I have no formal work experience. I have a BA in sociology and went into graduate school for education. Instead of following my instincts or really thinking about whether I could teach childhood as a job, I told myself it would feel more natural. It has not.

I will fail this program if I have to teach full-time, which is required to graduate (as is an exam that's so new there are no prep books, and it is required to stay in this program). I am in my mid twenties and have zero formal work experience. Foolishly, I'm one of those people that could barely juggle a full courseload and work. I've always chosen school and realized too late that graduate school was a horrible choice for me.

In terms of anything resembling work, I've assisted as a volunteer in classrooms, written papers and portfolios, and have put two years into this program but am incredibly unhappy and cannot finish, nor do I want to be in this profession anymore. I thought it was the one way to put my useless liberal arts degree into a professional path.

Before that, I went through a year and a half after graduation looking for entry level office job, bookstores, retail...no callbacks. Maybe three interviews in the whole time. Temp agencies stopped responding and when I called one to ask why they weren't calling me in to offer advisement, they said they'd have to call me. I graduated with a 3.0 but my resume was too weak, I guess. I had friends look at it to see that it was passable, but as I said I have no experience and I'm now in my mid-20s. (And for what it's worth, am incredibly ashamed of myself.) No experience, no work. My family says I am "unemployable" and I fear they're right--I was in this program two years and should have pulled out sooner. It looks suspicious. If nothing else, it is damaging because I went to school full-time instead of working.

The time, money, and effort I spent on this makes me feel bad, but the lack of a degree/ANY work experience in all that time makes me feel worse.

So there it is, I have no work experience AND no degree to explain the time gap. Can I salvage this? I feel embarrassed even to put the school on my resume b/c of the lack of a degree, but it's the only thing I have to show for the last few years.

(This is in teaching/early childhood. I don't know how to spin graduate school into first experience in even a basic clerical job.)

  • 1
    It would be helpful if you would add some specifics to your question. It would probably help people make suggestions. For example, what is the subject/area of your current degree program? Also, what was the subject of your "useless liberal arts degree"? Parenthetically, I don't understand why people are so down on the liberal arts. Oct 17, 2013 at 16:11
  • 2
    I was a sociology major and studied a lot about family welfare/poverty. I wanted to work in not-for-profits. Now I know that work isn't there and without experience, no one would hire me. My current program is in early childhood education--I want to leave education and childcare, period, but have no formal employment history. Just graduate school, the assistant teaching that was part of coursework, and volunteering.
    – user10897
    Oct 17, 2013 at 21:26
  • Thanks for the update. I suggest you make this part of the question, rather than a comment. Oct 18, 2013 at 8:32
  • If you are close to finishing your degree, and you will take any job that comes along, why not finish your degree and work in that field? Jun 25, 2016 at 16:11

4 Answers 4


The skills acquired as a graduate student are often very employable outside academia. I was doing a PhD in Linguistics with a focus on corpus linguistics. As part of my education, I learned statistics, Python scripting, Mandarin Chinese and technical writing. Those skills ended up getting me a job offer from a major computer software company, which I accepted and left grad school to take.

You probably have more employable skills than you think. Spend some time thinking about what skills you possess and what professions need those skills. a PhD to your name is not the first thing employers look for - they look for whether you have the skills that they need.

Stop thinking about your degree and start thinking about your skillset.

  • Problem is, it's a really limited skillset. It was never paid; 80% of it was as a student. I can't stand this program, after all this work-the writing, the assistant teaching--but have nothing of FORMAL value to an employer...including a degree, which proves I can finish something. I can list "assisted teachers/helped students meet lesson plan goals in x, y, z" on a resume-that's it. Tech writing/stats can be parlayed into lots of jobs--all I did was follow kids around, basically. It's exhausting, mind-numbing work unless you love children/teaching. I know now I don't, not this much.
    – user10897
    Oct 17, 2013 at 21:20
  • I should add something--all I wanted was a basic entry level office job, but I don't even know what "entry level" office skills are. I have no programming/coding knowledge or know where to start; I have basic understanding of Microsoft Office, Adobe, internet browsers, etc. I couldn't get an entry level job as a clerical/admin assistant with my sociology degree but I know now that to say graduate school was a mistake for me would be an understatement. The worst thing? Not only do I feel incompetent/unfit to interview--I am FED UP with school!
    – user10897
    Oct 17, 2013 at 21:30
  • 1
    @user10897 perhaps you are over-qualified for entry-level office jobs? Aim a bit higher. Apr 25, 2014 at 18:35

I don't know if I have much of value to add, but here is my two cents for what it is worth.

First it sounds like you have (in your opinion) gone down the wrong path, and are panicking a little bit. This is understandable. The first thing I should say, is, join the club. We've all been there. Everyone makes mistakes. The thing to do it to learn from them, and try not to repeat them. Though this is easier said to done. Also, try not to panic. It really doesn't help. If you are panicking, try to calm down. You could also try things like yoga. It can have a calming effect, apart from the health benefits.

You said you are in your mid-twenties. This is not really old at all (by any definition). Many people at this time in their lives are still trying to figure things out. So, again, don't panic. Spend a little time making a calm assessment of where you want to go, and what you want to do.

@user9042 made some useful suggestions. You said in response that all you wanted is a "basic entry level office job". Well, I don't think you do, really. If you have a functioning brain, you would hate it. I think if you are feeling that you want a job, any job, it is because you are feeling demoralized, and like a drowning person, you want a lifebelt to cling to. I think you can aim a little higher than that. Are you actually interested in (for example) statistics and computers/software/programming (per @user9042 posting)? If you are not sure, then I suggest learning a little about them, and seeing what you think. You could start by taking some basic college classes. If you aren't interested in these fields I do not recommend going into them. The world is already too full of programmers who aren't interested in programming and just want to make a fast buck. If you are, then you could consider a graduate degree in these areas and see where it takes you. More generally, you should consider seeing what area of specialization you think you would like. If you are an intelligent person, you probably won't be happy just dropping out of school. Most good jobs these days require some degree of specialization. You say you are "fed up with school", but this may just be a reflection of your experience in your particular program.

Specific suggestions - if you want to learn basic computer programming, try learning Python. It is about as accesible as any language out there, and very popular. It is also not a toy language; many people use it for real work, including in research contexts. Are you familiar with the world of free software? If not, try installing Debian and see what you think of it. Debian is a fairly obscure operating system, but also has some claim to be the worlds best. Other similar Linux based operating systems would probably also work. Check out unix.stackexchange.com for example.

Learning on your own about a more academic discipline like statistics is more difficult, but you could take a look at R.

You can at least respond intelligently to questions people have put here, which is more than many people seem to be able to manage.

Admittedly, none of this really has much to do with academia.

Also, again, I suggest revising your question to include the information that you have given in the comments, so people don't have to look all over the place for it.

  • I'm grateful for the insight. I am "fed up with school" to the extent that I'm lucky enough to have had a supportive family but know, on some level, that the longer I stay out of the formal workforce, the more likely it is I will never have a job other than, say, working in fast food. If that. I don't want to program--I have friends that learned what they needed to learn through work. They were trained. They had initial jobs as secretaries or assistants and moved up to middle management or specialized positions.
    – user10897
    Oct 18, 2013 at 10:17

Short answer is yes, it is so easy to salvage the situation that over half my friends can say ‘been there, done that’. A book I found helpful at the time is ‘What Color Is Your Parachute’, by Richard Bolles, which is about and figuring out what you want to do, and finding work you like.

Things that I or friends have done while straight out of school and clueless: SAT/GRE tutoring, boring clerical work, low paying internships, living with parents while looking for work, or networking with friends, family, and random strangers and finding good paying jobs within a month or two. I’d strongly recommend the last one, although you can get by on the others.

You just need to find a starting point. Ask around your family and friends to shadow people at the office and get an idea of what goes on in different departments and industries. Once you have a clue what you want beyond ‘earn money’, it will be easier to focus your job search efforts. It sounds like so far you’ve just thrown your resume into the air, and gotten a copy to recruiters who have a few hundred more just like it. Instead, figure out something you’d like to try doing, and make an effort to meet people in that field, and ask them for work.

You mention that you have no skills, and then you mention you’ve taught, so you can do public speaking. You’re a graduate student, so you’re an above average writer, and probably know how to think. If you’ve worked with kids, you’ve probably done customer service type work with their parents. You say you’ll have an inexplicable time gap. Just say ‘I was in graduate school studying X, but decided that field wasn’t for me, so I left.’ I used to explain a one year gap as ‘A bunch of unrelated short term jobs that wouldn’t fit on a resume.’

Think about things you enjoy. Do you like writing? Solving puzzles? Thinking about problems, and coming up with solutions? Helping people solve their problems? Organizing and carrying through on your commitments? People skills? Marketing involves a lot of writing and strategizing, computer programming is all about solving puzzles (why I love it), or customer service lets you help people while puzzling out what their problems really are. People skills will help you out in any field you choose.

You haven’t ruined your life, or even your entire 20’s. Quit beating yourself up, and start actively looking for something different.


You are frustrated because you feel that you are stuck. You want to leave academia and don't know how to find a job outside.

I'll answer a practical issue first. When you write your resume, you can say


BA in sociology, University A

Graduate study in early childhood teaching, University B

Prepare to explain why you did not have graduate degree from University B. Your explanation can be that you are not interested in early childhood teaching anymore. This is not uncommon. Many people change their career in their twenties, thirties or even much later.

As your employable skills, I believe you already have some. You may not know you have them. For example, writing is a very important skill. You may be surprised to find out many workers don't know how to write when you enter the job market. If you don't have the skills current in use, then acquire them. Go to job training. There are plenty available. Find what you like to do and acquire the skills needed.

Now, back to academia. I don't know what you don't like about your current graduate school. Early childhood? Teaching? Or graduate school in general? I cannot tell from your question. It seems to me that you are worried about the upcoming full time teaching program. I guess you need to be with kindergarten kids for a while. If this is the problem, I think you entered a wrong area. If one wants to study early childhood teaching, of course he/she needs to go through such a real program. Otherwise, everything you have studied is just on the paper, no real value.

If you don't like graduate school, then I would advise you to leave as early as possible. If it's the program you don't like, I would say you should consider changing your field of study. Only you know the answer. Good luck!

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