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At 30, I am a recent college graduate with no skills

  1. Jul 25, 2014 #1
    What would you do in my situation? I'm almost 30 with no career or professional experience.
    I finished my BS degree in Mathematics a year ago, but I don't know what to do with it. I had planned on pursuing a MS right after, but changed my mind and decided to look for entry level positions. I have yet to find anything. Now, I'm considering graduate school for 2015 [a MS in Stats], but I don't know if that's the right path to go on. I know that I want a graduate degree for personal and professional reasons, but I would rather pursue one part-time while gaining valuable work experience. I just feel like I'm getting nowhere in life.

    I don't have any kind of skills. I'm not tech savvy. I don't have any work experience that will help me get hired. I only have experience working in nursing homes and warehouses. I am _not_ a people person. I am a loner in every since of the word. I just don't know what to do. It seems like the only thing to do is to go back to school and do it properly this time, but I tried that last time and I'm just so socially awkward that it never works out as planned. I graduated with a great gpa, but that's all I have to say.

    Should I just keep working my hated job while trying to find something else? What if I don't find anything else? I was thinking of self studying for some IT certs, but I don't see that helping me land a job without experience. I am willing to relocate anywhere, but funds are limited.

    What would you do in my situation? I am so stressed out, but I know I can't blame anyone but myself for my current situation. My professors let me know to come see them for work experience and such, but I didn't. I just feel awkward talking to people, but I want a career. I just realized that 10 years flew by so quickly, too quickly. I would love to work as an analyst or an actuary, but I have no experience with the software.

    Being late in the game, how much can I hope to accomplish?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 25, 2014 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    Many people your age have somehow missed the boat due to the economic downturn a few years back and are confused about what to do now but don't let that deter you.

    First, I would start taking some programming courses because math majors can make good programmers. I would choose Java as it is very pervasive in industry right now. You can add the course(s) to your resume immediately showing that you can still learn new stuff.

    Remember proofs are like programs and there was even a field of study called program correctness which treated programs like proofs with assertions added in the verify state conditions (values of select variables). Package up your favorite few proofs to bring along to an interview. You never know, the abstractness might interest a hiring manager.

    Next look through your course work, were there any junior / senior level projects that you could polish up and use to show your skill? Add the project to your resume and package it up so you can present it at a future job interview. It can become a good talking point.

    Do you have any computational modeling work? or anything that used a computer? if not then you might need to do a personal project using the tools I've outlined below. If you've done a computational project then reimplement it using the tools to learn the tools.

    Contrary to your stated belief, you do have skills but you're allowing your people aversion to hide them.

    Next you need to work on your resume. This is the document that will get you an interview. Its not a one size fits all deal. You must first create a master resume with everything in it and then as you apply to companies pare it down to match the the job you're seeking and keep a copy of the resume you sent to that company.

    Companies digitize resumes and stuff them in a corporate database. Programs are run to match job needs to resumes. After a time, your resume gets stale (on the order of 6 months to a year) and so you'll need to send in another updated one if you're still looking for a job.

    Don't always apply to specific job postings either. Read them and try to figure out what the company is really looking for and apply with a cover letter trying to make your resume standout.

    For programming you also need to get some professional programmer skills like:
    - learn how to use Eclipse and/or Netbeans IDE for program development and debug,
    - learn how to use the Ant and Maven build tools,
    - learn how to use SVN and GIT source code management tools,
    - learn how to write shell scripts in Bash and Csh,
    - learn a good scripting language like Python, Groovy or Ruby
    - or the java derived ones like: Jython, Groovy and JRuby which are great for system test and deployment work.

    Tailor your resume for each job, tell them what they want to hear that you can support with skills (ie don't lie but don't be self-deprecating either). Telling them the right things gets you past the HR screening and to a hiring manager. Being honest means you won't get rejected by the hiring manager for not knowing something you said you did.

    Lastly, only use the phrase "I can learn it" as a last resort. I hear this a lot, I don't want to hire someone who can learn the skill I want them start running on the first day. So you need to eliminate these things in your skill set if possible. The Eclipse/Netbeans is an example as some people still use vi or emacs but the job might require Eclipse. Its learnable in a week or so but still the manager might skip you because of it.

    Hope this helps get you started...
  4. Jul 25, 2014 #3
    AWESOME advice from jedishrfu.

    You might want to look into data science, which is a Big Deal right now. (Yes, it's kind of a buzzword that can mean a lot of different things, but still)

    I'm not sure how much of your math background was probability/statistics and so forth, but even that can be easily fixed when you have the theoretical math background. Just for fun I started taking the data sciences courses on coursera.com. They have a whole track. I don't know that employers take these certificates that you can get seriously or not, but it's just very eye opening to see what you can do with quantitative and programming skills. There is some overlap with actuarial science, but I think this is more broad and interesting.

    Of course going back to get your masters is not a bad idea either. These days a bachelors is not worth the same. If you are in a position to go full time, I'd so go for it and get it done more quickly.

    -Dave K
  5. Jul 25, 2014 #4


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    I just read a note from someone on LinkedIn who mentioned that a few years ago, there were no tech jobs available, whereas now anyone who can fog a mirror can get one, at least in Silicon Valley. Sounds about right from what I can see. So I would agree with jedishrfu's suggestion to pick up some programming skills.
  6. Jul 25, 2014 #5
    I was in a similar situation to what you described, similar age, fairly introverted and no real skills. From what I can tell the differences were pretty minor, physics instead of math and I was finishing grad school instead of undergrad. I basically taught myself some basic coding skills (anything you do on your own will probably have a microscopic amount of the complexity of a real world application, but it still helps), got somewhat lucky to get a job as a software developer and then took it from there. I’d expect getting your foot in the door will probably be the most difficult challenge you face.

    I also think jedishrfu offered some very good advice. The basics of programming aren’t that difficult to learn, if-then-else statements, loops and such. There are a lot of supporting technologies that it helps to be familiar with, e.g. as mentioned before Eclipse/Ant/Maven…, to me this is where most of the complexity is. I think certificates may help, partly for what you learn, but also to show potential employers that you have some initiative and that you’re serious about career. They did help me early on.

    I would keep the hated job while trying to find something else, not just for the money, but also to avoid a gap in your resume. It may be a long shot, but if there’s any kind of tech support you could do in addition to your normal work at your current job that would give you tech skills you could put on your resume.

    To your question “Being late in the game, how much can I hope to accomplish?”. I can’t speak to work as an analyst or actuary, but as far as software goes I’d say plenty. When I got my first programming job people saw me as the physics guy writing code, after a couple of months I was just another developer. For me it sucked being referred to as a junior developer at first (I just felt too old for that), but the junior part got dropped quickly, within 2 years it was principal developer. Probably most of the people I’ve worked with since then don’t even know I have a background in science. The main drawback of starting late was that I didn’t have a lot of accumulated money (basically nothing) when I was at an age where I felt like I should have something.

    That’s my 2 cents.
  7. Jul 25, 2014 #6

    ME is the swiss army knife of engineering. Always seems to be employable and you can get a BS/MS quickly through that accelerate program if you're willing to move. Don't waste another 4 years trying to get another bachelor's through a traditional program. You may even be able to skip a lot of the LEAP classes and graduate even more quickly. Look around for short internships to boost your resumeif you do decide to try something like LEAP.

    Try to get a job with a company as an engineer, see if they'll pay for a MBA, and work your way into management. You may make it to management by the time you're 50.

    You may have to take out a student loan if you're funds are limited for relocating/living.
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2014
  8. Jul 25, 2014 #7
    I second all the good advice here!

    You can get started in programming really fast as you can work on your own projects for gaining experience. It would be harder if you aspired to, say, building turbines.

    Certificates are mainly for passing the "HR firewall" of three-letter acronym checkers - I would not expect too much in terms of learning.

    It had once been very easy to transition from nearly any field to IT / software development. Though employment processes have become more formal I still believe that the IT sector (in a broad sense) is still very open to self-educated people.
  9. Jul 25, 2014 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    I can't stress enough the practical tools of software development. If you get the interview they'll want to know how fast you can get up to speed after they've tested your pogramming skills.
  10. Jul 26, 2014 #9
    I can't add much value except my own experience. I won't say I'm in the exact situation, but I am also 31 seeking a career change. For me, I figured out what I want about a year ago (which is to be an actuary), and i"m now just chugging along and working towards that. The biggest obstacle for me was always thinking "I'm too old, it's going to take forever," but I'm swallowing that and am just going for it. I have a pretty full resume from my previous career, but after recently leaving my job, I started to realize how general my 'skill' is and how 'un-unique' I am to the industry. So in my opinion, I also don't have the essential and sought after skill.

    So in the end, I can either go back to my industry and continue doing what i'm doing, or I can future proof myself and do something that I feel will make me feel relevant. Although it won't be another year or 2 before I can have a chance at an actuarial job, I'm still going to push for it, because I've already waited so for so long. What's another year or 2 right?

    I think the first thing to do is to figure out what you want. That might take a few months to a year as you learn about the different jobs available for math majors. Don't sweat it if you try something for a month and figure out that you doth like it. Try something else. As long as you figure out what you really want, that's all that matters.

    Once you do that, just swallow your pride and do it. Figure out what skills you need to learn and get on autopilot. No one cares that you're 30, except for you. As long as it starts out with a good salary, and/or has potential to give you what you want, that' all that matters right?

    Don't be 40 years old and wish that you 'had done xx 10 years ago.' Ofcourse, there is no issue with changing careers at 40, but since you identified that you need to make changes in your life, this is really the best time to do it, and do it right.
  11. Jul 26, 2014 #10
    Thanks for all the advice. I tried to give "Thanks" to all your posts, but didn't know there was a limit. Hopefully, I can use your advice to the best of my ability. I think I may put off graduate school for now. I had planned on starting graduate school at my alma mater in January, but I think I shouldn't? I think I should stay in the "real world" for now? I have been looking into computer programming certificates and such. I've found some that are offered through distance education from state universities like North Carolina State University. I've been looking because I'm not too sure about me being a self-learner. Obviously, I've lacked ambition for some time, so it might be quite hard to break the habit of chronic procrastination.

    Again, thanks for the great advice.
  12. Jul 26, 2014 #11
    Similar situation for me--with a new PhD in math. It's a huge handicap to be lacking in social skills. It is possible to improve. There are various books written for such people, like How to Win Friends and Influence People, or The Charisma Myth. Also, something like Toastmasters could be good. So, investing time in developing people skills rather than resigning yourself to being awkward is probably a good idea. That being said, I've long since concluded I will always be somewhat awkward, and all I can really do is try to lessen it, as best I can.

    It's pretty hard for socially awkward people to deal with getting a job in this job market because you have to waste your time applying to about a million jobs to get an interview if you just apply online. You're really supposed to get to know people and ask them about jobs and that sort of thing, so you can bypass HR. But that's hard to do when you're socially awkward. All the interviews I've gotten so far have been from personal contacts, and there has been 0 response to anything I just applied to from a company website or something from Indeed (and for that reason, I haven't applied to many things because I know I'm more than likely wasting my time).

    Things seem to be picking up for me a bit, but it's kind of overwhelming now because I have too many job leads in very different directions, and it's too much to be able to pursue all of them because they are the sorts of things I probably would have to study quite a bit for to be ready for an interview. That's why it can help to focus on something fairly specific, like being a Java developer or whatever. That point isn't so clear until you get to the point that I'm at right now.
  13. Jul 26, 2014 #12


    Staff: Mentor

    if you're socially awkward then you need to fix it by going to some speech-making classes, acting classes or a toastmasters class...

    It'll be tough at first but you must get over the initial fear of talking... I used to use self-deprecating humor which works until others start to use it against you because of their own insecurity.
  14. Jul 26, 2014 #13


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    If you are socially awkward, then that is how you are. You can't change it. You CAN do other things which improve or extend what you do or what you know how to do; and by doing so you can interact more with people. This will still not change your being socially awkward. Find your interests. Do something with them. Most of the time, nobody cares about your social awkwardness, but instead may interact with you and may not be aware that you are "socially awkward". There is a difference between being socially awkward and being intentionally hostile.
  15. Jul 27, 2014 #14
    I feel the same way.

    I'm 29, I have no friends (besides spouse) and graduated with a great gpa, albeit not majoring in math. I have also lived with parents most of my life.

    I would recommend graduate school. Whatever you decide to do, rather than starting off with assumptions about the way life is supposed to work, see how things actually work in the real world.

    This advice would've saved me a lot of time.
  16. Jul 27, 2014 #15
    In my case, at least, it's a lot more subtle than being afraid of talking. For example, in dating, it's rare for me to get a second date, but usually, if anything, I talk too much. Unfortunately, getting a job is a lot like dating. Actually, part of my problem is I have a hard time figuring out who to try to contact. Supposedly, it's possible to send your resume to non-HR people, but I have a hard time figuring out who that would be in most cases.
  17. Jul 31, 2014 #16
    If you're dating, then I'd say your social awkwardness is a lot less of a problem than you think. You have to stop criticizing yourself - that's what I read in your postings. Forget about where you are and where you think you should be at this point in your life, and focus on what you would like to be doing in a career. Then go pursue it. If you keep beating up on yourself, it will depress you more and then you won't have the motivation to pursue your goals. If your plans don't turn out well, then increase your effort. So what if things go bad? It happens to nearly everyone. Such is life.
  18. Aug 1, 2014 #17
    At the moment, I'm not. Too busy with the job-search/retraining effort. Anyway, 95% of my dates were from online because I'm too incompetent to get them in person without lottery-winning good luck. It's not a stretch to say nearly everyone is more successful at dating than I have been--not that I'm alone in having difficulty with it. That's the fact of the matter. My social awkwardness doesn't really bother me that much, though. I have enough friends, and I'm content with my life, except that dating is very hard and getting a job is very hard. I have a PhD in math, so if I really knew what I was doing, I'd have a job by now, I think. I've had a few slumps where I get depressed and my productivity drops, but I've spent most of my time learning new things, and it's starting to add up to something. I know 4 or 5 more programming language than I did a year ago, plus, I've reviewed data structures and algorithms, programmed a small game, passed 2 actuarial exams, so at least I've done something. Maybe more would have come out of trying to figure out the job-search process directly, but programming seems to open so many doors, I thought I may as well try to get better at it, given that interviews are few and far between.
  19. Aug 1, 2014 #18
    Oh sorry, I got you confused with the OP. It sounded like he was really down on himself, and that can be a serious impediment towards career advancement, much more so than social awkwardness.

    Most STEM jobs are going to be filled with geeks, and companies are much more interested in how well you perform your job, and not how well you socialize with other employees. You have to get along with your co-workers, but as long as you're not an eternal grouch or a psycho, you should do fine.

    I work in Engineering and am acquainted with some of the SW programmers, and the amount of social interaction required in this field is minimal. You're basically sitting in a cube in front of a computer most of the day. Of course, that might not be true for other STEM jobs.

    The only situation where it can pose difficulties is during the interview -- if you are very quiet, don't ask any questions, or avoid eye contact then you may not get an offer. Emphasize your positives during the interview, ask lots of questions, smile, try to relax, and don't mention your negatives. You must be confident, but not cocky.

    After I got my Engineering degree, I took a position that wound up being a dead-end. I looked around for another position, didn't really find anything, and decided to enter Grad school in the same field. Many more opportunities opened up after I graduated. It was the best decision of my life. The only real down-side of entering Grad school is the potential loss of income during the time that you're in school and not working.

    I can't really say much about the Math field, but if you have some graduate course-work in Computer Science and/or Engineering, then that would increase your attractiveness to Tech-related employers. If it were me, I would probably skip anything less than a full degree program. During the summers, if you are able to get some kind of relevant internship, then that would help tremendously during your job search when you graduate.

    You are still in the "new grad" category, so employers tend to look at degrees obtained, rather than work experience. I've interviewed new grads before with no prior experience, and there's not a whole lot to talk about. But employers like them because they can be hired relatively cheaply.

    And age 30 is not old at all. I got out of Grad school when I was 32 and was considered a new grad during interviews. You should consider your age to be an advantage, because you're more mature than most people at 21 or 22 when they get their undergraduate degree.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2014
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