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I have made so many bad decisions in my life and as a result I am legitimately a bad candidate in any job application process.

Some of the things my bad decisions have led to that I cannot hide:

  1. Got a 2.2 degree (for Americans in the uk our degrees work out so that the best is a 1st, 2.1 is what most people end up getting, 2.2 is still a large chunk but its a mix of the lazy and the stupid, and 3rd which is even worse).

  2. Lots of job hopping for all kinds of reasons that might seem valid if they were single instances but in the overall picture suggest (rightly) that have been feckless and have no idea what I want out of life.

  3. 2 years off from being 30 and still not really started a career of any kind.

  4. No real references that I trust to provide good feedback.

There are also other things my bad choices have resulted in that I can largely avoid mentioning to an employer because it's none of their business and not legally or conventionally required for me to mention.

I have never really had a clue what I really want to do. As far as I am concerned the things I really want to do are impossible for me because I am simply not in a position to make them happen. For instance I would have loved to have done something policy related, or work for the foreign office or something like that - but these are fields which are hugely competitive on account of the fact that everyone would love to do something cool like that and I simply do not have the level of qualifications or extra curricular shine that is required. Additionally some of those jobs require security clearance which my past bad decisions almost certainly prevent me ever obtaining.

Since I know the things I'd really like to do are not actually possible I have to think more in practical terms about what I need out of work. Obviously that comes down to money, job security, work life balance and so on. Those are my only concerns. I don't want to be poor, working myself to death or constantly terrified about being fired. Ideally I'd also like to do something that gives me a sense of achievement and self esteem too.

Some people might say since I made bad choices in life again and again I don't have the privilege of having a job that isn't insecure and low paid or working a reasonable number of hours and I should just "suck it up". What I would like to ask is, if that is my goal, regardless of what you think I deserve, what is the best strategy for going about obtaining it.

How does someone with bad qualifications and a worse work history make up for all that and make a real career for themselves?

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closed as off-topic by Jan Doggen, Garrison Neely, Jim G., David Segonds, Michael Grubey Aug 28 at 6:55

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  • "Questions asking for advice on what to do are not practical answerable questions (e.g. "what job should I take?", or "what skills should I learn?"). Questions should get answers explaining why and how to make a decision, not advice on what to do. For more information, click here." – Jan Doggen, Jim G., David Segonds, Michael Grubey
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*comments removed* Remember what comments are for. For extended discussions, Get a Room (a chat room). –  enderland Aug 23 at 12:55

4 Answers 4

up vote 30 down vote accepted

It's about building foundations.

Once you have A-Levels, no one cares about GCSEs. Once you have a degree, no one cares about A-Levels. Once you've had good job or two, no one cares about your degree.

Right now, your foundations feel like they're built on sand. That's why you feel uneasy and are looking for stability.

First things first - it's not as bad as all that! A 2.2 is fine - no, you're not going to get into the Civil Service Fast Stream, but it's not like the whole world is shut away from you.

References are mostly a formality. What you need is a network of people you can ask for advice.

I've also jumped from job to job. I spin it as "a wide variety of experience". Yeah - you don't have 5+ years of learning something in depth. But you've got experience in a variety of industries, workplaces, and people.

So - how to improve on this?

  • What do you want to be when you grow up? Try to find a career which you think would suit you. Doesn't have to be glamorous - but try to find a realistic objective.
  • Network. Which conferences / events do these sorts of people go to? Find them, talk to them.
  • Get on LinkedIn. Find old friends and colleagues who may be able to help. At the very least - try to present an attractive CV to recruiters.
  • Swallow your pride. You want to be head of Oxfam? Perhaps you have to take a pay cut and work as an office junior to get the lay of the land.
  • Stick with it. We all have days when we hate work and just want to quit. You wouldn't split up with a romantic partner because of a minor disagreement over who empties the bins (I hope!) - it's the same with work. You'll learn more by getting through the bad times rather than jumping ship.

Finally - don't give up! I know hitting 30 feels like the middle of your life - but in reality, you're likely to be working for another 30 years. You're barely a quarter of the way through your working life.

Good luck!

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Swallow your pride. You want to be head of Oxfam? Perhaps you have to take a pay cut and work as an office junior to get the lay of the land. I think this is the key. Sure most people do not actually expect to start at the top, but they are also unwilling to start at the bottom, but that is where a solid career is made. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Aug 21 at 15:10
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Dont wait for a call back for those types of jobs. For the entry level jobs show up and ask for the job several times a week. When they fill the job keep coming back and asking if they have any new openings. Someone will give you that chance. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Aug 21 at 16:24

I have never really had a clue what I really want to do.

How does someone with bad qualifications and a worse work history make up for all that and make a real career for themselves?

Not knowing what you want is your first obstacle.

It's time to reassess yourself and your current situation and get realistic about what you want to do now.

Rather than dwelling on past mistakes, consider what skills you have. Then, think about what jobs you would like to do fit with your skill set. Write them down. Then, think about what jobs you would like to do come close to fitting your skill set, but will require you to do more work on your skills. Write them down as well.

Look at your list. Think about the kinds of jobs show up on the first list (the one that you are qualified for). If something really appealing is listed, then go for it. Prepare a resume, search for jobs, network with people who could help you get such a job.

If there's nothing very appealing on the first list, look at the second list. Consider what you are missing in your skill set for these positions. Think about how you could gain those skills. Think about what kind of job you could do now, that would provide the financial means and time required to gain the skills you need to get a job you would really like. Then go for it.

Everyone has the ability to change our lives. It's within our grasp.

You may have shut off the path for a few jobs, but there are many, many possibilities out there. Once you stop dwelling on the past, and start focusing on the future, you'll start to see this, and you'll feel empowered.

Go for it!

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  1. Train and learn.

    Find a job that you think you can do effectively, and LEARN how to do it effectively as much as you can without actual work

    • Read books/textbooks. Virtually any profession has training materials.

    • Ask around what is involved with doing the job and what you need to know.

    • Attend training/classes/seminars

    • Pay someone who works the job to teach/mentor you.

    • If feasible, as someone doing the job for opportunity to hang around/observe (may not be OK for security-cleared engineering position; but might easily work for plumbing or bicycle technician job in a small shop).

  2. Volunteer/Intern.

    Forget "pay + security". You may luck out and obtain that (god has fondness for drunks and idiots - Otto Von Bismark). But realistically, chances are, you aren't in a position to get that right away. So:

    Offer your services as volunteer/intern to various companies that can use that work.

    Benefits:

    • Since you won't be paid, it's less of a risk for the employer to hire you so they will hesitate less

    • If they like what they see in you (in practice, not from resume/past) they will likely be a LOT more interested in hiring you on full time.

    • You'll gain experience both at the job skills, AND general workplace skills.

  3. Forget "doing what you want to do" and change your expectations and mode of thinking in terms of the jobs you seek.

    You want well paying job that's secure? Get a job that isn't glamorous, but is needed and not very desired by others.

    Recent TED talk buy Mike Rowe (the guy who produced the "Dirty Jobs" TV series) highlighted that a gentleman who built a business digging up and selling bloodworms was very well off. A pig farmer who's extremely well off (he just declined a $60 million offer to sell his business).

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You've made bad decisions, but that's not the half of it. What's to prevent you at this point in your life from making more bad decisions? And if I were your next prospective employer, I'd be asking myself "What's to prevent you from making another bad decision at MY expense?"

It is clear that you know you've made bad decisions. What's not clear at all is whether you derived any lessons from your bad decisions. If you haven't learned anything, you're bound to rinse and repeat. And nobody is eager to have you rinse and repeat at their expense.

You are going to have to start at the bottom. You are going to have to demonstrate an ability to listen, learn and put up with aggravation. The burden is on you to prove that you are a reliable employee and unfortunately, the jobs you start from will be crummy in some ways. You'll have to prove yourself one day at a time and one crummy job at a time, not changing jobs until you have lined up a better job.

One final note: be aware of that vicious cycle where you take a horrible job because you have a dire need for the money, you have a horrible experience and you have trouble applying for a better job because your references are horrible.

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“Every time I apply for a job as a cleaner or in retail I hear nothing back.” Anything with a low bar to entry (I’m assuming that’s true of the retail/cleaning jobs you’ve applied for; I mean no offence to those in that line of work) will have a very large number of applicants unless there’s very low unemployment at the time, so applying to jobs like that is pretty much a lottery. Hearing nothing back doesn’t mean anything other than you weren’t lucky enough to get the job. –  Paul D. Waite Aug 22 at 13:29

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