Late Entry Into the Workforce?
January 5, 2012 6:25 AM   Subscribe

How can someone enter the workforce later in life - with absolutely no experience?

My brother is 28 and is charming, smart, and personable. The problem is, the entirety of his work experience until this point has been, let's just say, less than legal. However, he did have a lot of responsibility in this previous work and is capable of management to at least some degree - just nothing he would be able to tell a potential employer about.

He's finally moving on from that lifestyle after having toyed with the idea for several years, but one thing he knows he'll have to struggle with is finding a job without a single thing to put on his resume, aside from the warehouse position he had for two weeks last year and was fired from for not showing up.

In order to help ease his transition into a more healthy second stage of his life, I want to find as much information about the subject as I can, but I have no idea where to start. He's overwhelmed with all of the changes in his life right now, so ideally I'd like to be an educated resource for him when he does try to enter the workforce.

A bit more about him: He did one semester of college when he was 18 after nearly dropping out of high school several times, but stopped after a year. Afterwards he went to one trade school briefly, but left. Now he has been thinking about going to another trade school with the money he has saved, but seems hesitant about it - possibly for good reason, as he never was able to feel comfortable in academics.

How does he explain the missing decade to a potential employer? What sort of jobs or companies are more open to hiring someone in his position? What skills could he try to learn that wouldn't put him 10 years behind anyone else learning those skills? And a hundred more questions I can't even think of.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Stick to something truthful. He could have spent ten years doing manual labour before discovering he was good at managing people and decided to pursue it full time.
posted by devnull at 6:29 AM on January 5, 2012

Quite a few people I've known with dubious gaps on their CVs have opted to start their own business rather than apply for jobs. It turns out that employers care a lot about your CV, but customers couldn't give a toss so long as you sell them what they want.
posted by emilyw at 6:31 AM on January 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

Starting a business is certainly one route.

Another idea would be to talk with people in similar situations and ask them what they did to move into the legitimate world.

emilyw is correct that many, if not most, conventional employers will look askance at a 28 year old who has had no legitimate or legal job for the past decade.
posted by dfriedman at 6:35 AM on January 5, 2012

He should start volunteering and temping to build his resume. Volunteer somewhere where he can develop the skills he wants to use (or show legitimate possession of the skills he already has). Also, if he volunteers, he will get references out of it if he does a good job. I have been a reference for people I know from volunteering.

Before he goes in to try to get temp work, he should make sure he knows whatever computer skills he might be expected to have - Excel, Word, that sort of thing. He will probably have to wait quite a while to get a first assignment and pick up the most inglorious kind of work at odd hours and awful places - even when the economy was good, the first temp assignment I got offered was out in the suburbs on a weekend afternoon. After he's temped for a year or two, he will still have a weird resume but will be a plausible candidate for entry level jobs.

Does he have a degree?

Also, one way to massage the "ten years of dubious employment" - was he doing anything else with his time other than his dubious work? Like, was he playing in a band or doing theater or anything? If so, once he has some temping or other experience to put at the top of the resume, he can describe the lost decade as "various" and explain it in his cover letters and interviews as doing casual work to support himself while he pursued his art.

A friend who had a similar problem (no, honestly this was not me - my resume is boringly bougie to the point of tears) actually used one of his "dubious employment" connections as a reference but described it as "someone he knew from volunteer work" - this was because his dubious connection really could talk about my friend's reliability and work ethic, etc etc.

The really lousy thing about this is that it will probably take a couple of years to transition into the above ground work world unless your brother has a connection - someone from the dubious world who also has a legitimate business, etc etc. And those years will probably not be especially awesomely fun, because the work will be dull and a bit precarious. Good luck to him.
posted by Frowner at 6:50 AM on January 5, 2012

The people that I've known who were in similar situations usually put that they had been self-employed in various areas of construction during those "lost years". I'm not saying your brother should lie or anything. At this point, given the economy, his best bet is to get more education. Is there a local community college? Does he have any money saved up so that he can go to school full-time? Can your family help out financially? He could also do some volunteering that would give him experience to put on a resume. He should not worry about being 28, many, many people I know have re-invented their lives successfully after long periods of unemployment. Some of them were unemployed for reasons similar to your brother's.
posted by mareli at 6:53 AM on January 5, 2012

What kind of work does he want to do? It sounds like even though he's smart and capable, he isn't necessarily reliable when time and effort are structured, the way they are in most jobs.

Commission-based sales might align more with both his direct experience and his history of not following through/not showing up. Commission-based means his income would be directly related to his effort, which could have a positive effect on his staying power. And because there is less upfront hiring/training/overhead cost to the employer, that kind of work might be easier to find.
posted by headnsouth at 6:57 AM on January 5, 2012

I think his best bet is to get a job through someone he knows. Of course, that's more difficult if most of his network is in the less-than-legal area. But if he knows anyone who owns a restaurant (even if it's a front for another business), a construction business, landscaping, a farm, whatever... people who know him are more likely to want to take a chance on him (hopefully). And people he knows would probably already know about his "management experience," even if it's not the kind of thing he could mention on his resume. Once he has *any* job on his resume he's much better off. I'm sure I know people who would hire their drug dealer (for example) at their legitimate business if he wanted to go straight.

Likewise, small businesses might be more willing to give him a chance than big companies. Anyplace where you can walk in and talk to the manager (*before* you fill out the application with no legal job experience) is a possibility.

Or a program that specializes in employing and training the hard-to-employ - Goodwill is one.
posted by mskyle at 6:57 AM on January 5, 2012

He might find it worthwhile working a not-so-glamorous job just to pay living costs before aiming higher. It would also be something to put on a resume that is more recent. It's important that he satisfies his living needs first and foremost with the goal of a better job always being worked towards. His basic needs are food and shelter. A job of any kind can help improve on those things....but in order to fully escape the "not so legal" dead end he's been stuck in, he'll need to sacrifice that potential income in favor of an honest future. If the availability of those basic needs, food or shelter, are compromised, he could easily slide back into his earlier bad habits. Once that is stable, investing in education or skill training is crucial. As time progresses (talking years not weeks...this is a long haul investment that needs to be understood fully) the resume will vastly improve, as well as knowledge, skillsets, and personal pride. Since he's apprehensive about college, let that resulting pride lead him towards going back to school for a formal education, not the other way around.

But that being said, things like not showing up to a job reflects poorly on his character. He really needs to understand the value of a good work ethic as well for any of the above suggestions to be successful.
posted by samsara at 7:15 AM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do a quick vocational course to get a skill? Originally I thought this question was going to be from a divorced stay at home mom and I know someone who did a medical transcriptionist course in 9 months or so and immediately got a job after 25 years out of the workforce. I would say with an immediate and required skill there will be less questioning of the missing time. Ideally.
posted by bquarters at 7:31 AM on January 5, 2012

As I have before in other "Need a job but X, Y, or Z is a problem" askmes I'm going to say that seasonal employment in a national park setting is usually easy to get into and isn't a bad gig depending on what position you get, how much you want to make, how well you like your fellow man, and how afraid of doing actual work you are.

Memail for my, now pretty default, semi-detailed response.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:35 AM on January 5, 2012

He really has 2 choices:

Honest path:

tell potential employer straight up that he has no work experience whatsoever. That's the equivalent of "no credit" which is better than credit that's bad. Some employers like someone who they can train fresh from the start. Getting hired will boil down to his presentation, interview and overall honesty.

The other path:

Explain away those non-working years by "caring for a loved one" and use personal references if needed. Or, a similar story that's relatable.
posted by Kruger5 at 7:57 AM on January 5, 2012

Your brother might benefit from the kinds of services provided by community organizations to formerly incarcerated individuals, who face the same problem of not having any work experience and trying to avoid bringing up their criminal history. I don't know for sure whether such organizations would be able to provide direct services to someone who hasn't been incarcerated (a lot of them get government grants specifically to work with ex-offenders, and those grants determine who they're allowed to serve), but they might be able to point him in the right direction or give general advice. Even if your community doesn't have a non-profit dedicated to this kind of work, a lot of churches have programs that can help. If your brother is at all religious, becoming active in his local religious community could help him make connections that could get him a job, and religious leaders often know how to help. The keyword to search for if you're looking in your community is "re-entry." If you can have a mod tell us where your brother is located, we might be able to help you find some resources for him.
posted by decathecting at 8:52 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Reentry Policy Council looks like is is geared to ex-convicts but could be a good starting point.
posted by maurreen at 10:23 AM on January 5, 2012

temping temping temping
posted by IndigoJones at 10:25 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oops, I posted that before I was done. Here's the link for the Reentry Policy Council.

I've also heard of some specific car washes that specialize in hiring ex-convicts.

Another option is agricultural work.

If he goes for temp jobs, the best option might be to start with blue-collar grunt work. One such agency is Labor Exchange. One key for these is to show up early, being one of the first people there every day. Sometimes these can turn into permanent jobs.
posted by maurreen at 10:29 AM on January 5, 2012

also - possibly connect with organizations used to helping ex-cons get jobs. Not insinuating that his work was that illegal, but they're used to explaining resume gaps.

If not trade school due to his discomfort with academics, maybe an apprenticeship somewhere that he can do rather than sit?
posted by TravellingCari at 11:44 AM on January 5, 2012

You say he has no experience, but that isn't true - he just has a problem explaining how he got that experience. Some creative writing on a resume will help, perhaps by developing a resume that is centred around his capacity rather than a chronological record. It won't work for all employers, of course, but many don't truly care about where people have worked, they just want to know that the person can do the job. As mentioned above, focus on small employers because large employers will be more recruitment-process focussed and may not be able to see past the lack of a contiguous work history to the right person for the job.

I think his best bet would be to develop a simple, one-page summary of skills and cold-call small businesses in person, speak to managers and talk his way into any job they are prepared to give him a shot at. From there, it's a matter of convincing his new boss that he can do other jobs in the company.

It's a tricky situation, particularly in a weak economy where there are more people than jobs, but that just means that he'll have to try more places before he strikes it lucky. The sort of boss that would hire someone with a sketchy history is exactly the sort of person that would be impressed with someone walking in and asking for a job rather than waiting for something to be advertised, too.
posted by dg at 2:19 PM on January 5, 2012

What type of "less than legal" work he was in matters a lot.

For example, if he used to run a marijuana grow op, then there are many geographical locations and potential employers for with whom he could be a little vague on the resume, honest in the interview, and his experience and the skills he gained from that experience would be respected. Whereas if he used to traffic in child sex slaves, not so much.

Pro-tip: If his "less than legal" former career was in an industry of voluntary transactions among consenting adults, then looking up campaign finance reports (which include contributors' employers and job titles) of Libertarian Party candidates would be a quick way to put together a list of people who could a) hire your brother and b) don't conflate "illegal" with "immoral."
posted by Jacqueline at 12:49 AM on January 8, 2012

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