I love my new town, but how do I find a job here?
January 23, 2013 1:04 PM   Subscribe

I'm nineteen. Four months ago, I moved out of my parents' houses to a medium-sized Midwestern city. I'm more consistently happy here than I have ever been (even despite breaking up with my long-term SO) -- I'm making friends regularly, working on interesting projects, and devouring the library. My biggest problem is that I can't find a job.

Some complications:

My town is very much a college town, so hiring probably happens quickly and without my knowledge.

I don't technically have a high school diploma; I left my ordinary high school after two years and spent the remaining two years in a weird mixture of mostly-self-directed homeschooling.

I don't have a substantial amount of experience. Until I moved, I worked semi-regularly for my dad's business doing mostly odd jobs. I'm not sure listing my dad's business on a job application is very persuasive (and we have the same name, heh). The only other solid reference I have is my uncle -- before I moved, I babysat for his kids often.

The biggest issue, though, is that applying for jobs makes me very anxious. I've been dealing with this as best as I can -- having one prewritten resume and tailoring that to each job helps, for example -- but mostly I'm left feeling shitty and inadequate and on the verge of tears halfway through. I know objectively that I could do well at almost any job; it doesn't help.

I have some assets, though:

My town is a surprisingly cheap place to live. I spend very small amounts on food (I cook for myself almost exclusively) and anyone not from here is startled by how low my rent is. I've been living on savings and have enough for at least two more rent months.

I'm very very interested in computer programming. I'm mostly smitten by one particular not-exactly-popular language, but I'm familiar with at least half a dozen, including Python, Ruby, Javascript, and C. I'm a contributor to two free/open source projects well-known amongst the community for that one language and I've written a handful of small libraries that are definitely useful but not often used. As far as skill goes: most days I think I'm pretty good at it.

In case it's relevant: I'm also interested in math and logic (and their weirder intersections -- type theory is a big one), the sciences, and cooking.

Here are my questions:

Where should I be looking for work? Filling out applications for your standard customer service gig hasn't been very productive (and I think my lack of qualifications is part of that). I've sent my technical resume to a company hiring for a remote web dev job (and did better on the phone interview than I ever thought I would -- ultimately, they said they wanted someone with more SQL experience) but I haven't had luck finding any others.

Do you know of anything creative I could do with my time that could lead to money? I've got a side project (a game) that could, but that will probably take more (unpaid) time than I have. Having a donation button on my projects' websites has led to exactly zero income. I'm already selling plasma.

Should I spring for a GED? I'm confident I would pass, but it's expensive ($50 here, roughly a month of food) and I'm not sure how much it would help. I'm also worried it would look worse from an employment standpoint -- I'd be seen as a dropout with a GED rather than a homeschooled kid.

Finally: how do I keep my joblessness from further exasperating my insecurities and anxieties?

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (30 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Get the GED! It might not help right away, but having a piece of paper that says you graduated high school is surprisingly useful. The people who don't have those pieces of paper are under immediate suspicion of being incorrigibly stupid or wacked out on drugs. Plus, should you choose to go on and enter some kind of further education, it will prove you can write.
posted by The River Ivel at 1:12 PM on January 23, 2013 [13 favorites]

Is there a temp agency in your city? It sounds to me like you either would benefit from some paper credentials (GED, certifications) or from getting your foot in the door somewhere and demonstrating that you can do the work. Some temp agencies specialize in specific technical areas that may be a fit for the work you want to get into. At the very least, if you can pass a keyboarding test you should be able to get some money coming in and may end up with an opportunity to transfer into regular employment.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:14 PM on January 23, 2013 [5 favorites]

You say it's a college town. Have you looked for programming jobs at the blackboards of the computer science faculty? Often businesses search for students as cheap code monkeys. You're not a student, but your programming experience sounds superior to the experience of most students.
posted by Triton at 1:17 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please MeMail me and tell me the name of the favorite programming language :)
posted by amtho at 1:18 PM on January 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Have you tried contracting through ODesk?
posted by tinymegalo at 1:20 PM on January 23, 2013

Get the GED. It will help with any job that requires a high school diploma or equivalent. You can also list the open-source projects on your resume, perhaps making a special category just for them. Since you have more skills than experience, you should list those skills out on your resume as well.

And seconding the temp agency. They're a great resource for someone with lots of miscellaneous skills but little experience.
posted by bedhead at 1:21 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Give eLance a try. Lots of programming/coding jobs are available there.
posted by Philemon at 1:24 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Are you sure you can't fill out some paperwork and have a diploma based on your homeschooling? I would look into that before getting a GED.
posted by unreasonable at 1:25 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

1. Get a GED.

2. OF COURSE you list your dad's company on your resume! It's a job. That you did. As for having the same name, so the eff what? When someone asks about your last job, or whatever, you say "I worked for the family business" and then you riff a little on what a great entrepreneur your dad is or whatever for the requisite amount of time. A lot of very qualified, talented, brilliant people work in their family's company. It's not a step down or a form of charity or whatever you're worried about. Frankly, I'm a little envious of people with access to a family business that gels with their skills and interests.

3. OF COURSE you list your uncle as a reference, and in fact if I were you, I'd put babysitting on your resume (assuming your resume is thin, because you're 19). Babysitting is an actual skill, and a trusted babysitter has proven that they are reliable, responsible, and at least somewhat good with difficult (tiny) people.

Additionally, when I was in your shoes, I parlayed my status as eldest of seven kids and serial babysitter into a job for a local babysitting service. This service eventually connected me with a single mom who needed a part time after-school nanny for her kids. Don't knock childcare as a potential resume-builder.
posted by Sara C. at 1:27 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Get the GED, and if you're interested in programming languages, check out the local Community College, perhaps enroll, and become certified in some of them, certification is a good door opener.

In the mean time, have you explored Temp Agencies such as Manpower and Labor Ready? Labor Ready especially specializes in warm bodies. You can haul and schlep, right?

Can you serve alcohol? Perhaps you can get a job as a shot girl at the local "gentlemen's club". (Unless you'd like to strip, in which case, BONUS!)

If you want any job, go to all the restaurants in town and ask to speak to the manager, ask if the place is hiring and if you can submit an application. Even if you bar-back or hostess, you'll be earning money and building credibility.

Anything that brings money in is a good job right now. Finding your career passion can wait.

Also, have you applied at the local mall? Especially the big department stores.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:32 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hmm - is it possible for you to still get your high school diploma? I know that seems far behind you but if you have two years of high school and two years of homeschooling, it seems like you were very close? Maybe your old school district can help you out, or perhaps a local homeschooling association can give you some guidance. But the GED may be more expedient; I don't know. Everything costs either time or money!

You are young and you are going to need money soon. I have the vibe from your description that you have been mostly doing applications online. The key to getting those young-person kinda-crummy customer service jobs is to present yourself well to the person who has the authority to hire. So, let's say you see a "Now Hiring" sign in the window of Bob's Coffee and Wifi Hut. When you go to fill out an application, you don't just give it to whoever is working. (Because 9 time out of 10, the clerk will just shove it away, never to be seen again.) You should ask to speak to the manager. If the manager is not there, ask when he or she will be there, and hand your application directly to the manager or owner. For a young person, it's not so bad that your prior experience was with a family business. The key is to present yourself well and act like it was a real job that you took seriously.
posted by stowaway at 1:33 PM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

I'd just say you graduated high school, I've never heard of a job asking to see your diploma or anything. And maybe reframe your expectations a little - you've basically never had a "real" job yet. Your first job is not likely to turn into a career. Definitely put an application in at some temp agencies, and then you should maybe think about places like small offices, banks, grocery stores, movie theaters, and yes, even the dreaded fast food. You just need to get a little experience under your belt. These are places where you basically just fill out their application, no resume required, and experience isn't too necessary. List your dad's business as your last job, and maybe use your uncle as a personal reference. Then follow up with a phone call in a few days. At this point, unless you really luck out, I don't think you're going to find a job in programming that would pay the bills.
posted by catatethebird at 1:35 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Seconding Triton. If you can code, and if you can prove you can code (from verifiable contributions to FOSS projects), and you're in a university town, things are quite promising. I'd start trying to cultivate some contacts at the university, and not just in the CS department -- scientists in all kinds of disciplines find themselves needing a tame programmer now and again. Consider also small local businesses who might need an IT jack-of-all-trades on a part-time basis. I'd also devote more time to FOSS contributions while job hunting. Consider (if you haven't already) creating a StackOverflow account with your real name and building up a reputation there: it's another thing you can point to for "technically competent" and "plays well with others".

I'd be a little wary of eLance, since it's a global marketplace and you'll find yourself undercut by people in countries with much lower living costs. No harm in trying it out but don't bank on it.
posted by pont at 1:38 PM on January 23, 2013

I've never heard of a job asking to see your diploma or anything.

A lot of low-level service jobs, especially for corporate chains/franchises, do background checks. I would be leery of lying about something so obviously verifiable. Especially if it turns out that being homeschooled is a perfectly acceptable option and you don't get the job because the boss thinks you're untrustworthy and not due to your level of education.

That said, I would probably try to spin the homeschooling thing to sound like you basically did complete high school, without claiming something that isn't true, like having a high school diploma or GED. Probably just write in "attended Central High from 2008-2010, completed high school in homeschooling environment" or something like that.
posted by Sara C. at 1:39 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, Fed-Ex and UPS are always hiring, pay decent wages, and offer benefits for you to continue your education, and even have opportunity for advancement, although the GED may be necessary. It's also usually pretty easy to get a job at an inventory company, although they seem to hire through word-of-mouth here.
posted by catatethebird at 1:41 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know what the qualifications are to be a customer-facing bank teller, but every time I have been to a branch of my large corporate bank in the last year or so, I've noticed a NOW HIRING sign on the door.

I've known one or two people who were bank tellers in college, so it seems somewhat feasible that you don't need to have a degree to be considered.

Surely, if your dad's company had you doing any general office admin type tasks or running a till/handling cash at all, you should at least stop in and apply.
posted by Sara C. at 1:42 PM on January 23, 2013

Are you applying for resume-level jobs only? Because working at the local grocery store will take a lot of stress out of the job-search process if the alternative is watching your savings dwindle.

Fill out an online app for your grocery store and then walk down there and talk to the manager on duty, let them know you've already done the app but wanted to introduce yourself. Same for the local burrito shop, Starbucks, 7-11, etc.

Then you'll have some breathing room & cash to get your GED (it is worth way more than the $50 investment) & look around for (for example) a part-time data entry job with a small medical practice and help them automate their records as a bonus for them (which translates into practical experience for your resume). Then add a certification or two. And build your resume from there.
posted by headnsouth at 1:43 PM on January 23, 2013 [6 favorites]

Just want to reiterate that it's TOTALLY fine to list working for your dad on your resume; there are literally millions of family businesses in the U.S., and it won't raise any eyebrows that you worked for your dad.
posted by scody at 1:49 PM on January 23, 2013

I second headnsouth's advice. You will easily be able to get a job at the grocery store, restaurant, coffee shop, etc. Do that so you have reliable income and a job that you can leave at work. Then you have your free time and money to get your GED, work on computing projects, and look for ways to improve your job situation. With limited work experience, it may be challenging to get the type of job you want right out of the gate. But you're already doing a great job! Your enthusiasm and self-directed work will do a lot to make you stand out in your field.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 1:52 PM on January 23, 2013

Fill out an online app for your grocery store and then walk down there and talk to the manager on duty, let them know you've already done the app but wanted to introduce yourself. Same for the local burrito shop, Starbucks, 7-11, etc.

Yes. This. Consider also walking into places that are likely to have high-ish turnover (restaurants, coffee shops, retail stores) but do not have an online application system. "Hi, can I speak to the manager on duty?--Hi, my name is Anonymous and I wondered if I could fill out a job application. Oh, you are/aren't hiring right now? That's great/too bad." If they're not hiring, ask if you can fill out an application to leave on file--it's a long shot, but you never know.

It's totally worth it to take a minimum wage job so that you can keep your head above water long enough to both eat and get your GED.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:59 PM on January 23, 2013

Awesome advice here. Definitely use it all to move heaven-and-earth to find yourself a job. You're young, so you definitely have to understand you probably won't find your dream job right now. Look for anything.
posted by signondiego at 2:03 PM on January 23, 2013

Here in California, you can get a better-than-GED by taking the California High School Proficiency Examination--you might see if your state has something like this, as it's much better than a GED.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:10 PM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm also worried it would look worse from an employment standpoint -- I'd be seen as a dropout with a GED rather than a homeschooled kid.

I hate to break it to you, but unless your resume lists a bunch of things like 'went to X University summer program, took Y exam with Z score, completed Q recognised course for R grade' for those two homeschooling years, I bet most people reading your resume are already seeing 'dropout with no GED'.
posted by jacalata at 2:41 PM on January 23, 2013

Do you live in or near any of these Cities? TaskRabbit lets people post very low stakes temp jobs, many of which are online-based. Zaarly does something similar but it isn't available in as many places right now.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:48 PM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's probably a good idea to take your GED sometime or another. As for your resume, under education, it could look like this:

2010          Robinson Crusoe High School, Saltpeter City, MN

Then print up ten copies of your resume, dress nicely but generically, and spend a couple days strolling around town going into any cafe, bookstore, library, restaurant, whatever, and asking if they're hiring. Bring your own pen & a copy of the contact info for your references.
posted by tapir-whorf at 2:51 PM on January 23, 2013

Saying you homeschooled the final two years and completed all the requirements of a diploma is perfectly acceptable. My son is a freshman in college after homeschooling K-12. He did his own transcript in Excel. Homechooling is common enough today that I doubt anybody will think twice of it. If you come off as intelligent in person, and your employment applications are neat and readable with proper spelling, nobody should care about the piece of paper. But you do need to document and be able to talk about what you did those two years. It sounds like you accomplished way more than the average high school student anyway, so this should not be an issue.

So following the advice above, print out some resumes, walk into places that look like places you might want to work, and ask for the owner. Being assertive and confident will get you a long way in those brief conversations.

And if you'd like a second set of eyes on your resume feel free to MeMail me with the name and address removed. I have lots of experience with resumes. Way too much, unfortunately.
posted by COD at 3:19 PM on January 23, 2013

Face-to-face is always good. Stop in any place you'd like to work (that will probably have entry-level jobs) and ask to apply. Restaurants are (in my opinion) shitty places to work, but you will make a lot of money for not working many hours.

Bank teller jobs usually want sales experience (it's a more sales-oriented job than you might think). If you have any of that at your dad's business, applying at local banks is actually a pretty good idea, since it can be regular, slightly better than minimum-wage work.
posted by stoneandstar at 3:46 PM on January 23, 2013

First, if $50 is a major concern, then your first priority needs to be finding a job---any crappy service sector job---to support yourself while you try to land a "real" job. Then get your GED. Never lie about having a diploma if you don't; it will blow up in your face some day.

Second, build a portfolio of your work. Ask for references from the highest-profile open-source people who know you through your contributions. Send it the portfolio with your resume to local tech companies, and in your cover letter, talk about your programming/math interests. Then blast that resume+portfolio+cover letter out to local tech companies. Living in a midsize midwestern town will be a barrier, and it may take a while, so don't get depressed when it doesn't work at first.

Third (and maybe this is just my elitist ivory tower opinion), a 19-year-old who thinks math, logic, and type theory are interesting should be in college. You live in a college town. Have you applied to the local university? Don't rule it out immediately because of the expense---schools have people whose job it is to help you figure out how to pay, and there are scholarships and work/study jobs. You'll need the GED first, though.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:02 PM on January 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

Not sure if this has been mentioned already, but consider getting on public assistance. In some places I think it's possible to get GED fees lowered if you're on TANF or other programs. There might also be someone there who could point you to employment help. Consider going to the college's career service and seeing if they can help - if it's a state college, residents often get benefits like library use, so possibly they'd be able/willing to offer you some advice on job hunting or resumes, but even if it's private it's worth asking. Colleges also have all sorts of support staff positions, so finding their HR department would be good, too. Some colleges offer free or reduced tuition to employees, and it's always good to have a job someplace you want a discount. Don't lie about anything - too much risk, too high a cost if you get caught, nothing like a strong enough motivation in this case. Homeschooling is pretty widely recognized now, and a lot of the places you're applying to hire high school students all the time (so no diploma isn't a handicap). Do the GED because sometimes a box needs to be ticked, and people aren't allowed to hire someone without a high school diploma or equivalent even if they really want to. For some jobs (and colleges) this might not be an issue, but if you can find a way to get a free or reduced-fee GED, probably better to do it.

Also, check out your local public library and see if the librarians there can give you any pointers or help.
posted by you must supply a verb at 6:49 AM on January 24, 2013

If by "standard customer service gig" you mean "retail" you should know that's its totally normal to have to fill out dozens and dozens of applications before you get a retail job. It's not your résumé or qualifications that keep you from getting a job, it's the fact that your application isn't on the top of the right pile at the right time. I think I filled out 70 applications the last time I got a retail job.

So, get that GED or diploma, but also apply to literally every place in town with a cash register.
posted by that's how you get ants at 3:12 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Flower Power!   |   Best tools for setting up online store for... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.