Q: I currently am working to obtain a bachelor's degree and have graduated from computer school. I have gone on numerous interviews for clerical and data-entry positions; however, the only job I have been hired for is as a cleaner through a cleaning company. One employer asked me why I even applied for their office clerk position because he said he could not imagine anyone hiring me without any office experience. I felt so worthless I wanted to cry. I feel so degraded working this cleaning job. I don't know what else to do. - Emma
J.T.: From your e-mail I know that you are articulate and considerate, and that you aren't afraid to put personal time and energy into learning in order to advance your career. So, let me ask you this: Besides not having any direct experience in an office setting, why do you think hiring managers are failing to see your potential? Based on your final comments, I'm going to guess it's a confidence issue. Could you be presenting yourself (body language, eye contact, tone of voice) in a way that is being misinterpreted as weak, shy, unprepared or unenthusiastic?
Dale: That seems likely, and it will be compounded by the fact that employers stereotype people, especially by recent work history. The last time my company was hiring an office person, when it came time to discuss the candidates, someone started using their most recent jobs as a shorthand - so the young woman who'd worked at a bank was called "The Banker" while the young man who'd been a cashier at Mr. Submarine ended up getting stuck with "Mr. Sub." Thinking back on it, I'm sure those names colored how we thought of the applicants. So, recent jobs have an image multiplier. And you, Emma, are probably thinking, "If I could get a job to be proud of, then I wouldn't be wasting time writing to you." But wait, there's a solution: Your education is just what staffing/temp agencies want, and people hiring temps won't be so concerned about your background, just your skills.
J.T.: True. Even one brief temp job will make a difference in your self-confidence and resume. Start there. Then, go to your current and previous school's placement offices and get a new start. Meanwhile, remember that no one is going to give you a chance if you don't give yourself one - stay focused on what you've accomplished. Moreover, give yourself some credit for your determination and desire to move up. You've got skills and resources, just keep working them both until you get what you want!