Dear Ask Alexis,
I've recently stumbled across Idealist and your column in general. I've been out of school for about a year and a half but am having trouble landing the full-time gig. My degree is in sociology and I know I want to work in social services with kids specifically, but the problem I run into time and time again is I don't have any experience. I've held a few part-time jobs working with kids in daycare, but what would you suggest to get my foot in the door? Should I go back to school to get my Master's or would that be just a waste of money at this point?
Searching for What's Next
Dear Searching for What's Next,
First, I want to highlight that unfortunately, yours is not a unique problem.
Plenty of folks leave undergrad or graduate school eager to dive into the workforce only to discover that seemingly everywhere they turn, employers are seeking applicants with some experience. Sometimes, even organizations who list opportunities as "entry level" are actually looking for candidates with at least a few years of experience under their belt.
There are a few ways to address this problem—volunteer, network, adjust your immediate professional goals, create your own experience—and here are some resources that may help you determine which path is right for you:
- Get the Experience to Land the Job Series
- Open Thread | Have You Ever Had Volunteer Work that Led to a Job?
- Volunteer to Career | 6 Tips to Make It Happen
However, for your specific question, I'd suggest exploring ways to get close to the work that you want to do, as opposed to trying to find a way to immediately land your dream job (and perhaps adjusting your one-year plan to a two- or three-year plan).
In other words, you want to work in social services with kids, right? And maybe you think that means "social worker," "case worker," or "counselor" are the only titles you should be exploring. Instead, I'd recommend exploring related titles in those same organizations and agencies that could ultimately lead to your dream title.
If you can see a potential path from a job opportunity listed on Idealist.org to your dream job, map out how that career path might look, and go for it!
Your three-year plan
If you're interested in working with kids in the social services space, here is an example of how you can go about finding some interesting (and not-so-obvious) opportunities:
- Figure out what organizations you'd like to work for by exploring Idealist.org or running through our Target Employer exercise.
- Once you've determined your target employers, explore their current opportunities and write down every availability at each respective organization.
- Now that you have a list of current job openings, spend some time mulling over each title. Go beyond simply considering the job's roles and responsibilities by writing down what work this person could do (that may not be included on the job description) as well as what other teams this person may work within the organization (this may take some extra research on the organization).
- For an even more visual version of this exercise, write the job title (role A) on one side of the page and your dream title (role B) on the other, and draw actual lines to connect one title to the other, labeling each line with a few details on one way you could move from role A to role B.
The purpose of this exercise is to consider every opportunity to draw a line between the work of the role in question and the work of the role where you'd like to land someday. For example, if there is a grant writing position available at a social services organization, can you think of ways that this role could ultimately lead you to your longer-term career goals of working in social services with kids?
However you choose to move forward, graduate school is a very personal choice based on a whole lot of factors, not the least of which being the financial commitment. In my personal opinion, more education is never a waste of time, and there is almost always something that can be gleaned from additional time in a classroom (or learning remotely in front of your computer).
In this particular situation, should you decide that you're interested in pursuing a graduate degree, be sure to explore how strong the alumni network and career services offerings are at each institution you explore.
Pro Tip: A great way to get a real sense of what a particular program is all about is by meeting with them face-to-face at an Idealist Grad Fair.
Send your questions and comments to me at AskAlexis@idealist.org, and if we plan to publish your question, I’ll be sure to give you a heads up (and I’ll also be sure to keep your info anonymous, of course).
Looking forward to reading your stories and answering your questions!
As the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.