By Career Advice

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.

my job search after grad school has been soul-crushing was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.

This content was originally published here.

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