Money Talks, So Should You

Homecoming King: Mapping my (un)employment strategy

Jim McLaughlin
by Jim McLaughlin, Dimespring 30

Being as talented as me can really be a burden.

I moved back home to Chicago almost six weeks ago, and I’ve been looking for jobs since a bit before that. Maybe I’m foolish, but I expected to have been hired by now.

I’ve got a strong resumé for someone my age and great communication and research skills, but I think I could be a stronger job candidate if I had more specific “hard skills” like in computer programming or financial management or performing heart surgery with a spork in the backseat of a moving car.

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It’s not that I can’t do those types of jobs (ok, best I can muster is delivering a baby in a parked Buick), but my two short years of professional experience as an elementary teacher mean I’ve demonstrated I can do LOTS of things. That’s not so helpful to a hiring manager who’s scouring mountains of resumes looking for explicitly stated skills and experience for the one position they have available.

I’m looking to work in the non-profit sector, putting my teaching license and master’s degree in education to good use outside the classroom toward broader education reform. And I’ve found loads of job postings on LinkedIn, Idealist.org and other places that seem like awesome fits for me. Trouble is, while I’m confident I would be a really strong candidate for these positions, the descriptions call for experience in very specific roles, like marketing, grant writing or fundraising.

So I’ve had some interviews that have gone really well, and while they haven’t turned into jobs yet, the interviewers have told me on follow up that I was very impressive. For one position, I made the cut for the final 15 applicants out of 400 total (that’s the top 3.75 percent for those keeping score at home).

By no means have I exhausted all of my options yet. The economy is not as bad as it was when my dad was laid off for over a year. In fact, I’ve been tipped off to some openings that I’m nearly certain (please don’t bite me, karma!) I’d be offered if I applied. Here comes the dilemma: There are well-paying job opportunities I can take that are outside my field of professional interest, as well as opportunities that are related to my career goals — but not my financial ones.

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I’m a hard worker, and I like to think an unpicky one. But it still seems a bit early to throw away my do-gooder sensibilities so quickly to take the first entry-level sales job that comes along. At the same time, with some years under my belt and a graduate degree to boot, it’s awfully hard to justify moving to a city with a higher cost of living to take a job that pays less than my former teacher salary. And then there are the foot-in-the-door paid internships at companies I’d love to work for that would begin in January if I can hold out.

At the risk of seeming presumptuous for someone with zero current job offers and an unclear professional trajectory, my strategy is to draw the salary line in the sand at least $2,000 above my former salary given my new degree and cost of living. If that means I need to move into the private sector, then I have to be sure the position I accept strengthens the hard skills I’d need to transition back into the non-profit world as a competitive candidate. But holiday season is upon us, so some temporary work in the meantime could stymie the shrinking of my savings account.

Remember when people got hired at a company, stayed there for four or five decades, then retired and lived off their pensions? Must’ve been nice.

Jim McLaughlin is a member of the Dimespring 30, a community of bloggers sharing their thoughts, experiences and perspectives on personal finance.