People ask me this question a lot: If it’s such a good job market for young people then why can’t I find a good job?
The answer is that there are tons of really bad jobs being offered. For all the talk of flexibility in the workplace, very few companies are actually offering engaging jobs with flexible hours. You usually have to pick one or the other.
But many people are looking for special setups with a job – for example you need a lot of flexibility so you can write a novel, or you have no idea what you want to be doing and you want time to think but you don’t want to starve, or you only want to work for six months before you travel in east Asia.
Each of these circumstances screams: Retail. Or some version of a bad job that is similar to retail.
When I graduated from college the job market was terrible, so I have a lot of experience in retail jobs (and getting fired from them). So I thought I’d give you a primer on how to select a job from a smorgasbord of terrible jobs offers.
Get the word on the street
There’s tons of gossip about what it’s like at brand-name entry-level jobs. If you want to train during the day for the Olympics, work at Home Depot. It’s their specialty. If you have big medical issues work at Starbucks. Even people working part-time are sometimes eligible for their great benefits.
Alex Frankel wrote Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee. He spent two years working in the service sector and he gives the low-down on each of the big name brand stores that he worked at. And there’s a preview in Fast Company this month, which I will summarize.
Gap: Bad. Endless shirt-folding.
Apple: Good. Great employee education process.
The Container Store: Picky. You’d better love their product if you’re applying for a job.
Conduct your own interview
Look, it’s not like the service sector is overflowing with applications. Even though you are looking at dead-end jobs, you are still in high demand. This is still an employee-driven job market. So leverage your demographic luck and turn the tables on the interviewer. Conduct your own behavioral interview to determine if the manager at the terrible job will be good. (Note: If don’t know what a behavioral interview is, click here. If you want to know how to ace one yourself, click here.)
Kronos is a firm that teaches retail businesses how to hire good managers. Steve Hunt is from the talent management division of Kronos, and he says that the best way to tell if your manager will be good is to understand how the manager got hired. The company should have a clear set of guidelines for evaluating management candidates and the company should hire managers. Hunt recommends that you ask how the company measures and evaluates a manager’s people skills. How your manager answer this question can tell you a lot about how serious they are about making sure their managers aren’t jerks.
If all the jobs are lame, pick a mentor who is good.
I used to work for Esther Williams – the bathing suit beauty queen who was still sending a headshot from 1950 even in 1995. Well, actually it was I who was sending the headshot, since signing her autograph was my job. It was a great job because I was playing beach volleyball all day, trying to get on the professional tour, and I could deal with Esther’s fan mail at night.
It sounds fun, maybe, to people who like reading sappy letters from lecherous men, but signing the autographs was no walk in the park: She was always telling me to make her E loopier. But there was a redeeming quality about the job, and that was that Esther is a marketing genius. And I learned a lot from her about how to build a brand. This is when I realized that it’s not the job that matters but what knowledge the person you work for can share with you.