I Hate My Job and I Don’t Know What to Do About It

How do you leave a job you can’t stand so you can pursue a career you love? We try to tackle that and the problem of getting a job in the legal field.

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Dear TIME Moneyland,

I first worked in television, but I didn’t find it emotionally fulfilling. After seven years I felt I had paid my dues, but I really wasn’t getting anywhere. While I looked for other work, I ended up getting a reception job at a nursing home. Then I ended up doing real estate research. Then I started going back to school and taking prerequisite classes for a degree in art therapy. But when I was ready to actually apply for the degree, I realized that wasn’t what I wanted to do either. Right now I write for a retail website selling products. I just finished taking a class in psychology and law this spring semester. That and criminal justice have become interesting to me. I’m looking for a place to use my writing skills and recently applied for a communications assistant job at a place that helps exonerate people who are wrongfully convicted of using DNA evidence. I’m interested in counseling and working with soldiers with post-traumatic stress disorder. But because I have a varied background, I don’t know how to focus my resume and make myself more marketable.

Hates My Job
New York City, NY

Dear Hates,

Before you jump into another job that you might end up disliking, consider some volunteer work in that field. There are a number of websites that can help match you with a volunteer position you might enjoy. Try volunteer-referral.com, volunteermatch.org or idealist.org. “Until you do something, do you really know what it’s about?” asks Career Counselor Lynn Berger. “You need that context to find out what the day-to-day is like.” You like writing? Why not start your own blog and begin writing about areas that interest you. That way your name and byline will be out there and you can show your work to potential employers. It’s also extremely helpful to know somebody in the business. If you’re not already on it, Berger suggests using LinkedIn to find out if your connections know anybody in the field.

(MORE: Q&A: Counselor Lynn Berger on Shifting Careers)

Dear TIME Moneyland,

I’ve been all over the map. To start, I went straight from high school to the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, and graduated in 2004 with a degree in English literature, then got a master’s degree in English lit at the University College London. Then I came back to the states and worked for two years as a public relations manager at a small community center. While I was working in PR, I got certified as a basic EMT. But none of that was fulfilling, so I applied to law school and graduated from Chicago-Kent College of Law in May 2010. I took the bar exam in July and got my attorney’s license in November. But I haven’t really been employed since becoming an attorney, and it’s been about eight months. I’d really like to work either in criminal law or international law. But there aren’t a lot of those jobs available, and I’ve been pretty picky about where I’m applying. I haven’t quite gotten to the point where I’ve said any job will do. What should I do?

Looking For Legal Work
Chicago, Ill.

Dear Looking,

Abby Armstrong, Vermont Law School’s Director of Career Services, offered such good advice that I’m just going to let her take the floor. “I think you should continue to apply for positions throughout Chicago and continue to network and begin the process of finding a place to volunteer so that you can continue to build your skills, which will make you more marketable. I know the concept of networking and volunteering is difficult for most recent grads. (I am sure you are sick of hearing about networking and volunteering and are ready to jump into a ‘real’ job.) The reality from the employer’s perspective, however, is that the person with the most relevant experience who can hit the ground running is most likely to get the job. In this job market, that usually means continuing to connect with people in the field and volunteer to gain additional experience.”

(MORE: We All Need to Feel Valued, Especially at Work)

Well said, Abby. Ms. Armstrong also suggested a few places you can look for jobs and volunteer positions. The Chicago Law Bulletin, craigslist.com for Chicago, the Cook County Public Defenders’ office and even the city’s newspapers’ classified sections are great resources for jobs. And for volunteer positions, try reaching out to Chicago-Kent’s alumni and look into the Office of the Appellate Defender, the National Lawyers Guild (Chicago chapter) and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Armstrong also emphasized how important it is for you to have someone to talk with and bounce ideas off as you look for jobs. (A former law student would be ideal.) “It is not easy but I genuinely believe that if you can continue to develop your legal skills — through a paid or unpaid position — and begin to immerse yourself in the issues that matter to you, it is only a matter of time before an opportunity will present itself.”

TIME Moneyland

Need a job? Hate your job? Basically, do you need career advice? E-mail us at moneyland@timeinc.com and we’ll put your issues in front of experts.