Please help a high school graduate find where to look for a decent paying job.
November 21, 2012 6:00 PM   Subscribe

You are a high school graduate with no other experience and credentials. You need a higher-paying job to be able to support yourself. What do you do?

I have a job but I don't make a living wage, and I decided to find something with decent pay because I'm failing at supporting myself and in a lot of debt. I do want to return to school and make a living in my current field, but right now I can't afford the monthly payments and financial aid does not provide enough support for me to continue. I don't expect to make much, maybe $15/hr, just enough that I can afford to pay my monthly bills... which are quite high because of debt im strugglin to keep up payments on.

Most jobs I've seen with wages around that area require experience. The jobs I seem to qualify for make minimum wage or slightly above it. I check craigslist, and Where else do I need to be looking? I hear stories of people getting jobs in factories and such to support themselves, but I don't see jobs like that listed online. Any advice would be appreciated. Thank you.
posted by Autumn to Work & Money (26 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Waiting tables is the way to go. Decent money, and you can always pick up shifts (walk in before the shift starts, find out if anyone wants to go home). This can also lead to a bar-tending gig.
posted by Nickel Pickle at 6:06 PM on November 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

Temp agencies and placement agencies can get you factory work. But bear in mind that i know lots of peole who took factory work "for now" and are still doing it years layer. It's physically and emotionally exhausting, and can take as much strength and stamina to leave as to stay. That said, i know lots of other people who did factory work for a few years, then went back to school and rocked it. The main difference that i can see between these two sets of people, in all truth, was in every case that the people in the first group had kids while they were working at the factory (usually by accident).

You should also consider looking into the trades. Small time and money investment and you make money while you're learning.
posted by windykites at 6:08 PM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Waiting tables was my first thought too.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 6:09 PM on November 21, 2012

posted by the twistinside at 6:09 PM on November 21, 2012

Temp agency? I did this for a while a long time ago. The key was to persist, especially at first. Once they figure out you could be relied upon to show up for a gig, they'll start calling you.
posted by carter at 6:10 PM on November 21, 2012

Waiting tables will definitely work, though it'll take a while to make decent money and you'll need about a month of cushion for your bills, especially if you live in a state where you don't make full minimum wage if you get tips. Yeah, yeah, they pay enough to get you to minimum wage with tips, sure, of course. Except for the two days of training where your trainer takes all your tips, the week when suddenly no one feels like tipping, etc. Have a freaking cushion for your bills before taking up waiting tables.

I made more money waiting tables than temping, on an hour-by-hour basis, but more consistent pay month to month temping (except when there were no contracts to work.)

Get "you can sell this skill to someone else" skills in plumbing, electric work, or auto repair while you work those tables (or while temping.) Then do those hard-skills jobs while you decide whether or not college is really where you want to go (hint: it may not be.)

Also, you need to talk to your lender - if that's federal student aid you're talking about paying off, you can get on income-based/income-contingent repayment plans, which should knock your payments down substantially.
posted by SMPA at 6:13 PM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Find someone to show you how to use quickbooks. Then you should be able to get a job as an office manager/bookkeeper. Accountemps is a good starting place if you know excel too.
posted by latkes at 6:14 PM on November 21, 2012

I know people that work in claims intake for an insurance company and make $15-$17/hour. You would work as a customer service representative/claims intake representative and your job would entail speaking directly with the insureds, taking claim details while talking to the insureds, and doing some administrative tasks.
posted by livinglearning at 6:19 PM on November 21, 2012

Waiting tables, though this depends somewhat on where you live. I live in a great area for serving, and I started out making about $15/hr after tips. When I switched to a better restaurant, I was making $18-20 an hour. It's hard work, but you can do it full time. Income varies seasonally -- September to December is the best season, late spring is also decent, summer can be good or bad depending on the restaurant (I worked at a bistro with almost no summer business, switched to a restaurant with a deck and booming summer business). The important thing is finding a place that will hire someone with no experience.

You can also do random jobs for neighbors -- rake, shovel snow, mow lawns, depending on the season and climate.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:30 PM on November 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

While certain varieties of "food service" may pay fairly well, the field in general counts as a career dead-end. Unless your greatest aspiration in life has you working as a shift manager at Arby's, don't do that to yourself.

Find yourself some relatively unskilled office work - AP entry clerk, claims intake (as livinglearning suggested), that sort of thing. Those usually pay at least passably well, won't ruin your body (well, you could argue that desk work kills us a few years earlier than even the worst of manual labor, but you at least won't suffer any career-ending injuries on-the-job), and even if you never do anything else, has a pretty clear path of advancement up through the accounting-staff ranks.

That said, it won't win any awards for job satisfaction. So figure out what you want to do (that pays! No BA in women's studies or Renaissance French lit!), share a rundown apartment with three others, and put yourself through whatever sort of school/training will get you there. SMPA mentioned becoming a tradesman like a plumber or electrician - Good options, if you have no interests in going back to college, and once you make it to the journeyman stage, you can make passable money doing that.

Mostly, though, you need to decide what you want to do as your very first step.
posted by pla at 6:39 PM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you know about MetaFilter you probably know enough computer stuff to be an Administrative Assistant. I got my first admin job by handing out resumes in a nearby office park, but that was in 2000 so I don't know if that's a thing people still do. I don't think people did that back when I did it, either, but my parents made me. :) They had me do some stuff in Excel, which I had my parents show me minutes before the interview. A good personality and presentation will make up for your lack of experience. Just be willing to do whatever dumb crap they make you do and you'll be fine!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 6:47 PM on November 21, 2012

I was going to vote a trade of some kind, as when I looked into this, many of the unions had free training programs, which was not something I expected (though maybe it's obvious to everyone else, I don't know). How good of an idea this may depend on your location, both in terms of what the training programs look like and how much work is available (I believe things are really slow in some places).
posted by hoyland at 6:56 PM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you have the right temperament you can make a lot of money in sales with minimal education and/or experience level. Many sales people make more than a lot of doctors and lawyers, and they do not have to go into severe debt to get their schooling either. I personally know at least 30 salespeople who make over 100 a year (many closer to 200).

It can be a very hard job. The reason most can not do it over a sustained period of time is that it can be psychologically challenging to do for a prolonged period of time. If you have the skills to sell something on the high end it can be very very rewarding.
posted by jcworth at 6:57 PM on November 21, 2012

You should also consider looking into the trades.

This is great advice IF you are willing to bust ass and do physically difficult work. I don't know where you are but my local vocational college has trades programs that have 100 percent placement rates -- meaning that everyone who can make it through a one or two year program gets a job, often with startling high starting salaries. They aren't sexy jobs; it's things like HVAC tech, where you are learning how to climb up on factory roofs to fix huge industrial heating systems. But those are fields where there aren't enough skilled people, and companies are willing to pay dearly for people with those skills.

Similarly, a lot of the big electrical utilities are facing a looming shortage of linemen (linespeople?), and are opening up apprenticeship programs to start to find new people. Those jobs pay crazy high wages... but also involve climbing tall poles in the middle of winter and working long hours, and a lot of people just can't handle the work.
posted by Forktine at 7:08 PM on November 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Temping is a great way to go, especially if you land a longer-term assignment (a few months or so), which can sometimes lead to a full-time job with the company. I had a three-month temping stint at a car insurance company, then was asked to apply for a customer service position there, which started at $17/hour. Most of my co-workers had high school diplomas.
posted by baby beluga at 7:15 PM on November 21, 2012

If you are struggling to make payments on debt, and it's largely credit card debt, consider declaring bankruptcy so that you can afford to go to school. It depends where you live and what your options are in terms of transportation and housing with a bankruptcy on your credit report.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:47 PM on November 21, 2012

I transitioned into the corporate world with a 9th grade education by taking my basic computing, reliable typing, and average application knowledge to a temp agency and letting them find good places for me to be helpful.

This might not pay what you need, though, as these tend to start out at $10-12 p/hr. There is potential to find gigs with ridiculous amounts of overtime available, though, and these will also give you a leg up faster. Successfully completing contracts can get you access to assignments with better pay grades.

The advice to really dive into Excel is good. So is the advice to learn Quickbooks. Access is another application that can pay well to learn even a bit about. Some temp agencies will let you test on these and then complete the tutorials in their offices to improve your skills. All of these have free tutorials online, too. Some libraries have classes for this kind of thing.

And you can also go to the Worksource/Workforce Solutions/similar office in your area and ask about the process for speaking with an employment specialist. They can hook you up with programs that might get you better positions faster. They can also give you access to opportunities that aren't available anywhere else.

If you have the energy for it while you're waiting for placements and the like, you can then wait tables in the time left to boost your income. You could do that now, too, if you can tolerate the loss of free time for a bit.
posted by batmonkey at 7:52 PM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also agree with the temp agency idea. I think most places are using temp agencies for the entry level positions, but you might be hard pressed to earn 15 dollars an hour. I have a college degree and the temp agency got me a long term contract in a lab. It started at $12/hr whether you had a degree or not. When hired the wage went up to 14/hr. Many people do not have college degrees at my work. The more flexible you are with your hours, then the more likely you can land a new job. In the long run many of my non-college educated coworkers find it hard to move up without a degree. I work in a testing laboratory, so you don't have to stick to factory work.

Other opportunities I have seen seem to be at around $15/hr for college grads.

I think the trend right now is that wages are low and the recent grads are getting the jobs the high school grads used to get.
posted by Jaelma24 at 7:53 PM on November 21, 2012

Oh and if you like kids, try getting babysitting experience through friends, family, at a church nursery...if you like kids, nannying or even just occasional babysitting isn't too bad and the pay tends to be pretty good considering that it's "unskilled" labor. Once you get one family that likes you and hires you a lot, it's pretty easy to get hired by other families since you have a good reference. People also talk to each other and recommend sitters and nannies to each other all the time.

Parents also will like that you're trying to go to school. The one thing that sucks is that a lot of parents want to pay you off the books, which is tempting (no taxes) but takes away a lot of your protections in terms of unemployment insurance and worker's comp and things like that.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:53 PM on November 21, 2012

Does your state have a website that lists jobs? For example, here in my state one has to apply for so many jobs in a certain period of time to keep their unemployment benefits so the state helps with this. Maybe try something like [your state abbreviation]

From there, I'd apply for all sorts of jobs in the pay range you're looking for. My sister is so, so good at this and has successfully gotten herself from one good job to a better one and is now in a incredibly well paying job that is for certain a coveted career. She is ALWAYS willing to apply for something that she has no idea how to do. I don't do that and neither do most people. They'll read a job listing and say, "Meh, out of my league".

At any rate, my sister is lovely and while she barely graduated high school (not kidding, she hates learning in that environment) she now basically runs the family court system for our very large county. And she beat out two other applicants with Master's degrees for the job!

So, apply for things you don't think there's a chance you'll ever be hired for. You might end up in a lot of dead end interviews, you might look a fool once or twice for applying for something you don't necessarily have the skills for but if just one of those interviews pays off, it might work out awesomely for you.

Good luck!
posted by youandiandaflame at 8:07 PM on November 21, 2012

I made decent money doing car rental when I couldn't find work in my normal field. It is fairly easy to train for and not physically demanding. Do you have customer service experience?
posted by photoexplorer at 8:11 PM on November 21, 2012

T'were I doing my life over again yet dropping out of college as I did, what I'd say to Alternative Ghostride is:

See what your local community college offers in the way of certifications in the medical field. By me, phlebotomist is a 1 month or so course with some lab work and rotations and with that you can get 20-25k a year gigs in doctor's offices and labs and whatnot. Likewise, EMT-Basic is a 3 month course and the pay is dick and you do the crap work, but with some emergency experience and a bit more training you can get into a hospital as an OR Tech or ER Tech or cross that with a phlebotomy cert and do all kinds of decent-paying things in lab work or doctor's offices. (And my city hires Basics for about $14/hour starting with full city benefits, which are extremely nice). Any of those will get you steady work and provide a stepping stone into the medical field through either Paramedic or Nursing or some of the various Technician roles or, if nothing else, a reasonable income while you go to college or something more office-y.

Honestly? I'm working on paying off some debt so I can pick up some of those certifications myself as a backup career should my current freelance life fall off a cliff, so that's my actual plan.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:40 PM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing waiting tables. I waited tables for five years during college and for a bit afterwards. I quit to pursue the "career" that college certified me for, and it's only been in the last two years that I've begun to make more than I did waiting tables with the occasional bar shift (in a relatively cheap city I was making ~40k/yr).

You should wait tables for two reasons: first, it's not a dead-end job if you don't let it be. I very briefly managed a restaurant before I was offered my "career" job unexpectedly and left the industry; I could've easily made an upper-middle class living in a few years. My only credentials for managing were being a good waiter and leader on the staff.

Second, jobs waiting tables are excellent for students, and although it's not part of your question, if you want a secure livelihood, the best thing you can do for yourself is go back to school.
posted by downing street memo at 11:18 PM on November 21, 2012

It occurred to me that I left out something: apply for city/county/state jobs! Many of these require only a high school diploma and many have good starting wages including full benefits. Some are fulfilled through contracting agencies these days, so the usual promise of job security isn't what it used to be, but it's still somewhat better than other contracting jobs.

Workforce/Worksource Solution offices can help you zoom in on those types of opportunities, especially.
posted by batmonkey at 7:07 AM on November 22, 2012

OH! I forgot a good strategy if it's possible in your area.

Check out the job postings at the local university/college, even the private ones. Often, the jobs come with tuition remission or assistance. It can be a huge help.

Or consider transferring to a school with better financial aid. Private schools have bigger sticker prices but there are schools with great financial aid available that can actually make them more affordable than public schools (IF you have demonstrated need, which it sounds like you do).
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:11 AM on November 22, 2012

Teacher assistants in my area make about $12.50/hour and if you work at the elementary school level, your day is done at 2:45 pm.
posted by kirst27 at 7:22 PM on November 22, 2012

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