What must I do to acquire a decent entry-level job?
June 7, 2006 6:20 AM   Subscribe

I need to find some sort of long-term employment that will put me on my way to establishing financial independence from my family and also provide me with meaningful work experience. This is made difficult as I am eighteen, I only have a GED, and my resume leaves much to be desired. I do not have any prior work or volunteer experience, and nepotism is not an option. Most will probably scoff at how vague and scatterbrained this post is, but I am feeling incredibly lost. What should I be doing?
posted by davidriley to Work & Money (32 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Get a job with a company that has a sincere "Promote From Within" policy. UPS is greatly known for this; *everyone* starts at the line level, flipping packages, and then tets promoted through driver's assistant and driver up into management. Pretty much any distribution center or trade environment is like this, but UPS is probably the best option I can think of that'll provide meaningful income right away. (The other options start at minimum wage most of the time.)

If you got your GED from a community college in your area, you could probably contact their job center for some reccomendations.
posted by SpecialK at 6:24 AM on June 7, 2006

Don't wait around for the pefect job to come along. Take any job to start off. Work at McDonald's. Get a retail job. Do manual labor. Just get out there and WORK so you have money coming in and experience you can point to in the future. THEN, once you've been working for a few months, start to think about what line of work you really want to be in. If you wait around for the "perfect" job to come along, it never will.
posted by cosmicbandito at 6:29 AM on June 7, 2006

You can also look into JobCorps if you're interested in learning a trade.
posted by Gable Oak at 6:32 AM on June 7, 2006

I'm only familiar with Canadian programs, so this may be of limited help, but if you can find yourself a trade apprenticeship that combines work and education for a few years, that can be very lucrative. A friend of mine got his electrician papers by apprenticing while taking community collage courses. It took him three years, during which he was paid modestly. He graduated with no debt and a $40k/yr job.

Are there any public or non-profit job counselling services in your area? In mine the government offers special services to jobseekers under 24. It might be worth looking into such programs, where you could get resume help, skills assessment, and a sense of what options are available to you.

The Department of Workforce Development looks like a good place to start. It seems that they offer many services in their career centers and online.
posted by carmen at 6:42 AM on June 7, 2006

Costco is supposed to be a good place to work too. I second the advice of getting some kind of apprenticeship where you learn a trade that pays well.

My brother, who knew someone, got a job at Union Pacific, who is hiring like 5k people right now. His "apprentice" salary the same as my salary after ten years of graduate school.

Go back to school if you can. There's money out there for this if you look around. Student loans can be worth it.
posted by mecran01 at 6:47 AM on June 7, 2006

I second getting any old job for the experience. But make the job work for you too. Don't just punch the clock. Go over and above your job duties. Ask questions. Learn the business. Offer to take on extra projects if possible. If it's a retail gig, ask to work the register, and the stocking, and the receiving, and security. If it's a fast food gig, you can practice your customer service skills. Make friends with your managers, not as a way to suck up, but in a way that they will think of you in a good way when planning promotions or other personnel changes.

Since you didn't mention it, I'm assuming you don't have any particular responsibilities like a child to support. You can make your youth and flexibility work for you by being open to anything.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:02 AM on June 7, 2006

I've liked computers my whole life. I dropped out of high school and got my GED. And I worked a number of shitty computer jobs since I was 16. I'm now, 10 years later, pretty comfortable, and going back to school.

What do you like to do? You'll have to pay your dues one way or another. Might as well be something you enjoy. I'll also second the suggestion about taking a job, any job. I worked at a car wash before I got my first tech job. I don't know that the company would have taken a chance on me if I wasn't already gainfully employed.

While nepotism may not be an option for you (it isn't, for most of us), it never hurts to have stellar references. This goes hand in hand with taking any job and making the most of it for the time being.

School is well worth it. If you're going to go into debt for it, do it on the cheap (AS/AA at community college, first).
posted by kableh at 7:07 AM on June 7, 2006

Apply for installation jobs with your local cable or telephone company (Verizon, Comcast, etc). These are union jobs with good wages, and they'll train you to do a highly technical job (mad skillz, yo!). I know Comcast also offers some educational reimbursement benefits, so you might be able to pursue a higher ed degree later on.

And I second the UPS and Costco ideas. There's also the US Postal Service.
posted by junkbox at 7:07 AM on June 7, 2006

I'll third the job experience. You're way too young to be thinking about a career. Get any job. McDonalds, Walmart, pumping gas--it doesn't matter. Once you have a job focus only on what you can take from the job to your next, better job. This means giving 110%, staying late, getting in your bosses' confidence so he'll either promote you or write you a glowing recommendation. Focus on the skills you learn, particularly if your job involves selling things to people. Unless money is tight, you don't have to work a job you hate. If you hate a job then quit. (You should give everything a chance, at least three or four weeks). Keep a list of jobs you hate and what you hate about them. This will come in handy later when you want to start thinking about your career.

I will say that you should also strongly consider college. Community college, whatever--having that degree will open a lot of doors and, who knows, you might even learn something.
posted by nixerman at 7:17 AM on June 7, 2006

I second the UPS (FedEx, too, I think) suggestion, in terms of immediate-term independence. Both have some kind of internal-promotions meritocracy, both have plenty of opportunities, at least around here (Minnesota), for college students (ie, lots of flexibility in hours—which, though geared towards the full class-loads and hours of homework that make college students available for 10pm-3am shifts but not 10am-3pm, means that you can get a second job), and both offer some kind of health care insurance at/near entry-level positions.

Or you can do student loans and college. :-)

Leaving out some of the details, I dropped out of high school, and got my GED.
Turns out school had long been hell for me because of an undiagnosed learning disability, but, for whatever reason, there I was.
I got a couple of A’s from a nearby community college’s summer courses, figured out how to cope with being allergic to schoolwork, and applied to nearby colleges (only because they, and no other colleges, would be familiar with the community college and its courses).
One of them took a chance on me, and, importantly for my advice, now I have a beautiful-looking transcript. That part’s key, because once you have a college’s papertrail-endorsement that you’re headed in the right direction and are consistently doing things well, you can take a huge chunk out of what you would have to borrow for tuition and etc by applying for scholarships.
posted by Yeomans at 7:20 AM on June 7, 2006

If college is on your radar, you might try getting a job at a big University, and taking advantage of tuition benefits to get your education started. These types of benefits vary from school to school, but large state universities tend to have the best deals on benefits like this.
posted by j-dawg at 7:20 AM on June 7, 2006

USPS isn’t meritocratic, from what I’ve heard—not like UPS or FedEx, because of union labor-contracts that reward seniority, etc.

That may vary by state though; I’ve only heard from USPS, UPS, FedEx, and DHL* workers in Minnesota. YMMV

*I’ve yet to hear a single positive review from a DHL employee. Ever.
posted by Yeomans at 7:27 AM on June 7, 2006

If you want to make a lot of money as a young person, I second mecran01's post about the Union Pacific. They are always hiring. The work is tough, but you can get a really nice paycheck out of it. Contact your UTU local office to see if they can help you out.
posted by rabbitsnake at 7:29 AM on June 7, 2006

I'm sorry I can't give exact recommendations, other than to work your way up the ladder. Within about two years, I went from a $7/hour job to 30k/year - mostly because I was a hard worker, and I earned a lot of trust at those $7 jobs that I could then parley. You'll probably start with a crap job; don't worry. Something better will come along in three months.
posted by kalimac at 7:41 AM on June 7, 2006

Check out some local temp agencies. You never know what they'll match you up with.

At 18, I was working construction. I only had a GED, so I assumed I wasn't going to get anything other than construction work. One day, I went to a temp agency (Manpower to be exact).
The application asked if I knew anything about computers (to which I said yes). They promptly offered me a job at IBM doing bottom rung tech support for $6.50 an hour (which was a small fortune to me then). I'm 15 years in and have built a solid career in technology from that door.
posted by zerokey at 7:42 AM on June 7, 2006

Take a job in almost any retail or fast food place, chain restaurant, work like the devil, and volunteer for more responsibility. Always be willing to work, do any job, learn and master any task. You'll move up so fast it'll make your head swim.

Good luck!
posted by cptnrandy at 8:20 AM on June 7, 2006

Do some research. Find out who the largest employers are in your state, region or city. Large employers have a variety of jobs, so even if you start on a loading dock, or grounds crew, you'll be able to move into better jobs. Go to the nearest Job Center, and ask to meet with someone who can help you put together a simple resume, and teach you how to fill out applications.

Employers want you to be reliable and hard-working. Get a job, any job, and work hard and be reliable. Be the person who's always on time, ready to work, ready to have fun getting the job done, i.e., not complaining non-stop. You could think of a fast food job as a training job, just to get some practice.
posted by theora55 at 8:40 AM on June 7, 2006

Move to Las Vegas and go to dealer school. It only lasts about two weeks and then you can get a job as a dealer in a casino. I have had 2 of my brothers and 1 sister-in-law do this. The pay mostly comes from tips, but it is amazing how consistent they are. My brother recently quit as a dealer at the Golden Nugget and he was making 40-50K per year. My sister-in-law was working at the Bellagio for awhile and was making over 60K. The downside is that the best shifts are in the evening. However, Vegas is a 24 hour town.

I will say that people's advice above to try and work for the phone and cable companies is also quite good. I just moved and my cable installer told me he will make at least 50K this year.
posted by bove at 8:58 AM on June 7, 2006

I agree with the idea of trying to get in at the ground level with a corporation with a reputation for treating it's employees well.

I'm a 27 year Fed Ex employee. Started when I was 19 loading aircraft at the Memphis hub. I've been a salaried regulatory advisor for almost 20 years now. It's been a fantastic experience for me. Back in the early years when we were small I might have shown up even if they didn't pay me. It's a huge corporation now and I wouldn't show up for free but I have no complaints.

Part-timers get almost identical benefits to what a fulltime management or staff employee gets. In many situations their education benefits are better. I believe UPS is similar (worked there for 6 months but that was just before I went to Fed Ex).
posted by Carbolic at 9:05 AM on June 7, 2006

I have to disagree with the UPS suggestions. Off the top of my head I can name five close friends that are or were recently employed by UPS and they all say exactly the same thing. It is nearly impossible to be promoted to a comfortable position. Typically you enter into a part time job working "the line", loading trucks, etc. Really just hot sweaty manual labor. After several (or many months depending on the facility) you are often promoted to a supervisor. This is NOT as glamorous as it sounds. Basically you get to lead a section of the line consisting of several other workers. The manual labor goes down some, the pay goes up some but it is still a part time position. Here's the kicker. I know of no one who has been able to make the tranistion from part time to full time. NO ONE. I know many who have tried. Even my ex-roommate who worked for the company for close to six years was systematically turned down. From what i can gather, they promote quick just to tease you into staying there for longer than perhaps you should. Maybe this is not how it always is but my friends are not lazy slobs by any means and the results have been universal (In two different facilities). What I'm saying is don't get roped into UPS thinking it will quickly grow into a fruitful career.
posted by Evan Gaffney at 9:05 AM on June 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

USPS isn’t meritocratic


it's based on exams. an exam to get in. an exam to promote. high scorers get the job and the promotion. usps employees tend to be better educated than other delivery services.

the union stuff just keeps you from getting screwed in the job you are in.

btw, ups is a union shop.
posted by 3.2.3 at 9:25 AM on June 7, 2006

Are there any hospitals or health care services near you? They are probably another job category that likes to promote from within. At the hospital where I work, I've seen plenty of cafeteria workers be promoted to admitting clerks, and so on. You could do a lot of stuff in a hospital-- food services, patient transport (people who push the beds around between units), shipping and loading dock, medical records etc. Health Care isn't going anywhere, so there's quite a bit of job security. Once you're in, you can see if it interests you and think about other skilled jobs you can train for, like Radiology Tech, Phlebotomist, EMT, Nursing Aide, etc. A lot of those training programs are taught at community colleges, so they are cheap and geared for people who work days. They are also usually shorter than a 4-year degree. Good Luck!
posted by sarahnade at 9:36 AM on June 7, 2006

I second the temping suggestion. It's a good way to get a foot in the door. A basic knowledge of MS Office and moderate typing ability are the really the only skills you need. And if you don't have those skills, you can pick them up quickly (many temp agencies will even train you for free if you've proven yourself to be reliable). Here's my advice on temping from another askme.
posted by Otis at 10:00 AM on June 7, 2006

Those USPS exams qualify the employee. I meant to say, not that USPS is a union gig and the other carrier/delivery companies are not, but that it is on account of the arrangement that—at least so far as employees I know (Minnesota)—the union has with the USPS.

The difference being, it’s possible (Or what Evan Gaffney said; I’ve only known people looking for odd hours and mentally-low-stress tasks for decent pay. No one I’ve met has made it beyond Supervisor at UPS.) to move through UPS and FedEx meritocratically, but positions in USPS distribution hubs (like the one at the MSP airport here, on Post Rd) are filled through a different formula.
posted by Yeomans at 10:13 AM on June 7, 2006

It looks like you are out in the sticks which doesn't help much. This limits your choices unless you are willing to commute much. For low-end, beginning jobs you may not want to travel too far. Gas costs will eat up most of your pay.

Do some soul searching about what interests you have. Are you technically oriented, good with mechanics, gardening, construction maybe? You might like outdoors work or maybe you feel comfortable with computers and working indoors. You may be strong and like hands-on dirty work or maybe despise exercise and like to be indoors doing typing. I am negatively biased against fast food so would tell you to stay far away from that. But regardless, it helps to have some sort of idea of a direction based on your interests. Since I was a kid, I loved to draw and even did a lot of maps with a friend. I also had an interest in watching construction projects and had Tonka trucks to play with. Now I am a civil engineer and have been a draftsman in the past.

Even at 18, it helps to get a push in the right direction. Unless you are at a dead end and need cash flow fast, you shouldn't just take any job.
posted by JJ86 at 10:35 AM on June 7, 2006

Hey great post, especially as you're only 18! And some fantastic suggestions here but I feel perhaps a little too specific.

Because the most important way to financial independence is not what you do or how much you earn; it's what you keep.

Be frugal, know where every penny goes and relentlessly cut costs. Keep a budget, track outflows against it and cut cut cut costs all the while saving.

I've known plenty of people earning six figure incomes who had absolutely ZERO spare cash, because they spent everything that came their way. And guess what? They were miserable SOB's, because they HAD to work!

I've grew up dirt poor, but acheived financial independence by living as cheaply as possible and saving or otherwise investing the surplus cash. Even now I live in one of London's poorest neighbourhoods solely because it's cheap.

Best of luck!
posted by Mutant at 10:43 AM on June 7, 2006

There is some fantastic advice in this thread, and I have nothing to add from the "how to get a good job" side of things. I just want to toss in a word of warning to avoid acquiring debt. This may seem difficult in your position, but if you can do it, you'll be miles ahead of your peers once you've managed to get your feet on the ground. Your thirty-year-old self will think your eighteen-year-old self if you're able to create a debt-free life.
posted by jdroth at 10:57 AM on June 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Another job to consider is Apartment Leasing Agent. You must be personable, able to learn, and able to learn to sell. Oh, and you absolutely must be at least 18 so you can sign contracts. But if you do well and show any kind of aptitude, you can quickly (within a few years) run up the ranks to Property Manager. With work and some classes you can be a District Supervisor (particularly if you are male. Sorry, sexism exists). It isn't back-breaking, it doesn't involve hair nets or plastic gloves or closing up late at night. It does involve walking around and talking to people and trying to solve problems. Depending on the property there may also be a lot of computer work. If you pay attention you can learn a lot about people, motivation, the plight of the working classes, home maintenance, and real estate.

Oh, and did I mention that a lot of management companies will give full timers discounted rent or a FREE APARTMENT?

Warning: that does mean if you lose your job you lose your home too.
posted by ilsa at 11:44 AM on June 7, 2006

No one's mentioned the military. It may not be the most attractive option, because at the moment the U.S. military will send you somewhere that people will be shooting at you; but they will pay you handsomely for it and give you free, useful training too.

If you're bright and can score high on the aptitude testing, you may even be able to get a decent job with the Navy or Air Force, rather than the "stand around in the 120 degree desert sun in a bulletproof suit" job.
posted by ikkyu2 at 3:16 PM on June 7, 2006

I went through a similar experience. I got a job where I work with a major insurance company. I had one remarkable day which made me see that any work which people find valuable can be rewarding.

I wound up working to assist a husband and wife who had just joined our plan. They were calling to get details on our processes for authorizations and what doctors were in the network. Their reason was that their child, 10 years old, had a condition that would prevent him from living past 21. After 6 major surguries, they knew the next emergency could be the last minutes they got to spend with their son. They did not want to spend those minutes talking to us instead.

They were both incredibly nice and appreciative that I took the time to get them all of the information they could possibly need. I would look in the eyes of any soldier in any army world wide and tell them that these were the 2 bravest people I have ever had the honor of meeting.

Then I went from that job to my night job at a long distance company. There, I was yelled at over a 43 cent charge for a 1 minute call which the person admitted they made. I made the decision then to help the people with the vital needs and not the luxuries. I have not looked back once. With that attitude, I have managed to more than double my salary in my 6 years with the company.

All I had was a BS in English Lit and some retail/call center experience.
posted by slavlin at 3:59 PM on June 7, 2006

but positions in USPS distribution hubs (like the one at the MSP airport here, on Post Rd) are filled through a different formula.

and not a union one. every craft in the usps has a different union. get a different job in usps, change unions. there are 19 unions in the usps.
posted by 3.2.3 at 4:06 PM on June 7, 2006

Nth-ing the "work at McDonalds if you can't get anything else" stuff. Work is work. Go to a temp agency.

But about the long-term job search, the guy who wrote "what colour is your parachute" says that contacting employers, answering ads etc are quite some way down the list of successful job-seeking strategies.

He reckons the number one way to get a job is ask everyone you know, "do you know somewhere I can get a job?".

And the number two was to ask them "OK then, do you know someone else I could ask?".
posted by AmbroseChapel at 4:32 PM on June 7, 2006

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