Bullish Q&A: Help! My Job Experience Isn’t “Professional”

Help!

Help! I have spent the past 5 years after college in a lucrative (but not professional or sustainable) job. I now have good savings/ no debt, but my resume reads like a blank page– how can I get a “real job” (or something like it) now that I find myself wanting to settle down and join the adult workforce? I have considered grad school or coding bootcamp (I can code a bit already) but am wary of spending money on something that doesn’t eventually help (like college didn’t in my case)?

 

Wait, you spent five years succeeding in a job – how is that a “blank page”?

You say the job was “lucrative but not professional or sustainable.”

What really is “professional”? You got paid, right? That’s one definition.

Consider two scenarios.

Scenario 1: Let’s say you were a nanny. That’s a gendered job – and a pretty common one – that some people think doesn’t look that great on a resume. Or maybe you sold knives door-to-door. Fine.

You’re going to spin the hell out of that. Did you manage children – and their relationships with doctors, teachers, etc.? Maybe while letting in the cable repair guy? You “managed multiple vendor relationships for a busy high-net-worth household.” Etc.

Get a great recommendation. If you really were a nanny, ask the parents for job leads, explaining that you want to leave nannying and bring your skills to a new industry.

Spin your resume, and practice talking about it like you’re actually proud of it.

Go to networking events and tell everyone, proudly and excitedly, that you just left a five-year position as a nanny and are looking for your next opportunity “in tech” or “in marketing,” etc.

Now – among other job search activities – go apply for jobs at startups that have some connection to children (or, if you sold knives, food and cooking). Find companies where your “non-professional” job experience is an asset. 

Look, I went to college with a woman who interned at a big company like Proctor and Gamble or something, and she sat in on a meeting where a roomful of men argued about how many tampons should come in a box. As an intern, she was not permitted to speak.

There are startups out there where a bunch of male recent college grads are making an app that helps parents coordinate babysitters. Those dudes are not parents and have never been babysitters. There are places where the expertise you think is ordinary and vaguely embarrassing is actually very valuable. I think those places will mostly be startups. You can apply to work at a startup even if they have no jobs listed. You need to pitch them on what value you can offer. Get comfortable pitching yourself, getting rejected, and pitching again.

And now, scenario 2: Let’s say you were a sex worker. While I would admire someone who spun that on a resumé for an unrelated field, I share your doubts that this would be very successful.

My suggestion would be to start a service business of some kind. “Small business consulting” is pretty vague, and something you can easily get into by helping out friends with small businesses to build your resumé, portfolio, and website. You could almost certainly legitimately leverage your experience in booking gigs, marketing, etc. to improve other businesses. When just getting started, you might work a little for free, or in exchange for products and services, or on a contingency basis (for example, a commission on sales).

You said you have savings, so it seems like you could run such a business for a year or so regardless of how lucrative it really was (but hopefully it will actually work!)

Now, you have a small business with a client list, a website, and maybe a portfolio of before and after shots of website designs or Google Analytics or whatever. You have been operating this business for one year. Lie and say you’ve been doing it for six. There’s no way to check this, nor will anyone care to. And it’s completely normal for a six year old business to only use its most recent clients and testimonials in its references and marketing.

Plenty of small businesspeople, including “consultants” of all kinds, have had long periods of very little activity. Imagine if you met a graphic designer who just finished a really cool project, but it somehow came up that they had virtually no business during a period several years ago. Can you even imagine grilling them about it? Even if you were a potential new client, or someone considering the person for a full-time job? But were you REALLY a struggling graphic designer in 2015?! That’s … not a thing.

I’d like to add the caveat that I’d like to live in a world in which none of this were necessary and you could just put “Sex Worker” or “Dominatrix” on your resumé and talk in an interview about why you’re switching careers and what skills you have that apply to your new role. But obviously, we’re not there yet.

As for coding bootcamps, those programs have a MUCH HIGHER ROI than formal education in general. We’re talking $80K for a degree that isn’t particularly meant to lead to a specific job versus $12K for a program that takes less time and is intended to lead directly to a specific job. It’s probably a good move for you. But people are still going to want to know what you did before that (although somewhat less so), so my suggestions above still apply!

Stay bullish!
Jen

Also of interest:

Bullish: High-Paying, Women-Friendly Tech Jobs Are Out There (Even If You Majored in Art

Bullish: Should I Learn to Code at Age 27?

Bullish Q&A: Can You Go Full-Time to Part-Time and Back Again?

Bullish: Every Weird Thing You Do Will Help You

Bullish: Reg Braithwaite On How Tech Can Help Women, Minorities, and Non-Schmoozers

I’ve Been Put on the Reserve List for a Coding Bootcamp

Free Code Camp