Save me from Job Hell.
October 28, 2006 6:49 PM   Subscribe

How do I get relevant/fulfilling work experience while in grad school for my dream job?

I have worked since I was 16. During high school I worked in Retail Sales. During college I worked in Retail Sales. Now in graduate school for the career of my life, the only available job opportunity seems to be back in--you guessed it--Retail Sales.

The problem? I hate retail. I hate Hate HATE Retail Sales. I could complete transactions while in a coma with both arms cut off. I hate the crappy pay. I hate how hard you have to work and how fake you have to be to get the crappy pay (Nobody smiles that much). I hate not being able to afford basic expenses because of the crappy pay. I hate taking the abuse from the customers. I hate that management treats its employees worse than the theives that frequent their stores. Most of all I hate that it's a dead end.

I have applied for positions in other areas but can't get anyone to hire me because I have no major experience in any other setting.

This is annoying for several reasons:
3.4 Bachelor's GPA. 2 Bachelor's Degrees.
4.0 Master's GPA.
I'm bilingual.
My orthographical/grammatical/rhetorical skills are impeccable.
I learn quickly.
I am polite, empathic, and eager to help people in need.
I have experience with MS Office and database applications.
I am skilled at research.

In short, many of my skills make me overqualified for a job in retail sales. But since I do not have experience in my field, I cannot get a job there (a perpetual cycle that is perpetually frustrating). My family is poor and connection-free. Except for my boyfriend I don't know anyone in the city where I live.

Now in graduate school for the career of my dreams (Mental Health Counseling), I would like to work in the health care field (particularly health insurance). I'm planning to take some community college coursework in Healthcare Systems this winter, but most employers are looking for x years of experience and even a degree (to be an office assistant? Pull-eaase!).

Since my grad school courses are in the evening, it's important that I'm off work by 5pm. But once an employer hears I'm in grad school they freeze up, afraid that I'll ditch them once I get my degree (which is likely true).

Quitting school is not an option. Reducing my courseload is not an option. Minimum wage is not an option. "Suck it up" is not an option. I need a job that contributes to the lives of other people, not to the wallet of a corporate CEO. Help me find a job that I don't hate.
posted by mynameismandab to Work & Money (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If you have time to wait around for a job, you could try taking a state civil service exam for data entry. Not exciting, but it'd be 9-5 and would get you out of retail.
posted by saffry at 6:59 PM on October 28, 2006

Since you're still in school, maybe you can work the connections that your professors have in industry? Talk to your professors (or, better yet, your advisor or someone who is familiar with your interests and the work that you have done) about what your goals are and they're likely to know some people who can help you getting a job.

You can also try using the resources that your university offers for finding a job, and try to get an internship during the summer.
posted by scalespace at 7:09 PM on October 28, 2006

By far the best way to get relevant job experience while you're in school is an internship. Talk to your faculty advisor; you may find that your school has a program for placing students in such positions.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 7:19 PM on October 28, 2006

I agree with scalespace about working professorial connections - I was in exactly your position just 6 weeks ago, working at Starbuck's with an MA and an exceedingly dim world view. Because of a combination of luck and a professor's recommendation, I got a job in my field for double the pay I was getting elsewhere and I'm really quite happy. Now, granted, most of my getting this position was the sheer luck that a) it exists and b) the girl who had it before me was leaving to start her Master's, but I never would have known about this job (or had the clout to get it so quickly) had I not had this professor work on my behalf.

In addition to that, are there any specialized websites that relate to employment in your field - message boards and the like?

GOOD LUCK - I know *exactly* how you feel!
posted by AthenaPolias at 7:58 PM on October 28, 2006

Oh yeah. Use your school resources. That's part of the education of going to a university: learning how to find what resources are available, and how to use them.
posted by SpecialK at 8:35 PM on October 28, 2006

I have a couple of friends who got jobs at schools for really troubled kids while in grad school for social work and counseling degrees. The pay's not totally awesome -- base wages in the mid- to high- $20ks, with opportunities for significant overtime. But it's a challenging job, there's a lot of cameraderie among colleagues, and it's great experience. You might contact the school district or local social work agencies and ask about schools like that in your area.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:54 PM on October 28, 2006 grabs listings "from thousands of job boards, classifieds, and company sites." I've found job listings from universities, multinationals, etc. on there that I would never have found otherwise.
posted by letitrain at 9:09 PM on October 28, 2006 [1 favorite]

You might also want to do something on the side that helps you build a name for yourself. Maybe start a blog where you keep track of all the news in the industry you want to get into. Or maybe translate technical papers into human language. Start a podcast and interview people in the field. This will act as marketing, so that someone will consider you for a position.

Keep doing retail if you can't find anything better, but get something else started that will help open doors for you down the road.
posted by fcain at 9:16 PM on October 28, 2006

You can definitely get a better job. Work the connections you have with extreme confidence. Don't be ashamed or feel like you're asking for favors. Your past work experience is relevant insofar as it shows you are dependable, but otherwise you're making a clean break. You could even leave some of your earlier retail experience off your resume. Maybe just show the most recent, or two most recent jobs. Many people don't work when they're in college, so it wouldn't be strange to have a work history that starts after college. Given your amount of schooling, you have tons of connections to work, to try to get a job.

Go through your profs
Go through the head of your program
Go through career counselling at your school
Go through your current and former schools' alumni associations (they sometimes maintain lists of alums by career field who may be able to help)
Go through the local mental health agencies
Go through the local school board
See if the local hospitals or police could use a translator
See if there are abortion clinics in your town - I have a friend who get her start in counselling working with a clinic.
See if there are local organizations that help new immigrants find housing etc
See if there are any positions working with the elderly

Be clear about what kind of position you'd like (mental health or counselling related), but also be imaginative about what other positions would work for you (teaching, tutoring, translating, what else?)
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:25 PM on October 28, 2006

Do volunteer work and internships in your chosen area, and work those contacts.

In the meantime, I recommend the civil service, as it's usually more flexible with study arrangements (in Australia, anyway; YMMV).

Maybe you could be a translator?
posted by Lucie at 2:08 AM on October 29, 2006

Why not try temping?
posted by ph00dz at 4:22 AM on October 29, 2006

When I was in graduate school, I did a few odd jobs that might fit your criteria:

1. Teaching foreign language classes to break even--avoiding debt during graduate school is an extraordinary morale booster. I taught on campus in a department other than the one in which I was studying. I taught out of my garage apartment and at a private language institute, both group classes and tutoring.

2. Freelancing at a textbook company. Even if the company isn't in your city, it's possible (although perhaps tricky) to set up a long-distance arrangement. These companies have several levels of freelancing. I started fact-checking, and then moved up to writing feature articles for middle school textbooks. I never did this, but there are also copy-editing and proofreading phases to the process that you can get in on. They would pay by the job, not by the hour. If you can work efficiently, you can make a fair amount of money. I started averaging $15 an hour, and as my speed increased, I was making up to $30-35 an hour on a good day. Once they place you on the "is reliable and does good work" list, you'll get called often. One problem with this is that the work comes in waves, so there are dry spells during certain parts of the year.

Good luck!
posted by umbĂș at 8:30 AM on October 29, 2006

I'm not sure what is available in your field, but I did a 3 month internship near the beginning of my PhD. Admittedly I moved countries to do it and therefore wasn't studying concurrently, but it was a 9-5 job that paid OK. By OK, I mean "quite livable money" but definitely low for the field (engineering). Where I was (Sun Microsystems Research), there were people doing 6 and 12 month internships.
posted by polyglot at 4:10 AM on October 30, 2006

Response by poster: UPDATE: I have found the job for me!! I work as a research specialist for a career management and relocation transition firm, and it is the best thing I could possibly hope for at this stage in my life.
posted by mynameismandab at 8:51 PM on May 31, 2007

« Older A browser which makes use of a high-resolution...   |   Difficulty: no apples. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.