you say and how you say it. You need to snip the tape loop in your head that's just shouting that you're going to fail no matter what and write some new ones, for your internal voice AND for pitching yourself for work. You're obviously struggling to find yourself right now, and that is super hard to do when survival is a pressing issue, but just taking A step, ANY step, will begin to build momentum. Working at a grocery store or doing data entry isn't going to be the thing that stops you from getting some other job later.

And yeah, most careers are built out of unexpected connections and opportunities. You are much more likely to stumble across the person or event or experience that leads to either your next job or insight into what you actually want to do if you, you know, leave the house every day and interact with coworkers and customers. *Especially* in LA, where your filler job coworkers are highly likely to be doing some other thing that isn't paying off at the moment - very possibly a creative thing - while they're working the filler job. You might accidentally find your people in the process of getting survival work.

*If you're not already an LA Public Library member, you can do it online and get access to all their electronic resources, which includes training courses and a bunch of other stuff that might be helpful to you as you re-calibrate. They've also got books, audiobooks, streaming movies/TV, music, and other nice things that you're probably having to skimp on right now. Treat yourself, for free.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:42 AM on October 9, 2019 [22 favorites]

There's a certain amount of "get a job. any job." that I need to confront in the short term, but it's at a critical level I've never faced before. And it's unlikely that any stop gap will help me find a real direction to take my career.

Just in to say that even if the must-pay-bills job you take doesn't have anything to do with any likely career paths, it's still experience and there's always something to learn. There are a lot of jobs out there where knowing a little bit about what it's like to work in a lot of places is extremely helpful. I kinda regret some of the life choices and circumstances that led me to take some of my less career-oriented jobs, but I don't regret what I learned in them.

Lyn Never above is spot-on about how you get to tell your own story about your work history. You'll make your own stories, and right now's the time to find the source material (and the rent money.)
posted by asperity at 7:53 AM on October 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

I haven't been hired solely on my merits for a non-retail job since I was 20.

I wanted to call this out -- as I have progressed through my career I have become more likely to get jobs through connections, not less, and it's not because I have less merit than I did before. Now that there are people who know what I can do, they're more likely to seek me out when they need someone with my skillset, or recommend me to others. So I'm hoping you can reframe this a bit in your mind. Your friends wouldn't recommend you for jobs they weren't confident you could do, as those recommendations would then reflect badly on them.
posted by eirias at 11:10 AM on October 9, 2019 [4 favorites]

Check out Chrysalis in LA at They can help you with the resume and interview as well as providing you with professional/interview clothing. They have offices in Santa Monica, downtown LA, San Fernando Valley and OC.
posted by parkerposey at 7:42 PM on October 9, 2019

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