Over-educated and under-experienced: how do I get from entry-level hell to a Career?

I’m having a bit of trouble dopers, and some advise from those who have been in a similar situation when younger would be nice. A quick background summary:

I finished my B.A. in criminal justice and sociology a few years ago with very little on-the-job experience. After seven months of unemployment I took a close-to minimum wage private security job. It’s a very boring and non-challenging job that I don’t particularly want or like but it pays the bills. I enrolled in an online Masters program with the University of Cincinnati, and recently received my Masters of Criminal Justice degree.

But now I seem to be stuck. I have a masters degree and still work at a crappy low-paying security job with no career prospects. I’ve sent out many many applications to career-type jobs, but rarely get a call back. When I call and inquire, they usually tell me I am either under-experienced, over-educated, or both. Employers seem to see that I have been a private security guard for three year and think “Well, I can’t see this guy wearing a tie and sitting at a desk for 8 hours doing paperwork”. It’s a shame, because ideally I’d want a job with my own desk, 9-5 hours, etc etc.

How can I stand out to employers? How can I convince them that I would be perfectly happy with $14/hr even though I have a grad degree? Internships have been suggested by some of my friends, but these seem to usually be unpaid and on conflicting hours with my work schedule and therefore just not affordable. I feel like time is ticking, and the longer I work at such a low-level job the harder it will be to convince employers that I’m not a fool and am worthy of something better.

Go out for the police force. That’s about the only other thing that degrees in criminal justice qualify you for.

Your friends are right - internships are some of the best ways to get your “foot in the door”, and actually make a positive impression on the place you’d like to work. If you perform well, you can end up with your supervisor actively lobbying for you to get hired as soon as a job opens up. The best internships are going to be close to full-time, though, and it’s true that many aren’t paid. If it’s at all possible, I suggest that you suck it up, and take one anyway. Wait tables to pay the bills, live with your parents, do whatever it takes - but get an internship, even an unpaid one, doing the work you actually want to do. If you don’t get that experience, you’re in a much less favorable position.

Criminal Justice is a hard field to break into. I’ve got friends in a similar position (undergrad, masters in CJ) and they both had to work at Wal-Mart for a couple of years after graduating. One of the things that they regretted was that they hadn’t done internships.

That being said, you do have other options. Are you keeping an eye on federal jobs? One of those friends I mentioned was able to land a position with US Customs - I’d suggest keeping a close eye on www.usajobs.gov, and applying for anything that looks even remotely relevant. Note, though, that the federal hiring process can take a long time - I’m a federal drone itself, and it took a good four months after I filed my application to even learn I’d been hired. I didn’t actually start work until a month after that.

The problem isn’t your qaulifications it’s the job market sucks.

Remember that for every job you apply for there is another person with BOTH your educational experience AND work experience as well.

In otherwords there’s a list and you’re last on it.

Volunteer work and interships have also dried up. This is the first time I went all over at Christmas and not one place I went to even wanted volunteers. Not the Salvation Army, not Catholic charities, not the food bank, not Paralyzed Vets, I went to over 20 places and they all said, “We’re swamped with volunteers.” I even went to the local library where I know the librarian and she was complaining about way too much work. Books not reshelved, not being checked etc. I said that I’d help, and she said, “We reseve that type of volunteers for local high school kids. But they won’t work during the holidays.”

I realize none of this solves your problem but it’s really a bad horrible job market, you’re going to have to wait.

I would try volunteer or internship or join an professional association.

Another thing is don’t forget other jobs. If you like a company it may be worth it to take a job as a receptionist or PBX operator, even part time. That way when the job market gets better you can get to a job before it’s posted

Internships of course pay nothing or little. However, you might be able to find a way to volunteer doing something on a regular basis - maybe weekends? This will look good on the resume and give you more experience in your field, but still allow you to live on your “day job”.

Try contacting the local police, or your local politician with contacts to government agencie, and offer to do some volunteer work for them. Be upfront and admit you simply need the experience to go along with your degree - most will understand and might be able to find something for you to do, especially if you are offering to do it for free.

Also, sometimes it is good to step back and see if there might be some other slightly off-beat path you can take; offer to work at a high school and teach a workshop, or maybe do something at a youth center, or perhaps help in a community service organization with the local neighborhood watch group. Those might be stupid examples, but you get the idea - do something a little off-beat and perhaps it will open other doors and get you some contacts. Networking is a powerful tool when looking for work and you might be surprised to see who is on that charity board of directors for that organization.

Best of luck to you!

All I can add is keep trying.

When I graduated in 1970 and interviewed I would get at one job, “kid we would like to hire you, but you have not experience.” At the next interview for a job paying 5 cents an hour less I would get, “kid we would love to hire you, but with your background you will not be staying.” I ended up working on the floor of a food processing plant. Until the maintenance manager saw that I was there for about 6 months. Then he offered me a job as an oiler, after all it looked like I was going to be there for a while. They finally started to prep me to take over in the engine room when the present employee retired. I did end up leaving before I moved into the engine room, got a call from a hospital wanting me to come to work in the boiler room now at engineer’s pay.

How old are you, OP, and what kind of physical condition are you in?

A couple of things occur to me wrt getting a job as a police officer position. First, military police are used in all branches of the service. If you have the physical capacity, and are not above the maximum age for enlistment, you could see what a recruiter is prepared to negotiate for you. Having a bachelor’s and a Masters might be something you could parlay into a commission. Caution: make sure the promise of MP training/posting is in any contract before you sign it.

Other positions: if you suspect that the presence of a graduate degree is blocking you from job opportunities on the grounds of “over-education,” leave it off the resume.

Volunteer work is going to be an option. Since your hours aren’t 9-5, that frees you up to volunteer doing office work. That type of volunteer work isn’t as likely to be overwhelmed as stuff like Salvation Army that is more flexible. Also, charities that help the needy are always swamped with volunteers over Christmas. Your non-standard hours are an asset here, not a liability.

You should look for a non-profit that is much more like a business. Think museum, public radio, United Way’s local headquarters, hospitals. Not necessarily soup kitchens. United Way also, in most areas, has a referral service that puts volunteers in touch with opportunities based on their availability and interests. Kind of like e-Harmony for volunteering. You find this on your local United Way’s website. Especially think about any organization that might hire you for something you want to do. And focus your interests on things that show off your skills, like computers, and tie in to the work you want to do. Also, anything that gets you in front of a lot of people can be good. I think the Red Cross has volunteers who conduct training sessions (on I can’t remember what). That would be a good type of volunteer work to do.

Also, get someone to give you feedback in person on how you dress, present yourself, and answer questions in an interview. You don’t want to accidentally be doing anything self-defeating. Your school’s career placement office may offer this kind of coaching to alumni. Otherwise there are some people who are themselves doing volunteer work offering this kind of help to job seekers.

Good luck!

Apologies for the double post.

Also, redouble your efforts on the job search. January and June are the two biggest months for recruiting. Hit the ground running.

What exactly do you want to do? Carry a gun for the FBI? (Carry legal files for the FBI?) Be a cop? Teach? Exactly what did you get that specific masters’ degree for?

I want to work a job during normal working hours that is not physically demanding and provides a mental challenge. I want to be able to focus on family life and hobbies outside of work, instead of never knowing my work schedule more than 2-3 days in advance. Oh, and while we’re wishing, I’d love a pony too :smiley:

Seriously though, a desk job would be ideal. I would have majored in business or accounting but I already knew how to do that stuff from self-study, and guidance counselors in high school kept telling me “employers don’t care what you major in, as long as you go to college”. For the masters, I always wanted to get a grad degree to prove to myself I wasn’t an idiot. I’m interested in criminal justice, it’s a fascinating topic mixing sociology, psychology, and biology into one. It’s just proving a bit hard to get someone to pay me for anything related to it.

Thanks for all the advise so far. Internships seem the way to go. I know I’m not alone in this, I’m sure tons of posters have had to make the jump from entry level jobs to actually careers with benefits. Anyone got any personal stories or anecdotes?

Okay, so the FBI is TOTALLY not for you. Neither is most police work.

So basically if I were interviewing you, all I know is that you want to work the least amount of hours possible and are pretty inflexible. You are at the stage in your career where the only response you should have to any employer request is “Yes sir! yes sir! Three bags full!!” If I ask if you are willing to work an all nighter or travel to Budepest in the morning, you should be eager to gain that experience. No offense but fuck your hobbies. That’s like stealing from the company.

Ok, I’m exagerating a bit, but not really. If you want to work 9-5, stick with being a rent-a-cop. If you want a career with a real future in terms of salary, responsibility and interesting and important work, you need to be willing to make sacrifices.

Really? You know all about accounting, finance, marketing, operations, micro and macroeconomics, all from self study?

Yeah, my guidance counselor thought I should go to vo-tech school because I was interested in architecture. I decided to go to a top-ranked acredited engineering school instead. Guidance counselors are morons. Everyone knows that.

It’s not so much that employers care about your major. It’s that we like to see that you have some sort of specific goal in mind. Having a major that relates to what you are looking to do or being able to somehow relate it just makes it easier to demonstrate that. For example: I never did much engineering with my engineering degree. I went into computer consulting instead. But I can talk about how my program required a lot of coursework in math and programming computer models. It would be a lot harder if I was some random major that didn’t relate.

Ok, but what do you want to “do”? You are interested in criminal justice, but in what capacity? You said “not physically demanding” so any sort of police or Federal law enforcement agent is out of the question. You could become a lawyer, but you need 3 more years of law school. Maybe a paralegal or litigation support staffperson or something.

I can tell you what I do. I work in the forensic advisory practice of a Big-4 accounting/consulting firm. The Big-4 (Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers) is highly competetive, but there are smaller boutique firms and technology vendors that are a less competetive in terms of being from the “right” schools and whatnot. Basically what we do is provide services to law firms and companies - computer forensics, forensic accounting, expert testimony, discovery consulting (weeding through all those banker boxes of paper you see in the movies), trial support (making presentations about complex shit so a layperson on the jury can comprehend them), etc, etc.

Here is a link to a company called Kroll that specializes in a lot of these services.

But be warned that especiallly as a new hire, these jobs are not 9-5. They often require a lot of travel or long hours and are very reactionary to the damands of lawyers, judges and regulators. But the work is interesting and you can make well over six figures in a few years, depending on the job.

The first step is figuring out what you might want to do. Once you have that, then you can specifically target those jobs.

This info isn’t for you because I see you want a job that isn’t physically demanding, but in response to a poster who mentioned taking a commission in the armed forces I can confirm that even the Army is having a minimum of a 6-8 month wait before one can get into officer candidate school. They are overbooked just like the private workforce.

First piece of advice: Lose the security part of your resume!
I went into security so I could study and get my BA in History. When I got my degree, about 4 years ago, I went to an interview, with the state DHS. DHS is state, and they will usually hire anybody. I don’t think that I’ve seen that many polyester shirts since the 70s, and I don’t believe that any of them were ironed since then either. I went to the interview. First question: So, have you ever done any work besides Security? First answer: Well, do you see those other 4 sections on the resume, listing the Computer, Video, Restaurant, Retail careers…covering about 15 years?
So, 2 years ago, I got out of Security, and into managing ff restaurants. I went to an interview about 3 weeks ago, at a restaurant, no less. First question: Why did you leave security?
Security guards also have a rep for wanting to be cops, but being too much of a loser to make it.
Lose it. Lose it. Lose it. Tell them you were in prison during that time frame, for molesting children. For terrorism. For selling crack at the schools. For murder. You will get much more respect.


There may be cases where “forgetting” to list your MS is actually positive. Part of the “tailoring the resume to the job” advice, you know. Worked for me - repeatedly.

I think you should think about whether you want a challenging job, which probably won’t be 9-5, or you want an easy desk job. If you really just want regular hours, start applying to temp agencies. msmith537’s advice is pretty good if you want a challenging job.

My personal career anecdote involved working my way up from a temp job that didn’t require a degree to a professional one that used my master’s.

Getting a job in criminal justice is easy (several departments in metro Atlanta are recruiting heavily), but since those typically aren’t “day jobs”, they don’t meet your criteria.

Others have ruled out the FBI, but I wouldn’t be so quick: a field agent, no, but there are many “desk jobs” at the FBI (IT, lab, etc; go to FBIJobs.gov and click on the staff positions section), and I imagine that would be true at many other Federal agencies (DHS, FPS, etc) and quite probably at many state-level agencies.

Most of those non-special-agent FBI jobs aren’t “criminal justice” jobs per se (I had a reference question once about what exactly the people at our local field office do, so we looked at the job offerings together) - they have law degrees or IT certifications or serious science cred or are translators or accountants. Or I guess there are always file clerks.

I also have a BA and MS in criminal justice, but I work as a researcher for a non-profit. My education gave me a lot of research and statistical skills, which I have parlayed into a career, albeit not in the field I initially intended. Most people I know are not working in their major area of study, fwiw.