what full-time jobs, other than retail, can i find?
December 21, 2011 9:26 AM   Subscribe

i didn't go to college. what full-time jobs, other than retail, can i find?

i'm 25 and currently unemployed. i'm an inspiring cartoonist/artist, your typical creative soul. i don't know what to do with my life yet but i really need to take care of some money problems i've been having as soon as possible.

my job history is nothing but retail experience. sales positions, key holder positions. i never made enough money to support myself and i feel like i've always worked way more than what i actually earned. i really dislike retail environment and i'm a very quiet and reserved person. i need to find a job that pays decently (obviously 'decently' considering that i don't have a degree). i've tried applying to office positions/file clerk positions but most of them require office experience.

are there any other full-time jobs that i can apply for?
i'm having such a horrible time job searching that i really regret not going to school. i can't right now because i don't have the money. and it's very discouraging to find job openings requiring certain experience that i don't have.

thank you
posted by morning_television to Work & Money (38 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Most of this stuff happens by accident. In your shoes, I stumbled into nonprofit work, which I really liked--working at homeless shelters, nonprofit legal firms, health services, university research. And I did that for a number of years as I worked on getting my feet down in what I really wanted to do.

In general, you don't find jobs by applying randomly. People get jobs through connections. I wasn't qualified for ANY job I ever had (hmm, still aren't) but people took pity on me, liked me, gave me a shot, that kind of thing, in all sorts of various fields.

And yeah: get the hell out of client-facing retail jobs, for sure.

You can get through this without going to school; I never did, and while it was a little dicey for a while there, I'm glad I didn't in the end. Your mileage may vary.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 9:34 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a full-time theater projectionist as well as a part-time newspaper assistant editor, and unless you count that children's concert at UCONN one Saturday when I was 8 years old, I've never been to college.

If you really want to go though: consider community college. It's much cheaper and has far more convienent class schedules. Even if you don't get a degree of any type, yeah, a lot of employers consider any college, any courses, a plus.
posted by easily confused at 9:35 AM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Are you interested in any trades? At one point, I was looking into how one becomes a carpenter and found that the unions (at least in the areas I looked) have free apprenticeship programs. The one in Chicago even gave you tools. You do have to have a car, though, and enough money to keep you going for a little while. I want to say they were unpaid for the first few weeks when you did classes and then paid when you did work experience, but I don't remember exactly.

Other than various trades, everyone else I've known without a degree has worked in retail. I assume that's just my sample, though.

It's climbing on a dying ship, but the post office, if they're still hiring? (I guess that's my other exception--I knew two people who had parents who worked for the post office. One worked at the counter, which is kind of retail-y; the other was a letter carrier.)
posted by hoyland at 9:36 AM on December 21, 2011 [6 favorites]

Temp agency could get your foot in the door/experience at a lot of things. Volunteering could also open new doors.

You have to build connections with people since your resume will not carry the load.

A trade school or community college is pretty reasonably priced, btw.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:36 AM on December 21, 2011 [6 favorites]

Definitely look at the trades. I can't speak for union shops, but a lot of non-union shops will let you start out unskilled and stupid doing basic grunt work and train you up from there (eventually there are classes for licensed trades, at least, but they're not prerequisites).
posted by rmd1023 at 9:41 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wanted to be a cartoonist more than anything when I was a kid and ended up deciding at around 13 that I would have to work in computers if I wanted to securely make money. There are tons of areas in IT that allow you to work that creative side of your brain fairly hard. Maybe start looking at something in graphic design?
posted by zephyr_words at 9:41 AM on December 21, 2011

i've tried applying to office positions/file clerk positions but most of them require office experience.

Have you tried for these through a temp agency? If not, I think that might be easier. If you've taken their tests and done well (or even just OK), then they are the ones presenting you to the company and vouching for your abilities. For the really entry level stuff - and I've had temp jobs literally just stuffing envelopes and filing - you don't actually need experience. It's more a question of getting someone to let you do the job, and an agency can help with that. Do a few one-week jobs and you'll have office experience. You can also tell them you're looking for temp-to-perm positions. I've always temped with the intention of staying temp, but I've seen LOTS of people get perm, full-time jobs that way, some starting from very simple, low-level stuff.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:42 AM on December 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

There are a lot of hospital jobs that don't require degrees or certifications. Supply chain, sterile processing, patient transport, etc.
posted by ghharr at 9:50 AM on December 21, 2011

I have to third a temp agency. Generally, they care about your skill level and your professional demeanor, not as much about experience, at least for the first few assignments. You build credibility and experience with them through the assignments they give you, which in turn looks good on your resume.

If you don't want to go that route, have you considered applying as a graphics person with, say, Trader Joe's (or somewhere similar)? A friend of mine got a job about a month ago with them doing their funky signage in one of their locations.
posted by xingcat at 9:53 AM on December 21, 2011

"Experience required" is really nothing more than a code phrase to wheedle out those applicants too stupid or honest to lie effectively. Provided you have done at least one day's work in your life, you should be able to spin that experience into any fantastic yarn required to fit the vacancy at hand, e.g. you weren't a till monkey, you were a customer liaison/deputy manager with stock control and market analysis duties. Did the shop have a computer in back? Bingo, you have office experience.

No job I've ever applied for (caveat: they were all crap) has given a shit for my education. Being well-spoken, friendly and showing up on time seemed to count for a whole lot more than how well the person I was fifteen years ago played the school system. References also help, only because they can be used to reinforce the aforementioned characteristics.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 9:55 AM on December 21, 2011 [8 favorites]

There are several books about jobs that don't require a four-year degree. Check the library, or Amazon, for ideas.
posted by bentley at 9:56 AM on December 21, 2011

I signed up a temp agency when I was 22 with only retail experience and no college diploma as well. I ended up getting hired at the agency itself and working there for three years.

Did the shop have a computer in back? Bingo, you have office experience.

And, yeah, this. Almost every job has some kind of clerical aspect to it, so all you need to do is amplify it. Recalling my retail management days, I did the daily books, employee hours, worked with invoices with our vendors, worked with UPS and FedEx for outgoing shipments, helped out with the occasional spreadsheets, did Google Adwords/minor web stuff. All this stuff happens in an office as well and counts as office experience.
posted by griphus at 9:59 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

How good are you with computers?

You could go around to local small businesses and offer to setup social networking presences for them. Facebook, Twitter, G+, a simple website from a template, etc. They might pay a couple hundred bucks for such a service.

The reason I mention that is that, as a cartoonist it might be a good idea to start a webcomic. Try to think up funny stuff and post every day, and promote it on social networks, etc. Over time you might be gain a following and you'll learn how to do that for other people as a service.

That's how the guy who does "The Oatmeal" got rich. And his art is terrible and his jokes aren't really that funny. Just don't take it too far and become a spammy douchebag.

Also, small business owners are more likely to not have college degrees then lots of other professions. It's risky, and obviously you need startup capital.
posted by delmoi at 10:02 AM on December 21, 2011

I didn't finish school. I don't have a degree. But I did study graphic design on my own and managed to get work based on my portfolio in my mid-twenties. Now I manage a design team! Skill-based work is the way to go in your case. As long as you can prove your skill, employers tend not to care so much about degrees, even if they list one as a requirement when hiring.

Temp agencies are your friend, too. I worked for the same agency for a few years until I finally got a permanent office position through one of my temp jobs. And all I had to be able to do initially was type and use Excel.
posted by katillathehun at 10:03 AM on December 21, 2011

Oh and be careful and do not sign up at an agency that makes you pay for anything. You should not have to pay to get placed, nor pay to leave the agency to work somewhere you have been temping. Reputable places figure all this into their own accounts.
posted by griphus at 10:03 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another tactic used by people with dubious CVs (e.g. career breaks caused by anything from parenthood to prison) is to go self-employed.

If you know how to make a website, design a flyer, fix stuff around the house, do basic bookkeeping, use Google Adwords/Analytics, tutor kids, or clean snow from sidewalks and leaves from gutters, you can start up as a freelancer.

If you've a good knowledge of the ins and outs of some hobby or other, you can start up buying badly listed stuff on Ebay and reselling it either on Ebay or on more specialist forums.

If you can afford a machine to print stickers, you can start up an Ebay business selling custom stickers in wacky fonts for kids to stick on their bikes and bedroom doors or for adults to stick on their cars.

I'm sure you can come up with more ideas.
posted by emilyw at 10:05 AM on December 21, 2011

Similar to emilyw's comment:

Things a cartoonist/artist could potentially do while looking for other full-time work:

Sign painting for local businesses
Window art for local businesses
Contract illustration work for local graphic designers and web designers
Contract book illustration
Art instruction at the local library, senior center, or through a school program
Merge a bit with graphic design and create simple flyers, business cards, etc.

...and many of those efforts could, on their own, turn into full-time work. I went from full-time graphic design and illustration into freelance graphic design and illustration, and it's just a matter of getting out and meeting people, and being reliable.

I highly suggest looking up other local artists and graphic designers, scheduling time to meet with them, and doing some informational interviewing--"what do you do," "do you like it," "here's my position--what would you do in my shoes?" etc. without asking them for a job unless given a solid prompt to do so. This is also considered networking and if you do enough of these meetings, you'll be very glad you did in the future, even if (unlikely) they don't add up to anything right now.

One of my first well-paying graphic design jobs was simply through somebody I knew locally. She got a grant to write a book and paid me to design it for her. There are always people who need graphic and illustration services. Some of them, maybe even one of them, will find you and decide to help you make it in the world. You'll find your way.
posted by circular at 10:14 AM on December 21, 2011

Nthing "teach yourself Photoshop".

I am a front-end web programmer in a large city, and it's crazy how few talented non-agency designers there are around. You could make a comfortable living doing 3-4 decent web layout/design jobs a month if you get hooked up with the right fellow contractors.
posted by chrisfromthelc at 10:19 AM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding the trades. Look particularly into fields like electrician and HVAC. The local community college likely has classes that can be completed in less than a year, or, alternatively, the local union might pay you to apprentice.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:23 AM on December 21, 2011

In a word: "Volunteer"

It's the only way you really can get experience in an organization that only wants people with experience, but you can't get the experience without the job.

I really enjoy the organizations I volunteer for, and I hope someday in my life it will open doors where I can turn that love into something more than just an activity that I do on the weekends or that I take time off work for.

But anyways., as others have said: approach some local shops and say you'll pain their windows for free if they provide the paint. I'm sure you might find a niche that could turn into paying work on a larger scale.
posted by zombieApoc at 10:39 AM on December 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Nthing temp agencies. Also, tell everyone you know that you're looking, tell them to tell their friends. As already mentioned, many apprentice programs pay a training wage while you learn.

Many community colleges offer a lot of classes for free. I have a friend that's learned all the Microsoft Office apps doing that. Also, many state unemployment offices have job training programs. Consider UPS, FedEx and copy centers.
posted by shoesietart at 10:47 AM on December 21, 2011

Law firms always need good, smart, dedicated people in support positions; college not always required. Try a legal temp agency maybe.
posted by eugenen at 10:53 AM on December 21, 2011

Aspiring artist? Team up with a copywriter, get together a gorgeous portfolio, and get into advertising. You could be an illustrator, production artist, or art director, depending on your skill set. Often but not always, agencies hire based on talent, not necessarily credentials.
posted by Lieber Frau at 10:58 AM on December 21, 2011

High school dropout here: supported myself bookkeeping for many years. If you can score an office manager job that also includes basic bookkeeping you'll get the experience you need to get a more complex bookkeeping job later down the line. Basic bookkeeping is usually done on QuickBooks or Quicken and is very easy. But later on once you get a bit more skill you can earn a reasonable living wage as a bookkeeper. You could consider taking a very short and basic bookkeeping class to make you more hirable.
posted by latkes at 11:00 AM on December 21, 2011

First, nthing temp agencies and community colleges.

Second, I know several people (some related to me) who don't have college degrees who have found jobs that pay decently. Here's a list of the jobs they have or have had that aren't in retail or the food industry: data entry clerk (moved up to database designer/manager); corporate library assistant; security clerk in a parking garage (not a guard, but watching monitors, helping people find their cars, issuing permits, etc.); shipping clerk (with a move up to manager); accounts manager; technical help desk staff; plumber's assistant; stage manager; tax preparer; delivery driver.
posted by OrangeDisk at 11:04 AM on December 21, 2011

Get a job at a print shop or sign shop. They'll hire pretty much anyone, and you can get started doing design work, even if it's little things.
posted by empath at 11:05 AM on December 21, 2011

Definitely go to a legit temp agency, and they should be ecstatic to find you, provided you're smart, dependable, etc. This is a key way to find people for those kind of jobs you're looking for, and there are a lot of office jobs for which a degree is not needed. Often the college degree requirement is unfortunately just a kind of filter.

If you have an artistic bent, I'll nth getting really good at computer graphics. The Adobe products are kind of considered the standard in my industry (t-shirts and promotional products, etc.), and we have a hard time finding artists when openings arise.

Bookkeeping is something you can get training in through continuing education, and I can vouch for the fact that this is generally a hard position to fill too. Yeah, it's more computerized these days. This just means more small and medium businesses and orgs are doing more in-house, and you still have to understand the principles to keep from making a mess with the software.
posted by randomkeystrike at 11:06 AM on December 21, 2011

"Get a trade" is the standard Metafilter advice for these kinds of questions, but given your personality type and frustrations with retail, it's likely to be much more of the same. For instance, if you think like you work too hard for your money now, dollars to donuts you'll feel the same way about construction.

In all seriousness, you should probably go to college, because that's where quiet, reserved, creative people generally go to thrive. Even a few classes improve your employability, particularly if they're in technical areas of need (certain programming languages come to mind). Money is a legitimate concern, but your state is likely to have an agreement between its community and four-year colleges/universities that allows you to transfer your credits after earning an associates' degree, which only takes two years and is MUCH cheaper than university credits.
posted by downing street memo at 11:22 AM on December 21, 2011

You've worked retail? Then you have customer service experience and that is not lying or even stretching the truth. How are you on the phone? If you don't mumble and can remain calm when people yell at you, you could work in a call center. Sales, billing, support and collections departments all need people to man the phones. If you can, try to get in somewhere with a union. Most of these places don't care about your previous experience as much as how you do on a few tests.
posted by soelo at 11:59 AM on December 21, 2011

I'm a marketing/PR/writing freelancer that's bounced around the country.

Thing is, if you don't go to college (go to college a lot of places just want to check the degree box they don't care what it's in plus you build valuable networking and alumni connections), you're going to have to get creative with ways to get the experience to get the jobs you want. You're going to have to hustle. If you can put together a good digital portfolio, you'll be able to get office jobs doing graphic design or something similarly creative. If you wanted to get into my field, you'd start writing in a regular way, be it a blog on something you care about or guest posting on someone else's site, and work on monetizing it via banner ads, affiliate networks, etc. Congratulations, you now have a plausible background in internet marketing to get into an entry-level interview. Or you can do what I did and see if you can get an internship someplace that does what you want to do that doesn't require you be in school. (A lot of people are pretty amenable to "I want to work for you for free for a few months", unsurprisingly).

Basically, if you can produce results showing "I did the work you do and did it well, here are some examples", that can overcome your lack of degree, but you have to hustle and make friends to get past the HR screeners.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:02 PM on December 21, 2011

You can spell and string together a coherent sentence, and those skills aren't as common as you might think (i'm assuming you know about capital letters but are deliberately not using them in this instance). I recommend calling up as many temp agencies as you can find and sign up with them, and take any tests they offer you.

That'll be a way to see inside several different industries/areas, and maybe something will stick... And if it doesn't, the work should be better paid than retail.
posted by altolinguistic at 12:08 PM on December 21, 2011

You mentioned in a previous askme that you spent 3 years studying Graphic Design in college before stopping. This is different from "didn't go to college", even if you didn't graduate. Presumably you did complete some courses, and these should be highlighted as accomplishments on your resume. Don't present it as "ACME COLLEGE: Incomplete", present it something like "Areas of higher level of study pursued at ACME College: Drawing, Layout , Photoshop, etc." And then highlight how some of those courses prepared you for whatever job you're applying for.

Although, as mentioned in that previous thread, a college education and even a nice resume not at all prerequisites if you're pursuing a career in cartooning or illustration. It's all about the portfolio (both commissioned and self-directed work). So create, create, create every single day, whether for yourself or for any small jobs you can pick up, and build up your skill and individual style. Cartooning/illustration careers are not easy ones, and take a lots of hard work, especially at the start.

But maybe you're NOT really a cartoonist, or an illustrator. You also describe yourself as an "artist", "a creative soul". People tend to think if they're creative and can draw, they must become cartoonists, illustrators, or graphic designers. But adopt the title of "artist" in its most broad sense. Realize that the basic urge you have as a creative soul is to create things, to imagine things that don't exist and then make them exist (and not just images on paper or onscreen). There are lots of jobs that require creative skills and creative thinking, sometimes without drawing a damned thing.

If you're currently in retail, request to assist in the design of interior displays, window displays, interior and exterior signage, promotional/marketing materials, etc. Anything that is visual and needs to be aesthetically pleasing, anything that need thinking outside the box (ie creative promotions). If you're working in a big chain store, this might be quite difficult or impossible. Consider moving to a smaller, local retail store that does not have the budget to source out these things. An employer/owner would probably be thrilled to have the added bonus of your creative skills in addition to your retail experience. This could be just be a small start to adding "creative" work to your resume before you go in a different direction, or you might find you love it. Some visual merchandising designers, as they're called, make an absolute killing.
posted by Kabanos at 12:30 PM on December 21, 2011

I would really, really recommend against working in a call center. I am a quiet, reserved, creative type as well, and last year I spent 7 months working in phone tech support and hated every second of it. I just don't have the psychological armor for that kind of thing; I suspect that many sensitive, quiet people don't.

Get into graphic design, web design, Photoshop, and maybe even learn a programming language or two. Check out this thread and learn to make websites. There are so many free tutorials and open source frameworks that all you need to invest is time in learning.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 12:42 PM on December 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

That's a good point, few people actually love working in a call center, but it pays the bills and does not require a degree. It sounds to me like the you are just looking to pay off some debt right now and not necessarily a long term career.
posted by soelo at 2:07 PM on December 21, 2011

3 choices, from my point of view:

1) Temp. Any good temp agency (like Manpower) offers free training on all types of software, no matter what job you're doing for them. I temped all through college and got offered all sorts of (mostly factory) jobs that paid more than the retail positions I worked once I graduated.

2) Trade school. Find something that has demand in your area and learn it. I sort of wish I'd just learned HVAC instead of going to college -- I'd be rich!

3) Service industries. I know servers at high-end restaurants who make $50K per year, and guys who park cars that make more than that. It takes connections to make that much, but it's possible (hell, a Starbucks barista in the city can make $13 an hour, which is more than most of my retail jobs.)

But longer term, if I had your graphics background, I'd learn to theme Wordpress and Drupal. There's tons of demand for people who know what they're doing with open source CMSs, and you can learn for free if you have the discipline.
posted by coolguymichael at 2:50 PM on December 21, 2011

I'm convinced you can do almost anything in the tech world without a college degree. Get your foot in the door in a low-level job somewhere like a web design firm, a data center, or IT support at a big company. Work really really hard and get promoted a couple of times. Network like crazy. At some point (maybe in 4 or 5 years) you will need a degree to advance, but you can just pick up a cheap/easy one from a night school or online. No one will care where your degree comes from if your work speaks for itself. I know multiple people who have done this, and I'm kind of jealous of them.
posted by miyabo at 2:54 PM on December 21, 2011

Following on Kabanos's comment about your having 3 years of graphic design study: Web design and development shops seem to always be looking for graphic designers. I know mine is right now. (Memail me if you're in Baltimore.) Many, many, many graphic design positions don't require college degrees. And even if a job posting lists a degree, chances are you might get around it with a good portfolio.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:56 PM on December 21, 2011

Response by poster: Wow. I'm overwhelmed with the amount of responses. This is extremely helpful. I really appreciate everyone's advice.

I've written down everyone's suggestion and I'll see what I can land. Networking and knowing the right people is something I definitely need to work on as well. As far as pursuing a career in cartooning/illustration, I'm still going to do that. It's just I've felt very discouraged lately and I haven't had much confidence in my work. But that's a whole other subject..
posted by morning_television at 9:52 AM on December 22, 2011

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