my job search after grad school has been soul-crushing

A reader writes:

I’m a recent-ish (May) master’s grad who’s been pretty furiously job searching since I finished my degree. I’ve had a few really promising opportunities that ended up not working out, and a lot more non-responses. It has been, to put it lightly, a fairly soul-crushing process (and I know I am not unique in this situation currently!). I worked for a few years between undergrad and grad school doing a job that I enjoyed and felt was meaningful, but also wasn’t something I wanted to go back to after I finished grad school. Now, many months into my job search, I’ve burned through all my savings and have taken on multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet, but I’m really struggling financially.

I have an opportunity (I don’t want to jinx it, but it seems fairly likely that I will be offered the position) to do what is effectively the same job I did before grad school, just in a different office, at a marginally more senior level (solely from a hierarchical standpoint) and with slightly higher pay. But I’m not that excited about it! I feel fairly demoralized that I worked my butt off and spent a ton of money going to grad school just to come back and basically make a lateral move. The top end of the salary band for the position is pretty much the minimum I wanted to make. I would be great at the job, but I know it won’t challenge me—it’s something I could have easily done pre-grad school. I could definitely network and make some good connections, but there probably wouldn’t be a ton of growth opportunity in the position or office itself.

I’ve talked to a few friends and family members about it, and most of them seem confused as to why I’m struggling with this—after all, in these times, a job is a job, it’s in my field, and beggars can’t be choosers. Which is all true. But also, all of these friends and family members have jobs! That they enjoy! I just don’t feel like I’m reaching my potential and am really struggling, as someone who has always prided myself on my ambition and work ethic and competence.

At the end of the day, I’m not really in a financial position to turn down a full-time job offer, but I also am feeling a little embarrassed that I’ve had such a hard time finding a job that feels like a step up for me, and honestly kind of like a failure for not landing a “reach” job like a lot of my classmates have somehow managed to do, even though rationally I know that the job market is a total dumpster fire right now. I am just feeling stuck and incredibly demoralized. I guess I’m hoping for some wise words and/or advice on how to reconcile my frustrations about my situation, and how to avoid potentially coming into this job with a negative attitude.

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked, “Is your sense that the master’s you got is required in the field you want to work in or is it more of a nice-to-have?” The response:

It really depends on the job. The job I’m interviewing for now, it’s definitely not required, but other jobs I’ve applied to it has been required, or else sometimes you can sub it for more experience than I have. It’s somewhat similar to an MBA in that the network is useful, but I also gained a lot of technical knowledge and analytical skills that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and which I definitely won’t be flexing in this potential job, but is necessary for a lot of other jobs in my field. I also went to a top program, which I don’t say to brag, but just to provide context—I wouldn’t have taken time out from my career to go to grad school if it wasn’t a top program in my field, because my sense is that my degree is much more useful from highly ranked programs than from less highly ranked ones.

I’m sorry you’re going through this!

So, the deal with graduate degrees is … sometimes they really don’t make a difference to your job search, and sometimes they can actually make it harder.

There are fields and jobs where a graduate degree is required or at least significantly helpful. The problem for a while has been that a lot of people go to grad school thinking it will definitely change the type of jobs they get and it just doesn’t always do that. Which can be incredibly frustrating after you’ve spent all that time and work (and sometimes money). Then, to make things worse, sometimes it can make it harder to get jobs you were qualified for before grad school, because employers assume you want to work in “your field” (the one you got the master’s in) and/or that you’ll leave as soon as something else comes along.

You sound like you made some thoughtful choices: Some of the jobs you’re applying for do require the master’s, it gave you a useful network, you picked a top program … and yet it might not do what you were hoping it would do, and that sucks.

Part of that — maybe a big part of it — is the job market. There are fewer jobs and more people looking for work. These aren’t optimal conditions to be looking, to say the least.

And you might not reach your potential with this job that you’re considering taking. Lots of people don’t meet their potential in any given job. That’s frustrating and disappointing when you just finished a program that you thought would give you a boost but … well, pandemic.

The thing is, though, the job you take now isn’t the job you’ll be in forever. If you take a job that isn’t quite what you wanted because the job market is crappy, you’ll still have your master’s the next time you’re looking. If it’s a degree that helps in your field, it’s still going to help the next time around. It’s not going to expire; it will always be part of your professional life now. If you take the lateral job you’re being offered now and rack up a bunch of achievements, the next time you’re job searching, you’ll be the candidate with all those accomplishments plus a master’s degree.

It’s still disappointing, and it’s okay to be disappointed. You went to school expecting something different! But the world is a clusterfudge this year, and here we are.

I know there are lots of people in this situation; let’s hear from anyone else with advice in the comments.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 282 comments… read them below }

  1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    Just empathizing, because, same here.
    All I can tell you is that things will work out.
    I went to grad school to follow my passion (in a field where master’s degrees are required) while working at a job I really liked.
    In the end, I couldn’t break into the field. (I did not consider starting at half of what I was currently making worth the transition. I’m too conservative/wimpy to make that jump.)
    Take the job. You will be in a better position financially, emotionally and physically (multiple PT jobs!) to jump to the right opportunity when you find it.
    This is not a set back. This is an opportunity.
    Good luck.

    1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

      I also lived through a similar situation. Basically, grad degree just to go back and do the same jobs I did as a temp when I was 19, for pretty close to the same rate of pay (the price of gas had tripled, but the hourly wage for the same jobs had actually gone down).

      After ten years, I’ve worked my way up to a good place. I still lost a lot of prime working years on a fool’s errand and have debt around my neck like a millstone, but I earn a middle-class salary. It just took a lot of proving my value and building up a solid reputation. I had a family to support (surprise life changes!), so that kept me laser focused on keeping a job, impressing my bosses, going the extra mile, and moving up.

      You have a right to be bitter, but you’ll get over it in time. Take the job, work hard, and don’t treat it as a stopgap. There’s no magical unicorn high-paying job that makes you love going to work in the morning that you are missing out on. There are still plenty of jobs that are good anyway.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        There’s no magical unicorn high-paying job that makes you love going to work in the morning that you are missing out on.

        This. I have a pretty cool job by many people’s accounts (in software), and it pays very well for what I do (primarily writing and editing), but I don’t love every second of every day at work. I like it a lot, and I’m learning a lot, and I have decided that that needs to be enough for right now.

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          Absolutely. Heck, I don’t even love my HOBBIES 100% of the time. I’m doing pretty well if its 95% there.

          Most of the time I enjoy what I do. Its challenging. I learn a ton and am surrounded by smart people. They’re reasonable humans and decent to be around. I’m paid well for my work. And there are still days where I’m “OMGWTFdoIhavetoGOtoFingWork?!?!” because I’m human.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            Lol, right. I could barely get out of bed this morning, and it’s not because I hate my job – I just hate Wednesdays for some reason, lol. Okay, and morning in general.

        2. Tidewater 4-1009*

          There is no such thing. All jobs have tedium and downsides.
          A job is a way to make a living and if you enjoy some or most of it, it’s a good job.

        3. Alice's Rabbit*

          And those friends and family of the LW who all supposedly love their jobs? I can almost guarantee they’ve worked jobs they hated. And likely don’t love their current jobs nearly so much as the LW seems to think.
          For most people, a job is good so long as it remains tolerable and one’s bosses and coworkers are congenial. Happiness and fulfillment can be found in most any endeavor. Very few people end up in their dream job, and those who do often become disillusioned when reality doesn’t live up to the dream.

      2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        “and don’t treat it as a stopgap.”
        This too! This is your job. You earned it. Be proud and keep moving forward.

    2. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

      If I’m understanding correctly, you are in a different field than the one your degree was in. Do you leave the degree off your resume?

    3. La Framboise*

      Same. Worked 3 part-time jobs before getting a full time job. That was 25 years ago. Now in another position and loving it. Life is (hopefully) long, and successful goals change as you age. I wish the best for the LW and encourage them to make money and move forward, whatever the path may be.

    4. Malarkey01*

      I graduated grad school in December 2001, my husband had recently gotten a great job as a stock broker in the summer of 2001, my brother graduated with his MBA specializing in real estate finance in December 2007….Those were also not great times to be looking for a fresh graduate job. All of us took different jobs than we thought ideal and in my husbands case not even close to related fields, however in each of our cases those opened up new paths to better and better positions, and we are all currently in jobs we love (most days) and have found a lot of success.

      The thing that helped the most for me was realizing this wasn’t the last job I’d ever have, reframing it as another way to gain experience and broaden my skill set, find ways to excel it that job, be open to new opportunities, and finally (and this sort of stinks) but realizing that first and foremost the point of a job is to keep us fed and housed. Once I reframed it a little I could be happy that while not where I wanted to be at the moment, I was still moving forward just in different ways. Like all terrible job markets, this one will end too and things might shuffle a little but it’s not forever. Best of luck!!

    5. Bigglesworth*

      Agreed. I’m in a very similar boat to OP (worked pre-law school, graduated in May, and am still unemployed). Unfortunately, we graduated in an unforeseeable pandemic that has had severe economic ramifications. It sucks.

      To echo Alison, this job isn’t forever and so long as it’s in your field and has benefits, stick it out for a few years. I may have a job offer soon at a small law firm that isn’t in the area of law I want to practice and isn’t doing what I want to do generally, but it’ll pay my student loan bills and allow me to save up until I can start my Tax LLM program and get back on track with what I want to do.

    6. Quiet Liberal*

      Yep. One of my kids went to a well-known school for a PhD, on the school’s dime. They ended up with the degree only to find that the jobs they qualify for are mostly outsourced to other countries, where the workers are cheaper. Kid tried to find ANYTHING, but that education on their resume/applications put them in the no pile often. They had an interview where the interviewer was very snarky about the education being way more than the job required. Kid finally got a job that doesn’t utilize the education in the least, but at least has benefits and a chance to move up. They are grateful they have an income and health insurance. OP, many of us mostly work to support ourselves and are ok it’s not our “passion”.

  2. Snarkus Aurelius*

    When I look at grad school curriculums now (my undergraduate institution is pushing me to get an MA from them; no GRE and minimum GPA required!, one click application!), I could teach the classes based on my job experience alone. Me getting an MA in communications is a waste of money.

    So when I see general graduate degrees like that, I tend not to be swayed.

    But I work in public health so if I see an MPH, that candidate goes to the top of the pile for consideration but not necessarily higher pay.

    Honestly, it varies, but I’d need to see a very specific, highly technical graduate degree to be persuaded on that basis, and it doesn’t happen a lot.

    1. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

      See, what do we do now that we have gotten the degrees? I’ve got an MBA from WGU (again, no GRE required!), and though its technically valuable over here in Germany, with Corona, there are simply NO JOBS. Any advice?

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Honestly, it varies, but I’d need to see a very specific, highly technical graduate degree to be persuaded on that basis, and it doesn’t happen a lot.

      Yup, I’ve heard this from hiring managers as well.

    3. Artemesia*

      Masters degrees are cash cows for universities. They rarely offer financial aid (other than loans) whereas the PhD is usually a full ride and they are very cheap to deliver. Colleges invent masters degrees for specifically financial reasons. A college that encourages you to go on to a masters in the same school is flying a red flag about the value of that degree. If you want a masters then at minimum you want it in another place.

      If the degree is very job specific in a field that requires it and clear technical skills e.g. physical therapy, then it is worth getting. But anything general including an MBA is not likely to be an asset in getting a job and will price you out of many opportunities. (unless you are talking about an MBA from one of the handful of top universities — a Harvard MBA will still get you somewhere)

      I have watched so many students who think they are buying a ticket to future career opportunity by getting a masters often when they are having trouble finding a good job. It generally doesn’t help and may hurt.

      I’d take the job if it is offered and use the breathing room to strategize about a future job search that will let you move ahead. And what an unfortunate time to be in this situation. COVID was not predictable I’m sure when you were making your plans and it has made everything so much worse for job seekers.

      1. T. Boone Pickens*

        Well said Artemesia. I thought long and hard about getting a MBA but ultimately I didn’t have the grades or GMAT score to get into a top 30 program and I wasn’t willing to shell out $100k+ to marginally increase my career prospects. My heart breaks for individuals that were sold a bill of goods by their undergrad universities that completing a masters at the same school was the way to go (there are exceptions of course but not many.)

      2. Anthony Tellier*

        I got (earned) an ME degree from WSU in ’63 … and the Aerospace Industry ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED a college-awarded Engineering degree (That field gave me a draft deferment — saving me from becoming AK-47 fodder in SE Asian). (I knew a character who made his degree up [or made up his degree] and was waltzed out the AiResearch door in one quick moment!)

        During an economic downturn (circa ’72) I was out, on the streets of Phoenix. Things were bleak … so I enrolled at ASU and earned an MSci in Geology (“Geothermal Exploration”): Note that non-degreed “geologists” were not hire-able, like non-degreed “engineers” (Note the lower case “titles”.). I got an AZ-state job as a Groundwater Hydrologist. Traveled all over the state, on their peso.

        When we were in Berlin (Germany, not Conn.) they (BWM) asked for my academic records …

        Moral: Some degrees … such as BSME and MSci … are an iron-clad-necessity. (I also completed all of the course work for a Ph.D. in Geology, but one cannot perform field work and work a job, too: always out-of-town and/or on-the-road.) Times were tough … but no regrets. Not as if I had gotten an MA in “Comparative Religious Architecture”, then wondered “WTF?”, OR “Want fries with that?”

      3. Not So NewReader*

        Hard agree here.

        Rural America here. The rule of thumb around here is a bachelor’s will get you AT MOST 32K per year. Don’t put your MA on the application, people will not hire you.

        I am not willing to move to a different area so I don’t see a master’s in my future. The ROI on my bachelor’s is terrible.

        OP, you are currently working three jobs? See if you can restructure somehow. Perhaps you can take this job and find a wfh side job. At least you would not lose drive time getting to your second job. Perhaps figure out how you could be a little more strategic in picking that second job. Is there part time work that would some how build up an aspect of your resume? Going with the MBA example, perhaps a bookkeeper gig? I hope you are not upset with me for saying that, some bookkeepers make good money for a part time job.

        A friend just quit her job in Major City. She is going down to a year round PT job and doing some subbing. The PT job is in her area of interest. When you take her pay and deduct travel and clothing expense, she will probably be at the same net income, but a lot less tired from all that driving.

      4. Attack Cat*

        My University has a PSM (professional science masters) program that has a decent job placement rate. Because a lot of the classes are basically job training. My reaction to that program is similar to my reaction to the administrative assistant associate’s degree programs that are growing in popularity. Why are we outsourcing job training to the University? Why are we suddenly unable to train people?

      5. BSME and loving it*

        My father, who is finally retiring after 46 years teaching in the hard sciences at a land grant university , says “If you aren’t getting paid to go to grad school, you shouldn’t be there.”

        I didn’t go to grad school. I spent a year driving a dump truck in a rock quarry because I could not find a job using my degree. Now, I use the experience as a reference when I design new heavy equipment.

        Take the job, pay bills, and keep looking!

        Use the new skills you gained to evaluate your placeholder job. Think like a senior person, and look for ways to apply you new knowledge. When the time is right, grab your supervisor/mentor and discuss your insights. Even if there is not a way to move up, this effort will either open doors, or will inform your next job search.

    4. anonymous1*

      Very well put. I’ve wondered before if that’s the case with “general graduate degrees” as you put, but I don’t have any exposure to hiring or personnel to know for sure.

    5. A Person*

      The other thing that has occasionally happened to me when I’m reading through resumes is if the new masters is put at the top it’s easy to miss the previous years of work. I really try to double check, but finding a format on your resume where it’s clear what previous experience you have is important.

      I see candidates who have first, but I would much rather see first and then the Masters later.

      1. beanie gee*

        This is such great advice.

        I review a lot of resumes and am always hesitant when I see the masters degree first. The degree is great, but what I really need is people with actual working experience. A lot of applicants have that, but if they make it obvious that they have the experience, that goes a long way.

    6. Dwight Schrute*

      Hey this is nice to hear! I just graduated in May with my MPH and it took me six months to find a job! You’re making me feel a bit better about my degree

    7. Red Boxes and Arrows*

      I just want to hop into this thread and say that, from my experience and that of my cohorts, a Master’s degree in Accounting is muuuuuch more valuable to employers (and to us employees) than a Bachelor’s in Accounting.

      Every company I interviewed with during grad school offered a huge pay bump for people with a Master’s. Instead of a starting salary between $60K – $70K, it was $70K – $80K. I have $30K in student loans; I’ll have them paid off in under four years based on that bump alone.

      Also, every single person in my cohort had jobs lined up months before we graduated.

      So it really, really depends on the field/profession.

      1. Hillary*

        In my head: Masters of Accounting = future CPA. That’s a premium worth paying.

        MBA, Masters of HR, whatever means you have the credential but what can you do for me. My MBA was handy when interviewing (I went to the same local state school as my boss and grand-boss along with half the MBAs at my company) but I got the job for my skills.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I also have a master’s in accounting but I think it’s pretty different than a lot of other’s master’s programs. Mine at least was only one year long, and the program was very focused specifically on getting us employed which was really nice. There were honestly times that I forgot for a moment I’d be coming out of the program with a degree because it felt more focused on coming out of it with a job.

  3. glitter writer*

    I was in a similar position after graduate school. First I had to work retail for a year, then I had a position I was mislead about in a deeply toxic, extremely hostile environment for about six months. (I was so happy when they fired me! I danced giddily to my car!) After that it was temp-to-hire in a nonprofit where I was badly underpaid, and then work in the right field but in the wrong role. (As if I had trained in Teapot Studies, and got a job at Teapots Inc., but in the HR department.)

    Nonetheless! Seven years after finishing my graduate degree I landed an incredibly competitive position in the field and have been extremely successful working my way up in the decade since. And in those seven years, I learned a LOT of necessary lessons about the workplace and (after the first couple jobs) made enough money to support myself, which frankly makes everything else a lot easier. Sometimes you can’t see the path you need to walk until it’s fanning out behind you.

    1. Valprehension*

      I had a similar experience. I have a professional master’s that is absolutely required to move beyond a certain level in my field, but it’s also competitive and I just got my first job that actually requires the degree this year, after graduating in 2014. I’ve been carefully working my way up in the meantime.

    2. Smithy*

      I was just about to respond and say “this is me too!” – when I realized that I had an oddly flip side to this story.

      I got a job a month after graduating in my field outside the US doing very interesting work but making less than I was in my job before grad school. It took me 3.5 years to be making more than I was before grad school, and then 7 years before I really hit the financial payoff. A decade in, I’m truly doing well financially and hitting an exciting level of seniority.

      I work in a field that’s very snobbish about people having masters degrees, so in many ways I know I never would gotten my start without it. However, when it actually comes to pay and opportunity, it’s entirely based on professional experience.

      That being said, I am with you 100% on the point of not seeing the path until you start walking it. From the choice of my graduate program and every subsequent job, it has all been critical to where I am now. But there were a lot of moments where it was not remotely clear.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Sometimes you can’t see the path you need to walk until it’s fanning out behind you.

      This is such valuable advice. My wise friend used to say, if you cannot figure out what to do next that is because there are things right in front of you that are undone. Those things need to get done first, then more of the path will be revealed to you.

      I like this a lot because dang! what you are going through OP is flippin’ hard and it’s good to have something to hang on to.

  4. a username*

    OP, years ago after finishing my masters I had to move to be closer to family to an area without a degree program in my area, confident the lack of competition would be an advantage, and took a job that was a step DOWN from my grad student placement. I felt embarrassed as well to see my cohorts landing great jobs right away in a more competitive market!

    I kept hunting and in less than 6 months moved back to a position roughly lateral with my student placement but on a short term contract. After three months there, I impressed my employer and was encouraged to apply for a permanent position that was in my field, but not what I wanted to be doing long term. I took it, thinking I’d grow to love it – and didn’t. Still, after three years there I was a competitive candidate and moved into a position doing what I enjoyed the most, in a market I wanted to be in.

    All of this is to say – as discouraging as it was at the time that first job feels like a blip on my radar at this point! Your first job post-grad is not your end-all be-all, ESPECIALLY in this market. Stay positive!

  5. CatCat*

    This isn’t a permanent situation (are any jobs really permanent situations?) If you can get experience that relates to the next step up plus having your degree, that is a good position to be in. Definitely continue to be active with the alumni network and if you can join any professional associations related to your degree or goal job, I would recommend doing that. To the extent they are having events like through Zoom, attend them, and read their publications (and if you’re in a position to do so, contribute to the publications.)

    The pandemic jobs market is TOUGH and this will impact you and will set you back. That blows. But it’s not forever.

    1. ThatGirl*

      This is more or less what I was going to say — the job market blows right now, but it’s not forever, and the “lateral move” job isn’t forever. And in a year or two, you’ll have more job experience PLUS the degree and the alumni network and be in a good position.

      That said, as a general thought, I would encourage anyone thinking about grad school to really think about what field/jobs they want to be in — is it necessary? I have a few friends who went for their master’s in journalism, and I don’t know that it got them any further in the field – sure, they made some connections, they have the big name school on their resume, but did you really get an MA from Northwestern just to work for a small public radio station in central Indiana? On the other hand, my husband *needed* a master’s to work as a licensed counselor/therapist — so that degree was worth it.

      1. ErinWV*

        It’s good advice to look ahead at what you really want to do before you get the Master’s degree, but sometimes the Master’s clarifies to you that the field is not what you want to do. I started my MA totally convinced that I would move on to PhD and become a professor and, for many reasons, that did not happen. But, looking back, I don’t know what I would have done differently.

    2. Sara without an H*

      CatCat is right. OP, while this may not be the job you wanted, it is at least adjacent to the field you want to work in. Learn everything you can, dazzle your managers with high-level performance, network, and do other forms of professional development. At some point the pandemic will end, and the economy will recover from its hangover. You will have been gainfully employed and professionally active and, thus, in a good position to look for a position that’s closer to what you want.

      Do not compare yourself to where your former grad school classmates are or what they have become. That way madness lies.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Do not compare yourself to where your former grad school classmates are or what they have become. That way madness lies.

        I second this. I had to stop looking at my former classmates’ LinkedIn accounts back when I had my own (many moons ago) because by their standards, I was pretty much a failure. The majority of them had jobs in the field, or at least in tangential fields – I didn’t (and my paycheck was even worse).

        10 years out, I’m doing much better than I could have ever expected, and I’m finally using my degree in a tangential field that actually pays way more than my original field. So things have a way of working themselves out, OP.

      2. Nynaeve*

        “Do not compare yourself to where your former grad school classmates are or what they have become. That way madness lies.”

        Quoted for truth! If you absolutely can’t help comparing yourself with your classmates, at least compare yourself with ALL of them, not just the most successful. I guarantee there are also some who are doing worse than you: those who dropped out, those who can’t find any job at all (much less in or adjacent to the field), those with even more debt, etc. And even if everyone is outwardly more successful, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily happier.

      3. ejd3*

        Do not compare yourself to where your former grad school classmates are or what they have become. That way madness lies.

        So so true. One of my cohort is now the Chief People Officer for a huge multi national company and now lives in the same town I do. Don’t get me wrong, she’s great, very talented etc. My own career is much more modest and that too is A OK.

      4. ErinWV*

        I had to hide all my library school classmates on Facebook. They all seemed to get great jobs right away. Most of them had to move out of state, so that was a major factor (I chose to stay married to my husband instead…)
        but one waltzed into a management position at the library where her mother was the director and I could not personally celebrate her accomplishments.

      5. Coder von Frankenstein*

        “Do not compare yourself to where your former grad school classmates are or what they have become. That way madness lies.”

        My college buddy is CEO of a sizeable company selling financial services. I am a code monkey in a university IT department.

        He hates his job. He’s stuck with it because most of his money is tied up in company stock, and the company was going to hell in a handbasket and he was the only one with the brains and the institutional knowledge to right the ship. My job has its ups and downs, like any job, but I mostly enjoy it and get to spend my time doing cool stuff.

        Sometimes the madness has an up side.

        1. Coder von Frankenstein*

          (Though not so much for my buddy. I worry about his stress levels. I tell him he’d better be paying himself a damn good salary, but knowing him, he probably isn’t; he’s the kind of guy who would cut his own paycheck to the bone before he’d even think about layoffs.)

    3. Xenia*

      I think that it’ll be easier to explain the job in future, too. If anyone asks why you went back to it after grad school, Covid-related hiring difficulties is a great explanation.

  6. Unfettered scientist*

    This letter encapsulates what I’m worried about when I graduate next summer with a PhD. Just to say that letter writer, you’re not alone. Don’t be embarrassed about taking the job if you get an offer. It’s better than the couple of part time things you have going on now and like Alison says, this job isn’t the end for you. Also, it might not be this job; if I understand right, you’re still in the process of interviewing. It’s possible this one also doesn’t work out. And that’s tough, but there will be other opportunities. What Alison says about degrees sometimes making it harder to get a job is scary. Is there a consensus from readers on which post-undergrad degrees are least useful/most potentially harmful?

    1. Someone Else*

      You need to start working on Plan B NOW – not next summer, not next year. There are no academic jobs now, there are no academic jobs next summer. Finish if you want ( it doesn’t really matter but stubbornness often overrules reason here ), but work on your exit strategy NOW.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Not true by the way, there are jobs in that field and still will be. It’s a bit brusque to tell someone to drop everything they’ve worked toward and claim to do otherwise is against reason.

        We don’t know what the situation or life of another person is like. There’s a difference between ‘here’s what happened to me and how I dealt with it’ and ‘you MUST do xyz NOW’

        1. LadyofLasers*

          There may still be jobs out there, but the already scarce opportunities are even more scarce. I’ve personally been talking to a university who have had a hiring freeze due to covid, and my network has talked about people who had an academic job offer getting that offer pulled because of the pandemic. People do get academic jobs all the time, but I think it’s a disservice to not acknowledge there’s a lottery element to the job search these days.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Not disputing that, just disagree with saying absolutes like ‘there are no jobs, won’t be any jobs, so drop your masters/phd now’.

          2. cat lady*

            This is a helpful way of framing it. Also, I have friends who, while struggling on the humanities PhD job market, delayed graduation a bit if they still had funding left and were on student health insurance. Yes, planning an exit strategy is a good idea, but pressing the eject button in panic is not.

          3. lemon*

            Agree with this framing.

            I read in Leaving Academia (which I recommended below) that people who start grad school have about a 7% chance of getting a tenure-track job. For some fields, like the humanities, I’ve heard that that’s even lower (around 3-4%).

            So, I don’t like to be all doom and gloom and tell people that they’ll never get a job, because I understand what it feels like to find your calling and to want to pursue that at whatever cost. But also, it doesn’t help to deny the reality of the academic job market today.

            So, folks should definitely have hope of finding a job, but should also make sure they’re backing up that hope with a plan B.

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          The number of faculty positions in many fields (with the exceptions of, say, medical/health sciences and engineering) has been declining for quite a while, and many professional organizations have data to back this up. There may be jobs, but the ratio of applicants to number of tenure-track faculty lines is not good and is not likely to improve in the face of budget/department cuts. People who finished Ph.D.s in 2020 are up against their own cohort, but also Ph.D.s from 2019 and 2018 and perhaps earlier and established faculty whose lines/departments fell victim to budget cuts. It’s not brusque to tell someone in a Ph.D. program to have a Plan B – Someone Else isn’t saying to “drop everything they’ve worked for,” but rather to have some viable options in the (statistically likely) event that new Ph.D.s don’t get the tenure-track job they planned on when they started the program however long ago. Programs that don’t advise their students to look beyond academia for possible employment are behaving unethically.

          1. PostalMixup*

            “Finish if you want ( it doesn’t really matter but stubbornness often overrules reason here ), but work on your exit strategy NOW.”
            Eh, that reads to me like “your PhD is meaningless, you might as well quit.” I take issue with that, since there are plenty of jobs outside tenure-track faculty that want PhDs, even in academia. And a recent PhD grad isn’t applying for faculty positions yet, anyway. They’d generally need at least one postdoc first. Who knows what the hiring climate will be in 5-10 years?

            1. LadyofLasers*

              Okay, I agree that a PhD is not useless (am in industry with a pretty awesome job that I got in part with my PhD), but the academic market has been trending this way for a good long while, and I’d be really surprised if were to make an upswing in the next decade.

              While I don’t want to say that there are no jobs (as Keymaster and Shelly have pointed out), it just really gets under my skin when academics take the attitude of ‘I got a tenure track position, so if you didn’t get one you must have not been trying hard enough’. #Notallprofessors, but enough to put intense pressure on students to succeed in academia.

              Like Semicolon said, programs that aren’t wising up and giving students a broad picture of career options are being unethical and cruel.

      2. Shelly574*

        That’s not true. My institution is hiring. I know several others that are. Is the market tough, yes. Is it impossible? Well, no, because I’ve been on several hiring committees this year for PhD jobs.

        To answer OP, I think the market is tougher for humanities PhDs than non-humanities.

        1. Elitist Semicolon*

          This is a fair point, but how many applicants are there for each open position? The chances of any one newly minted Ph.D. being the person who is hired for any given position are slim, especially if they’re in a field where they have to compete with previous cohorts. The absolute language of “there are no jobs” may not be true in a literal sense, but for many applicants, it proves true in a practical sense.

      3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        My husband’s sending out letters of recommendation for mentees of his who are on the faculty market this year, so a) jobs are posted and b) hiring committees are checking references.

      4. Unfettered scientist*

        Thanks for the reply. I probably should have said I’m not interested in academia. I’m going to be applying for industry positions.

        1. Dan*

          I was about to ask if it’s assumed that everybody who gets a PhD wants to stay in academia… because in my field (generally speaking, data analytics) graduate degrees are more common than undergraduate degrees. Something like 2/3 of the technical staff in my division of several hundred people hold an MS or PhD.

          1. Ilene*

            To be fair, the off ramps from science and quantitative academia are really well understood and there’s much less ambiguity about doing that because lots of people have done it before and the demand for the skills exists across disciplines and industries. My understanding is that humanities and qualitative social science are harder because those who leave need to chart their own paths more often than not.

      5. Weekend Please*

        Having a plan B is always a good idea, but academic jobs do exist. I wouldn’t tell anyone to abandon their career ambitions before even applying to any jobs. Just be ready with plan B in case it doesn’t work out. And quitting with one semester left before getting their degree seems like awful advice. Many PhD programs cover tuition and provide a living stipend, so you could essentially be telling the OP to quit their job and give up hope of a career now.

      6. NotAnotherManager!*

        Not all PhDs want to be academics, and I don’t see anything in Unfettered Scientist’s post indicating that they are looking for an academic job. Most people I know with PhDs actually work in R&D or lab environments, not higher education. (The one who works at a university is ABD.)

        1. Unfettered scientist*

          Yep I’m looking forward to hopefully finding a job as a research scientist in my sub field or something similar. I live in a major biotech hub so I’m probably in the best location I can be to find this type of job without having to move.

      7. Xenia*

        I think it’s unfair to say ‘there are no jobs’. Of course there are. There’s just fewer jobs. It’s a good idea to start working on a plan B though.

    2. lemon*

      Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide has some really useful advice on how to prepare for alt-ac jobs, if you’re interested.

    3. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

      When I was in college, there was some TERRIBLE advice that a law degree would be useful in non-law fields. (Note: I am a practicing attorney and a very happy one at that and went into law school knowing I wanted to practice law.) This is….not true. A law degree gives you the credentials to be a lawyer, that’s it. The theory was something about the way you are taught to think in law school? But really law school just teaches you to be terrified of being asked a question in front of 100 people.

      1. Joielle*

        I actually do think what you learn in law school has some broad practical applicability and would make you better at a wide range of jobs involving analysis/critical thinking/writing/communication (although YMMV depending on the law school). I LOVED law school and would go again for fun if money was no object.

        But having a law degree on your resume will NOT be useful in non-law fields. Reasonably, people assume that if you went to grad school for one specific career… you probably want to do that specific career. There are a lot of JD-preferred jobs out there, where it does help – but if you go to law school and end up wanting to do something completely different, you might consider leaving law school off your resume altogether.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Law school is on my win-the-lottery list, and when I tell people I’d only go for fun and if I was independently wealthy, they look at me like I’m nuts (mostly the lawyers). I worked in legal for years. I have no desire to be a practicing attorney, but I LOVE the subject matter and legal theory and writing. Professional student is my career asperation, I just don’t have the funding for it.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        My team has at least three non-practicing attorneys, and the very first question they all get asked if if/when they plan to return to practice and why they’re not applying for an attorney role. It’s one of the few degrees I think can be a liability rather than an asset or neutral.

        There are tangential (legal services, legal publishing, etc.) fields where the JD can be useful, but for your day-to-day job outside the industry, I do see it raising concerns/questions that an MA, MS, or even MBA might not.

      3. Michaela*

        Sourcing, contracts management / administration, and procurement type roles, it’s definitely an asset.

        I sort of ended up here after a flaming out of a firm within 2 months after graduation, and still in the industry 15 years later. The industry is full of ex lawyers (and engineers, and potentially any field that needs things and sort of falls into it). Considering that we draft and negotiate contracts, and many companies have minimal legal support, so ex lawyers do very well – a co-worker once grumbled that the lawyers got special treatment.

        I get paid similar to a senior associate from a mid tier, but with a 40 hour week, and I wouldn’t have done well with firm cultures, so I’m happy with where I am. Just a career to consider for people with law degrees who don’t know what do with their degrees.

    4. Homebody*

      If you haven’t read “The Professor is In” by Karen Kelsky, or looked around her blog, I definitely recommend it.

      Among my friends I would say Communications, anything in Anthropology, and the Environmental Sciences. Most people I know who had a Masters or PhD in those fields ended up falling into a different career or going back to school in something else because the market is so dismal. Pharmacy, physical therapy, and veterinary medicine are hard fields to just because they are so over saturated. Same with mechanical engineering. Obviously, this might not be true across the board but it’s what I’ve seen personally. 2020 has changed all the rules.

      1. Unfettered scientist*

        Thanks for the reply. I love The Professor is In. Great book. And I’m biomedical sciences so hopefully that means a better industry market (fingers crossed)

        1. br_612*

          I have a biomed PhD and work in pharma (as a medical writer, I never want to see a pipet again after grad school and post-doc). Pharma is starting to pick back up after Covid. My very small company had to do layoffs in April and everyone had found a job by July.

          1. Dan*

            I work for a very large non profit as a data analyst/software development. We have several lines of business, most of which I have no familiarity with.

            I was having lunch one day, and some interns next to me were discussing pipets, but in a really general sense. I leaned over, and asked if that was some Java programming construct that I was unfamiliar with. (Java has changed a lot over the years, but I don’t necessarily use all of the bells and whistles.)

            Their response: “No, we’re chemists. Different kind of nerd!” (Made me LOL.) I was like, “We have a lab here?” Yeah, in the basement. Who knew?

      2. cat lady*

        Humanities PhDs (English, History, languages) seem to be the toughest academic job markets, both since the 2008 crash and even more so now. Personally, one (1) job was listed in my field nationally on the MLA jobs list this year.

    5. cleo*

      In my experience, post-grad degrees in the creative fields are more useful in terms of personal growth and maybe networking than actually landing a job, unless you are in academics. I have an MFA in product design – I’m not aware of it hampering my career in UX design but it’s not been a noticeable help either, except for a couple design projects for universities.

      1. cat lady*

        do you wish you had gotten a degree in UX design? Did you have to go through a bootcamp like General Assembly to break into the field?

        1. cleo*

          No to both questions.

          UX design didn’t really exist as a degree or field when I graduated in 1998 (or if it did, I hadn’t heard of it) but I learned most of the key UX principles studying product design (also called industrial design). The first book assigned in my first design class was The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman, one of the founders of the field of UX.

          I looked into a boot camp a few years ago when I was making my career change from teaching art and design to practicing design but decided against it. I went to a panel discussion with UX professionals who were all grads of a local boot camp. Most of what they talked about was familiar to me and one of them quoted a designer that I’d read while in design school. On an open thread at AAM, a UX designer talked about boot camps and degree programs and said that having the experience was more important than a degree or a boot camp.

          I decided to focus on getting jobs that I was already qualified for and to try to use them and freelance gigs to get as much UX experience as I could to break into the field. I spent a year working a couple temp / contract jobs doing web content / low level front-end development type work and then kind of lucked into my first full time UX gig. My first contract site needed a UX designer for a big, messy project and they called me because they knew I had the soft skills to handle the project and were willing to give me a chance. (And I killed it).

    6. PostalMixup*

      If you’re in the life sciences, definitely start job searching well before you defend, especially if your job search is geographically restricted. Plus, that will give you ideas of what skills you might be missing. I realized in my last year of PhD that bioinformatics experience was all but required in my local industry scene – I did a short postdoc to get that experience and now work in industry. But my job search took nine months! It was incredibly frustrating and demoralizing. I don’t know how the postdoc-hiring scene looks right now, but it doesn’t hurt to put feelers out among collaborators and with people you’ve met at conferences. A PhD is definitely a plus in life sciences, and many companies are actually doing pretty okay right now. And don’t forget about your local biotech scene!

      1. Unfettered scientist*

        Do you have any recommendations on breaking into networking with industry as a student? I’ve made contacts here and there and I have done some informational interviews and have the opportunity to do more, but I’m unsure how to make a meaningful relationship out of a pleasant conversation. I’ve heard advice to send along relevant articles to the people you’ve done informational interviews with, but that always feels really forced to me and I don’t want to waste their time.

        1. Sleepwakehope*

          I did all the informational interviews and never really managed to establish a relationship with anyone but the thing they helped me most with was learning to talk in the correct industry terms about the correct things. It took me 10 months to find a job post defense, and I got mine from a cold job application, despite the hours and hours of networking I had done, but I do think the networking helped me identify the correct answers to questions (also taught me which steps needed to take to be considered)

        2. PostalMixup*

          I never found traditional networking to be terribly helpful. My university has these mixer events where startup people and university people mingle – those never led anywhere for me, though I had classmates that did make meaningful connections there. I went to my university’s career fair, and got referred to a couple postings at a major pharma company that were varying levels of fit. I had much more luck through word-of-mouth from former classmates. My university has a relatively large number of graduates that stay local (low cost of living area with a surprisingly large number of solid employment options) so I was able to call up friends to get inside info on the jobs I was interested in, and asked them to keep their ears open for anything that sounded like a good fit. One of the friends I talked to, the position ended up being a backfill for hers after a promotion, so I got REALLY good insight on that one. Another position was at a small biotech that had lots of people from my university – while I didn’t know any of them personally, we had connections in common, and that helped me get an interview. I saw above you’re in a biotech hub, so you may be able to take a similar approach. Scroll your LinkedIn connections and see who works somewhere interesting. Drop them a message and check in!

        3. kt*

          If you’re in a field where there are local meetups in the area where you want a job, give talks at those meetups. Talks are actually ideal for introverts or for people who don’t know quite who to approach, because if you’re the speaker, people will approach you! Giving talks about your work or data analysis or whatever is a great way to get in touch with people who actually give a *(& about the topic and it gives you a way to set up further discussion and connection.

    7. kt*

      Depending on what you’re in, though, there are plenty of industry jobs for PhDs. In my data sci group, we’re still finding PhDs from various STEM fields very attractive hires — but we’re not hiring people because they know about phytoplankon or black holes, we’re hiring them because they have experience dealing with large messy data sets, creating models for complex social behavior, whatever. You’ve got to have the transferrable technical skills (git or other version control, Python or R, basic SQL skills, data visualization via RShiny or Dash or whatever, demonstrated experience dealing with real-world data) and from there feel free to tell us how you used it to analyze whale populations over time, knowing that we don’t care about whales per se but do care about time series with exogenous inputs.

      So yes, be strategizing now, by attending industry events, doing informational interviews with alumni and folks from your field who’ve moved to industry, etc. Start surfing job ads and exploring what job titles might work and what skills they talk about. If you build a network now and understand the shape of the job market better, you can better target your skill-building and networking for the next 6 months.

      1. a lady*

        do you find a degree in data science or data visualization to be a bonus for candidates, or would you classify those as unhelpful grad degrees?

        1. Dan*

          Data Sci, yes, in general. Data viz? Not so much. You need data viz skills as a data sci person, but if you show me a PhD about viz, I need to figure out how much is technical and how much is… fluff. If I’m in the market for a PhD, I’m in the market for someone who knows the theory cold, and the viz degree doesn’t convince me of that.

          People are free to disagree with me (and they will). The thing with Data Sci is that at the undergraduate level, you learn cookie cutter stuff. But the real demand in the real world isn’t for cookie cutter application of algorithms, it’s how to adapt algorithms to the problem at hand, or adapt the problem to the algorithm. One simply doesn’t learn that much at the undergraduate level, and the MS/PhD is going to float to the top.

          Is this a universal, hard and fast rule? No. Are there exceptions? I’m sure there is plenty. But in my line of work, the positions that are really heavy on the hard-core data sci side are “PhD preferred.” Also, if one has aspirations of climbing the technical management ladder, the PhD *will* set you apart.

          1. a lady*

            thanks, this is really helpful. Does the same advice apply regarding master’s level degrees in data sci or data viz, as opposed to PhDs?

            1. Dan*

              You should know something about data viz at any level (that is, do the coursework, learn the fundamentals and some software tools) but as a *degree*? Same advice applies, skip it.

              As for the theory… a two-year MS (which is typical) simply won’t give you the exposure that a PhD does. So if an employer is looking for heavy theory, the MS won’t open that door.

              But Data Sci is often about *modeling* and problem definition. It’s not always necessary to be a hard core theory geek. It’s also about real world data and the messiness of it, and being able to *solve problems*. You learn a lot of that at the MS level that you don’t at the BS level. (And even if you learn some at the BS level, if you don’t have prior work experience, an employer isn’t going to give you much attention if they think they want an MS.)

              One kicker is that you’ll more than likely pay out of pocket for an MS, but a PhD is likely to be funded. The further kicker is the opportunity cost. Being out of the work force for 6 years pursuing a PhD is a lot of missed income and missed contributions to a 401k. I paid out of pocket for my MS, and I have zero regrets.

              Again, YMMV and I’m sure plenty of people will disagree with me. But on net, when making career choices, you’re playing a numbers game, and your goal is to make the smartest play you can. You can exit academia with an MS that you paid for and do just fine. You can stick it out and get funded for a PhD and not pay, but be out of the workforce longer. IMHO, that’s a personal choice and harder to give you clear advice.

              Just skip the viz as a degree. I don’t think there’s a market for that yet.

            2. kt*

              I’ll join in here too. I find masters in data science to generally be weak, honestly — some are good, but most are not deep enough in the modeling/math/stats to transform a person into a good “deep” modeler. Many are enough to help people who have this experience from other fields transition into data sci: so if I had some sort of engineer or chemist who then did a data sci masters, I’d see that as a good signal for someone who has the deeper skills and has added the surface stuff (programming, data management, familiarity with modern infrastructure or deployment ideas, etc), while if I saw an business major who only had a data sci masters, I’d be pretty skeptical and dig deeper into their skills. An art major with a data sci masters? That might actually be better, because there’s a bigger chance they’d have been so behind on the math that they’d actually have had to learn a bunch recently rather than skating by! I know that’s paradoxical.

              Demonstrated work is better than degrees at this time in data sci, because data sci degrees are new enough that there are no standards. I know data sci degrees you can get without taking any math classes. That, to me, is weird — how’re you going to understand the linear algebra that underlies recommender systems or support vector machines? It really depends on the program and its reputation. Look where the alumni go.

          2. Ilene*

            I think at the PhD level, the study of data visualization is closer to HCI or CS than data science. Doing a PhD will absolutely develop advanced technical skills of some kind, but they may not be the ones OP is thinking of. I think, as ever, it comes down to what kind of career and work the OP desires, and making sure that that’s well understood before deciding to pursue a degree.

          3. Red Boxes and Arrows*

            At my last company, I shared office space with part of the tech team (which included a lot of different areas like UX, IOT, manufacturing tech, e-commerce). There were probably 60 of them. The only people with a Bachelor’s were temporary interns who were there to gain experience, not an eventual job offer. (We partnered with the local university). The rest were maybe 60% Masters and 40% PhD’s.

    8. Little Pig*

      It depends so much on your field / university / personal abilities. Three people graduated with PhDs from my lab this year (including myself), and all of us landed somewhere: One got a low-paying research job that will give him experience in a highly sought-after space, one got picked up by a major major tech company in Silicon Valley, and I’m starting a management consulting job next month. Admittedly, our university is one of those big names that attracts attention, but still – it can be done.

      My advice is to reflect on everything you’ve learned besides science: Taking initiative, solving problems thoughtfully, working with collaborators, etc. These narratives can be very powerful. And I would start preparing for interviews early! Many PhDs struggling with how to present themselves while job-hunting.

      1. PostalMixup*

        Yes to preparing for interviews early! An industry job talk is a different beast than an academic job talk. If you know anyone who’s already made that jump, see if they’ll sit in on a practice talk and give you feedback. My first industry interview I gave the practice talk to my lab, and their advice was actually counter-productive.

    9. ...*

      Its more about the role theyre applying for than what the grad degree is in. I will say the moment that I decided not to do grad school is when I was working as a waitress and making good money working like 24 hours a week and someone came in and turned in a resume for the restaurant with a full grad degree from the school I was considering. I was just like nope I’ll keep waiting tables and wing it later.

    10. The Other Victoria*

      I finished my PhD in late 2019 and made the transition to industry this past May (the semester after graduation I was able to keep my grad role because there were special allowances for students who graduate midyear). If you’re looking to make the switch, I recommend you start applying now, because that lead time will give you experience applying and interviewing.

      The big lookouts I would say: 1. Analytical skills and other skills you gain in your PhD are going to be more useful than your content specialization, so draw that out. 2. Search job postings for tools you use rather than for particular titles (unless you know the industry well already). If you use R, SQL, Python, or if there are particular statistical approaches you use, look for those in your online search terms. 3. In academia, the tendency is to talk about industry as a monolith, but when you’re interviewing, they’ll want to know why you’re interested in their industry, not industry in general, so it is helpful to at least get a sense of what the industry the job you’re interviewing for is in (they may also ask you why you want to leave academia, so have an answer to that, too). 4. While it is bad advice to talk about undergraduate coursework as a job (and Masters programs depend on the specific program and if you’ve got an assistantship or not), you can absolutely think about the research you’re doing in a PhD as a job an write about your dissertation on your resume like it’s a project, because the average dissertation demonstrates project management, planning, ability to follow through, communicating with different audiences, etc. 5. Start viewing yourself as a professional with a highly specialized skillset and tailoring your resume accordingly. Stop viewing yourself as a student. The people I know who have succeeded in finding a job that pays well and makes use of their skills (and they’re not wildly overqualified for, etc), have successfully done this. It might mean the difference between an entry level job and a more senior role.

      1. Hillary*

        As an MBA in industry (literally industry, we’re a b2b manufacturer) I’d add:

        a) practice situational interviewing. There are good practice question sets out there – mine came from the b-school I went to. Maybe career services at your university’s b-school will share. You should have 5 good situational stories that will cover most of the questions you’re going to be asked. Dealing with a difficult coworker, dealing with uncertainty, and how you prioritize work are ones asked in pretty much every interview.

        b) be ready to talk not just about the industry, but the specific company and product line. You’re interested in Moderna because you’re excited about their approach to mRNA vaccines. Or Medtronic because you want to be on the cutting edge of pacemakers. You should always look forward with your whys, not back.

  7. beachykeen*

    I can totally relate! I went straight to law school from college but also maintained a fairly robust journalism (my undergrad degree) resume through freelancing. When I graduated, I knew I wasn’t passionate about litigation but I applied for some research and policy jobs I thought were perfect and got close but didn’t get hired.

    I reached the point where I needed ANY job. The student loans were going to come due and I was going to turn 26 and lose my parents’ health insurance. So… I took an abysmally low-paying job at my local newspaper as a crime reporter. All of my friends from law school seemed to be excelling and I was significantly under-employed with not a lot of room for advancement and the constant stress of being in a crumbling industry. I couldn’t see a path forward.

    But! It allowed me to keep a foot in the legal world and lead to me getting a more prestigious legal journalism job 18 months later. After more than six years in print journalism, an ideal opportunity opened up that I was only qualified for because of this unique path I accidentally took and I’m now happily ensconced in a state government role with “Esq.” on my door.

    I still feel “behind” because I didn’t land in a “lawyer job” until 7 years after I graduated, but it worked out fine. Absolutely give yourself a break for the circumstances of 2020 and feel no shame about taking something secure for now, even if it’s not ideal.

    1. AnotherAlison*


      I started working after finishing my engineering degree, but went to a part-time low-end MBA program after a year out of school. I stayed in my current job for 2 more years (while expanding the family during a major industry downturn), and then got a sort-of-lateral job where I didn’t need a business degree, but it helped make the career shift make sense and did provide extra qualifications and usable skills. 3 years later, a newly created role at my company opened up, and I was uniquely qualified for it (industry experience and the degree).

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Sometimes, it’s that nontraditional path that qualifies you for something you didn’t even realize could be your career. I ended up in an administrative support role out of undergrad, I’d taken some computer classes in college (and gone to a school that was technologically ahead of the curve), and I worked in legal – those three things together put me into a narrow slice of people who were qualified to work in an industry that started in the late 90s/early 2000s and has been a wild ride straight into AI and business consulting. (This is where I become conflicted on the idea that college should lead to a specific career and be less liberal artsy and all practical – my job didn’t exist before I went to college, and it didn’t exist when I was in college.)

      Anyway, the job you take right out of school doesn’t have to be the job you do for your whole career (particularly in a pandemic!), and it can be tough to tell what skills and experience you’ll build in stepping-stone jobs to get where you ultimately want to be.

    3. Shut It Down*

      Yes! Take the job, LW. Non-traditional career paths are a thing, and they can develop in a way that’s impossible to predict from where you’re at. I’m a non-practicing lawyer working in a law-adjacent field that I had no connection to before taking this job; some days I miss law practice, some days I wonder if the time and money for law school was wasted, but overall I enjoy my work and I don’t regret the path that brought me here.

  8. merp*

    I had the privilege of a much better job market, but just in case this helps to hear – I graduated in Dec 2017 and watched many of my classmates get pretty glamorous jobs in the field at cool institutions and I ended up with a job that didn’t require my degree in a place I didn’t particularly want to live. It didn’t make me feel great about myself. But! Like Alison says, the job you take now won’t be your job forever. I decided early on in that job that I would stay for 2ish years, learn what I could, and then look for a job that did require the degree I had gotten. And even though I hadn’t been too excited about it, those 2ish years helped me get the job I have now, which I enjoy a lot.

    Looking back, not only did the job I take do important things for me, like pay the bills and build my savings back up after grad school, it helped me solidify the type of job I did want to land in longterm. And what I didn’t see at the time was that many of my fellow grad students who got those glamorous jobs made sacrifices I wasn’t willing to make, like move across the country alone for the job.

    I think (for me at least) grad school created a really unhealthy mindset of competition. The degree’s value is the job you get at the end, so you spend the years in school competing with all the people in your classes for the same assistantships and parttime jobs for experience, and some of you “win” at the end with a cool job. But that isn’t the way I wanted to think about my career longterm and it look me a long time to feel better about my path. I say this now from a job I like, so maybe that sounds obnoxious, but I really think you’ll get where you want to be!

    1. OrigCassandra*

      I see this competitive mindset in the professional master’s program I teach in despite doing my utmost to disrupt it.

      In the fields I teach for, zero-sum cutthroat behavior not only doesn’t help careers, it actively harms them. These are smallish fields with long memories, where you absolutely need a professional network that remembers you kindly if you’re to succeed. I’ve seen decidedly bright and capable graduates crash and burn because they’d stepped on others (inside and outside the program) too many times to earn good recommendations and word of mouth.

      So, um, if you’re going into a professional master’s program? Please, I’m begging folks, lift others up when you can. It matters to YOU as well as to those others.

      1. merp*

        I’m glad you try to disrupt it! Everyone in my program was kind and encouraging (at least, everyone I worked/took classes with) but the competition for opportunities while in school was really hard to avoid regardless. I spent a lot of time feeling bad about the ones I didn’t get and worried it would ruin by chances of getting a good job when I graduated. I don’t think the admin helped by talking so much about getting a job at the end.

      2. Smithy*

        Oh man…..this is so true.

        I work in a field where there are no technical skills you need from a masters but it’s a field where most people have them and in many cases are requirements in job postings. My grad degree gave me two points of value – 1) the time to live and build networks in the city where I wanted a job and 2) a professional peer network. I will never forget graduating and hearing who graduated “top” of our program, and to me it was this funny reminder that there were also grades and clearly some people striving to get the best of them.

        I think a lot is made of having mentors and networks of people more advanced than you, and the reality is that graduate school is kind of the perfect place to connect with people like that in addition to peers. Not everyone starts their grad program on the same professional foot based on 101 factors that may not be immediately obvious. The student hosting all the student happy hours and/or coasting with average grades may also be working in the field part-time or have a longer resume where they aren’t as focused on impressing their professors. Another student with the same background as you may get a job first, and then be in that position to expand your own professional networks and share newly posted jobs.

  9. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    OP, are you me? Because this is like looking in a mirror! I finished my MBA in February and really don’t want to go back to teaching, but I am out of money and out of options, except now there aren’t even teaching jobs in my area, and the “teach English online” jobs have been fairly snapped up. Thank you for writing in, because I thought I was going crazy not wanting to move backwards or laterally and everyone telling me to be grateful if I got a minimum wage job (loan repayment scares me now too). I will be gobbling up all the comments here!

    1. urban teacher*

      I had quit my teaching job in March after getting my MPA but luckily the district allows for rescission so I did. I am now thinking I will teach for more years. I was so hoping to leave.

      1. urban teacher*

        Also, I was hoping to get a staff job in student affairs but with covid made the move to keep teaching. I am still applying to colleges because hope springs eternal.

  10. No one told me life would be this hard*

    I went back to grad school for a field I loved. After which, I could NOT get a job in my field. I spent the next 10 years being under-employed doing freelance research in an unrelated field, dinky jobs I didn’t need my masters for, and being unemployed.

    And then one day….I got my dream job. Not only the job I went to school for, but a job at the highest level.

    My life still isn’t where I wanted it to be, but then again, no one told me life would be this hard.

    1. pcake*

      Yeah, my parents raised me to believe that you get a degree – any degree – in a field you love, and all the rest falls into place.

      In real life, that’s not a helpful position to be coming from…

      1. natter*

        I think a lot of parents who have no idea how things work (and I include mine in that!) have given well-meaning but totally incorrect advice like this. My parents were so impressed with my M.S. and assumed it would open any and all doors. Maybe it would have, for them, 30 years ago – but these days it’s much more complicated.

        Obviously the decision to go to grad school was mine, and it’s not my parents’ fault! But, their thoughts were in my “plus” column when I was considering the degree, and in retrospect, they should not have been a factor at all. Unless you have a parent who has very specific, very recent information about the specific field you’re working in (or looking to work in), they’re not going to be helpful.

    2. Amber Rose*

      Is it like you’re always stuck in second gear, and it hasn’t been your day, your week, your month or even your year? ;)

  11. WorkingFromCar*

    I graduated with a masters degree in history, having pursued that path with the hopes of going on to a PhD. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. I took a random job that could tide me over until I got a job doing fundraising at a museum. I hated it. After two more years I got a job offer as a copywriter. And it is a CAREER that I LOVE. I can see myself staying in this field forever. I’m really grateful for the bad jobs, but I think it’s important to remember that sometimes it just takes time to find what you need to do. I’m sorry you’re having a hard time, but keep going. You will find your place eventually!

    1. oof*

      wow, are you me? My experience is so similar to yours! I graduated with my undergrad in History, and then a masters degree in Museum Studies, because I wanted to do educational programming for history/culture at museums. Turns out it is incredibly difficult to get any entry level jobs in education or curation at a museum, but it was far easier to get a job in fundraising. I’m doing that now (which I don’t love), and I’m looking to switch into copywriting! I’ve been doing a digital marketing bootcamp to add on to the writing skills I have. The job market is tough right now, but I really hope I’ll be where you are one day!

  12. Amber Rose*

    “I could definitely network and make some good connections, but there probably wouldn’t be a ton of growth opportunity in the position or office itself.”

    Isn’t that fine? You can excel at this job and use it to push yourself forward in the future in a different position or office. Get killer references and turn them into opportunities.

    I understand it feels demoralizing to have busted behind to get a master’s degree and not have it give you an automatic boost, but the fact is, education is only ever a stepping stone. Sometimes (maybe most of the time?) all it’s really good for is getting your foot in the door at the bottom level so you can get to the elevator going up. Advanced degrees are usually only a boost to people who already have everything else they need. That’s why so many places will take experience in place of the degree and want both. Actually having done the work is just preferable. Especially these days, when getting degrees is so much more accessible than it used to be and therefore so many more people have them.

    It’s unfortunate, but it’s something everyone is facing, not just you. No embarrassment required. This isn’t a failure, it’s just the way it is.

  13. AvonLady Barksdale*

    OP, I feel for you! It took me 8 months to find a job in my field after getting my master’s– I had gone back to school to change fields somewhat, in a very, very competitive industry. I went to one of the top programs for my new field, very recognizably so. In my case, I truly believed that my MA (combined with my work experience) would get me in to my chosen industry at a mid- to- high level and I would leverage my grad school network and find a job right away. Didn’t happen. At one point during those 8 months, my former employer called and asked me to return to my old job and I turned it down. I don’t regret that, but this was over a decade ago, times were very different, and my part-time jobs helped me get by.

    What ended up happening is that I had to take an entry-level job in my new field. There I was, three years of solid work experience plus a master’s degree, and I started at the very bottom. I had networked like crazy, got great feedback, just wasn’t really fitting in anywhere, and someone I interviewed with had a colleague with an opening somewhere else and… I took it.

    But I didn’t stay there very long. After all, I still had that experience and I still had that master’s degree, and while I gave up job-searching I didn’t give up networking. A few months into that entry-level job, I was approached by a person in another department about a slightly more senior position, I took it, I stayed on that team for 8 years.

    So I guess what I’m saying is that in your position, I would take the offer you have, but keep looking, and maybe broaden your search a bit. If you apply for a role that feels more junior, you can explain that you finished your degree and are just getting into that field. And always, always keep the lines of conversation open with your grad program. Are you leveraging alumni contacts? Attending events if they have them in your city? Keeping in touch with your classmates who did get hired in full-time jobs?

    I don’t think anyone would look askance at you for taking a job to get by, but the key thing is to look at this not as settling, but as a detour on your way.

  14. lily*

    Huh that’s interesting – I don’t know if I’d thought about the “it’ll always be part of your professional life now” part. I needed my masters because I wanted to be in a different field than what I did for undergrad, and it required specific technical skills I learned during my masters, but its definitely sometimes annoying when I apply to positions that someone without a masters, but an undergrad in said technical field could do. It’s actually reassuring to think that its part of my overall package now, career wise, for future job searches and discussions etc

  15. Dust Bunny*

    I don’t have a graduate degree but my first job after earning a bachelor’s from a fancy-pants private college was cleaning kennels at a vet’s office. Yup. The guy with whom I worked, I am not kidding, couldn’t spell his own name consistently. But I moved up. Now I work in a medical school library–my degree is in history but I was a biology major for awhile and four years helping veterinarians has been a huge asset in my current position.

    The thing is: It’s not a life sentence. Taking one job now doesn’t mean you can’t keep looking and take a different one when things are in better shape.

    1. Cendol*

      Off-topic, but I love hearing how people found their way to their present jobs. The (sometimes winding) paths people take prior to working at a special library are always so interesting to me. Working in a medical library especially seems like it would take a unique background/skillset, which you have! I’m envious!

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I work in the historical archives. I also love vintage cars and have a sizable collection of vintage sewing patterns. I am absolutely killer at dating photographs by clothing.

  16. Elizabeth Baker*

    Hello Letter Writer. Are you me a year ago? I was also looking for work in my field while burning through my savings. I did find a contract position which lasted 10 months in my field (MS Health Informatics), but am now working retail while, well, looking for jobs that aren’t there exactly. (This isn’t my first time having to switch to retail: the first one was back in 2009 when my freshly-minted MS Physics did exactly nothing in the face of the Great Recession.) So yeah, Ask a Manager is completely right: this is disappointing.

    Do I have advice? As difficult as it is, try not to define yourself solely by your degrees or job. For example, I have skills of teaching, cooking, weightlifting, and crochet, and by these means help my family. I know that the job is there to put food on the table, and does not completely define me. (This was quite the adjustment to make as a soft type A personality.) By having multiple sources by which I determine self-worth, I can keep up some courage to proceed most days.

  17. LifeBeforeCorona*

    Take the job. It’s better to be unhappy with a steady paycheck than be unhappy without one. Once you have the job, the desperation is gone and you can look for another one with a calmer frame of mind.

    1. Paris Geller*

      Yes, exactly.
      OP, I don’t want to downplay what you’re going through–it sucks! It’s such a hard time to get a degree and break into a new field. But it’s clear from your letter that you have two things weighing you down right now: the job search and your financial worries. If you take the job, you’ll still have some disappointment, but you’ll have less of the pressure of your financial concerns. I know you say the job isn’t at the pay band you want, so I’m not going to pretend it’s going to fix ALL your problems, but it can relieve at least some of this stress. The job could give you some time to breath as well.
      Plus, there’s always the adage that it’s easier to find a job when you already have one.

    2. In my shell*

      I agree, Life! The other thing is that OP has a high level of certainty and confidence in her ability to do this immediate job easily, so it likely won’t take a tremendous amount of energy to learn and acclimate for the position and she’ll quickly be free to use her energy in other ways (and maybe in her field? volunteering? some kind of professional interning/shadowing/consulting – anything to be IN a place and with people in her field? Because it’s all too true that it’s who you know not what you know, so when an opportunity in her field comes around…)!

      1. In my shell*

        (and compared to the soul sucking reality of balancing THREE part time jobs [and likely no benefits?]…!!!)

    3. cmcinnyc*

      Was coming here to say this. It’s remarkable how much better you will feel when you’re back from the financial brink. At the very least, the job will give you that. But once you’re calmer and steadily employed, you’ll probably find it in yourself to make the best of the situation, expand your professional network, and position yourself for the next thing in a couple of years.

    4. NerdyPrettyThings*

      I agree, OP. I’d take the job. I would try to go into this job with an open mind, too. It may have a broader scope than you realize right now; it could develop a broader scope with you in it, since you have the skills; or you could find a mentor there that could give you some insight or even assign you some tasks that would give you some experience in the type of job you want. Just remember, even if this job isn’t too different from what you were doing before, YOU are different because you know more now. Remember that when you negotiate salary too. :)

      But no matter what happens in this job, don’t wait too long to move on when the market improves, especially if your field changes quickly. You may not be in a good position with a several-year-old masters with no relevant experience following it. Best of luck to you!

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        I would try to go into this job with an open mind, too. It may have a broader scope than you realize right now; it could develop a broader scope with you in it, since you have the skills; or you could find a mentor there that could give you some insight or even assign you some tasks that would give you some experience in the type of job you want.

        Agree so much with this. I pretty much customized every job I’ve ever had (especially my current one) to play to my strengths and interests – and my managers have let me do it. Because of this, I ended up gaining a ton of experience I wouldn’t have had otherwise, which led to better titles at bigger and better companies for better pay.

  18. Law Student*

    Just wanted to offer sympathy. I left a good career a couple years ago to go to law school. It was looking like a good decision until COVID hit. Now I’m a third-year student with almost no job prospects. What few jobs there are are far more competitive than they would have been without the pandemic. It’s been really tough, honestly, to keep getting excited about opportunities and then losing out on them.

  19. Mel_05*

    I really sympathize with the OP.

    I went through a similar situation after getting my bachelors. The job market was rough and I couldn’t find anything except at Wal-mart. I finally got an office job that I would have been qualified for pre-college and I was so angry about it that I screamed. It was a job, sure, but it was not the work I wanted to be doing.

    It was a little over a year before I actually found work in my field. But, I’ve been working in my field for 14 years now. I know this sucks and is taking longer than you want it to, but it doesn’t mean that you won’t get there. You will.

    1. Jenny From the Block*

      This exactly. When I graduated with my bachelors in 2011, I took a job in a call center because there was nothing out there (Thank you for calling AAA, how can I help you?) while also continuing to work a retail job. Take the job, it’s income while you look for something better. 9 years later, I’ve had 2 jobs in my field that I have and do love. Working on my MBA as well so this letter is scary! But, hopefully in a year things will have greatly improved!

  20. londonedit*

    People’s careers often don’t take linear paths these days, it’s just the way it is. I graduated from uni back in 2003 and decided not to do an MA, because I couldn’t really see the point. Instead I got myself an entry-level job in an industry I thought I might like (because that was a thing you could still do in 2003). And then in the years after that, there came waves of people younger than me who all had MAs, because after 2008 the economy was so rubbish that you all of a sudden ‘needed’ an extra qualification to try to stick your head above all the other people fighting for jobs. And then in recent years it all quietened down again on the MA front – tuition fees in England went up, so people were already coming out of their first degrees with much more debt, and the job market settled down a bit. Now? Who knows. Meanwhile I’m established in my career and no one cares whether I’ve got a BA or an MA to my name, but it certainly hasn’t been linear – I climbed the ladder for a while, was in a toxic company and got badly burned, freelanced for a bit, and now I finally feel like I’ve found a decent place to work again and a job that suits me. But it’s not the job I ‘should’ be in at my age and with my experience, because I figured out I didn’t want to go to that level on the ladder. I do something I enjoy, I work for a nice company, but it pays far less than most of my friends’ jobs. And I’m happy with that! Careers are about figuring out what genuinely suits you and what your priorities for life really are.

    1. Anonforthis*

      For anyone else who is “struggling” with the concept of having a non-linear career path, I highly recommend the book “Range” by David Epstein.

  21. learnedthehardway*

    I had a very similar experience, and ended up doing virtually the same role I had been doing, but from the client side and with a bigger organization. However, my job after that was a step up, and after that I started my own business.

    I had planned a major functional shift (eg. from llama grooming to textile marketing). That never did happen, but I found ways to use my education within my original field, and it certainly helped me while I was building my business.

    My suggestion is to take this role if you get the offer, gain whatever experience you can from it, make a good contribution to the organization, and network like crazy for the next couple of years. Continue to build your profile in your industry / functional area, by doing whatever training is available, keeping current with the industry, etc. etc. – particularly if your desired career path is in a different industry or functional area. Once the economy recovers, you’ll be in a good position to move in the direction you want, and it will be evident to people that you coped with the economic downturn by being practical and realistic.

  22. The Happy Graduate*

    The thing is, there’s nothing stopping you from continuing to apply after you’ve accepted a full-time job offer. You can still continue to apply while employed (albeit maybe not as “full gusto” since finances will be taken care of and so not a time pressure anymore), just be a bit more choosy about which positions are genuinely suited to what you want/are qualified for. It would be the same situation as if you were in a job for 10 years and looking for new work because of a move, change of pace, etc.

  23. belgianchic*

    I had a hard time finding a job in my field after finishing grad school, and that wasn’t in a pandemic dumpster fire year. It turned out that very few of my peers had secured those prestigious jobs right after graduation, and what I considered a hard search- 5 months with very little to show for it, after several internships and good grades- was par for the course. Don’t compare yourself to what you see on social media or the like- lots of people struggle to find a postgrad job, especially now.

  24. I'm A Little Teapot*

    OP, having a full time job that you’re doing well at, pays the bills, but isn’t exactly what you want to do isn’t a shameful thing. This job may not be your goal, but it also isn’t the job you’ll have for the rest of your life.

  25. notacompetition*

    Congratulations on your degree, and sorry it’s taken a while to find a job, but May-November isn’t that terribly long, though I know it must feel demoralizing, and has caused financial strain for you.
    What you need to do now is networking/making good connections/establishing experience in your field; it sounds like you really should take that job if it’s offered.
    Simply having the degree doesn’t really get you the job anymore. So many people go to grad school nowadays, and it seems like many universities basically guarantee you’ll get an amazing job with the degree, but it’s not really like that, particularly if you’re in a field where experience is also highly valued. I have passed over candidates with grad degrees and less job experience in favor of candidates with extensive experience and demonstrated results in their area of work. I am not saying this to further demoralize you! I think it’s just part of the deal. Good luck to you!

  26. Generic Name*

    I can understand why you feel crushed and disappointed. Graduate programs are enormous money makers for universities, and they really sell (some might say oversell) their value to prospective students. They use the same language you use in your letter, “growth opportunity” “reaching your potential”, etc. Sure, a graduate degree can be all of those things, or it may not matter, or worse it can hinder your job hunt. It sucks, but I wouldn’t put too much blame on yourself. The job market is terrible right now. Maybe you can shift your focus from abstract concepts such as reaching your potential and ambition and focus on trading work for pay. I realize that may sound mercenary, but the vast majority of people work because they need to make a living. For many of us of a certain class and generation, we were taught that education gives you the keys to the world. It’s okay to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a degree because you’ll be Making a Difference! But the reality is we need to eat and pay rent, and you can only do that with money. Give yourself permission to accept a job that pays the bills, at least for the time being. When the economy recovers, you’ll likely have more opportunities for those ambitious and stretch jobs you yearn for. Look at this as an opportunity to demonstrate resilience and to “bloom where you are planted” so to speak. Hang in there.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Look at this as an opportunity to demonstrate resilience and to “bloom where you are planted” so to speak.

      I really like this, and it applies to many situations, not just work.

  27. CheeryO*

    Honestly, that sounds pretty normal to me, even for pre-pandemic life. Job searches can be long and frustrating, even if you’re a good candidate. It took me six months and probably 80 quality applications when I finished my STEM M.S. in 2014, and it took another six months after that to get the job that I wanted.

    Take this job and give it a couple years, and then make sure your cover letter and interviewing skills are on point when you give it another go. Maybe consider re-locating if you haven’t been open to it.

    Above all, please don’t be so hard on yourself! Taking a less-than-ideal job now doesn’t mean you aren’t smart and qualified, and it doesn’t mean that you won’t still be able to get a great job in the future. Also, don’t let yourself fall into the “everyone loves their job but me” fallacy – this is absolutely not true, and it’s not a constructive way to think. Your career path is yours alone, and it doesn’t help to compare yourself to others, especially when you’re not really privy to the daily reality of everyone else’s work life.

    1. Code Monkey the SQL*

      Yes, this!

      OP, you do not need to be reaching some mythical “potential threshold” in order to be considered as doing well. You don’t need to meet or beat your peers at the :”whose job is best” game. And you certainly aren’t locked into This Is Your Life Forever because you took a job to keep yourself afloat during a real cheeseweasel of a year.

      You are certainly allowed to feel annoyed/frustrated/sad that your job isn’t what you’d hoped. But it’s not a referendum on your hard work, or on your value, or any other intangible that has to do with you as a person. Buckle down for a bit, be gentle with your unhappy feelings, learn as much as you can, and when you feel ready, you can look around again and see if you can find something that lines up with what you want a little better.

  28. Pink Dahlia*

    Unfortunately, those of us who worked during 2001 and 2008 (and older recessions) know that this is just…how it is. Bad markets are just something you have to suck up, and frankly it’s highly unlikely that this is the only time in your life you will deal with this issue.

    I waitressed from 2008-2012 because I needed to put food on the table, and any time a snotty customer tried to make an example of me to their kids (e.g., “See what you’ll have to do if you don’t study hard?”) I responded with a frosty “Actually, I have an MS in comp sci.”

    TL;DR: This totally bites, but it bites for everyone, so–group hug!

    1. Jenny From the Block*

      Exactly, had a bachelors in business management and took a job in a roadside assistance call center during those years because there was nothing else! People routinely called me every name in the book including “uneducated” and “stupid” but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do! It was a hard time for everyone!

  29. AndersonDarling*

    I’ve mentioned it before, I think TV and movies give us this idea that you go to school and roll right into a job that matches your study area. And then you get promoted after a year, and after 10 years you are the VP of FancyPants, Inc. Oh, and you meet your perfect mate along the way.
    But reality has you doing some boring jobs, and maybe even a toxic job, before you get into a role that matches your degree. And many times you find out that there are other jobs that you love and they have nothing to do with your degree and you start pursuing that path.
    And a job that looks boring from the outside, may turn into an amazing opportunity!

    1. londonedit*

      Absolutely. I’ve done some work with university students wanting to get into my industry, and honestly a lot of the time it feels like I’m crushing their dreams because I have to tell them it isn’t particularly glamorous, the pay is pretty awful, and even if you have a shiny MA in Publishing in your eager hands, you’re still going to have to start at the bottom. You won’t walk straight into a job as Editor and start commissioning your own books. I always advise them to look at other options within the industry – everyone wants to work in editorial, but what about marketing? Production? Digital media? Rights, if you speak a foreign language? You’ve got to be open to doing things that weren’t necessarily in the dream of your perfect career, and you’ve got to be ready for the twists and turns of life and work and the economy.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      And a job that looks boring from the outside, may turn into an amazing opportunity!

      This is so true. I graduated with a B.A. in journalism back in 2009 and had to work some really crappy jobs up until 2013 to make ends meet. I was slowly dying from burnout at a churn-and-burn foreclosure law firm when I saw a job posting for a claims trainee program in the insurance industry, and I thought, “Insurance is so boring” – my mom works in the industry, and any time she talked about her job, my eyes would glaze over.

      That being said, the job was at a major company in my city that has offices all over the country and is a billion-dollar Fortune 400 company – I would have been insane not to apply, especially when the position really played up the need for strong interviewing and writing skills, which I had in spades. (The law firm I worked for was mid-sized, but constantly in financial trouble thanks to how their billing was structured.) I applied, got one of the two slots they were hiring for that round, and kicked ass in the program and was promoted eight months later. But more importantly, I LOVED that job. I loved the industry (commercial property and casualty insurance), and I’d still be in it if the company wasn’t such a slow to change old boys club that didn’t pay well (and burnout as a frontline adjuster was real).

      All of this to say, you just never know how you’ll feel about something until you’re actually doing it. Because of that experience, I no longer write off job opportunities in unknown to me fields based on my first impressions – they don’t always turn out to be correct.

  30. Boba Feta*

    As someone who went through the full range of intense emotions, anxiety, self-doubt and actual PTSD about failing to “live up to” the expectations of my PhD , and who only managed to find my professional place after six years of increasingly desperate part-time contract work, my one take away is that everyone, everywhere, the entire academic world would be better served if people got over the idea that it’s the degree that gets you the great job. In fact, from my own experience but also lots of the comments here, the reality is that it can be the degree but only in combination with actually putting in the effort, the work, and the self improvement in other jobs that eventually lead you to find your own place.

    It sounds like this opportunity would allow you to support yourself, make some progress toward deepening existing skills, and maybe even offer the flexibility and space to pursue additional networking and related benefits, that you can pursue for the next few years while you keep an eye out for the next opportunity. I suggest that, if it’s offered to you, you take this as a benefit and continue to look forward to and plan for your next adventure. Good luck!

    1. Someone Else*

      “the entire academic world would be better served if people got over the idea that it’s the degree that gets you the great job. In fact, from my own experience but also lots of the comments here, the reality is that it can be the degree but only in combination with actually putting in the effort, the work, and the self improvement in other jobs”

      plus a whole ivory tower’s worth of luck.

  31. Blobs and Squares*

    After I finished my grad program, I interviewed for a bunch of jobs that felt like good fits and one that felt like it was a waste of the interviewers time, because it was all about doing work I had no experience in (say my degree was in statistics, but this was focus group research). I was offered that job, and took it, and while I didn’t love it, I got to know people at the company and a couple of years later moved to a department where I could do statistics all day long, but my focus group experience allowed me to learn a lot more about the kind of things our clients wanted, which really informed my statistical analysis. All of which is to say, circumstances change, and a job is better than not having a job, not just for income reasons.

  32. Nicki Name*

    Take the job! It’s a job, not the end to your entire career. Approach it as “this is what I’m doing for a year or two while the world settles down and I sort out my next steps.” The fact that you’ve managed to land a job at all in these crazy times will look good on your resume.

  33. Alice*

    I know this isn’t helpful after the fact, but it’s critical that most students understand that many master’s degrees are useful for career advancement when you’re *already working in the field* – not as a “shortcut” around a lack of solid work experience at the entry-level in a specific field.

    There are exceptions of course, some fields require master’s degrees, but for most of them, a master’s level is meant to be the “icing on the cake” – “mastery” – in your field and not a direct path. X years of graduate-level study is not viewed as X years of work experience to the majority of employers.

    Of course, many graduate programs will take their money anyways.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      it’s critical that most students understand that many master’s degrees are useful for career advancement when you’re *already working in the field*

      This is a good point, and one I’ve been considering for a while now. I was considering going for an MBA with a concentration in digital marketing (a role related to what I do now) and letting my company pay for the whole thing (we have generous tuition reimbursement). However, I never took a single marketing course in undergrad and I only work with them occasionally on campaigns, so I don’t have the proper foundation for this concentration – and I doubt I’d get the kind of hands-on, on the job training I’d need at work to get up to speed (since, you know, I have a day job). This means I’d have to do a certificate program in strategic marketing to get a foundation and then go to grad school – but at that point, I’m like, would the MBA even matter then? Probably not. The experience is really going to be key if I decide to transition into marketing later in my career.

    2. natter*

      You are absolutely correct, and grad schools get a lot of the blame on this for promoting their degrees as tools to change careers.

      That said, the barriers to “start entry level and work up” can be so high that it’s no wonder people are looking for another way around. In so many industries, the lowest-level employees are expected to come in with relevant internships under their belts. If you didn’t have the opportunity to follow that narrow internship path when you were an undergraduate, it can look like there is no other option to make yourself appealing in the field except to go to grad school. This makes people vulnerable to the grad school marketing messages.

      Obviously, I don’t have a good solution to this system-wide problem, but calling attention to grad school as a poor tool for career change (except in those relatively few fields where it really does clearly suit that purpose) is a definite must. Anytime I see someone unsure about their future wanting to solve the problem by going to grad school, I feel like they’re about to step out in front of a moving train.

  34. Just Here for the Cake*

    OP, I was you until about a year ago. It took me a couple of year after grad school to find something in my field, and it was so frustrating! Here are some things that helped me:
    – Therapy: This was a big one. Talking to a therapist really helped me build coping strategies, not take the job search so personal, and figure out what I really wanted out of a job.
    – Meeting with My College’s Career Center: If your grad school has one, set up an appointment! The guy I met with helped me fix my resume and get me connected with a professional organization in my field.
    – Informational Interviews: These really helped grow my network and help me understand what people think is valuable in the job role I wanted and the companies I was interested in.
    – Professional Development Events: I found a local professional organization for my field that hosts PD events. The events really helped me stay up to date on new ideas, meet more people from different organizations, and stay excited about the field.

    I hope this helps, and I wish you all the luck! Just remember, you are not a failure because it did not work out the way you want right away. You are doing the best you can and the job search does not take away from your accomplishments or the wonderful person that you are.

  35. Keymaster of Gozer*

    My career ‘path’ looks more like a knotted bush if you look at it. I changed careers (virology to IT) once but even with that there’s been advances, setbacks, jobs in unrelated fields…

    It’s especially a mess this year. What I will say is that I’ve learnt a lot of the ‘softer’ business skills in the jobs that weren’t on my ‘next step’ list (which I binned btw. A general idea is enough) such as how to do a good job on something you’re not enthusiastic about, how to get along well with people who have very different jobs to your own, how to take constructive advice…all that good stuff.

  36. Masters Blues*

    No advice, just empathy.

    I finished my Masters a few years ago, worked part-time in the field through grad school, did several internships, did everything I was supposed to, even got a part-time temp job in the field after graduation that lasted a year. I’m now a temp data-entry clerk and while the job itself is fine and my coworkers are nice, I hate it. If we weren’t in a pandemic, I would have quit for sure, just because I find it so dull (and the health insurance is so bad I’d probably be better off on Medicaid). And this pandemic is going to shut my field down even more.

    So at least it’s not anything you’ve done wrong. The job market sucks and it sucks especially badly this year.

  37. BR*

    Said person just needs a job. In this economy and pandemic right now, it’s basically take what you’re offered. You can easily move later. I know it’s disappointing, but at least you’ll have a job! Best not to complain or bite the hand that will feed you.

  38. Art3mis*

    I feel very similarly, but about my Bachelors degree. Going back to school to finish my degree was a terrible decision.

  39. Anon Anon*

    I finished grad school during better economic times, but definitely slowing economic times.

    I think one thing to keep in the back of your mind, is unless your master’s or doctorate is an entry requirement for the types of positions that you hope to be hired for, it will be viewed as sort of “bonus” degree. But, it’s hard. Especially, when you’ve invested a significant amount of time and a ton of resources with the hope that you’ll have more opportunities. And, I do think it will pay off. In the longer term. Which I know is a bitter pill to swallow now.

    This won’t be forever. And, I’ve found that my graduate degree is more useful now in terms of making me competitive for positions, with a couple decades of experience than it was when I started. I also had multiple classmates who found great positions immediate upon graduation, and I had other classmates where they spent a couple years working in retail and other jobs not related to their degree, until they found a job that more closely aligned with their degree. At least in my experience for some people it just takes time.

    I’m sorry that you are experiencing such a frustrating time, and I really hope that you find a job that is a good match for your skills and more closely aligns with your longer term career goals sooner rather than later.

  40. WindmillArms*

    I really empathize, OP. The world has you in a tight spot right now.
    Here’s a perspective that’s a little different, from your “out-of-the-gate successful” classmates: I went back to school for a degree in, say, llama training. When I graduated (2009), there were about ten newly-minted llama trainers for every open llama trainer position. And I got one! And…I absolutely hated it. I broke down sobbing every single day, and within a year was hospitalized. “Hated it” was an understatement. I stuck out one year, and then applied for any and all semi-related jobs, before stumbling into a career as a, let’s say, writing manuals for zoo staff on how to train a huge variety of animals. I love it!
    The point I’m trying to make is that you don’t know what’s really going on with your classmates who got these jobs. Some may love it and excel right away; some may hate it and flee as soon as they can. Ten years on, it definitely doesn’t matter which of my cohort got into “llama training” immediately, and which came back to it after a year or two (or five) outside the field–or who never took a job in it! As Alison says, the degree is part of your candidacy package now, and it can be hard to see what awesome doors it might open for the rest of your career.

  41. cheeky*

    If it’s any consolation at all, I was laid off from my job in 2009, during the Great Recession. I went to grad school immediately after, in a related field, both because I wanted to further my education (primary reason) and because the job market was a disaster. I graduated in 2011 and was unemployed/underemployed for a solid year, and that was a really low year. However, I was then found by a recruiter for the awesome job I have today, though I’m not doing what I thought I would be doing when I was getting my master’s. I do use the skills and knowledge I learned in grad school every day in my job. I would guess the economy is a big hindrance right now. If your degree is actually valued in your sector, it’s not going to be entirely worthless to you, but we are at the whims of the job market in times like this.

  42. BeenThere*

    I had been in the printing trades for many years, when circumstances conspired to give me a lot of free time (I was fired because I married my boss). So, I went to college and then to grad school–I always wanted to go to college, and now I had a chance.
    After graduating top of my class in English Lit, there was no work for me locally (duh!), so I reluctantly went back into the printing trades. But it turned out that my new employer needed someone to write instructions on how to operate some photo processing scripts they were developing.
    So, I wrote those. A lot of those. And then about a year later, a tech writing job opened up in my town, and lo and behold, I had what turned out to be really great samples to show them.
    I know I was lucky. The job market then was much, much better than it is now. But my degrees weren’t wasted, and going “backwards” temporarily actually helped me in the long run.
    So, please don’t despair. What looks like a setback now may actually be the step forward you need to take to get you to a better place.

  43. California Typewriter*

    I feel compelled to comment on this because I feel the same way sometimes.

    I work in a field that doesn’t require a master’s to get into but usually requires one (or higher) to move up in. I got my MS in 2016 and no job I have had since then has explicitly required it. I’ve definitely felt that envy for my peers that landed more “prestigious” jobs out of grad school. However, I make enough to live comfortably and the ceiling for my career is much higher than it would be without this degree (I likely wouldn’t have been able to get into the field at all since my BA and job experience was unrelated). I think of that when I start to feel down.

    Also, employers do typically care that you’ve been consistently employed, so having something in your field is helpful, even if it doesn’t seem like it is now. Keep an eye out and apply as stuff pops up. If you can get a position that you would be comfortable in now, you would then have the luxury of being picky and pursuing what you want after a year or so, the market should be better by then too.

    In regards to job searching right now. This stupid virus threw everything into the air. My fiance and I were planning to move out of state and that’s all been put on hold since my field’s opportunities dried up almost overnight. They’re just now starting to come back but it’s all in the air still. What’s helping me is to think of this as a sudden disaster that has thrown everything into limbo. It’s frustrating to be sure.

    I’d say take what you can OP, then when everything is more stable, look for what you want. It’s not defeat, it’s modifying your plan and doing what you need to do to survive a surprise disaster.

  44. Rachel*

    I really empathize, OP. I went to (arguably) the second program country in my graduate study field. After I graduating, the economy was terrible. The majority of people in my cohort took part-time jobs in the field or unpaid internships after graduation. I couldn’t make that work, financially or emotionally. I was offered a full-time position at a broadcasting company, utilizing the skills that I had acquired from my part-time job in graduate school. My cohort members all eventually found full-time jobs in our graduate field. I never did, but I ended up in a much higher-paying creative field. In my late 20s, I felt despondent. A lot. Now, in my mid-30s, totally debt-free, and with a lot more flexibility than my graduate school friends, I feel like things worked out alright for this phase of my life. Good luck!

  45. Ann O'Nemity*

    For the OP, it may be useful to take a job in the field, even if it’s at a lower level, make connections, and then try to get a higher position in 2 years when you have more experience and the market is better. During the 2 years, it’s important to do whatever build your network, volunteer, join professional associations, attend conferences, and/or anything else that helps in your chosen field.

    Also OP, please know that your situation isn’t uncommon, even in better job markets. Don’t blame yourself, it’s not like you’re doing something “wrong.” Unfortunately, I haven’t heard many positive stories that getting a graduate degree is the life-changing, career-changing experience that people expect it to be. It doesn’t automatically help people break into new fields or leap-frog up the career leader. Graduate study is most useful when it’s required for specific jobs, e.g. counselors and psychologists, epidemiologists, PAs, librarians, etc. – and even then it can be hard to actually land the job! Otherwise, the best outcome I’ve seen is someone who is already in their chosen field is hitting a ceiling, gets the degree while they’re still employed (and preferably at their employer’s expense), and then qualifies for a promotion. It’s a lot harder to try to find one of these jobs when you’re unemployed!

  46. Superb Owl*

    I completed my MBA from a (the?) top-tier program in 2009. I was recently asked to share my story/advice about graduating in an economic crisis with the current class in a podcast – I’ll share that here. Mostly – EMPATHY!!!

    “I came into grad school looking to switch industries and roles completely from what I’d been doing before school, and the financial crisis was really hard for me. It took about a year to find a job, and I took the first reasonable offer I got. The first job was a bad fit. It didn’t play to my strengths, the culture was a terrible match, and I was managed out after about 18 months. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Eleven years later, I am thriving in a completely different role in a completely different industry. I use my MBA, I have influence, I’m making a difference, and my life is what I imagined it would be, even though the first couple of years out of school were hard. If someone had said to me in 2009 what I’m about to say now, I would have punched them in the face. Because I’m about to be cheesy. I met my husband through a friend at that first terrible job that I took out of desperation. The butterfly effect on my life from graduating in 2009 has been profound. My kids literally wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the financial crisis. My biggest piece of advice, aside from power through, is to remember that what you see on social media is nobody’s full story. You aren’t as alone as you feel, even if everything feels really hard, and it’s OK to unfollow anyone whose social media makes you feel like you are. Good luck. It may suck, and it may suck for a while, but I promise it will get better.”

  47. Anonymous Commenter #834*

    I went through something similar, but with my undergrad. I was in a field I didn’t particularly like, so I went to college in my late 20s and got a degree that qualified me to work in a more interesting, lucrative field. Before I could find a job in my new field, 9/11 happened. I immediately switched to looking for job in my old field and found one quickly, which was a smart move because the bottom fell out my new field (and the economy in general). I loathed that job, but it sustained me financially for a few years until the economy improved.

    Your situation sucks and I really feel for you. Don’t be embarrassed!

  48. Jady*

    Please don’t underestimate how bad the economy is right now. I understand it’s easy to get demoralized, but I think people can lose sight of how bad things really are.

    I have over a decade of experience in my field in software development, one of the highest demand industries, especially in my area. I’ve had great reviews and great references my entire career. I’ve been unemployed for nearly 8 months and just -yesterday- finally got an offer. It’s not what I want either, but as OP’s family said a job is a job right now.

    Enjoy the new job, and when things are looking better start the search again! Things will rebound eventually.

  49. Alexis Rose*

    Hi OP! This was me 6 years ago when I finished grad school! I managed to eke out a couple more TA contracts, landed a temporary 5 month position in my field that never turned into a full time position, and ended up accepting a job as an admin assistant for my former thesis supervisor when he had an opening. I was there for two years before a job in my field came up, and then I was off to the races.

    My advice to you is also what my advice to myself was: this job is to pay your bills while you wait out the opportunity that will come along and that you will jump on. For now, yes it feels like a holding pattern, its a lateral move, but you’re able to PAY YOUR BILLS and survive and give yourself some breathing room while you search for the next opportunity that hopefully leverages your education.

    I also made a point to learn something, achieve something, while at my pay-the-bills job. I ended up being there for two years before I finally landed an amazing position doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, using my degree, and with benefits, opportunity for advancement, pension, you name it. I was thrilled and glad I was able to have pay-the-bills job to support me while I waited for that to happen. It was also easily explainable in interviews: I needed to pay my bills, but I did the best damned job while I was in the role, learned a bunch of things, gained some great non-student work experience, and will take all that with me to kill it at the next job.

    There is no shame in needing to pay bills and needing to work at less-than-exciting pay-the-bills jobs while you wait for another opportunity. Do what you need to do survive and give yourself some breathing room.

  50. Public Sector Manager*

    A lot of what you’re probably going through is from the job market. I graduated law school in 1995 and about 35-40% of my graduating class did not have jobs lined up after the bar exam. It took me 4 months just to line up hourly research gigs with local attorneys, and 3 years of doing contract work for multiple attorneys before a landed a full-time position with a local firm with benefits. That latter job turned into working at two great public agencies where I have spent the last 20 years. During that early 3 year period, I was applying for jobs nonstop. I honestly stopped counting at 100 job applications. The market was just that bad. Sometimes it has nothing to do with you and it’s 100% the job market.

    That being said, here are some things that got me through it all and tough lessons learned:

    1. Don’t forget the positive power of endorphins. Seriously. Maintain an exercise routine. No matter how bad the job search was, I always felt productive if I ran or walked that morning.

    2. Don’t apply for everything. That was my mistake. I got so desperate for a job that I felt that any job in my field was worth it. It didn’t matter if it was criminal law, estate planning, divorce work–I just wanted a job. But I had zero passion for any of those fields of law, and it showed when I interviewed. Do a targeted search.

    3. Gumption doesn’t pay off.

    4. Time is your friend. The pressure to find that first job is brutal. But it’s all self-imposed. There is no magic time frame to get that first job. I honestly felt like a loser for not having a job lined up right after law school and the bar exam. But at my 10 year reunion, I was shocked about how many of my classmates who had those great jobs right out of law school were no longer practicing law, including the person who was #2 in our class. Now that I’m closing out on 25 years of practicing law, only about 40% of my class is actually practicing law anymore. The rest didn’t get rich being lawyers and retired early, they just decided that in the end law wasn’t for them. But for me, I absolutely love the area of law I’m in. Looking back now, I don’t regret those lean years because it helped me find a career that fulfills me. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I got a job right out of law school working for Big Law or even a medium sized firm. I hate to be cliche, but it really is a marathon and not a sprint.

    5. During interviews, really practice before you go in. Alison’s guide on AAM for interviews is amazing and one of the best I’ve seen. Download it. I’ve been in management now for 10 years, and I can’t count the number of times someone with stellar credentials comes in and can’t even answer simple questions. It goes something like this:

    Q: Why should we hire you?
    A: “I think I’d be good at it” or “it’s been a dream of mine to work here” (and they misspelled our agency name in their cover letter).
    Q: Is there anything you want to add to that?
    A: Nope!

    Best of luck to you! A lot of us here are pulling for you!

        1. HoHumDrum*

          Wow. This is all really condescending and not helpful to the LW

          Also, FWIW, I got a lot more out of grad school than just career opportunities. It was worth the debt.

          We would be a lot better off as a country if we didn’t attach a dollar value to education.

          1. Terminal MA*

            Completely agree. I’m not using my MA in my job, but having it (and the fact that it was from a particular university) definitely opened doors. I also learned a lot – not just academically, but about myself. I don’t regret it. I don’t think education is ever a waste of money; it’s something that no one can ever take away from you. (Even if you default on your loans — they can’t repossess your mind! haha)

        2. merp*

          Sure, it’s hard. But the OP knows that, is in fact currently experiencing it, and you’re in the comments insulting their decision and giving the equivalent of “I told you so.” Which isn’t great.

          Also, it genuinely does depend on the field and the person. Some fields will never/rarely offer funding, some fields very much do require a master’s, and some people find value in further study beyond the job they can get. So the negativity here is just not necessary.

        3. Washi*

          I think you’re reading a lot into the letter. There’s nothing to indicate that the OP is trying to like, break into the exclusive world of Meerkat Trainers where there’s only 3 positions in the world or that she’s been naive about her prospects. In fact, OP has ALREADY been offered a job in her field at slightly higher pay. She’s just disappointed that she’ll probably continue to gradually climb her way up, rather than getting a big boost from grad school (though I think it’s still to early to tell on that front.)

        4. Southern Academic*

          Actually, *lots* of people advise against grad school (this entire thread is proof). Plus, there’s a difference between saying, “yeah, things are bad right now, maybe consider another direction” and using insulting language for people who do opt for grad school. We can talk about the wisdom of a particular decision without demeaning people who choose otherwise.

        5. MCL*

          For many grad degrees, this is very difficult. Funding is very rare in my graduate program and others like it, but in many cases a Master’s level degree is required to get a job in my field – library/information professional. I think more practical advice, especially for people looking at a grad degree for a field (like mine) that does not have overly high earning potential, that they heavily weigh the cost of tuition with their decision making.

          In any case, this OP’s grad career is done, and now they have a degree that might possibly help them in the future, maybe not. If I were the OP, I would definitely find the prospect of a stable income immensely attractive, at least in the short-term, and then I would start looking more seriously about a year to two years in. (I say that now! Gosh, I graduated with my Master’s in 2008 when jobs in my field were incredibly scarce, and I snagged what is still my job today – in a job that is related but not what I ever thought I would do long term.) I was going to stay for a year or two, but it turned out to be an awesome fit and has given me all kinds of interesting growth opportunities (and yes, my MA put me in the “preferred” category for the hiring team).

          1. MCL*

            (I should say also that my program offers full funding for all PhD students, but NOT necessarily Master’s students. There is some funding attached to the ever-rarer TA and project assistant positions, as well as some scholarship funding, but it’s hard to come by)

            1. lemon*

              Yes, I’ve heard that funding for master’s programs is rare because the university uses their tuition for PhD funding.

        6. Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum*

          Your comment reflects a hell of a lot of assumptions about OP and about graduate students generally (particularly as “grad school” covers a very wide swath of disciplines and fields, with a great number of differences between them). You may think that you’re providing some sort of “tough love” here but frankly, you’re offering no constructive advice and just spewing negative stereotypes.

          OP – you’ll run into folks like this throughout your career (not to mention comment sections everywhere). Please remember that these folks don’t know you, they don’t have any special insight into your experience, and the most important opinion about your life decisions is yours.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            }} Please remember that these folks don’t know you, they don’t have any special insight into your experience, and the most important opinion about your life decisions is yours.{{

            That is a very important life lesson to learn. Took me 20 years (and, ironically, a broken spine) to get the kind of steel to realise that I’m the best judge of things for me.

        7. Guacamole Bob*


          I chose the better program that offered less funding when I went back to grad school for my masters, and it was the best career decision I could have made in the end (I’m about 5 years out from graduation). This is highly, highly dependent on the field and the specifics of the situation.

        8. Guacamole Bob*

          In OP’s case, “informed” would have meant that someone told her years ago that she would graduate into a worldwide pandemic economy unlike anyone had seen in our lifetimes.

          Lots and lots of people are hitting career speed bumps right now that aren’t a result of prior poor decision-making or lack of information.

          (See also, women who planned their careers thinking that their school-age kids could, you know, go to school at school instead of at the kitchen table.)

    1. Washi*

      This is a huge generalization. In my field, Master’s degrees are basically never funded period, but there tend to be a lot of relatively cheap state options. It’s still a good investment because the field is not hard to break into.

      1. Washi*

        (And by not hard, I mean that it’s not like theater directing or something. But someone could still definitely end up in OP’s position temporarily because of bad luck/timing, and then later find a great job!)

    2. Terminal MA*

      Not all graduate programs offer funding. I have an MA from an Ivy League university and the program did not offer funding to people who were enrolled in the terminal MA program. Funding was only available to people who were in the PhD track.

      1. Someone Else*

        and that’s why a lot of (smart) people hop on the phd train and “master out”
        and just because it’s ivy league doesn’t mean it’s best – a program that doesn’t put the student into crushing debt is undoubtedly better than one that doesn’t.

        1. MissBliss*

          And those programs that are fully funded have plenty of extra spaces for people who are going to “master out.” I applied for a fully-funded Ph.D. program. I was one of 130 applicants. They had four spaces. I decided to pay my way through an MA while working full-time. It didn’t put me into crushing debt and I don’t regret it. It was a smart decision.

        2. Terminal MA*

          Wow, a lot of assumptions there. You also sound a little…bitter. Not that I need to explain myself, but I’m feeling generous so:
          – No, Ivy League doesn’t mean it’s best, but in my case, the program was pretty selective (only 20 people chosen) and the professors are considered leaders in the scholarship for the area of study.
          – I didn’t want a PhD so I purposely chose a program that was terminal and I knew I would need to pay for it. My program colleagues figured out the first week the least expensive way to get through the program (2 semesters at FT, 1 semester at PT, 1 semester Reduced). Add to that the fact that our degrees are required for jobs that are mainly in the nonprofit sector means a lot of us were eligible for PSLF.
          – Finally, some of my colleagues got their MA, then pursued a PhD from other universities so your comment about “hopping on the PhD train” isn’t really applicable.

        3. Ilene*

          Crushing debt is never a good thing, but debt is not the sole decider of program quality. In my quantitative field, there is a tremendous difference between top programs and mediocre ones, both in how graduates are perceived and in the quality of training those graduates receive (better teaching and increased placement opportunities). A degree from a name school is portable both internationally and nationally due to reputation and network; I think it’s important to consider long-term earning and career potential too.

        4. KRM*

          You know what? I “mastered out”. It was unintentional, because I did want a PhD going into the program. And going into a program fully intending to master out is a waste of both the grad school’s resources and your own time. It’s fine if you realize that you changed your mind halfway through and you take the MA and go. But that’s not the way you should approach it. There are plenty of career paths that require a PhD that people want to pursue. Don’t take slots from those people just because you think you’ve found a way to beat the system.
          Also, if half the incoming classes start to master out? Schools are going to VASTLY change the admissions criteria and put some funding strictures on. So, it’s a terrible idea all around.

    3. ThatGirl*

      Yeah that’s not helpful. As an example, MA programs for counseling and social work are generally not funded (aside from maybe some work study) but they’re necessary if you want to work as a clinician in mental health. Definitely there needs to be consideration as to the value of the degree in the field you want to be in, but blanket statements are rarely helpful.

    4. Anon Anon*

      I don’t think this is fair (or helpful). Some graduate programs can be pretty predatory, and others (depending on their type) simply don’t offer any sort of meaningful funding.

      I was incredibly lucky that I had a professor who told me not to go without full funding. And, I didn’t (which thank goodness as I had enough student loan debt from undergrad). However, not everyone gets that advice up front or is in a program that offers that funding. Plus, it was clear that the OP had done plenty of research prior to enrolling in the program, so they likely thought that they went in with realistic expectations of what the job prospects would be after they graduated.

    5. takin*

      Never? Funding for graduate programs isn’t really a “thing” in a lot of fields. I came from a science background and was given this advice. Against that advice, I got a professional Master’s degree that I had to pay for (with some scholarships, but it did not nearly cover the entire costs including living expenses). I did this because I was switching out of the sciences and the field I was in didn’t have a ton of earning potential. My coworkers giving me that advice (to not pay for a degree) had funded master’s degrees and they currently make less than half of my salary, perhaps closer to 1/3. Yes, I do have debt but the lifetime earning potential more than makes up for it. I think people should be really thoughtful with how they invest in themselves and often time taking on more debt is a BAD idea, but I also don’t think we can say you should “never” do it.

  51. uncivil servant*

    I saw something on Facebook just last weekend that made me look up an old classmate from my master’s program. Then I went down that rabbit hole (aided by LinkedIn’s helpful algorithms) and looked at other classmates I had lost touch with.

    Very very few people had a linear trajectory. I took years to find the kind of job I wanted when I got out of university, but I now have a great job. Other people started really strong out of the gate, but they are still stringing together short contracts. Other than the additional year of salary (absolutely nothing to sneeze at!) there is no difference in job title between my peers who got amazing job offers during final exams and those who took a year to get their first professional job. And the whole going back to the job they did before starting the program is really, really common.

    There’s also something to be said for a dull job after a time of personal stress. My first job was a short contract where they basically needed someone to keep the lights on. I had two degrees more than was needed for that job, and after I left, they downgraded the position to require just high school! But I look back on that time with a lot of nostalgia. I felt like I spent those months just letting all the adrenaline from school and the job search wear off. I’m not sure I would have been in a good place to have started a high-stress, results-oriented job at that point.

  52. JR*

    I went through a similar situation when I graduated from grad school into the recession in 2008. The degree wasn’t necessary for my field (design) but the portfolio that I got out of it was, and all through school I heard about the rock star jobs that would be waiting for me at the end, and the wonderful alumni network of the school. As it turned out, while the network was very helpful at meeting and making connections, the only job I was offered after 6 months of searching and interviewing was literally designing credit card junk mail. Talk about soul crushing—but it was a job, and I could start paying my student loans, and in my free time I worked on polishing and adding to my portfolio, networking, and doing fun self-promotions to send to firms and art directors that I admired to get on their radar. Some of those things are specific to my field, but I really looked at that job as a stepping stone that would allow me to get where I wanted to go (albeit more slowly than I wanted.) Within two years, I moved on to a great job (where I still am today, 9 years later) that challenges me and is really satisfying work. The crap job at the start was a blip on the radar.

  53. Admissions*

    I work in admissions at a public technical/career college helping students get started in health careers.

    Every. Single. Day. I talk with someone who has a bachelors degree or masters degree in a field where they can’t get hired. I’ve seen so many students with Human Biology degrees or communication degrees who can’t find a job and are coming back to get a 2-year degree to become a nurse, ultrasound tech, x-ray tech, dental hygienist, etc. It was bad before the pandemic but even worse now.

    It makes me so disheartened to think that students spend tens 0f thousands of dollars on a bachelors degree that ultimately leads to nothing.

  54. Gypsy, Acid Queen*

    OP, it may or may not help to see so many people say “omg I’ve been there or am there right now” but it is being laid out here, and I hope it helps. I’m glad Alison posted this letter because it is helpful to see that sometimes we all get stuck in a boat and we don’t see who’s on the other side until people start talking. I, too, am in a niche master’s area and found that MA has become the new BA to get us into a livable salary range that is kind of ridiculous (at least here in the U.S.). Go into that job with at least the thought of it getting more lines of experience on your resume and closer to a job that will make you happy in your career choice later.

    One thing I wish I had tried with all my might earlier and am now pushing folks to do now and am actively involved in: join and reach out to your professional organizations on the national and local levels. The (National or State) Teapot Detailers Association may have outreach, mentorships, job boards, or just camaraderie. I didn’t join the local one for years when I didn’t have the “real teapot detailer job” because I felt that imposter feeling. Even if you are socially shy, just listen to what they are saying and doing. Now that I’m in my org, we’re actively trying to make graduates and new professionals NOT feel that feeling of being less than. Times are changing and if places don’t want to hemorrhage good people, they have to change too. If the profession is worth any grain of salt, then they’re hopefully trying to figure out how to bring new people in and keep the people they have, and your experience is worth knowing and understanding. AND fixing it.

  55. double spicy*

    OP, this is really hard, and I’m sorry you’re going through it. Like many commenters above, I had to deal with something similar—I finished grad school in 2009. It took me a year and a half to find a full-time, salaried job in my field, and then I was laid off less than a year into that role. I’ve been at my current job for years (and have wanted to leave for months, but the market sucks). Know that your job is part of your identity but that it doesn’t have to define you as a person. Try to focus on your interests and hobbies if you can, and keep Alison’s wise advice in mind. Good luck!

  56. Kimmy Schmidt*

    OP, I can’t quite tell from your letter. Are you in the US, and does this new job include health insurance benefits? That’d be reason enough for me to take it, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

    I think we tend to look at things as linear, point A to point B. You only see the starting and the end points, but the real path is way more wavy or even cyclical, and the ups and downs sort of even out the longer your line goes. I wish you all the best of luck on your path, and I’d love to hear an update!

  57. boop the first*

    I know this is all hypothetical and that you’re going to make the best decision you can do for yourself, and this is just about coping with that decision, but my first thought was: whoa, which part time jobs are so good that you’d rather just stay working at them??

    I’m thinking this is one of those situations that Allison was talking about before, where in order to get someone to move, you have to show them that the only alternate choice is to stay, and staying sucks. There is no good third option.


    It is so hard when we envision one reality and life throws us something different.

    If I were in your situation, I would

    1) Take the job
    2) Give yourself a set period to mourn what you thought would happen vs what did happen
    3) Start your new job and be stellar

    Life is weird sometimes. This job might be exactly where you need to be. Maybe they will welcome you using your new skills or maybe you will meet someone at this job that will help you get to the next level. Who knows…we all want to land on our feet, but sometimes these detours are necessary.

    If you are really struggling with the mourning part, I highly suggest reading Life is Tremendous by Charlie Jones. Nice short read, but really uplifting.

  59. Tarso Infirma*

    This sounds like a MLS. If so, it is not always needed for entry level jobs, but is almost always needed for management positions. Perhaps it is an investment in your more distant future.

  60. OP*

    OP here! So I guess I should have been clearer in my original letter for the sake of commenters—I definitely didn’t go to grad school as a silver bullet for always having a job! I was very clear eyed about my own reasons for going, and I’m definitely not under any illusions that a master’s should automatically get me a job. I used an MBA for comparison’s sake, but I definitely think my degree is more useful and marketable in today’s context! Still no job yet, and I’m still waiting to hear back on the one I wrote in about. Alison’s response was reassuring, though—there’s not a lot i can do right now except to keep applying for jobs and not get too demoralized, but the longer this pandemic stretches the more grateful I am to even have my part-time work at the moment.

    1. Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler*

      OP, another thing that I haven’t seen mentioned yet is the possibility of doing side volunteering/consulting in addition to this job. I was in a pretty similar position to you when I got out of grad school several years ago – it seemed like all my friends had headed straight to jobs that clearly matched their skills and experience, and I…hadn’t. What I *was* able to do, however, was take on some freelance consulting – some paid, most not – to make it clear that I was still growing and developing as a professional.

      Believe it or not, I think that’s what has enabled me to get to where I am today. Doing that gave me many more work examples to cite in future networking and interviews, broadened my skillset, and (maybe most important) allowed me to feel like I was using my degree still. It’s not a perfect approach, but in a difficult situation, it may be better than nothing.

      Also, keep up that network! Even if you feel mildly embarrassed. It will prove helpful.

    2. jonquil*

      OP, I have an MPA (“the MBA for the nonprofit and public sector” and my cohort was told that the first job we get out of grad school is probably not going to be “the job.” It’s a job you have for a couple of years while you figure out what you actually want to do with your degree.
      Even if the work you’d be doing at this potential new job (good luck! fingers crossed for you) is substantially similar to your pre-grad school job, you’ll do the work differently because you’re coming to it with a different perspective. The stuff you thought about and worked on a in a theoretical way in grad school will take on a new shape and meaning it didn’t have because you’re applying it in every-day, real-world situations. This is growth that you’ll take with you to the *next* job search. By working in a not-perfect job while being freed from your current financial stress, you’ll get the perspective and mental space you need to plan your next move.

      1. Newlyprofessional*

        OP, agreeing with jonquil above (I have an MPA as well and graduated in 2017) sometimes the first job you get is more about filling an employment gap and increasing your total number years of experience than it is about actually using the skills you learned in your graduate program. I’ve realized that everyone in my graduate cohort glamorized certain “reach” jobs with large and well-known organizations and any small or medium sized organization I would get a job with didn’t seem to compare.

        However, there can be a benefit to thinking about applying to smaller organizations even if they might not be as wowed with your graduate degree. I went to the “best” program in the country and none of my jobs have cared about my graduate degree –they’ve cared much more about the projects I got to work on and what I was responsible for. You’ll get where you want to go eventually!!

  61. JohannaCabal*

    So, I graduated with a master’s degree in 2008. I was fortunate to do it part-time while working full-time. Of course, I was laid off in January 2009.

    I actually ended up leaving it off most of my resumes then as I only had the one job experience and I did not want to be viewed as “over-qualified.” Eventually, (after a failed three-month stint reviewing legal docs) I landed a market research position. This job was no where near what I studied in grad school. But I buckled down and did the best I could every day while job searching on the side. I actually wound up excelling and being promoted. Fortunately, I made a connection and landed in my field.

    In fact, those three years at the market research company are something I now add to my resume and cover letter as it broadened my experience. I’m also not afraid to pick up the phone!

    OP, I would take the job. There’s a saying “it’s easier to get a job when you have a job” and as someone laid off in 2009, I can attest to that.

  62. agnes*

    Take the job. Job markets shift very quickly. You made a decision to go back to school in one kind of job market, but you have graduated in another market. You didn’t do anything wrong. Sometimes it’s just what happens.

    Anyway, getting back to full time work is your first priority. Getting some financial stability will help your mood. That in turn will help re-energize your job search when the job market improves. Lengthy periods of unemployment do more harm to your long-term career than similar periods of underemployment.

    1. Argh!*

      … and doing so during the year of COVID-19 is certainly not shameful! It’s a great story for 2021 cover letters & interviews.

  63. MollyG*

    I have a PhD in Engineering and I can not find a job over 4 years after graduating. My industry has mostly jobs at the BS level. I am viewed as overqualified for entry level jobs, yet unqualified for any jobs that require experience. PhD level jobs are few, far between, have very narrow requirements, and most are fake posting anyhow (as in they already know who they will hire).

  64. windsofwinter*

    This comment thread is giving me feelings about starting grad school this year. But my bachelor’s is completely unrelated to the technical field I want to be in, so it was either another bachelor’s or the MS. MS is cheaper both money wise and time wise.

    Hang in there LW. I know how much it sucks to see all of your friends seemingly become more successful. It’s a numbers game. Apply your butt off and something will happen.

  65. Dan*


    I think AAM is truly on point with *exactly* what the grad degree will and won’t do. The reality is, on the job, it’s murky. In some fields, a license is truly required to do a particular job, and without it, you ain’t doing it. But grad degrees aren’t licenses, so in that sense, the “that’s it?” feeling is quite justified.

    But if you got the grad degree for the right reasons, and you actually learned something from it, then more likely than not it was worth it. I work in a field (data analytics) where the requirements are really murky. There’s a lot of computer programming in Data Sci, but programmers in general don’t need graduate degrees, a BS is plenty. Except there are rolls that are really heavy on data sci algorithmic theory, and there you’re looking for “less programmer, more theory” and that grad degree is going to help. The kicker is, an employer may truly not fully know what skillset they want for a given role.

    My undergrad was in computer science, but I was more interested in certain types of roles that were closer to the Data Sci side. I looked at the skills that were needed, and knew I didn’t have them. I went to grad school to learn them, and found the employment I was looking for afterward. Yet, there are people doing similar work to me on my projects with just a BS. So did I *need* the MS? Apparently not. But I learned stuff that is useful for my job, and on net, the MS is generally a plus in my field. So in my book, the time and expense was worth it.

    1. Luke*

      I think the “need” for an MS is going to change. It used to be a 4 year degree set you up for a successful career. After the 2008 recession, they became mandatory even for entry level roles.

      Now with covid leading to hundreds of apps per opening, I expect the same dynamic to happen in the future with graduate degrees.
      A manager at my org already announced prioritizing graduate degree applicants for hourly roles in their department.

  66. Quickbeam*

    I work in a field where the master’s degree jobs are definitely lower paid than the bachelor’s degree jobs. My updates from my friends are almost alwasy filled with “I got the dmaned Master’s now I’m making half of what I made before”. I do career counseling for my university and I always tell people that it pays to take a good hard look at grad school and your future job plans. If it’s required and has some concrete ability to open your opporuinities…that’s different than your college advisor telling you how bright you are and to “go for grad school!”.

  67. ...*

    If you can’t afford to turn down a full time job then take it! You can still search for a better job and more pay in your field while also working this higher paying more stable job. Your choices right now are part time jobs and not getting by or taking this job and getting by. So take it and keep working towards your goals!

  68. Lord Peter Wimsey*

    Solidarity, OP. I graduated with a Master of Library Science degree and the only job I found was doing very dull editing & proofreading — something I could have done with just my undergrad. After around a year of editing (and job searching) I finally found a library job. That was three jobs (and 25 years!) ago, and I’m not in libraries anymore. As many other commenters have said, it is a journey.

  69. natter*

    OP, I’ve been there too! It’s definitely not just you.

    I graduated with what everyone – everyone in the goddamn universe – assured me was a supremely employable M.S. degree – Management Information Systems. The program was a joint effort between the college’s Engineering and Business schools, and I learned so much good, hard, theoretically-in-demand technical stuff.

    But, I didn’t do any internships during the program, which in hindsight was a big mistake. I had good reasons for not doing internships; my brother was dying of cancer and I was helping out with his care, and I also had two small children at home. I could juggle school with these responsibilities, but there wasn’t time in the day for an internship on top of it. But employers don’t care how good your reasons are – they want to see actual workplace experience. Those school projects where you learn technical concepts? Completely, totally, utterly irrelevant. The learning didn’t happen in a workplace, so it didn’t happen at all. As far as employers were concerned, I may as well have spent those two years sitting on the couch with a beer.

    It was a hard lesson. I’d have expected this result if I’d gone for an Art History degree, but I had in-demand tech skills! Yeah, nobody cared. I ended up with a job I could have easily gotten before grad school, and in my case it wasn’t even really a promotion of any kind, much more of a lateral move. I was grateful to have a job at all, of course, and glad not to be actively demoted…but also disappointed that my M.S. didn’t seem to count. Did I just completely waste my time?

    Here’s the good news, though. This year, five years after I finished grad school (!), I finally landed a data analyst role. Someone I worked with in my old role left for a better job, then she recruited me over. And the M.S. degree was a selling point with the new hiring manager, coupled of course with the personal recommendation from a colleague. So networking was really key; I don’t know if I’d have ever been able to make the jump without it. And if I had not taken the lateral move post-grad-school, I wouldn’t have ended up poised to move into a better role.

    I hope in your case it won’t take five years! But keep working, keep making connections – you do not know what the future holds. Good luck!

  70. cleo*

    UX design didn’t really exist as a degree or field when I graduated in 1998 (or if it did, I hadn’t heard of it) but I learned most of the key UX principles studying product design (also called industrial design). The first book assigned in my first design class was The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman, one of the founders of the field of UX.

    I looked into a boot camp a few years ago when I was making my career change from teaching art and design to practicing design but decided against it. I went to a panel discussion with UX professionals who were all grads of a local boot camp. Most of what they talked about was familiar to me and one of them quoted a designer that I’d read while in grad school. On an open thread at AAM, a UX designer talked about boot camps and degree programs and said that having the experience was more important than a degree or a boot camp.

    I decided to focus on getting jobs that I was already qualified for and to try to use them and freelance gigs to get as much UX experience as I could to break into the field. I spent a year working a couple temp / contract jobs doing web content / low level front-end development type work and then kind of lucked into my first full time UX gig. My first contract site needed a UX designer for a big, messy project and they called me because they knew I had the soft skills to handle the project and were willing to give me a chance. (And I killed it).

  71. Robyn*

    I know there are already a ton of comments here but I’ve been living this situation for quite a while myself. I’ve had a few interviews where it seemed like I’d finally be able to leverage my new knowledge from my MSc but they either a) paid HALF of what I was making before taking two years off to do the MSc or b) fell through (interviews seemed to go extremely well, then they ghosted me). I’m working in essentially the same type of job I was before going to grad school – the type of job I needed to leave because it got too boring and I wanted to expand my available scope of work. It is pretty soul crushing but there are some things about it that are much better than my previous situation – the most important being that I’m now working as a consultant so I can work less hours and get paid about the same as I was before, so the lack of flexibility that burned me out previously is no longer an issue.

    I don’t really have any advice, except I really do think my life changed for the better when I did my MSc. Even though it didn’t totally change my career path, it allowed me to take a breather from my corporate overlords. I was able to develop some new interests and habits during my time away from the workforce that are helping me maintain better health this time around back into work, and gave me perspective about what I really want. The job I’m working now isn’t what I really want, and sometimes it’s super difficult to be on board with that, but it gives me something to do, an income, a professional network, and I continue to gain valuable experience while I keep an eye on the job postings.

  72. Vayerly*

    Fellow 2020 graduate here! I could have written this letter, as could many of my classmates (in fact, there are a lot of similarities in this letter to my program… does “select the criteria” mean anything to you?).

    In any case, I have a lot of empathy and just a little advice. I am lucky to be working right now in the same position that I had before and during school–not related at all to my graduate degree. I was supposed to take on new responsibilities and get a pay raise after graduation, but the pandemic has put a damper on that (I feel extremely lucky to still be employed at all!). I’ve been steadily looking for jobs since about March (pre-graduation) and have gotten a few interviews, but nothing past the screening stage, which has been pretty discouraging since my past job searches have had a pretty good track record (previously, I’d always gotten a job offer after entering the interview stage).

    I recently got a few free life coaching sessions (I know, I know) and the coach actually gave me some advice that I found helpful. I had expressed a lot of frustration with my current position (for a lot of reasons–not just related to no upward trajectory, but also some culture stuff) and the terrible job search. She advised me to think of my current job as an island with a safe harbor–a place that I can “live” for now, but not have to live on forever. This reframing has actually been really helpful for me and I’ve started to apply for jobs with a little more intentionality rather than desperation (and gotten a few interviews in the process–wish me luck!) because I can see that no matter what, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and will be a way for me to get off the island.

    You could consider taking on the job you’re likely to be offered and thinking of it that way–a safe place from which to search for something better (taking into account “job hopping” although I think anyone working in 2020 is given some leeway on old rules related to that). I hope that framing is somewhat helpful, along with the knowledge that you are far from alone in this wild time!

  73. Janet*

    I did the same thing and it worked out okay in the end, so stay optimistic. This happened decades ago, but I quit an okay but meh job to go back to grad school at a big name place. Then times were terrible economically and I ended up getting no great job afterward and finally going back to my old employer in my old job. It was great of them to hire me back, but I was seriously depressed. To make matters worse, they did job cuts later and I was laid off. But then I started applying for more jobs and people were still impressed by my degree and I took a new entry-level job at a place where there was room for growth. It was still depressing, but I couldn’t afford to be too choosy. But then everything started to go better from that. I parlayed that job (and my degree) into a much better job, and then things built from there. It took longer than ideal, but I can say that being employed gave me a far stronger platform to apply for other jobs later.

  74. Delta Delta*

    My gut says it’s easier to get a job when you have a job. If OP takes the job that feels like a lateral move a) OP doesn’t have to stay there forever and b) it’ll give a little breathing room to look in earnest for a better fit. Since the world is upside down, it might make more sense to take the available job and spend time looking for a new job at a less frantic, soul-crushing pace.

    1. Spicy Tuna*

      Plus, networking! It’s far easier to network when you’re working. I once worked at a job where when someone left to go to another company, they would invariably end up recruiting a few other people to join their new company in the months after they left. There are also opportunities to network through conferences, continuing ed courses that may be required and paid for by your job, etc, etc.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        OP doesn’t sound too optimistic about the networking possibilities in her field if she were to take this job, but Delta’s point still stands – employed people are more likely to be hired for jobs than those out of work. It’s a shame, but that’s how our job market in the U.S. is currently set up. OP should consider taking anything she can get right now so she can resume a job search under slightly better circumstances than the one she’s in now.

  75. Nonprofit Nerd*

    I work in a very competitive field, where people with masters, law degrees and PhDs routinely apply for entry-level jobs (despite not needing them to do the actual work). The result is that if you don’t have at least a master’s degree you are unlikely to move forward as a candidate. At the same time, if you don’t have practical experience and possess “only” a degree, you are also unlikely to move forward. All of which is to say, think of this as a gradual process of putting together the “whole package” – you’re getting the practical experience and whatever additional requirements (e.g. degree) that your field might be asking for. Also, you may find that doing a job in your field that you are already familiar with to some degree frees you up to take on new/different tasks within the role or organization, and/or to take on additional activities outside of work (like language learning, coding or whatever might be a further asset in your field).

  76. lazy intellectual*

    This was me 5 years ago…and there wasn’t even pandemic then! I just got the job I had always wanted last year, but it took some hustling. I did my MA right after college. I don’t regret it one bit, but it may have made some things harder for me at the time. I did have a ton of internships (paid and unpaid) on my resume. My friends and family were equally confounded at the time as to why I was struggling. Basically my career trajectory since grad school looked oddly like this: Minimum wage contract, min wage contract, min wage contract, mid-entry level job where my pay was stagnant for 2 years bc employer is cheapass, and finally Job I Actually Wanted and a salary jump by 60% from previous job.

    Some thoughts I have about this letter:

    1.) You’re not alone and aren’t doing anything wrong.

    2.) A lot of this is due to the job market itself and stupid hiring practices/norms (like employers wanting experience for entry-level jobs.

    3.) If you are a minority, that might be contributing to the problem as hiring discrimination is Very Much A Thing.

    4.) ***Focus on your interviewing skills.*** For better or for worse, hiring managers hire people they like over much else. Download Alison’s free interviewing guide. Practice on video and with others. Prepare some answers beforehand and use STAR structures for your answers.

    5.) Don’t give up. Interviewing for jobs is like playing the lottery. You just have to keep doing it until you hit jackpot. Take care of yourself meanwhile. I hope everything works out!

    1. lazy intellectual*

      Oh and I want to emphasize, definitely take the job even if you’re not excited about it. It’s easier to search for a job when you have one vs when you don’t have one. You have to start somewhere.

  77. Fried Eggs*

    The best advice I got after grad school was: You’re not going to be any less qualified 2 years from now.

    That was 2015 (so not even a crazy pandemic), and I had just been offered a job I was not that excited about. It was interesting work, but it was a corporate communications job, and I’d just spent 2 years getting a political science degree. I wanted to work for a political non-profit!

    I took it, because I needed a job ASAP for both financial and visa reasons. I figured I’d try to pivot back to politics in a year. Turns out I loved it so much I stayed three years, despite kind of lousy pay.

    After that, it was then shockingly easy to leverage that new experience, my (still pretty fresh) MA, and past internships into a communications role at a political organization. It’s what I’d always dreamed of doing. I hated every second of it.

    Now I’m back in a (different) corporate communications role, and happy as a clam. Turns out working for private companies means your team’s not insanely understaffed.

    Taking what I thought of as a stop-gap job actually gave me really good perspective to realize what other options are out there, plus the experience on my resume I needed to pursue those other options.

    And had I loved the non-profit job, I’d still have ended up exactly where I thought my degree would take me.

    So, OP, you’re not going to be any less qualified a year from now. You can take this job and keep searching. Nobody’s going to think your degree is stale next year. In 5 years, maybe. But for now, nobody’s going to bat an eye at the fact you took a stop-gap job to tide you over for a year in 20-friggin’-20.

    And by the way, of all my grad school friends who got jobs in our field right off the bat, only one of them’s still happy with her career (and her organization might lose its funding soon). So when you compare yourself to your peers, compare quality of life, not how good the job sounds. And remember that often the only good part of cool-sounding jobs is that you can tell people from grad school about your cool-sounding job.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      My stop-gap job actually was what made me qualified for my current, related-to-my-degree job, despite being in a different industry sector, because the two jobs have overlapping skills. I am liking my current job.

  78. Spicy Tuna*

    I finished my MBA in December 2001, so not the greatest job market. I had done a part-time MBA program, so I still had my job when I graduated, fortunately, although I hated it and was grossly underpaid. It took me until May or June to “upgrade” to a better job. The better job only had slightly higher pay, and then shortly after I started, a crisis in the industry caused a pay cut, so I was making less than at my pre-MBA job (and working a heck of a lot more!).

    It was still worth getting the MBA because it opened a lot of doors. While it took me a while to get onto a real career-path type of job, I never would have had the opportunity without the MBA. So, even though it feels like you did a whole bunch of work (and took on debt) to just tread water, don’t give up. Your graduate degree and the connections you made will pay off, even if it’s not right away.

  79. CupcakeCounter*

    I started a job in January at a great company with the intention that this would be the company I retire from. Great location, great benefits, and lots of internal opportunities to stretch to.
    Then COVID happened and I got laid off in May – a permanent position elimination. An opportunity fell into my lap the very next day that was the perfect mix of my skills and I wanted nothing to do with it. Why? Not the industry I want to be in and so many red flags during the interviews and calls with team members. But guess what…I have been working in that job for months now because I need income and benefits and they matched what I had at perfect company. I don’t plan on staying for more than a year or two assuming the economy recovers within that time but by taking this job I keep my skills sharp and have the opportunity to gain a few extras that could help in my future job search.

    The pandemic has changed everything. Taking a job you are overqualified and under enthused for right now is nothing to be ashamed about. This will just give you breathing room to find that right job and really vet it.

  80. Filosofickle*

    Oh, I’m so sorry! I was in this situation when I got out of grad school in 2010. I couldn’t find a job and I ended up in a contract role doing something from my old field, that I could have done 10 years before, without my new degree. It was indeed soul crushing as you describe. It HURT. But it was what I had to do, I was out of money and it was a recession. A year and a half later I was solidly back on track — thanks to networking, a grad school friend sent me a lead — and my new career has flourished since then.

    I had an unusual degree so this may just apply to us, but something helpful I heard after the fact and wish I’d known earlier was that this degree would get us our NEXT next job. That was true for nearly all of us in my cohort. It got us jobs #2 and #3, but we mostly had to keep doing old work for a while while we built new networks and bridged from one to the other.

  81. Lorraine*

    Also here to commiserate. I went straight from undergrad to grad school, because everyone said I needed a masters to break into my field. Then I graduated and found no one would hire me because my masters made me overqualified for an entry-level job (and it was the recession, so the job market was awful). It took 2.5 years in a soul-crushing job to finally break into my field (and the exact business I wanted to work for). I will say that the soul-crushing job did give me an in to my new job, and the hiring manager did like my degree, but it took a long time and a lot of fruitless applications. And I did have to take a lateral move to get into my field/business. But 10 years on, everything has worked out well. Good luck.

  82. Esmeralda*

    Take the job.

    Work at the job. After a reasonable amount of time, start job searching for the job you want.

    In the meantime, keep up networkng and professional development for the field/job you want to move to.

    You cannot afford to be unemployed. Looking at the grim numbers: I don’t think the economy is going to pick up for quite some time.

  83. RecessionGrad*

    I finished grad school during the great recession…which at the time, seemed like the worst timing ever and that no timing could ever in my lifetime be worse. My degree immediately seemed irrelevant and I took a job in a field I honestly hadn’t considered pre-recession and probably didn’t need the degree for that job. But- to make lemons out of lemonade for you, OP- I stayed at that company for the better part of a decade and ended up loving both the job and the field. I grew the job into a much bigger one and made my career into something much more interesting than I had imagined when I went to grad school. So when I eventually left that job, I left for one where I definitely did need (and use!) my degree and having it (as well as my prior experience) was much more of an asset. Did it need to take the better part of a decade? No- but I loved the people and the work and was trying to figure out a next step that I would genuinely want to do long-term as much and as well. I hope it all works out for you and am sure that while it feels really, really crappy right now, it will turn out better than you thought sooner than you thought.

  84. kt*

    “I also gained a lot of technical knowledge and analytical skills that I wouldn’t have had otherwise, and which I definitely won’t be flexing in this potential job”…

    My last comment is that you might be surprised about whether you get to flex those analytical skills. Obviously I don’t know your field, but people who were previously building Excel spreadsheets at my company have moved into PowerBI or Python or R — there has been a ton of room to move to more sophisticated and scalable analytical projects if you’ve got the interest & desire. This is in an old-fashioned industry that’s been changing rapidly. There may be more opportunity to grow your role internally than you might expect.

    We’re rooting for you!

    1. Filosofickle*

      That’s partly what I was referring to above, about bridging from old career to new. I took a step-back job after grad school and my new skills came with me, job description be damned, and I found small ways to use them and elevate the work I did. That allowed me to build up new experiences and projects for my resume that helped me get my next job that was in my field.

  85. GreenDoor*

    I feell like I’m the OP – in reverse. I did NOT want an advanced degree and didn’t feel it would help me in my field. But I was miserble in my job due to an awful boss. Planned on looking – then the 2008 recession hit. Solid companies were laying off people left and right and the job market tanked. My only way out was an internal transfer. And in my org, to go any higher, you need a masters or a doctorate. So I felt forced to get my MBA. I did it though….and three months later, my awful boss announced her retirement. I stayed put, and her replacement is a Dream Boss. I’ve been promoted twice with nice pay increases. So me getting my MBA ended up being unnecessary because I didn’t transfer around. Maybe. Point is, you don’t know where life will take you and like Alison said – your degree IS an accomplishment, you surely learned helpful things, and it will be with you once the 2020 crazy is over with! Hang in there.

  86. Hobbit*

    Hi OP, I’m almost done with my grad degree as well. Don’t look at it as a failure to get that shiny job. Most people don’t walk off the stage, diploma in hand, and get their perfect dream job. It takes time. This job is a stepping stone, that you can use to build your resume. Your degree gives you formal training, your experiences give you practical training. You’ll be both books smart and street smart, don’t underestimate it.
    Best of luck, op.

  87. exhausted*

    Hey, LW, I just wanted to say that I almost certainly could have written this letter a year ago, when I was about to finish my grad degree and had accepted a job that was a lateral move from the position I had before starting the program. I hated telling people about the position I got, because it’s one I easily could have gotten without my degree, but the lack of security and stability I’d have without a job made me too nervous not to accept. Here I am, a year later, and honestly? I’m already job searching. There’s a variety of reasons for this, but needless to say I’ve been incredibly unhappy for the majority of the last 10 months, even outside of the COVID circumstances.

    If you are in a place of financial security, I would advise you not to take the job. I’m not sure how much this additional year of experience is impacting my job search right now, but I don’t think I would take it if I knew in advance how I would be feeling right now. I have a lot of privilege to be able to say this, namely a partner who makes enough money for us both to live off of, but I’m struggling pretty hard emotionally and I don’t know if it’s worth it.

    That being said, if you take the job, everyone here is right that it’s not your last step, and you don’t need to commit 3-5 years to this employer if it’s a bad fit. Be the absolute best version of yourself you can be, add to your experience, build up your savings, and then leave if you need to. I hope that you have a better experience than I have had.

  88. Butterfly Counter*

    I completely understand this frustration and heartbreak. I graduated with my Ph.D. just after the 2008 recession when most colleges still had hiring freezes on and I could not get my foot in the door. I needed to make money, so I moved back in with my parents and started working at a temp service while I figured out how to get a job that used my degree.

    My first job with the temp service sent me to a particular building. That first day, I sat in the parking lot and cried because I realized it was the same building I had temped at when I was 19 and home from school for the summer. It had changed businesses, but it was the same building and I thought about how little having a college degree, masters degree, and Ph.D. had actually changed anything in my life and I despaired (I think I made $3 more an hour in the intervening 12 years). It felt like a kick in the teeth.

    But, as stated in the letter, things in the world got better and I actually lucked into a part time gig that went full time and I very much use my Ph.D. all the time! It’s not perfect, but I don’t think any job is. So I get it and it got better for me. I hope it gets better for you too.

  89. judyjudyjudy*

    I would take the job — it has to be better than working multiple part-time jobs, and will hopefully relieve some of the financial stress you are feeling now. I also encourage you to keep applying for other positions that interest you, while leveraging as much positive experience as you can from this new job so that you can beef up your resume.

    One thing to keep in mind is that depending on your field, it might look very very bad to have a “gap” in your resume even if you are still working, just outside your field. When I was unemployed for 3 months in 2018 (it felt like YEARS at the time), I was told by a trusted mentor that if I couldn’t get a job in my field within 1 year, it was going to get increasingly difficult for me to land a job. So, taking this job will allow you to work in your field and pay your bills, and hopefully you will get something more interesting or challenging next time. Also, I would ask experienced mentors and colleagues if they have any perspectives on your job market.

    Best of luck!

  90. NovaGirl*

    I don’t know, call me rude, but I think you’re probably setting yourself up for failure by accepting a job that you feel you’re too good for and don’t actually want, OP. You haven’t even gotten the job yet and you’re complaining that it won’t challenge you. You’re talking about accepting a job offer like the job itself is mark of failure. I honestly don’t know of any workplace that would want someone like that on their team? And you may be borrowing trouble from the future here because they haven’t even made an offer! (Think about how crushed you will be if you have done ALL THIS WORRYING… and they don’t want you, anyway.)

    I think the thing that is also not really getting discussed here is that even though you got the grad degree, the amount of work experience you have hasn’t changed. And in many fields, no grad degree but an excellent work history, proven success in other workplaces, and glowing references will go a lot further than a grad degree. So, maybe reframing this job as building a positive work history to bolster your position and get more opportunities would be helpful?

    But, seriously, going in with the attitude that you are too good for this job is bad news. Either reframe that or turn it down (should they offer it) so it can go to someone who actually wants it, as opposed to shamefully lowering yourself for this job. Yikes.

    1. SentientAmoeba*

      OP is out of savings and has been on an extended job search. Beggars can’t be choosers and it’s been pointed out that it is often easier to find a new job once you’re already employed.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Given that the LW needs a job, I would suggest that if she’s hired that she try to go in there with a positive attitude. She should consciously work on turning her attitude around to more along the lines of “this is the job I have and I’m going to do great/blow them away/excel in it.” Not only will it improve her chances of succeeding in the job, it will likely make her happier about her job and life.

      I know it’s not easy to do, but if she can, it will help.

  91. SentientAmoeba*

    I went to grad school because it was a projected requirement for my long tern career goals. I ended up getting a much better job after grad school that I actually didn’t need an MBA for, it was just a fancy feather in my cap.
    As a bonus, depending on how you look at it, this awesome job has meant I will be able to crush my student loans in about half the time it would normally take.

  92. Jobs aren't forever*

    Hey OP – I’m not a recent grad but have under 10 years of experience in my field and I wanted to share my recent job experience with you…I was laid off from my previous role in April due to COVID. it took 6 months but I ended up accepting an offer that was lower than the role I was laid off from, which is super discouraging but it was the only offer I got out of 100s of applications and a handful of interviews. Between accepting the offer and going through the pre-employment processes (background check, drug test, etc. which took about 4 weeks), I actually had 2 recruiters and a former manager reach out to talk about their open roles……and [I’m going to get some hell for this] I ended up accepting a verbal offer the Friday before I was starting the original position. The new offer was almost double the position I started, plus the benefits and company profile were much more inline with what I was initially hoping for!

    Bottom line: it’s always easier to get a job when you have one…and like Alison said, the job you might take now isn’t one you’ll be in forever!

  93. Cassidy*

    Stay employed even if the job is a lateral move. It’ll help ensure your future hire-ability.

    This current situation with the pandemic can’t get any lower, so is bound to improve. Meanwhile, you have a steady income relative to what you want to do, benefits hopefully, and can use the job to build both hard and soft skills so as to get to where you want to be successfully. Plus, you’ll be able to save that much more for your retirement, something I WISH I had done in my younger years.

    Hang in there.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      If I had to fall back on my graphic design skills (which I keep up with) to pay the rent I would do so, and have done so several times. It would be a huge blow to my ego, because I’ve moved far beyond that, but a paycheck is still a paycheck.

  94. OceanDiva*

    My grad program gave me the mindset that you wouldn’t really hit that “success” until 5 years out. I’m 2.5 years out and would agree. I went mid(ish)- career and ended up only finding a job in my previous industry, and make a whopping $1,900 more than 5 years ago, but I see a difference in how I work and understand my field, the types of projects I get, and I’m finally seen as an “expert”. Don’t lose hope yet, it’s too soon to see the benefits of what grad school gives you. It’s ok to take this job, because the next one could be it. Most of my cohort are on their second or third jobs now.

  95. PlainJane*

    I had kind of an opposite experience–I went and got the Masters that was required, then when I got back, they were allowing people who didn’t have the masters to do the same kind of work, and I was now thousands of dollars in debt… and since the job was accepting non-masters, the wages weren’t going up any time fast. And the response from above was a shrug with, “Yeah, well, the world changed.” Which is cold, but something I eventually just accepted. I’d taken a risk with the money, and I lost. It sucks, but it happens.

  96. Not an MBA, But*

    Based on how you described your program and field, it sounds a lot like mine! I graduated with a Masters in Public Policy (MPP) and, yes, graduated into the same job I’d had before grad school. That said, I was promoted a year later, and wouldn’t have been able to be promoted without the degree. I hope it’s the same for you: that things will change quickly.

  97. MissDisplaced*

    I know it must be disappointing, but I honestly think it’s just the Pandemic job market.
    Because of that, you may have to take a job that doesn’t advance you immediately. There’s nothing wrong with that! The same happened to me back in the recession of 09-12. I didn’t truly realize the value of my masters until about 2 years after I received it, because I was still in survival mode.
    But here’s the thing: You can always keep looking, even if you take an interm job. This situation won’t last forever, and you’ll be positioned to move up when things are better.

  98. Badasslady*

    Hi OP and others,
    I just wanted to put things in perspective – when I was searching for a job a year and a half ago, I have read a statistic that the average job search takes about half a year. I am assuming that time frame has changed drastically since COVID changed the job market significantly. I guess for me a half year search does not seem like a long timeframe, especially not now. That being said, if you are financially struggling, take the job you’re being offered and search for another on the meantime.

  99. Jo*

    OP my first job after completing my PhD was back doing exactly what I did as a 15 year old, with a bit more responsibility.

    It wasn’t something I could be excited about, but I needed a job and they were offering one. It took a while for me, but I was able to move into a contract role I enjoyed a lot more (not using my studies) and from there to something that did.

    It’s ok to not be in love with your job. You need to weigh up though whether no money brings more unhappiness than the job would (our money enough joy to outweigh this). While we’d all love to shift in to our dream job straight after graduation it doesn’t always happen. But with some training behind you you’ll likely achieve very different things than without. And being awesome at this job, with an eye to the job roles you want, can be a step forward in your career.

  100. Katie*

    I feel for you OP! I had a similar situation in 2011, which at the time was the height of a recession where I lived. Stayed in college a year longer to do a masters, then spent months job hunting only to get a crappy entry level position that was only vaguely related to what I studied, and didn’t need the masters at all. It sucked, but that was literally all there was. The job market was terrible and with no other income I took it. Friends and family had such a disappointing reaction at what I was doing, which added another layer of soul crushing-ness to it. I think they had it in their heads that me getting a masters in a fancy sounding field was immediately going to equal an amazing fancy sounding job.

    Alison is totally right though. The job you take now won’t be your job forever. If you get it, take it, and give yourself at least a year of breathing space to have an income and be employed. Then branch out and see what else is out there. Do not do what I did, which was get comfortable and stay in the crappy job way longer than you intend on. I did eventually go on to get a job that is perfect for me (and the masters was needed), but I probably could have made that jump two years before I actually did.

  101. Old Admin*

    Oh God, yes.
    Hubby finished flight school school this spring just in time to become an unemployed pilot. He was unemployed for almost six months until he managed to land a job as ground crew and ramp agent at the airport, earning about 30% of what we expected and barely getting by.
    On the bright side, it’s a job in the aviation industry and keeps him occupied and around the planes he loves.
    And maybe there’s a chance of getting into a pilot program later….

  102. MsMeercat*

    I am so sorry you’re going through this OP! I know this type of heartbreak – constant hustling, and feeling like you’re not reaching your potential, and looking left and right and thinking “how are you now 14 levels above me??”, and it sucks. Virtual hugs!
    I would maybe try to view this job as a “mental health” break. Allow yourself to get the monkey of financial stress off your back, settle in, know that you’re not going to be stressed and challenged in this job but can perform well without the stress, and use the mental and possibly time capacity that gives you to do something that you enjoy. In the meantime, look out for opportunities that may come your way and/or then restart your job search further down the line.
    A year after my “break down moment” (not after a masters, but after doing 1.5 years of half volunteer, half full time job with a huge paycut to break into a new sector on a different continent, that then turned out not to work for me because it’s not what it seems) I lucked into my current job (also at about 2-3 levels below the kind of positions that I landed last round interviews for before) and felt incredibly demotivated. But then things have changed in the company in the last couple of months, the higher ups are seeing that I’m bringing more experience than they hired me for, priorities of the company are aligning in a way that tons of my skills are becoming incredibly useful, and I know they’re just looking for the right kind of leadership position for me to match the venn diagram of “I’m interested / they get to use the skills I have”. So what I thought was going to be a temporary “at least you have a paycheck in a pandemic” kind of gig is looking more and more like this might become my home for the next few years, and the thought is kind of exciting, too! And I just wouldn’t have seen it coming, so I have hope that there will be opportunities coming your way!

  103. Star Nursery*

    I can feel your pain. After I graduated from grad school around the time of a recession, I struggled to find a position. I went out of state for undergrad (Bachelors in Psychology) and graduate school (Masters of Counseling) then when I got married at the end of grad school and moved back to the state I grew up in.

    My husband had a good career and owned his home (back in the state where I was from), and when he looked for positions near me didn’t find anything that met his salary or interest, so at the time it made more sense for me live near him instead of near my grad school. I struggled with discouragement trying to find a job in my field in a state 800 miles away where no one had heard of my alma mater. With undergrad and grad student loans coming due, eventually I started working two jobs that I didn’t need any degree for (seasonal retail and an office job through a temp agency). It was discouraging and stressful.

    The temp employment agency led to more temporary jobs and led to being offered a permanent position in a field I fell into that I enjoyed but hadn’t even thought about (Human Resources); later the path life took me to other jobs that I wouldn’t have been thinking about as well. I’m not working in the field of study however I’m enjoying my work (interesting with enough challenges to not be bored, but not too stressful – a good balance). I’ve received promotions and pay increases over time. It’s been 8 years since I finished grad school. I’m happy with where I am today but I do remember how awful it was during the uncertainty of job searching after grad school.

  104. Des*

    OP, try to look at this job as “will it hinder my future job search or not?” and go from there. Some jobs can really pigeon hole you into a particular “track” which will be hard to get out of and switch to your preferred area. But other jobs are going to give you some useful skills that you can apply when you next job hunt. Evaluate this not-exiting!job not from the perspective of “do I have a dream job right now immediately out of school?” but from the perspective of “is this job on the right path to where I want to end up in 10-20 years”. Your friends/family who do have job might not have had the jobs they enjoy immediately either — it might be their third or fourth job.

Comments are closed.