How do I get a "survival job?"
January 23, 2021 10:06 PM   Subscribe

After several years as a stay at home parent, I've found myself in need of what this site often refers to as a "survival job." I've accepted that my next job will probably be in retail or food service working beside teenagers or college students. My question is how, as a middle-aged person who hasn't worked in years and whose last job required a college degree, do I make myself more likely to get one of those jobs?

The immediate issue is that I need to start earning some kind of income, even if it is minimum wage, within the next couple of months. (This isn't a situation where I'm already homeless or in need of money tomorrow.)

Besides being about twenty years removed from my last retail job, I have a few obstacles I'm not sure how to overcome.

First, I basically have no references. The last place I worked was in a different area of the country and seems to have closed a few years ago. I'm not sure, but I think my last boss (who had an extremely common name) has passed away.

Second, I don't have friends or family where I currently live that could recommend me for a job. I have asked the people I know here and let them know I'm job hunting and the type of job I need, but that hasn't led anywhere so far.

Third, I feel like employers won't want to hire someone my age to be in a workplace full of younger people, although I might be wrong.

Fourth, I know myself, and customer interaction isn't my strong suit. The thought of being behind a food service counter at lunch hour makes me feel so anxious.

Fifth, I don't know exactly how to explain my work and education history to a hiring manager for these jobs. I also don't know how to explain to a manager why I want to stock shelves or fold shirts at this time in my life aside from "I need the money." Now that I think about it, I don't know what parts of my experience and education to leave off and what to include on an application either.

On the plus side, I know that I will be a reliable employee who doesn't miss work, follows directions, and generally won't cause problems. I need this job, and I plan to work like it.

What steps should I take to make my search for a survival job more successful?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (43 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
You should apply to be a caregiver to the elderly, no medical training required. This job is often advertised to "moms who have been out of the workforce" in my area, as well as people who need flexible hours because they never close and have clients who need anything from a few hours in the morning to the whole day to overnight, 7 days a week. They will hire anyone who can pass a drug test and a background check. The main job requirement is being able to clean, and to be patient and kind dealing with people in their 70s-90s who have a variety of health issues. Just tell them you are looking for a part time job to bring in some extra money and need a flexible schedule. Most people who need a non medical caregiver need help doing things like laundry, buying groceries and cooking, picking up meds, pet care, taking out the trash, organizing paperwork, or they want someone to keep an eye on them so they don't fall while getting in the tub/moving around, etc.

You could ask another mom to be a reference for you, she can speak to your ability to show up places on time (playdates?), take good care of your kid, behave responsibly and communicate in a friendly way, etc.
posted by zdravo at 10:21 PM on January 23 [18 favorites]

"reentry jobs for parents" is a search term that might be of interest.
posted by aniola at 10:25 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]

Example search result
posted by aniola at 10:27 PM on January 23

I don't have a specific answer. it might be useful to reframe "the things you aren't" as challenges or learning opportunities. consider, too, the things you *are*. self-aware is your first one.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:35 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]

My nephew worked an entry-level job at a big box retailer. I think they were happy to hire anyone who could learn the minimal tasks of the job and most importantly, would show up for the shift and actually work. Willingness to work evening and weekends was a big deal - new workers did not the get the prime shifts. If you were mildly competent and stayed more than a year or so, you got promoted to being section manager. The job turnover is high - they seem to be willing to hire anyone plausible and see who worked out. Pay and benefits were pretty poor so if you can do better, that would be good but just saying that my impression was that these survival jobs were happy to take anyone who would be reliable.
posted by metahawk at 11:00 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]

If you’re capable of standing or walking for a shift, and can lift up to 50lbs, you could consider a job at an Amazon fulfillment center. There are a ton of them so there is likely one near you. I think it pays around $30-35k/yr to start.

Candidly they are not trivially easy jobs, though they are easier than, for example, being a diner waitress, and the application to hire process is very streamlined.

There are also jobs in customer support at many companies, but that could be stressful given your stated concerns around customer interaction.
posted by whisk(e)y neat at 11:18 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]

Are you sure you shouldn’t aim higher? You say your last job required a college degree, so I assume you have one, and some work history. It’s easy to be deterred by all the news about unemployment numbers but I can tell you as a former employer, a decent cover letter explaining your situation can definitely get you an interview for an office job. I know they’re thin on the ground right now—I’m just saying to let someone else decide you’re not qualified. Don’t do it for them.
posted by HotToddy at 11:56 PM on January 23 [50 favorites]

Caregiver is not a good return to work job unless you work for an ethical operator who fully staffs according to need and trains to the need. My neighbour, OP's age, went into caregiving and almost immediately fucked up his back due to needing to lift a patient to clean. Approach with caution.

I know a great employment counsellor who is a former service industry HR manager. PM me and I will be happy to provide her details to OP.

Instead of thinking about the job, think about the amount of money that is required and desired. I worked at a rape crisis centre last year and struggled with finding jobs after leaving despite amazing references. Taking this requirement philosophy, I looked at small jobs that met my income requirements and met my needs with two WFH jobs that I could manage and who are happy to have my skills and time. Happy to chat about it.
posted by parmanparman at 12:19 AM on January 24 [10 favorites]

I worked in HR at a department store, and as long as you had access to child care and decent availability, we would have considered you an ideal candidate. We were always very happy to have someone with more maturity. A work reference for this kind of job would be someone who could verify that you had worked at Job X. A personal reference would be somebody willing to say you’re not a complete flake. Add a clean drug test and you’d be hired.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:49 AM on January 24 [16 favorites]

Hey, I've successfully helped a family member in a similar situation. Memail me and maybe I can help with resume + interview prep.

First, I basically have no references.
1) Like someone else mentioned, acceptable references in this context are generally people who can say you are a normal/reliable human being.

Second, I don't have friends or family where I currently live that could recommend me for a job.
2) If you don't have friends or family that can recommend you for jobs, try job listings (and even cold calls). It would also help if you could maybe update this thread (through a mod) with more details on your skills, interests, experience, etc.

Third, I feel like employers won't want to hire someone my age to be in a workplace full of younger people, although I might be wrong.
3) There are employers who would want to hire older employees because of reasons like perceived maturity/reliability. And younger employees may also be more open to working with older employees because of less perceived competition. Those are just some reasons why workplaces may be more open to older employees than you think.

Fourth, I know myself, and customer interaction isn't my strong suit. The thought of being behind a food service counter at lunch hour makes me feel so anxious.
4) If customer interaction isn't your strong suit, you don't need to take on a role at the front/counter. You could be solely focused on doing food prep in the back kitchen, for example.

Fifth, I don't know exactly how to explain my work and education history to a hiring manager for these jobs. I also don't know how to explain to a manager why I want to stock shelves or fold shirts at this time in my life aside from "I need the money."

5) "I need the money" is a pretty good reason. And being a stay-at-home parent is also a pretty good way of explaining employment gaps! As to what to include on your resume - briefly, I'd say don't undersell yourself, start by making a concrete list of all the things you've done, the skills you have, the education you have, the volunteer work / side-projects you've participated in. Then think about how to condense that to fit the position you're applying to.
posted by aielen at 1:58 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]

On the plus side, I know that I will be a reliable employee who doesn't miss work, follows directions, and generally won't cause problems.

I think you’re underestimating how big a deal this is in this type of job! Reliability is huge.

I think in general when you’re trying to get into a retail/food service/other less credential-y type of job the main things you need to convert to the people doing the hiring are: I will show up for my assigned shifts; I will not be a complete nightmare to work with; I plan to stay at this job more than a few months.
posted by mskyle at 4:04 AM on January 24 [7 favorites]

Like everything, it’s complicated by covid, but can you get out and volunteer somewhere? Even a couple of months of helping in your nearest food bank or soup kitchen gets you a track record of recent service work skills, and a possible reference if someone there is happy to provide one.

Like someone suggests above, it doesn’t necessarily need to be customer facing, they’ll need willing workers in their stores as well, which would be a good prep for eg. supermarket warehouse work.

Seconding the suggestion to look for office work if you have some up-to-date computer skills and can type at a reasonable speed. Might be worth finding out what the standard “proof of basic computer literacy” course is in your location and doing that online to show to an employment agency. It’ll likely just be basic word/excel/powerpoint/email/scheduling skills, but lets them know they’re employing someone who can get by in an office without having to be shown how to switch on the computer.
posted by penguin pie at 4:31 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]

In addition to office temp work or retail work, you could look into working with kids, if you're okay with that. That could involve in-home assistance for families (which more families need right now than usual because of covid); working at the "remote learning centers" that have popped up; or doing online tutoring. The last option might be especially worth looking into given that working online is safer covid-wise, and there are a lot of kids these days in need of extra help.

I agree that you don't need to discount your own skills. Unemployment is high so finding work might be harder that usual, but that doesn't reflect on your desirability.
posted by trig at 4:53 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

If you end up needing to do food service (and especially if you have a car), try to do some reconnaissance to see what the environment is like at specific locations. I worked at a chain coffee shop and people would fill in at different locations/occasionally switch locations, and it was well-known that the experience varied a lot depending on the location (partly depending on the manager, but also the customer base and the foot-traffic patterns--at my store we had some downtime, at other stores there was a line almost constantly.)
posted by needs more cowbell at 5:37 AM on January 24

Do you have a car? If so, I know a few people in a similar situation have found a decent gig working for Amazon/food delivery apps as a driver. It's not the most reliable income but it's better than nothing and the work itself is in high demand right now (and might still be even if/when the pandemic becomes less of an issue). It takes a little wrangling and time to work out how to use the system for the most benefit, but there are plenty of places online these days that will give tips on how to make it work. The /r/AmazonFlexDrivers subreddit for example has lots of advice.
posted by fight or flight at 6:05 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

The ubiquitous big box construction stores, i.e. Home Depot and Lowes in the US, hire lots of older workers and you won't be stuck behind a counter serving fast food. And it's ok to say you've spent the last umpteen years caring for your family. Hell, I've even put that on resumes to explain gaps in employment history.

Here's another idea: is there a public technical or community college near you? If there is check out their offerings. They have a focus on retraining for local job needs, are often free or very low cost, some will even give you funding while they train you. You could end up with a real career instead of a shit job.
posted by mareli at 6:10 AM on January 24 [8 favorites]

My understanding of the requirements for a warehouse job at Amazon is that they only care about your drug test and criminal record. I'm not suggesting you work in an Amazon warehouse - just making the point that I think you are worrying too much about qualifications here. If you are clean and neat and lacking a criminal record you are qualified for most of the jobs you are talking about.
posted by COD at 6:27 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

I think you’re overthinking a bit. Just apply to things every day. A lot of jobs that are more front line customer service have a hiring cycle that is pretty fast and furious.

At my work for some roles, if I get 2 weeks’ notice, I ideally need to hire in 3 days in order to have training time and start the criminal reference check. It’s very different from having a committee and taking several months as I used to when I hired editors etc. - I have a staffing ratio I have to maintain and while I have on-call staff, every day I don’t hire is a day I am juggling. I’m not pouring over references.

(I do then use the probationary period to finish the hiring process, because at that speed I have chosen people who then didn’t show up etc., but I’m sure you’ll be fine there.)
posted by warriorqueen at 7:01 AM on January 24 [4 favorites]

Also just a couple of things:

- Working for money is fine. It’s good if you touch on something like that you like the idea of helping people or the company achieve their goals, to show, basically, your soft skills in action.

- having worked on both sides of the fence so to speak, I just want to add that where you don’t want to underestimate things is that “survival jobs” also require a lot of ability to absorb training and do complex things, and so that’s kind of where you may want to sell your skills a bit in the interview stage.

- and just to be super clear, for some of the jobs I post, applying on the first day really ups your chances - I try to mitigate that for equity issues but sometimes that’s how the chips fall
posted by warriorqueen at 7:46 AM on January 24 [3 favorites]

Addressing the mature age factor—I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ve hired for retail, and I’ve been hired for retail as a 50+ employee.
If you decide to go this route—Play up your work ethic, your reliability, and having reliable transportation. Emphasize that you’re willing to be flexible when necessary in terms of working hours. All these things are golden to retail hiring managers. You can teach someone to work a cash register, but you can’t teach the above characteristics on the fly.
Also—“needing the money” is a valid reason to provide to a hiring manager.
(Being anxious about customer interaction is another topic...)
posted by bookmammal at 7:58 AM on January 24 [8 favorites]

No offense, but you might be slightly overthinking this. When I got one of these jobs after ten years of office work, I had the same questions. I finally realized that I couldn’t predict how it would go and started just showing up at a bunch of places that I thought I could work at and filling out applications. What seemed to make the difference for me was asking when the hiring manager would be in and coming back then. They looked at my resume for like 12 seconds, interviewed me on the spot, case closed. Good luck!
posted by slidell at 8:07 AM on January 24 [7 favorites]

Is it possible for you to work remotely from home? Search engine evaluation companies like Lionsbridge (Lionbridge?) hire people with college degrees for work to be performed remotely. Alternatively, maybe consider how to prep for remote tutoring or remote client support roles. They each have their requirements and it’s hard to say if one would be a good fit, but they might get around some of the difficulties you’re picturing with retail or service jobs.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:11 AM on January 24

A retired friend with a Master's degree and so much experience is working at Starbucks. He spoke to a manager when he handed in the application, said, I have good work skills and I'm reliable. I've had jobs below my qualifications, and just said My focus is not on career advancement right now; I want to do good work in a good environment. A lot of people are unemployed, but smarter managers recognize that it's all about employees who show up, do the work, make things run smooothly. When I was young I was always asked how I'd get along with older workers, now it's the reverse, and, boomer or not, I have always felt like I'm the wrong age and fuck it. I find that an unspoken but mental attitude of I'm a wonderful employee, anyone would be nuts not to hire me helps. Just go apply, tons of places looking for workers, and getting hired is a numbers game.

Ask your landlord, kid's teacher, or anybody to simply be a reference that you are who you say you are and seem to be honest and not an asshole. For me, explaining work gaps was more problematic, and I just said I was taking care of an ill family member. true enough.

Customers. I'm a customer service ninja. Be cheerful, as sincerely as possible. It takes energy, but a warm Hello, how can I help you avoids a lot of customer crankiness. Read up on which places are least awful to staff, Starbucks used to have a good reputation, don't know about other places.

If you can learn to bartend, it's a good job, and bar managers need honest, reliable staff, as there is a lot of theft, no-shows, drama in bars and restaurants. I can't do it because my hearing is crap, but have friends for whom it's a good gig.
posted by theora55 at 8:18 AM on January 24 [10 favorites]

My local grocery store (Acme, part of Albertson's) is constantly advertising for employees. They are also union, so the pay is well above minimum wage. There are probably a variety of positions, and the lack of interaction with the newer checkers has struck me recently. Perhaps there are many people who have sought jobs who are not comfortable with lots of customer service. Yesterday my checker didn't say more than 5 words to me. Last month, though, my pleasant and talkative checker disclosed that she had shsut down her small business employing historic interpreters at Independence National Park, which had shut down its buildings, but she made more money and had benefits at Acme. All sorts of people there, and many part-time jobs, too.

On a side note, or maybe not so aside, in the early days of the pandemic I did see a few people with their masks pulled down, but no longer. Lots of sanitizing going on and every single person, employee or not, was 100% masked.
posted by citygirl at 8:38 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

If you don't need a job tomorrow you have time to spend a few weeks doing volunteer work to get references.

Think in terms of any work you can do that is helpful to a community, where there is someone there permanent enough that they can vouch for you. Examples would be if you were a moderator on a site, or a contributor to a wiki, if you showed up faithfully to do dining room set up for a community supper every week, if you organized the on line auctions for fund raising for a community org, you were walking dogs for your local rescue and doing the vet runs, tutoring students on line, etc. References do not need to be a supervisory type, although that is preferable, but can be fellow volunteers who will stress your work ethic and social skills and reliability.

Another source of references is the personal reference, not nearly as good as a work reference but still helpful. Your bank manager or dentist used to be able to do these, but you can also get them from friends or relatives who have a different last name and are a couple of removes from you, like cousins. These are people who can state "I have known anonymous for * years and they are reliable, friendly, energetic and dedicated. Anonymous is a wonderful parent, quick to learn new skills, adaptable and hard-working," or some such variation on the theme.
posted by Jane the Brown at 9:07 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

Just wanted to add a +1 to department stores - my mom got a job at one after being a stay-at-home mom for 20 years (which she became after having immigrated from overseas). She worked with a lot of women around her age, made a ton of friends and worked her way up to a position she really enjoyed until retirement.
posted by thebots at 11:48 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]

Look into Target, Wal-mart, Kohl's....they're hiring, I've seen the signs. And as someone else upthread said, since you've been out of the workforce for so long, companies will take verification from others in your community who can say "this person is dependable" and "this person is a decent human". They understand and work with people who have had long workforce breaks.

You may also want to sign up with temp agencies. They also deal with people who have had long workforce breaks...and they'll do all the networking for you, so that takes one huge thing off of your plate. That may not be the solution that you want for the next several years, but it'll give you recent successful work experience as well as income.

Create a LinkedIn profile. There's an awful lot of activity on LinkedIn - having a LinkedIn profile, even if it's not a "ripe for headhunting" profile, will get you noticed and will be something to point to.
posted by Tailkinker to-Ennien at 11:50 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]

1. Figure how much money you need and how many hours you want to work.
2. List the skills you had prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom. List the skills you have gained since then. You HAVE gained skills during this time, you just have to think through what they are and label them in a way that appeals to employers.
3. Brush up your appearance as needed to look healthy, fit and well-groomed. Not fancy, just not down at the heels.
4. Apply with temp agencies that staff whatever kind of organization you used to work for. If they offer you work right away, take it. This will get you references. It will also get you money while you figure where to get a job paying more money.
5. Make a list of the largest employers in your area. Apply for any job with those organizations. The purpose is to get a foot in the door, then move up with training provided on the job by the employer. For example, any large hospital or health system, level 1 trauma center, etc., will have entry level jobs for cleaners, sitters (who sit in the rooms of fall risk patients or brain injury patients), phone operators, patient transporters, medical records clerks, etc. If you get one of those jobs you can move up to x-ray tech or such with a few months of additional training, which in my area the employer pays for and pays the tech to take. The jobs with some kind of certification or license pay real money, and require surprisingly little additional training. Any large organization is going to have these career paths already mapped out. Second example: local government jobs.
6. Check your local community colleges for reentry-type retraining where they help you develop the skill and provide a pipeline to the employers. One example is EMT training, which is a few months and the pay is likely to be above minimum wage, with benefits.
7. Costco, HomeDepot, grocery stores (especially those with unions) hire those reentering the workforce and don't act like you are a less valuable employee for being older and having your recent work experience be unpaid. These are better options than food service.
8. Amazon warehouses are pretty much always hiring, but I never heard of anyone who enjoyed working there.
9. Employers are going to want to know you have reliable transportation, the ability to show up on time and ready to work, and the willingness and ability to learn their system of doing things, quickly. A certain enthusiasm about going back to work outside the home goes a long way to assuring employers that you will be a cheerful and reliable worker once hired.
10. I suggest you avoid eldercare or in-home care. This is low-paid, depressing, physically taxing work where you could get hurt. It is the ultimate customer service job, and your customer is not going to be happy because they are sick and in pain. Better to just hire out to a cleaning agency.

Best wishes with your search!
posted by KayQuestions at 1:57 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]

Worth noting that the OP never specifies their gender. Some people are assuming this is a mom, but we don't know that for sure. With some of these job suggestions, like working with kids, it could be a bit more challenging for a middle-age man to find work than it would be for a middle-age woman. (I'm not saying this is right or good, just that gender-based stereotypes can have an effect on the jobs that people can get.)

If you can work from home, I would strongly suggest making that happen. My journalism career imploded years ago and I found myself suddenly working a front-facing healthcare job as the oldest employee, and it was grim. Nothing like being surrounded by zippy 22-year-olds to make you feel like the oldest person in the world, and then they already know how to do everything and you're this creaky, slow person trying to catch up and pleading for help. Admittedly healthcare is a different beast than retail, but you really don't want to be the Old Newbie if you can help it.

Regardless of your gender, jobs like delivery and security may be a better fit for you than folding shirts at The Gap. At least then you probably won't be surrounded by kids endlessly nattering about BTS. I don't know much about gig economy jobs, Uber and so forth, but I'd suggest looking into those. Depending on how much cash you need, you might get by OK. I've heard so many horror stories about working for Amazon, I wouldn't try them.

If you have a few months before you need to get a job you can use this time to volunteer in ways that will build up your resume and references. During Covid a lot of organizations would probably be happy to have a volunteer work from home, making calls or doing office stuff. If you can use your college degree in any way, do so. Ideally you could get a WFH gig that builds on your degree, which was presumably something you were interested in.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:50 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

Temp agencies are a good place to start. Many will give you various skills test and then place you based on how well you do on their tests and not on formal experience.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:18 PM on January 24 [5 favorites]

Yep, temp agencies, done that twice and both times I was assigned a longish term job by the end of the day or the next.

For a couple other "I just need a job" sort of things. Back in the day it was classified ads or such and walking in to ask for an application. I had not learned to (or even thought about) lying about experience on the application forms.

Night stocking at a fru-fru grocery store. I had the extracts and tinctures and dry herbs and magic pills section. Really just being able to show up was enough, being an adult with brains made the job of unpacking some boxes, counting things, putting them in their proper place, changing prices. The 8 hour shift could be done in 4 and you got to listen to blaring good music, eat the expiring things from the deli, take home mystery blend of coffee that spilled out of the self serve bins. Easy, fun.

Then the bagel factory where they also take any warm body. They actually said "you're over qualified for this job" and I told them I was an eccentric genius who just needed work to pay the bills so I had free time to pursue my computer hobbies and wanted a brain-dead easy job so I could think about other things. You could see the bagel makers through the windows, most were wearing headphones and doing their own things while just cutting dough and running it through the machine and plopping the bagels that came out onto sheetpans and rolling them into the freezer. Dead simple high turnover half-a-brain warm body don't really care if you leave after a month job. I ended up becoming the mixmaster, coming in at 4am and working with the boss to set things up for the day and start running through batches until the rest came in later and then leaving before noon. They ended up paying be a big cash bonus under the table for solving one of their problems because I'm a (smart, degree, over-qualified) eccentric genius who told them they were doing something wrong and my way was better and saved them so much money by fixing that they just gave me lots of money. Even they were fine when I left, a good (excellent dare I say) warm body that can do basic skills and not be a flake.

Don't be afraid to just find something you're over-qualified for that you think might be enjoyable for a while and perfectly within your abilities. I'd just say that there are better options than service or fast-food sorts of things where it's just fine because you have one specific task to do that they need a body for. And in the end, they probably might think they're getting a good deal by hiring an adult who really knows they need the money and the job is less worse than the other bits of previous jobs.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:21 PM on January 24 [6 favorites]

Hej! I work in retail and we love older applicants for coworker jobs! Look for retail where some knowledge is important— home furnishing, home improvement, etc.
posted by frumiousb at 10:03 PM on January 24 [1 favorite]

I realized that I was far too negative in my last comment, and I'm worried I might just increase your anxiety about the prospect of going back to work as a middle-aged person.

The stuff that I wrote was true, but it's also true that I learned a lot on that job, I grew to really like some of my co-workers and I think they liked me too. That job was a really weird situation, profoundly taxing mentally, physically and emotionally. I was touching the bodies of strangers in pain, cleaning up their pee and trying to offer them whatever kindness I could, all while my life at home was in chaos and I was experiencing the symptoms of what turned out to be cancer. I had an endless commute and half the week I was getting up before dawn and the other half the week I was working nights, so I was just exhausted all the time. In other words this was a world away from what you'd be likely to experience working retail part-time!

I'd still suggest trying to make a WFH situation happen and doing whatever you can to make this a job you enjoy instead of something you're doing purely for survival. But please don't pay too much attention to my rant about the horrors of being the "old newbie." I was being a grouch.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:20 AM on January 25

Temp agency! Do you have basic computer skills (Word, Excel)? Good organizational or writing skills (from your question is say you have the latter)? You have a college degree- don't sell yourself short. Look for temp agencies who specialize in office staff. Lots of jobs in reception, admin, data entry, HR etc that are likely a step up from the 'survival jobs' you are currently thinking of.
posted by emd3737 at 3:30 AM on January 25 [3 favorites]

My local library pays pages to re-shelve books and pick our requests. Even with only curb-side service, the books still com e in and go out -- even more than pre-COVID!

Usually it's teen-agers doing the work, but I suspect that a lot of them are home these days, so maybe your town needs pages?
posted by wenestvedt at 6:34 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]

I just saw that the state of Rhode Island will be offering tutoring through the Khan Academy-backed web site

They don't pay on a schedule, but you post your PayPal -- which sounds like .edu busking, I guess. If you can explain topics that you know about, it might be a passive income stream while you also find an hourly job.

I think you make videos explaining things, which students can watch, and not one-on-one work. (Though I could be wrong.)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:48 AM on January 25

I help with hiring at a niche retail store, and we honestly don't look at resume/job history - it all comes down to "does this person seem reliable and trainable and can they interact with other people in an appropriate way that doesn't leave anyone feeling uncomfortable?" We also don't call references, though we do run a background check. I am not much of a people person, and spent 10 months working a cash register. It was not nearly as miserable as I expected it to be - the vast majority of customers were kind and interesting, and because the stuff we sell is entirely discretionary, it was generally very low-pressure. Put in some applications!
posted by coppermoss at 6:59 AM on January 25 [1 favorite]

Your state or country may still be looking for contact tracers, and from I've seen, it looks like they train you for the job.
posted by carrienation at 9:23 AM on January 25 [3 favorites]

Just a note that I can think of many people at the retail and food industry jobs I worked who were much older than the typical employee, I'd say it's commonplace in my experience. For reference, these were barista and bookstore jobs. These folks were often tight with the managers but great to work around, a mix of responsible and kind to younger inexperienced folks like me.
posted by moons in june at 11:10 AM on January 25

My place is hiring for medical receptionists at the moment, and your resume sounds like what we look for. Some customer service, but in a fairly straightforward way, some computer skills, and opportunities to progress to a practice manager / medical billing?
posted by quercus23 at 4:05 PM on January 26

In addition to the job search, you might consider signing up to do paid user studies on your free time. The idea is that some companies have products that need to be tested out before they are released to the general public. People are recruited to provide feedback on these products, and are compensated with money or with gift cards. The pay can vary quite a bit ($10/hour at a university to $50/hour or more in the private sector).

Here are some links I found from a quick Google search: Terms to search for are "paid research study," " user study," and "focus group." Amazon Mechanical Turk is another service where you can get paid for helping out in user studies, but is infamous for its low pay.
posted by tickingclock at 1:56 AM on January 27 [1 favorite]

If your kid/s have been in school, have you interacted with their classrooms or teachers? Either volunteering or even just bringing in things when requested or helping out with projects. I got several teacher references when I started working outside the home again. Even just knowing you a little can be enough to be willing to be a reference. It's worth asking.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:35 PM on January 29

If you're in the US, the Census Bureau is hiring people to be field reps for a housing survey this summer. They hired me for a different job a year ago and I'd been out of the work force a long time. The field rep job doesn't pay well and is part-time, but it's something.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:20 PM on January 30

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