How To Find a Solid Career For A Better Life

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being stuck in a dead end job:

I am 21, working a low-paid part-time job trying to support my disabled fiance and one year old daughter. I’m looking for a better job with good career prospects, but seem to be under-qualified or experienced for everything available despite having five jobs. I don’t have the available time or money to give up my job and go to university or undertake volunteer work. It is becoming clearer that I might be stuck in a dead end job for the rest of my life and I am looking for ways to achieve a good career. Any advice is appreciated.

Signed, Desperate

Dear Desperate:

The good news for you is that at age 21 you have time and youth on your side in finding a job-field or career in which you can be successful. You can certainly empathize with those who are much older and trying to change careers or find better employment. However, that good news isn’t much help when you need more salary and want to get settled into a job or career so you can be certain about supporting a spouse and child.I have some thoughts to share, but wanted to start with this first: You had titled your question, “Looking for a better life.” That is not necessarily the same thing as looking for a better job. I know that a job is crucial for living independently and well, but I also want to urge you to spend some time on developing a lifestyle that is admirable, honest, respectable, caring and that contributes to others.You can go to any store or amusement and see people of all ages who look shoddy, talk trashy, act cheap and raise their children to be the same way.

You are still young enough to develop habits that are fine quality not low level. Give your daughter and the sons and daughters you may have in the future, something to aspire to, whatever your job may be. Monitor yourself for a few days and ask yourself if what you are doing is getting you where you want to be in your overall life. If it doesn’t contribute to a bright future, eliminate it or cut back seriously.The first step is associating with people who reflect the kind of person you want to be. That’s why many people participate in places of worship, join organizations or develop a network of good quality friends. We really are known by the company we keep.

But more importantly, we tend to be like the company we keep.When people ask me for help with their work I nearly always have them start with improving their housekeeping, fitness, health and relationships. The old adage is true, “If you want a tidy garden, you don’t reserve a plot for weeds.” So, if you want a better life, have a better life AND look for a better job.Consider some of the following as you’re developing a plan of action.1. You may find some career and job assistance at your state’s Department of Labor.

Some provide brief counseling and information about what jobs require pre-trained applicants compared to those that provide training.

*Some cities have job fairs in which employers come to large centers and have booths where they give out applications.

*Some universities also have job fairs, open to anyone, and the jobs don’t always require a degree; in fact, many of them don’t, even though a degree might be good.

2. You may need to expand your options for what kind of work you can see yourself doing throughout your life. Often, until you’ve been hired, you don’t even realize what you’re suited for or what you enjoy doing. I know dozens of people who had no idea they’d like their work so well and now they’re very glad they stumbled into a career that has been perfect for them.

*You may also need to have a better long-term view. Sometimes an entry level job isn’t what you’d want to do forever, but if it’s the practice to start everyone there, then move them to other work after training, you may want to take the job, knowing you’ll be doing more interesting work later. Don’t, however, take a job that you dislike, based only on the hope that one day you will move up or out of that one. There are always more people to fill the higher levels than there are openings, so you could be very disappointed down the line.

3. Consider professional and career positions that pay you to train. I hesitate to mention these next two careers because they require more than just wanting a job, they require dedication and commitment.However, public safety jobs do provide training and are wonderful careers for many people. That can include police, sheriff’s offices, firefighters, public safety dispatch and others. There is shift work and holidays required and it’s a paramilitary environment, so they aren’t suited for everyone. Certainly you wouldn’t want to take a job like that, then fight the work situation all the time.If you would consider public safety work, you might also consider private security work. But, you would be better off trying for the public position; the pay, status and satisfaction is usually much better over a career. However, private security is nearly always hiring, so it can be a good short-term job.Of course, there are other fields that train on the job, I just mentioned those two because I’m familiar with them.

4. You say you have a part time job. Have you ever considered a Temp Agency? I know several people who have found great work through a temporary job. Often temporary jobs are used primarily to test potential employees. I also know a couple of people who have pretty much worked full time in temporary positions of all kinds, for years. The problem is in having benefits such as health insurance; clearly something you need.

5. According to where you went to school and if you still live in that area, consider paying a visit to the Career Counselor at your former high school, even though it might feel strange to do so at your age. Often they have lists of area businesses and industry that are hiring and seeking applicants. If you have a courteous and obviously committed approach, the counselor may be willing to give you some time and materials.

6. Have you considered joining the military? You would have training opportunities and the potential for a long-term career. According to how you test you are offered various areas of work. The important thing is to not agree to anything that isn’t written down as a solid promise. A recruiter will often promise this or that assignment, but not really mean it and later you find out you’re not going to be doing what you expected.If your father or an older, savvy friend is available to go with you, they can often help ensure you are clear about what assignment you can expect after basic training.I realize the rigors of the military aren’t for everyone or even many. But, it is an option for many and it isn’t the same as it was decades ago. I also can see that there might be a lot of adjustments for your wife and child until you are through basic training, but perhaps family can be a support during that time.

7. Those first six thoughts are just ways for you to expand your thinking about the kind of work you want. The biggest challenge is being hired. That usually starts with the application and the interview; and that is where most young people, especially young men, lose out. They don’t present themselves well and they aren’t prepared to be interviewed. So, they just become one of a large group of mediocre applicants and get passed over for hiring.The key to a successful interview isn’t to read books with sample questions and learn tricks for answering in some magical way.

The key is to have good verbal skills (speak smoothly, clearly, with confidence and in a way that shows energy and enthusiasm), to know what the job involves and be able to explain that you are ready to do it, and to demonstrate that you are mature and have value.Space here doesn’t allow me to give you a full set of instructions about being interviewed, but let me give you a few basics:

(1.) Know as much as you can about the basics of the job so you can understand the questions and be ready for some answers. Refer to what you have learned, “I looked at your website”, “I’ve been reading about the company.” “I read that this business is 45 years old, so I know it’s stable.”Employers like knowing that an applicant cares enough to find out about the job ahead of time. Most applicants don’t!

(2.) From the moment you drive up until you are driving away, you may be being observed, so be presenting yourself with a smile, good eye contact, a clear manner of speaking and confidence, all the time.I often say, “Every day is a new job interview.” That means, every day is a chance to sell yourself as a valuable employee. So, while you’re at your current work, act as though you’re having to show your potential all the time. It’s great practice for an interview; and also might help you do better and gain a better reference.

(3.) Be prepared with a short (one to two minutes or so) statement about yourself and your work so far. Make it a brief but solid statement. It might not seem as though you’ve been doing anything that prepares you for the job you seek, but there always is something if you only think about it.Identify the traits and skills you think will be needed in the new job and look at your former work to see how you have had to use those some traits and skills. Spend some time on that project, to make sure you “mine” the information that you need. Include some of that into your personal statement instead of just talking about yourself and stopping . Also,sprinkle it throughout your interview. For example, you might say that you graduated from high school and went to work for ABC Company for six months. Then they downsized, so you left there and went to work for DEF Company where you have worked part time since then. THEN you say, “Both of those jobs involved having to work with people in situations that could cause conflicts. I learned to work around that and get along with everyone. That’s a trait I would apply here, if I’m hired. I also formed good work habits of being on time, not taking sick time and showing self-initiative. I learned to be a very dependable employee and I always will be. That’s one reason I’m so interested in working here at XYZ Company, because your website talked about having employees who work as a team to be successful. I know I could be a good team member and I’d like the opportunity to be part of this team.”

I think you can see that the example sounds much better than stopping after, “And I’ve worked at my current job for two years. I guess that’s about all I have to tell you” You don’t have to be a great speech maker to speak from the heart and show enthusiasm and energy. If you could hear most applicants, they sound as though they don’t care if they get the job and you can’t picture them being interesting, intelligent or even personable. When someone comes in with the basic qualifications and can sell themselves, they automatically look much better than anyone else.

(4.) Develop references who will speak well about you, both in your current work and outside of work. Often applicants just give names without telling their references about it or asking for a specific kind of reference.For example, if you have a pastor, neighbor, doctor, former supervisor, teacher, etc. listed, contact them and tell them the kind of traits and skills the job is looking for. Remind them of anything you’d like them to be sure to mention, that they may have seen you do or that they know about you.Often reference sources just reply to questions when they could volunteer positive information. Or, they volunteer information you’d rather they hadn’t!

(5.) Have courage; be encouraged not discouraged; but realize that every decision you make and every action you take, will have an effect on your future. You have made some life choices already that will make a difference in your life. Those are done and over with and you may be happy you made them. However, think carefully about future life choices because eventually you won’t be able to overcome the weight of many negative ones or those that severely limit you.As I said at the beginning, the good news is that you have youth, hopefully good health, energy and time on your side. Even when it seems you don’t have a penny to save, save a penny. Don’t buy one item you don’t need to survive and at least you’ll maybe be able to avoid being so financially burdened you can’t concentrate on other things.

Think of your daughter and your partner and set goals for what kind of life you want the three of you to have. Build it around your relationships with each other first, then a decent lifestyle, then a job to make living that lifestyle possible.Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how things develop.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.