Entitled "Generation Y" . . .
June 21, 2011 6:34 AM   Subscribe

Lines of work for an inexperienced but educated worker, with a high "entry level" wage?

I am currently in the process of identifying potential career interests. For the past year-and-a-half, I have been working as an admin assistant at a university. Opportunities for advancement or skill development are minimal.

This job is not one that I can see myself doing for more than a few years. It's not even a good "stepping stone." However, by virtue of my low salary and employment at a tax-exempt organization, I am benefiting from Income-Based Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

I have a bachelor's degree and a post-bac degree, both perhaps best characterized as "liberal arts". Consequently, engineering/accounting/medicine/etc are not on the table.

The biggest impairment to my ability to find a career that I can get excited about is that I can't identify any fields where I could, at the entry level, earn enough money to cover student loan payments and my very modest living expenses. As a point of reference, if I work in the private sector and IBR & PSLF are taken off the table, my salary would have to be about 60-70% greater, to cover expenses and student loan payments.

Ideally, I am looking for a career -- something with which I could grow professionally. For instance, I could make enough money as a coal miner, but I'd likely be stuck with that same job for the long haul.

Boiling this all down and distilling it into a question: What are some careers offering high starting salaries to degreed but inexperienced workers, outside of the professions (dentistry, accounting, etc.)? To this point, I've done a better job of rejecting careers on the basis of starting pay, than I have with generating solid plans, so I am casting a wide net at the moment.
posted by cac to Work & Money (27 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Well healthcare administration and have the company pay for a MBA or MPH. I know you want to pay off student loans but people at my company are starting out with pretty high pay (to me at least). I made $19k in 1994 with a MA and I know that was shit money. These people are starting out at $50+.
posted by stormpooper at 6:44 AM on June 21, 2011

Your question is a little, erm, well ... careers offering high starting salaries to inexperienced (or not specifically qualified) workers should be, by an economic analysis, those which are uniquely unpalatable to the general populace for some reason or another ... which is why their starting salaries must rise to the point were they can fulfill demand.

Miner, oil rig worker, fisherman, prostitute, seem obvious and well known choices where certain luxuries are traded off against money.

There are others ... mostly somewhere around the intersection of some collection of supply, demand, distaste, stigma, inconvenience, and danger.
posted by jannw at 6:44 AM on June 21, 2011 [7 favorites]

What do you consider a high starting salary? Generally, inexperienced liberal arts graduates (and I am/was one) aren't offered high salaries because there are a lot of them and they don't know how to do anything. Depending on where you live police officers can be paid pretty decently and don't necessarily require more than a BA (if that) but obviously that's not a career path to choose lightly.
posted by ghharr at 6:45 AM on June 21, 2011

Consulting at a big consulting firm? I think you need excellent academic credentials but the starting pay is fairly high, I think.
posted by jayder at 6:45 AM on June 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

What about civil service jobs? Do you live in PA (I see that in your profile)? On the PA civil service website, they have these two documents:

Jobs that require bachelor's only

Jobs that require master's only

You might find something in there you like.
posted by Danila at 6:47 AM on June 21, 2011

You need to quantify exactly what 'high' means. We also need an inventory of other skills you would offer an employer.
posted by sid at 6:48 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can you step sideways, within the university, into a similar low level admin job in one of the large offices like the registrar, HR, etc? Those tend to have pathways for advancement in a way that being a departmental secretary, or admin assist to the dean, do not; the starting salary will be the same as your current one, but some years in and a demonstration of competency (plus perhaps picking up an appropriate masters degree along the way) should open the door to much better paid, high-level admin jobs. This would also let you keep your access to the repayment help until your salary rose enough to not need it, and most universities let you take classes for free or cheap, so you can gain credentials on the side.
posted by Forktine at 6:52 AM on June 21, 2011 [5 favorites]

Similarly, can you step sideways into an externally-focused office like Development/External Relations? If you can gain some experience with writing, event planning or donor cultivation/stewardship in your current job, you will have lots of options.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:59 AM on June 21, 2011

There are a limited number of firms that will hire new college graduates / career-changers and train them to do an entry-level job that pays an acceptable amount. Obviously these firms are the exception, but they exist. I'll MeMail you some names.

There are obviously some drawbacks, but that's how I got my start on a real career with just a liberal arts BA, and I'm happy with the results. The drawbacks: it's really tough to get hired. They can choose from a huge number of applicants, so they only take those that's exactly match their needs. They expect you to learn very quickly, so they don't have to spend months training you. And once you are trained, the work hours are pretty tough. That's how they get their money's worth - long hours doing jobs that really require more expertise than your have. Your "good" salary is good for entry-level, but someone with experience would get paid twice as much for fewer hours. The good news is after a few (3-ish) years, you can quit and use your experience to get a job with better pay & hours. That's what I did and I'd recommend it to any aimless BA.

Also, you have to be willing to move to where the firm wants you.
posted by Tehhund at 7:01 AM on June 21, 2011

You may need to, gulp, do more school. In something that isn't liberal arts. (I graduated from a politics degree and then went to a community college for an 8-month certificate in marketing; that qualified me for a jobs that paid okay (at entry level) but then shot upwards from there - my salary has approximately doubled ever 3-4 years since then.

Is there training you can do part time while you work to qualify you for a better career? The 'high paying unskilled job for liberal arts grads' is sort of a pipe dream.
posted by Kololo at 7:13 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I know someone who went back to law school. He studied hard and scored high on the LSAT, then applied to all of the top 20 law schools. He took the best offer out of many. He figures he will have $100k in debt at the end of three years. He plans on being at the top 10% of his class. I was shocked to find out that first year salaries at major law firms are $160k. Sound like a pretty good career investment to me.
posted by snowjoe at 7:13 AM on June 21, 2011

I was shocked to find out that first year salaries at major law firms are $160k. Sound like a pretty good career investment to me.

It is at a very few select big NY firms that can cherry pick the very very top students from the very very top schools. There is a huge oversupply of lawyers right now and the unemployment rate for law school grads is pretty ridiculous
posted by ghharr at 7:17 AM on June 21, 2011 [11 favorites]

Are you a good communicator who doesn't mind awkward positions or maybe stretching the truth? Something in sales might be the only thing that could potentially meet those requirements.
posted by sandmanwv at 7:21 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was shocked to find out that first year salaries at major law firms are $160k

That is only if the firms are hiring. These days, they aren't.

Sales is the usual point of entry for a decent paying job with good upside for income growth for people without specific marketable skills like lawyering, doctoring, etc. . ADP is one company known for taking in recent grads and giving them a very good sales training program. If you apply yourself, you could realistically be making six figures in a few years
posted by COD at 7:21 AM on June 21, 2011

I was shocked to find out that first year salaries at major law firms are $160k. Sound like a pretty good career investment to me.

We have myriad threads on MeFi about the state of the legal market, and the absolutely disastrous career choice it is for most people who have their eyes on the $160K associate gig. OP, it didn't sound like this was the avenue you were looking for, but feel free to MeMail me if you want to be disabused of the law school fallacy.

All things being equal, if I had to start from fresh, I would move to DC and become a bureaucrat, and then try to work my way into the State Department.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:27 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: There's really some great stuff, here! Thank you!

ghharr/sid: In my case, "high" is around $60k. As Kololo said, a pipedream.

snowjoe: Been there, done that. I also planned on being in the top 10%, but 90% of us didn't make it. And a handful of our top 10% are now doing document review anyhow.

Sales is something I've considered, but what about the risk (quotas and commissions and all that)? Is it overblown? Or would I really be just one "double-dip recession" away from defaulting on my student loans and washing/reusing my sandwich bags?
posted by cac at 7:29 AM on June 21, 2011

My friends with good grades and liberal arts degrees went to work for the federal government. I have one friend who went to work for the navy as a contract officer and got to live in London for five years. Twenty years later he's still working for the navy this time in Italy as a gs-15 making a six figure salary and getting a per diem covering his housing. Other friends went to work for members of congress and then on to jobs at federal agencies. I have a few friends who were good at languages that took the foreign service exam.
posted by bananafish at 7:30 AM on June 21, 2011

On preview what admiral haddock said.
posted by bananafish at 7:32 AM on June 21, 2011

Since you have the BA and a JD, I'm guessing that with 1 to 1.5 more years of pure accounting classes you could be qualified to take the CPA exam. CPA and JD would be a nice combination.
posted by banishedimmortal at 7:42 AM on June 21, 2011

To put it bluntly, there really aren't any careers that offer high starting wages to inexperienced workers that don't have something pretty unpleasant going on. If anyone can do them, and if they don't require previous experience or an advanced degree, anyone can, then there's no real incentive to pay a premium wage. Sounds like you've already got a law degree. Maybe see about leveraging that into a better paying gig? Just because you're doing public service law now doesn't mean you have to stay there. You can make good money doing plaintiff's side work.
posted by valkyryn at 7:45 AM on June 21, 2011

A corporate sales job with a big reputable company, even at the entry level, will likely pay 35-45K base, plus commissions. Cost of living in your locale will obviously impact that. At a big company with a formalized sales program and millions and millions to throw at marketing, if you apply yourself and follow the program, you usually will do just fine. It's in the company's best interest to do all it can to help you succeed, turnover in sales is expensive.
posted by COD at 8:00 AM on June 21, 2011

I think forktine's suggestion to try to step sideways into a position with more potential for advancement is a really good one. You can have an administrative assistant position that isn't being someone's secretary but rather be the "taking care of business" person for a department or group. In a position like that you can get a taste of bureaucratic staples like HR, purchasing, recruitment, budgeting, maybe even some tech support. If you learn the ropes and make connections you can move on to low-level positions in those areas that all have paths to advance and transferable skills.

As an anecdote: I started as an AA making very little and in a couple years was able to transfer to a position making ~70% more. Still not a lot but now I have a chance to move up into even better paying positions.
posted by ghharr at 8:20 AM on June 21, 2011

Yes, if you work your butt off, sales positions usually have "unlimited upside". That said, sales is not an easy job and depending on the company and the market you may struggle just to hit quota. But "sales" is a pretty big umbrella - presumably you'd have to work in a field where you have some level of domain knowledge or find a firm willing to train you from scratch.
posted by GuyZero at 8:49 AM on June 21, 2011

When the economy is good, Federal Government salaries and benefits are fairly crappy compared to their private sector counterparts.

When the economy is bad, the Federal Government is still hiring, and their salaries and benefits are fantastic by comparison. They're also one of the few employers who is willing to invest in its employees, and allow for upward mobility.

...can you see where I'm going here? You may need to take a lowly entry-level position, but if you're smart/qualified, you can climb rather quickly.
posted by schmod at 9:06 AM on June 21, 2011

Are you sure you'll lose your IBR plan if you get a higher-paying job?

My BA and JD cost me dearly, so even though I make a pretty okay amount (more than what you consider to be "high"), it would still be tough to afford the other student loan repayment options. I'm still on the IBR option, and thank God for it, otherwise I'd be spending more than 30% of my income (rather than the approximately 18% I pay now) every month to repay a loan for the next 30 years.

Also, you're not alone - I too am looking for a non-legal job for which I am the perfect fit. Turns out that apparently the JD and BA cancel each other out to = hs degree.

Oh, and I'll toss in there that non-profit work would be great for you because then you could definitely keep your current student-loan setup. You might have to work for next to nothing at first, but once you get your foot in the door there are lots of advancement opportunities.
posted by angab at 10:00 AM on June 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

You could work as a permanent state court of appeals clerk. Decent starting pay (around $50k in Colorado) but no real room for advancement.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:17 AM on June 21, 2011

Seconding consulting, I got hired at 24 on a pretty good wage with an English Lit degree. The hours are brutal though, averaged 60-80, spiking to 90-100 on bad projects. I stuck with it for two years and went sideways into corporate comms. My consulting peers are probably out-earning me now by 2 or 3 times, but per hour I probably earn more. Accenture, IBM, CapGemini, all of 'em hire all sorts of people. It's a very good grounding in all sort of things and also a good filter in terms of figuring out what is actually important to you (for me, job satisfaction and autonomy trumps money).
posted by Happy Dave at 11:42 AM on June 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

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