Breaking Into the Business World

Dear Evil HR Lady:

I find myself in a strange situation. I like my job – but it pays peanuts, has a really long commute, and doesn’t use my rather expensive college education. I can do it because my husband makes enough for us to get by, though. Unfortunately, my husband’s work habits make me very uncomfortable, and if I were DH’s boss, I would have fired him months ago. I want to be prepared to find a better-paying job if that ever happens.

So I’m kinda-sorta job hunting, and I have time on my side. How do I go about making the best of this advantage? I have a B.A. in psychology and music, and I know I would be good at something administrative or organizational, but I don’t have a business degree. I’m still in my 20’s and look younger, so I don’t know how to get past the “applying to be a secretary” stage to find something that would use my Ivy-league degree or actually have benefits. How do I find something, and how do I negotiate a reasonable package?



Dear Searching,

Interesting situation you’re in. First, with the husband–hopefully he’s at least good at his job, even if he has bad work habits. But since the only thing you can change is you, let’s find you a new job.

When young people ask me what to major in, I always tell them, “Major in whatever you want to, and get an internship in the field you want to work in.” Who knows if this is good advice, as young people tend to run screaming from me. Of course, I tell them this just after I’ve lectured them to get a hair cut, turn the music down, and respect their elders. I’m such an old lady.

At one point when I was working in HRIS (Human Resources Information Systems–the techy side of HR), we had people with the following degrees: Political Science, Finance, Hotel & Restaurant Management, Social Work, Health Care Policy, Information Systems, Criminal Justice, and Education.

My point here is that HR will take just about anybody. Oh wait, sorry. My real point is that for an entry level job (which is what you want), companies really want someone who is bright and willing to learn. If I hire someone out of college, I don’t expect them to have a clue about what they are doing, I just want them to be able to learn quickly.

Here are the things in your favor:

  • You’re bright and willing to learn. (I ascertained this by the fact that you wrote to Evil HR Lady.)
  • You have an Ivy League Degree.
  • You are not desperate unless hubby gets “transitioned” out of his job.
  • You are young (and therefore, businesses won’t expect you to have gobs of experience)
  • You are currently employed. (It’s easier to find a job when you have a job.)

So, now for the advice part. First, figure out what you want to do. This may be the hardest part of your plan. My degrees are included in the list above. I had a master’s and no idea what to do with it. I was afraid that if I told anybody that I wanted a specific job, it would cut me off from other opportunities. My indecision was what actually cut me off from opportunities. (At one interview, which I would like to forget, I actually said “this sounds like something I might want to do.” I was very qualified for the position, but did I get it? Ummm, no.)

Second, once you’ve figured out what you want to do, evaluate if you have the necessary skills. If you decide you want to be a neurologist, you are just going to have to go back to school. However, if you want to be an event planner (which would use your psychology skills, administrative skills and organizational skills), you need to move on to step 3.

Third, start looking for jobs and talking to everybody. Call up event planners and ask them for advice for “breaking in” to the field. Find out what they did to get to that point. Re-vamp your resume to highlight the skills you already have. Try to gain additional skills.

Fourth, if you don’t find a job in step 3, do two re-evaluations–the first is to make sure this is what you want, and the second is if your expectations are too high. If it’s the second, try to get an internship. With Hubby currently paying the bills, you may be able to volunteer your time in an internship. If you can’t get an internship, go to every staffing agency in your town and say, “I want to work in an event planning department. I will do anything. Type, file, make cold calls, whatever, as long as I’m in that type of department.” People will often hire you as a temp when you lack the skills necessary to be hired as a regular employee.

Fifth, as you do the internship or the temporary job, learn everything you possibly can. Help with a variety of projects, ask questions, read whatever professional literature comes into the office. Your goal here is to gain knowledge. That way, as you continue to apply for regular positions you’ll be able to speak the language of the profession.

Sixth, remember to sell yourself in an interview! But, don’t lie. If the interviewer says, “Have you had experience with the software, EventPlannerPro?” The answer is not, “No, never heard of it.” The answer is, “No, I haven’t had experience with that software. But, I have used x and y. I learned both of these rapidly and could do that with EventPlannerPro. I really enjoy learning new things and taking on new challenges.”

Seventh, when you get to the negotiation stage, make sure you’ve done your research on how much that type of job pays. Don’t ask for $50,000 when the going rate is $25,000. For more tips on negotiation, read this and follow the links.

Eighth, when you get that great new job, send Evil HR Lady some money.

Good luck!

Evil HR Lady

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4 thoughts on “Breaking Into the Business World

  1. Great answer. I have a couple of thoughts based on my own experience.

    1) Networking: it’s cliched, and it’s annoying to some (especially to introverts like me), but it works. I became a Payroll Manager through a friend’s mentioning her work needed an office assistant to help the Payroll Department.

    2) Ivy League: this counts for a lot. I have an M.A. in history from a university sometimes called the “Ivy League of the West.” It opened doors into local companies that honestly had nothing whatsoever to do with history, or even writing/research.

    3) Learning what you can: once you have the job, follow Evil HR Lady’s advice and learn whatever you can. I devoured the American Payroll Association manual, for instance, and learned as much as I could about the programs I had to use (beyond what I strictly needed to know for my work).

  2. Lily,

    No over thinking. It’s not like you have to spend eternity with whatever job you pick now. :>)

  3. Yeah…it’s the worry over if you’re qualified to do anything else or…
    if maybe you’re just flighty and will not like whatever other job you get and be a very unsatisfiable person.

    oh well!

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