Why cant I find a real job?
June 5, 2006 2:10 PM   Subscribe

I am 25, I have a good degree, I am charming and I am ready to get a career started. I live in DC but where are the jobs for me?

I am a recent college graduate (2005), good GPA, seemingly marketable skills (Mandarin Chinese, Computer litterate), with a seemingly interesting major (East Asian History). I have tried the typical routes of temping and trying to network online, but I am coming up with nothing good. My temping agency is sending me on increasingly crappy assignments and the only interview I have managed to get so far with a good company has resulted in nothing even though it seemed to go very well. I feel like I am at the end of my rope, this is very stressful for me and my girlfriend and I honestly feel like a loser becuase I am living with my incredibly patient parents and making no substantive money. I live in the Washington DC area, I am a very hard worker and I am pretty charming to boot. What I am doing wrong, and how do I get my foot in the door to a "real" job?
posted by BobbyDigital to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would suggest a start point would be what career? Do you have any sector/role in mind? Any long term ambitions?

If you're not sure of the above, what type of attributes are you looking for in a starting job?
posted by Mossy at 2:27 PM on June 5, 2006

You might try the other typical route of doing an internship in a field you're interested in, and using that experience as a springboard. Your incredibly patient parents will probably continue to be patient if you get a great internship somewhere that will get you into the field you really want to be in.

What kind of career do you want to have? That will make a huge difference.

Also, if you spelled "literate" that way on your resume, that could explain why you're not getting a job. Seriously.
posted by JekPorkins at 2:27 PM on June 5, 2006

An 'interesting' major does not necessary mean 'interesting' jobs, or even 'any' jobs.

Computer literacy is a dime a dozen. What sort of literacy are you talking about? Word processing?

The Chinese is valuable, however. I would move toward fields (translation, consulting) where fluent Chinese is an asset.
posted by unixrat at 2:34 PM on June 5, 2006 [1 favorite]

*What's your resume look like? This first step stops many job applicants from even getting a foot in the door. From what you've said in your question, experience might be a problem. Reformatting your resume to place emphasis on what skills you have may make your lack of job experience not be as emphasized. Also, alter your resume to more closely align with the requirements of a job. One size does not fit all.

*Try try try try try try try try. For job hunts, fortune favors the persistent. Never take anything less than "No" for an answer. Follow up every resume with an email or a call, something to make you stick in the head of whoever is hiring.
posted by zabuni at 2:34 PM on June 5, 2006

If you haven't done anything since graduating a year ago, that's going to set off alarm bells. You need to start volunteering somewhere now just so you have something to put on your resume.

Next: contact your college's alumni relations or career development offices. Odds are that one or both will offer help, as far as resume critiques and networking.

Also: Decide what kind of job you want. If you're grasping, but you don't know what you're grasping for, that's going to show. You need to have goals and a vision of where you want to be in five years.

If you're in the DC area with a college degree and you can't find work, you're either not trying very hard or there's something wrong about how you're approaching this thing. Unemployment there is absurdly low, compared to most of the country.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 2:49 PM on June 5, 2006

Switch temp agencies. I know many friends who have had good luck with politemps. If you are already with them, try to ratchet down your anxiety/desperation. I know its a catch-22, but desperation is NOT confidence-inducing in perspective employers.

Also, if you are interested in politics and your parents and girlfriend can continue being patient, consider working on a campaign this summer. Even if you don't stick around until the election, its good experience and gives you something topical to stick on the resume.

And always followup on interviews with a thank you card.
posted by ilikecookies at 3:15 PM on June 5, 2006

You may think this sounds silly, and I cannot personally vouch for this, but I know a number of people who have gotten good jobs by networking through myspace.
posted by blueplasticfish at 3:17 PM on June 5, 2006

I know from my posting history I may sound like some kind of recruiter for non-profits, but seriously, check out non-profit admin. Large, well-funded membership organizations are usually looking for bright, articulate recent college grads for administrative positions. Play your cards right and you can get promoted within a year or two. I know that ASCO is in DC, for example. Or you may be able to find something closer to your academic interests.
posted by desuetude at 3:30 PM on June 5, 2006

While you're waiting, and wallowing in the befuddlement of your wasted talents, check out the boards at Quarterlife Crisis. Share your story, feel better reading about all the people having your same problem to a T, and get some feedback, probably even from people near you.
posted by kookoobirdz at 3:37 PM on June 5, 2006

Although not always the case I find that the saying "nice guys finish last" is good advice hidden in a crappy cliche. Scrape and punch and kick your way into a job position, and then be charming. Im a nice guy and I finish last because of it sometimes, so I get mean and get ahead. Even if being pushy is not in your nature, being pushy tends to work sometimes. This is vague advice but I guess apply it when necessary.
posted by pwally at 3:56 PM on June 5, 2006

I am a recent college graduate (2005), good GPA, seemingly marketable skills (Mandarin Chinese, Computer litterate), with a seemingly interesting major (East Asian History).

Holy schnikees, aren't you then the very definition of someone the CIA is looking for? Go be a spook. Say hi to Sydney Bristow while you're there.
posted by frogan at 5:20 PM on June 5, 2006

A friend with like credentials got a job at the library of congress...
posted by 445supermag at 5:25 PM on June 5, 2006

I didn't really see you explain where you wanted to go with your career. You're probably not looking ambitious and focused enough on what you want out of work. You're sort of an educated day labourer.

Check out this article from Tom Peters about Brand You

You need to figure out what you want to do, and then chase down the companies and positions doing that. Start at the bottom and work your way up.
posted by fcain at 5:55 PM on June 5, 2006

I have 2 suggestions:

1- Have your resume professionally reviewed/written by a professional. It made a big difference for me. I think I spent like $260 (there are cheaper options) on mine. It helps maximize what you have done or better targets what you are trying to do.

2. Network using Linkedin.com. You can export your contact list to see if you (or anyone you know) is connected to companies that you are targeting. Or if you network is small, you can randomly contact people asking for ADVICE on their industry. I suggest trying to find something in common and asking for ADVICE. Two really helpful contacts I got advice from responded to my email right away b/c one worked at the same school paper I was on and another was in my fraternity (at another school, 25 years earlier...anything helps). Again, ask for advice NOT a job and you'll get a better response rate.
posted by hokie409 at 6:29 PM on June 5, 2006

With no disprespect intended, one thing you may have to do is be prepared to "pay your dues" for a while. You don't say what your education is comprised of, but if your studies were general in nature, this is even more true... you ARE only 25...

If you find an entry level position at a good company, work hard and prove yourself for a couple of years--- the rest should happen naturally.
posted by mykl at 6:37 PM on June 5, 2006

Why waste your time with a temp agency?

You sound like good material for a job with the NSA or CIA given your language skills and such -- as an analyst, not a spy (LOL). Start applying. These things can take time.

You should also be taking the foreign service exams, IMHO, assuming you're willing to travel at some point.

And how about a job as an assistant whatever for someone in Congress (maybe someone on the foreign relations committee). I can't speak for D.C., but in my state the folks in the legislators' offices all tend to be preppy and well spoken and obsequious. A lot of the requirement is more a certain "look" and attitude than anything else. You get some experience, make a lot of contacts then move on to bigger and better things.

Start selling yourself, dude. Fire up the computer and draft some well targeted resumes. I think you've got a lot to work with.

A boy can go a long way on good manners and charm (I think E.B. White said something to that effect).
posted by bim at 7:07 PM on June 5, 2006

I live in the DC area - I too would definitely recommend hitting the on line application area for CIA / FBI / Dept of State, etc. You have to think about who might be willing to pay you because you speak Chinese. Corporate America...not so much. The federal government should have many opportunities for you.
posted by COD at 7:16 PM on June 5, 2006

Federal jobs!

Check out USAJobs.gov. Depending on your college major, you may be able to find some relevant openings. Given your language skills, you may also be able to find something under the "Investigation" category.

Also, you can look at the web sites of the State Dept and CIA for analyst positions.

Applying for federal jobs is a bit unique, as they have constraints and processes that companies typically do not have. It can also take a lot longer to hear back about applications.

Since you didn't mention what your degree is in or what field you would like to work in, I can't give any specific suggestions. If you'd like, feel free to email me (see my profile). I can tell you some more about applying for federal jobs.
posted by i love cheese at 7:23 PM on June 5, 2006

For the NSA, how about a $7500 recruitment incentive.
posted by bim at 7:30 PM on June 5, 2006

First off, thanks a lot for the good advice so far, and trust me when I tell you that my spelling is better in final drafts.

As for the CIA I am actually in the process of applying for a position as a foreign leadership analyst right now, I even got a friend of my mothers who works there to highlight my application so it will actually get looked at.

Also I feel as though I have a pretty good resume, its bounced around my colleges guidance office, my gf's mom (she does PR) and a few others, I would be thrilled to send it to any do gooders who want to take a look, or are just curious about this sort of thing, if you want a copy email me at rburman@gmail.com.

For the record I have not been idle for this last year, I actually spend 6 months of it in China teaching English, and improving my Mandarin. I would like a job that lets me focus on China without having to go back there for long periods of time though, becuase I am a bit burnt out on living over there.

For the person who suggested translation work, it is a good idea, but while I am close to fluent I am no where near the level you need to be in order to do professional translation, it is more of a talent then a skill anyways, and my abiltity to read characters sadly lags far behind my tasty regional patois in Chinese.

I haven't been using Politemps but I will definitely look into them, Randstad doesn't seem to be cutting it anymore.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:55 PM on June 5, 2006

Journalism? Either for a Chinese paper in their Washington bureau or for an American one in China (although I see you're not keen to live there)?
posted by PenDevil at 4:29 AM on June 6, 2006

Coincidentally, I'm also in D.C. with a brand new degree looking for a job, but minus the language (once had some Japanese that withered away to nothingness).

Besides the aforementioned CIA, FBI, and NSA, there's a bunch of other government agencies who all put a major priority on hiring people with skills in critical languages, such as Mandarin. The DIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, which is the most well funded of the intelligence agencies would probably be interested in you. Besides USAJOBS.gov, there's also AVUEDIGITALSERVICES.COM, which services other parts of the government that USAJOBS doesn't necessarily fully cover if at all.

I would think that with your language skills you really shouldn't have any trouble landing a federal job unless you've got some real questional circumstances in your past that won't clear a background check. One thing to remember about the government, though, its glacial. Don't expect immediate replies on applications for jobs. The quickest I've had is a week and a half, and that was for them to tell me that I hadn't qualified into the selection process. My girlfriend, who landed an internship for the summer, didn't hear for months, and even then, that began another process of interviewing and background checks that still aren't entirely completed. She didn't get an affirmative for the internship, however, until a week before it was slated to begin.

There are also think tanks, which are probably a bit more difficult to get involved with at the moment (internships most likely currently taken). Here's a site which lists internationally a large, if not most, of the think tanks and NGOs. If you use the "FIND IN THIS PAGE" feature on your browser, you can skip immediately to those located in D.C.

G'd luck
posted by Atreides at 5:38 AM on June 6, 2006

To the OP:
-Online networking is fine, but in-person networking (happy hours, kickball leagues, whatever) is key; if you truly are charming, face-to-face contact will only help you.
-Good interviews sometimes lead to being called back a few months later for a position other than the one you originally applied for.
-As said before, government jobs often have a glacial hiring pace. Things you apply for now may not come through until 2007. Look at nonprofits.

If you're in the DC area with a college degree and you can't find work, you're either not trying very hard or there's something wrong about how you're approaching this thing. Unemployment there is absurdly low, compared to most of the country.

Speaking as someone who received a master's degree a year ago in a very DC-friendly field, I can say the low unemployment rate here is extraordinarily misleading. There is a lot of competition for just about any interesting job and many of my classmates have had to either temp for long periods or take jobs far below their qualifications while waiting for anything better to arrive.
posted by kittyprecious at 9:39 AM on June 6, 2006

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