my parents say I should offer to work for free for a week to prove myself to employers

A reader writes:

I’ve read your posts about working for free (unintentionally) as part of the hiring process as a form of “spec” work for technical jobs, but I think I have a different question to ask in the same neighborhood.

I’m being “advised” by my parents that “five times as many candidates as job openings be damned!” and “Just go up to an employer (who may or may not even have a job opening advertised), tell them you’ll work for them for free for one week and if they’re happy with the job you’re doing, then they should hire you.”

Is this at all a reasonable thing to do? Some of my concerns are:

1. I live 15 miles outside of small college town. Gas obviously costs money, especially if I’m spending every day driving in for unpaid work. Also this prevents me from doing other things during the work week (job hunting, phone calls, being on-call for temp work).

2. I am actively looking for a job, but most of my actual experience is in retail and I’m trying to get more into clerical work (or really just out of the service industry in general). I’m not sure that I’d be impressive without any actual office experience. Sure, a week’s worth of experience at a time would be beneficial, but how would I indicate that?

3. How would (potential) employers react? Is this act better used to get my resume more attention, or after a reasonable amount of time of having no call-back?

4. This kind of aggressive selling is very much out of my comfort zone. Any tips here?

What your parents are suggesting is (1) illegal and (2) unlikely to work anyway.

It’s illegal because it violates minimum wage laws. Employers are required to pay people who do work for them. (There are some exceptions to this, like nonprofits, government agencies, and internships that are carefully structured to meet standards that this proposal wouldn’t.)

But even if that weren’t the case, most employers don’t want to mess around with letting people do a week of work to prove themselves. Bringing on new employees is a major endeavor; it takes an enormous amount of time and energy for training, among other things. Most people are still floundering by the end of the first week. The first week is a loss for the employer most of the time, because they’re investing so much time in getting you up to speed. So the idea of bringing someone on for a week’s trial run is a pretty unappealing proposal, unless that person is already a strong finalist for the job and it’s a role that doesn’t require much acclimation.

Your parents are probably suggesting this because 40 years ago, this was the kind of thing that impressed employers as “gumption.” It doesn’t work today. Things are different.

So you are hereby forbidden from taking job search advice from your parents, who have proved that their knowledge of job searching comes from distant days of yore.

What you should try doing is finding ways to get office experience, because until you do, you’re going to be at a disadvantage when compared to candidates who have it. So: Can you volunteer (for legitimate nonprofits who have real volunteer programs, not for the random businesses your parents want you to solicit)? Temp? Intern? Anything you can do to get office experience on your resume is going to help.

You also need an awesome cover letter.

What you do not need is a time capsule full of moldy advice from several decades ago.

Ignore your parents! They are forbidden from giving you advice.
is my parents’ advice destroying my job search?
more bad job advice from parents

{ 170 comments… read them below }

    1. Eric*

      Really? Your are going to criticize that? Only “spec” and “advised” were single words in quotes. The others were actual quotes from OP’s parents.

      1. OP here*

        In hindsight, I probably could have left the quotes off spec (it was a term that is relatively unfamiliar to me), but “advised” was intended to be a little snarky, I admit.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        Eh, books was a little snarky but I will say that excessive/improper use of quotation marks drives me nuts, and seems to be a generational thing where people use it to emphasize certain words. It’s not a good habit, especially if you want to present yourself professionally. So it might be useful feedback if phrased a little differently.

        1. OP*

          Point taken. Rest assured, the “Elements of Style” and I are quite well-acquainted.

          Have you perhaps seen the “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks? It cures my periodic raging inner-grammar fascism to a more manageable I’m-giving-you-a-look-of-disapproval response.

          1. Katieinthemountains*

            Thanks for the blog recommendation – made my day. My favorite real-life example was a mechanic advertising “quality” repairs.

            1. tcookson*

              My most groan-worthy was a sign offering: Free “Kittens”. It made me wonder, if they weren’t actual kittens, were they, what, tiger cubs?

          1. Cat*

            (Though I am with you on the principle – I recently got an e-mail that started with “Thank you for your ‘strong’ work on this,” and it took me a while to work out that it was supposed to be a compliment.)

        2. Anonymous*

          I hate the quotation marks for “emphasis” less than when people CAPITALIZE some words for SUPER emphasis.

          1. books*

            Sorry not intending to be a jerk, that was my thought of what would happen next and I thought it would be funny!

            1. OfficePrincess*

              I’ll admit that I selectively put certain words in all caps for emphasis, but I promise I leave it to the times it’s truly necessary – like when I’m explaining the proper way to file (ie all pages for a certain item stapled together and everything in numerical order) for the 500th time.

            1. tcookson*

              Me too! Why, just today, I sent an email over my boss’s signature declaring that ” . . . it is expected that ALL faculty will . . . ” do whatever it was he was making me tell them to do.

      1. Almost*

        I wish I could like this comment, i’m about to become a new mommy and my advice already feels redundant. I mean well dammit!

  1. College Career Counselor*

    OP’s parents’ advice is just going to annoy employers, and OP will acquire a reputation as a noodge, particularly in a small college town.

    I second Alison’s advice to find an administrative internship at a nonprofit organization. Make it substantial enough so that you will actually learn something about the organization (and acquire some office/admin skills), but still have room in your schedule for paid work.

    If OP is in college or taking classes, sometimes there are administrative campus jobs for specifically for students (this depends on your program, the college, the aid package, etc. of course). Some of us in the higher ed world embarked on our careers as a result of experience gained in campus positions.

    1. MaryMary*

      OP, you may be able to get a foot in the door (student job or otherwise) being local when all of the students are on break. Many administrative offices on campus will be open even when the full time students are gone. I earned a little extra cash in the month between graduation and when my “real” job started staying on as a summer office assistant, and I had a friend who got invaluable experience staffing the student-produced TV station over winter break. Reach out to student career services, and check back in with them before spring break and in May.

      1. OP here*

        I think finding _clerical_ work at a non-profit is a good idea. I have been volunteering several afternoons a week after morning job hunting at a non-profit resale shop, but I’ve been more of general help — aka I’m about 40 years younger than everyone else, so I’m running around and doing more manual tasks.

        Unfortunately, I am not a student at the local college. I suppose I’d be classified as a boomerang child. I worked some years before going back to university (hence the more menial retail experience), which then itself was cut short one year before degree completion due to a huge change in my finances. This situation, as expected, is a huge strain on my relationship with my parents (whom I’ve had to live with since last summer). Of course, this makes the process all the more tense, frustrating, and (ultimately) imperative.

        It has been rather difficult to respond to their conviction that modern sources like AaM blogs are a better representation of current hiring practices and not just Internet shenanigans. I have agreed that many of their preferred methods (resume plastering in-person, follow-up calls, dropping by) are probably more suited for the small towns and are less appropriate for national branches or neighboring cities. It remains a work in progress, I suppose.

        Thanks for your comments!

        1. Natalie*

          As far as responding to them, don’t underestimate the value of white lies and polite changes of topic. Particularly while you are living with them, it will probably be a lot more pleasant for everyone if you can just respond with something like “I’ll certainly consider that” and then decline to engage further.

    2. Broke Philosopher*

      This is good advice, but be aware that even unpaid work can be difficult to come by if it’s substantive. I tried to do volunteer work when I first moved to my current city, but at least a few of the organizations I talked to made it very clear that they ONLY wanted envelope-stuffers/flyer-distributers and were uninterested in training anyone to do any sort of office work. This was even though I had multiple internships under my belt (that were also very competitive to get–I know one I applied to had at least 100 applicants! for an unpaid internship!).

      I did eventually find something that was more substantive, but it was not that easy.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This is true — and it’s because volunteers are in general less reliable and harder to hold accountable than paid employees, so it often makes sense to only use them for lower-stakes work.

        However, smaller nonprofits are often more willing to give volunteers substantive work, simply because they don’t have the funding to pay people to do it.

        1. Yup*

          Or are willing to have volunteers work up to the meatier tasks — after you’ve proved yourself as a reliable envelope stuffer over 6 months, they’ll have more trust about your doing data entry for their live donor database, which leads to doing something else.

          1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

            This. I love hiring temps. Once a person is known for being our best envelope stuffer, I know a lot of things about them that are applicable to any job: that they show up on time, they do their work quickly and well, are easy to manage, etc.

          2. OP*

            This is a very good point — I am volunteering at local non-profit, but it is not clerical and it’s very much ad hoc. They even told me that they won’t ask me to commit to a schedule since I was upfront about the fact that I was concurrently job searching. The idea of local (and more recent) recommendations as well as experience means that I think I will start looking for more substantial volunteer opportunities.

          3. Broke Philosopher*

            That’s a good point. I think it depends on the organization as well. One place I looked at seemed like they would be willing to move volunteers up to more substantive tasks eventually, but another had an agreement with a local university to take unpaid interns for admin work, so there was really not much of a chance to do more substantive work. They did suggest, though, that I take time off of my paid job to come hand out flyers at events!

  2. Steve G*

    Another thing that is changing or going to change is using a clerical position as a stepping stone to some other career. It seems like those positions just don’t exist anymore. My company keeps automating parts of processes and so we need fewer, higher paid Analysts or Operations Coordinators to coordinate these processes, rather than a larger # of lower paid people doing the actual work.

  3. James M*

    Lol! I’m wondering if it’s common for parents to get “revenge” on their teens by giving ludicrous job search advice. Anyone who has experienced this, please raise your hand. *raises hand*.

    Temping is a straightforward way to get clerical work.

    1. Anonymous*

      Not so straightforward anymore – even temp jobs are highly sought after, and often go to those with a lot of experience. The trap of “can’t get a job without experience, can’t get experience without a job” is all to common even in temping.

      1. Laura*

        Yes, exactly. when there are dozens of people for every temp job, I had a hard time finding anything without any experience. Experienced clerical workers are turning to temp work because they can’t find anything permanent, making it hard for anyone else to get their start.

      2. James M*

        “Straightforward” is not a synonym for “easy”.

        When you go to a temp agency, they have a process for collecting your experience, skills and education. Afterwards, they might call you to fill a position. Compared to crafting your own resume, hunting down jobs and doing interviews all by yourself, I think “straightforward” is an appropriate description.

        Also, the OP has experience… just not with their desired kind of work.

        1. MovingRightAlong*

          Synonyms for straightforward
          adj simple, easy

          And really, a method for reaching a goal is only straightforward if it works. Otherwise, it’s a straightforward way to waste time. I’m not trying to be snarky here, but applying to a temp agency right now is a bit like applying to any other job: there’s a darn good chance you won’t hear back. All you can do is put your best foot forward and hope.

        2. The Clerk*

          You still have to craft a resume and go on interviews for temp work. When I was with an agency, the only jobs I didn’t have to interview for were the really low-level and short-term jobs (a day or a week). For anything temp-to-perm or just longer term, the agency sent several candidates so the client could pick whom they liked best.

          Even though all the bigger jobs I went after were admin…ish in nature, their focus differed enough that I still needed to tweak my resume for each one.

          Straightforward, easy, or whatever we call it, good temp assignments that lend attractive experience to a resume are as competitive as regular jobs since the recession.

      3. Stephanie*

        Yeah, a lot of the engineering contract roles I’ve seen are geared toward extremely experienced people (like 20 years experience in a very specific field), where they’ll pay them $75/hour with no benefits.

  4. Clever Name*

    Yeah, this definitely sounds like old advice, but I wonder if this type of advice even worked 40 years ago? Okay, maybe this would have worked if you were a young, cute, female looking for secretarial work in a Mad Men-style office.

    1. doreen*

      I don’t think so it was good advice then , not in quite this way anyway. I’ve heard of “working for free” being necessary in specific fields- but it never involved getting a job at the same place where you worked for free. It was always something more like ” write for a local non-profits newsletter for free, and then use that experience to freelance for one of those free papers that are mostly adds, and use that to get a job as a staff writer at a for-profit local paper that people actually pay for”.

      1. De Minimis*

        I was wondering this myself, was there ever a time when this led to a paying job? I suspect not.

      1. De Minimis*

        Hmm, possibly, or maybe some other kind of “odd job” unskilled labor. I would say construction but they’d probably be more inclined to think that the person would just be in the way, even if they were working for free. And of course these days there would be way too many liability issues.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I think it worked for a handful of people and the rumor mill made it seem larger.

      In the 70s my cousin worked for free for an exercise place. She did quite well but people really questioned her judgement in working for free. The next year the company invited her back and paid her $15 per hour. Yeah, in the seventies. She was in high school, too.

      I think these stories are rare but they get repeated so much that people thought it happened all the time.

    3. Deedee*

      Oh you young ones and your ideas of what happened forty years ago! So cute! Offering to work for free would definitely have been suspect back then. They would have figured you were some stoned hippy or something and called security to escort you out.
      And in all my years of being in the workforce, my impression is that the work for free concept is very recent with all the graduates doing unpaid intern work that was almost unheard of forty years ago.

  5. Jubilance*

    Wow your parents gave you some horrible advice.

    Can you show them this and point out that a person that has hiring experience in the 21st century says their idea is a bad one? I’m sure they won’t take your word for it if you just say “Mom and Dad thanks, but that won’t work in 2014”. Maybe some proof will help them back off?

  6. ThursdaysGeek*

    However, because your parents are probably lovely people, other than the job search advice, you will have to distill this answer in your reply, rather than just saying says it’s a bad idea. Because if you direct them here, they will be affronted by being called ‘moldy’ and will miss the good advice. :)

    The advice is probably something they got from their parents, because even 40 years ago, minimum wage laws precluded this. I’m the age of your parents (approximately, assuming you’re early 20’s), and the only less than minimum wage jobs I could get when I was young were the odd job/house cleaning/yard work type jobs.

  7. Ann O'Nemity*

    This strategy actually helped me land an awesome on-campus job back in my college days. Though I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for the vast majority of employers!

  8. Ruffingit*

    Your parents are dumb. Well-intentioned, but dumb in this area. Do not seek or follow career advice from them. That is all.

    1. ToughLove*

      I’m going to guess they are frustrated, not dumb. They’re just grasping any ideas that might help the OP get a full-time, good job. This is a bad idea, and I understand the OP is probably frustrated with the situation, but I wouldn’t automatically call the parents dumb.

      1. Anonymous*

        I agree, I think they are grasping at anything that can get the kid to move out permanently. (sorry OP!)

        Working for free can work but only for certain careers and only to make contacts and meet friends of contacts who might be hiring. Not really for an entry level job.

        If I were the OP, and not the age of OP’s parents as I truly am, I would finish that degree somehow someway.

        1. OP*

          No offense taken. Everyone will be much happier when I can permanently move out (again)!

          As to your point about the degree: the plan is to make enough money before borrowing money to finish off my degree. Everyone locally asks why I don’t transfer — let’s just say that I’m 7 courses short of a diploma from a school with a name that will have a huge impact on my marketability post-graduation. It may be a bit of a sunk cost fallacy mistake, but I’m not ready to give that up quite yet just to get a degree from a school that I’d never even heard of before my parents moved here and morally cannot attend (religion-related).

          1. Natalie*

            Actually, I think you’re right to not transfer. Most colleges require all students to complete some aggregate number of credits before getting a degree, usually around 2 years worth of classes. Transferring with only a semester or so left would be an enormous step backward.

            That said, the amount of money required to finish 7 credits seems like it wouldn’t be huge. If you don’t mind sharing, I’d be curious about how much borrowing we’re talking about.

            1. OP*

              USNews ranked in the top 10, in a major metropolitan city, with zero savings in the bank (merit based scholarships are not awarded; they are purely need-based) can expect to run about $10k/year out-of-pocket, with an additional $10k taken out in institutional/federal loans after about $25k waived by need-based grant. Excludes housing costs.

              I have no illusion of paying off my debt before returning to any institution, but I need to get out of remittance. My entire savings was eaten up by the last semester I was in school, when my scholarship abruptly was cancelled mid-semester. My goal is to get back in good standing with lenders, return with enough savings to emerge out the other end with only education loans with their 1 year grace periods. And then, of course, I will begin looking for a proper job, armed with a degree that will get me far beyond clerical.

              1. annie*

                You might try taking a class at a community college in the meantime – they are usually very inexpensive, and it would give you access to a new network of people, maybe some opportunities for on campus volunteering or working in a student organization.

              2. Natalie*

                Sure, I wasn’t suggesting you pay of your existing debt before finishing up those last 7 credits. If I’m following you correctly, it sounds like $10K for one semester. Is 7 credits a full course load, half course load…?

                As much as I’m sure it galls to take on additional debt, if we’re only talking about one semester (half or full time) I would put some energy into finding a loan for that amount. You are soooooo close and having that degree completed will make such an enormous difference in your search. Does your institution have internal loans?

          2. Fiona*

            Not to mention that wherever you transferred, most schools have a minimum “residency” requirement that X credits must be done at the school in order to be awarded a diploma – and it’s probably more than the 7 courses you have left to complete.

            1. Stephanie*


              My alma mater required you take the last 60 hours (about four semesters) at the university and your last semester had to be at the university.

          3. Mephyle*

            It’s not a sunk cost situation – what you invest in getting the remaining 7 courses will pay off in terms of getting that big name diploma. Sunk cost is when you keep “throwing bad money after good” when you won’t get anything to show for it. If you transferred, you’d not only get a less respected diploma, but might not get full credit for all the courses you’ve completed.

          4. Anonymous*

            Anon from above here:
            Please check into your local school system. There are always children and we are always hiring general clerical, AA’s, etc. Some of our jobs go unfilled.

          5. Graciosa*

            You might want to explore whether you can take courses (more cheaply) elsewhere and transfer the credits in to your “school with a name.” I took my very last course at another school for family reasons, and transferred the credit in and graduated from my original school. It could be an option that meets your objectives more easily.

            Good luck!

      2. Ruffingit*

        I would agree they are trying to help and I’m not saying they are dumb overall. That’s why I said “well-intentioned, but dumb in this area.” Was trying to clarify the initial “they are dumb” statement there.

  9. Mena*

    Please tell your parents that they need to un-involve themselves (and perhaps you need to share less with them about your job search).

    Stick with the temp work. It gets you into new and different situations with different types of companies. You’ll learn a lot and meet a lot of people. Build your network and build your experience base.

    And BTW, my husband owns his own business and he’s had people show up, say they will do this or that for free and he’ll be so pleased he’ll beg to hire them. Um, no. These people come across as pushy and over-confident, expecting to trivialize the investment we make in good employees.

    Good luck!!

    1. Yup*

      “trivialize the investment we make in good employees”

      You exactly stated what I was fumbling to articulate. If the applicant is so great he’ll want to hire them, he’d… hire them. Straight up, no gimmicks. A free trial only works if there’s an expectation of low risk (and easily swayed loyalty) on the part of the buyer. An employer who’s committed to vetting good candidates through their usual process is going to be really put off by the implication that they’ll be won over because they’re cheap.

      1. JCC*

        Free is one thing, but I would be surprised if offering to take a pay cut would be viewed the same way. People love bargains, often to the point of mild irrationality. When J.C. Penney’s tried to restructure their pricing models to simply have low regular prices instead of inflated MSRPs with “deep discounts”, it failed spectacularly. People wanted the sale more than they wanted the low price:

    2. OP here*

      Thank you for sharing your husband’s experience. This is pretty much what I was expecting an employer to say, as that would have been my response as well when I was a retail assistant manager.

      I am really hoping that the temp work turns into more permanent work. My skill-set is very strong (one good thing about being a Millennial at least!), but I lack the office environment to apply them.

  10. ryn*

    ugh, i love it when baby boomers who are out of touch with the current real world give career advice. and it seems like the farther they get from reality, the more they complain about millennials.

    1. ToughLove*

      Given that the first Gen Xers were born in 1964-65, I’m going out on a limb and guessing many parents of kids in their early 20s are Gen X, not just boomers. Probably a mix right now.

      1. De Minimis*

        Yep, and even some of the later GenXers too….I was born in the early 70s and know a lot of people my age who have college-age kids now.

        But the advice from the OPs parents sounds pretty dated to where I’d guess they might be a bit older—or maybe more used to a different type of job sector.

      2. Anonymous*

        Yeah my baby boomer friends are all grandparents of college grads so it’s actually gen X and Y who are now officially Out of Touch. It’s the circle of life.

      3. Stephanie*

        I think the tail end of Baby Boomers would have millennial children (assuming they had the kids late). My parents were at the tail end of the Baby Boom (born in the mid-50s) and I’m a millennial.

    2. Deedee*

      baby boomers giving career advice would probably be giving it to their grandchildren by now. And who is complaining about millennials?

    3. CAA*

      The U.S. Census Bureau defines baby boomers as those born between 1946 and 1964. Those of us who were born at the tail end of the baby boom are turning 50, still in the work force, and are often hiring managers.

    4. Anonymous*

      I’m 30. My parents are 49. Not sure what generation that makes us, but they give me the same advice. Really annoying and they’re not even THAT old.

      1. Puddin*

        I know it would not suit everybody but his irreverence, would highlight some very large gaps in cultural identity between generations. I am chuckling just thinking about it.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      This is the interview it made me think of (why yes, I *am* old)….

      Lou Grant: “You know what? You’ve got spunk!”

      Mary Richards: “Oh, well, gee Mr. Grant. Thank you, I–”

      Lou Grant: “I *HATE* spunk!”

  11. AnonHR*

    I sometimes think about how bad of a career-advice giver I might be to my kids eventually since I have most of my job-hunting experience in the lowest point of the recession. Even now, when talking to current college interns where I work I am always a little thrown off that a lot of them are getting decent offers or temp work with their degrees and some basic work experience. They’re totally qualified, but I don’t know if I’ll ever get over feeling like a lot of the hiring process initially is a lottery (I did application intake for entry-level jobs in 2009 when there were 300 on average per position).

    In any case though, I think if your parents are adamant about their methods, the best thing to do is just keep your search details to yourself and appreciate that they’re well meaning. And, keep on taking advice from AAM!

    1. Sharm*

      Wouldn’t it be the opposite? Because people have to be so resourceful now, and so you have a great perspective on how to stand out in tough times (which has to work even better in good times, right?).

      I look back to when I was hired, and it was EASY, relatively speaking. I had three offers out of school, and it wasn’t like I got recruited whilst in college. I just applied in the normal job pool, and took what is considered bad advice here. It never seemed to hurt me, but I was clearly luckier back then.

      I’m sure your advice is better than you think. But we’re definitely lucky for AAM!

  12. ToughLove*

    I can totally see the frustration your parents are having right now, as you explained the situation more in your post above. Did they help fund those 3 years of college? If so, it’s probably even more frustrating.

    TBH, I think the best way to get them off your back is to have a plan, and I’m not sure that searching out clerical work is a plan. Maybe there’s more to it than you explain here, but unless you have a specific idea of “I want to get a clerical job in ____, so I can work my way up to ___ by doing ___” it isn’t a great plan. Entry level clerical work seems to go around $11 in my area. It’s going to take a while to get ahead at that rate.

    1. OP*

      No, they never contributed to my college funds in any way other than filling out the FAFSA once and the occasional holiday gift money. It put me in a huge bind to to work (while I was in school) to pay for even general necessities while trying to study at a prestigious and (I admit) very expensive private institution. I didn’t return back to school to finish my degree until their finances wouldn’t influence my aid package — I hadn’t realized that I should have been declared as independent until I was already 24.

      The clerical work (and advancement) isn’t a long-term career goal. Right now I need to make enough to make a dent in my student loans and pay off the additional debt I accumulated when my private scholarship fell through at the last minute. However, I am willing to put my degree off for a couple of years more in order to get my ducks back in a row, financially.

      1. AFT*

        You have my empathy, OP. It can be very difficult to pay for college when your parents aren’t contributing what the federal government says they should.

      2. Elysian*

        If it helps, I tried to go the ‘declare as independent’ route and it doesn’t matter. My school STILL considered my parent’s income. It depends on the school, I’m sure, but there was nothing I could do to get my school to ignore the fact that I have parents.

        1. AFT*

          Agree with Elysian. I was 100% self-supportive starting my senior year of high school (aged 18) and still wasn’t declared independent. Being self-supportive is no longer a criterion of getting declared independent, and it hasn’t been since 1992.

          1. VintageLydia*

            Best friend was (mostly) self supporting at 16 and still couldn’t get schools to ignore her parent’s income. Had to wait until she had her own kid. I know a LOT of people, actually, who where in the same situation.

          2. Laura*

            So many people who were 100% self-supportive still had their parents income counted even though their parents didn’t give them a cent, and they barely even spoke to their parents. The only reason was because they were under 25. My parents let me live at home during university, but they didn’t pay anything towards my tuition, books, dental or prescription, transportation, etc. Yet my student loans were calculated assuming my parents would also pay a portion of my tuition, even though they weren’t paying any of it. I was totally fine with it and didn’t expect them to pay, just thought the student loan system was stupid for calculating it like they were paying.

          3. Natalie*

            The one that bothers me the most is parents who refuse to provide their tax information or don’t file tax returns each year. I don’t know how often it happens, but my understanding is that there is literally nothing you can do as the student – you just don’t get any federal aid. It must be unbelievably frustrating for those kids.

            1. Elysian*

              My dad gave me a hard time every single year about needing access to his tax returns so that I could at least file for government loan aid. Every single year he said “You should be thankful that I’m at least willing to give you this information!” What you say is true – without it I would have been up a creek without a paddle for sure. One year I had to do his taxes FOR him just so I could get the information I needed in time to do my loan applications.

              I can’t even explain how frustrating it is to be a legal adult, all alone in a situation built to be navigated by someone with parental support.

              1. Kelly L.*

                My dad did this my third year of college–suddenly decided student grants and loans were “welfare” and that he disagreed with them so he just never sent the materials he said he would.

      3. Ms Enthusiasm*

        Unfortunately, it has been my experience that your application might not even be looked at without that college degree. I know your finances are not good right now but is there any possible way for you to finish that degree? Perhaps there is a chance that you could get an entry level job someplace that offers tuition reimbursement? Have you thought about transferring to a community college? Is your relationship so strained with your parents that they wouldn’t even consider a little bit of a loan?

        1. OP*

          There is no money to loan. I accumulated their bad grasp of financial obligations (cue going across the country to an expensive city and institution), which led to them becoming insolvent during my freshman year and not paying a dime to my school. (The school refused to re-evaluate the aid package after their changes in finances.) My father is laid off for the winter, as his employer is milking the state and union unemployment insurance.

          Speaking of milk, it has gotten to the point where they claim they can’t afford to pay for lactose-free milk (I’m lactose intolerant). I can see the writing on the wall very clearly, and I completely get the frustration. I think it’s understandable from all angles. Hence the slight theatrics and bad advice!

          1. Laura*

            Any chance you can get an entry-level job at the school you were attending?

            I ask because there’s a very real chance you’d get a break on tuition thereby, in the future…obviously something to research if you think that might be a possible route, to make sure they do that.

            1. OP*

              I am not even living in the same city anymore. I wish I had seriously considered it before having my hand forced — subsidized student housing is for students only! I will look into it, but I will need a job before moving again.

      4. ToughLove*

        I would love to sit down with your numbers & the whole story, OP. : )

        It’s a bum deal when you end up with a bunch of debt from school & no help from your parents. Seems that it’s kids getting the worst advice at home who get sucked into the biggest financial aid commitments.

        But. . .

        Without knowing the whole story, it’s hard to say if this is the best, quickest way to untangle your mess. Depending on the size of your other debts, maybe you could find some kind of higher-paying-though-possibly-awful work to do for the very short term, pay those off debts, and get back into school and finish the degree with those loans in deferment. You’re so close.

        1. Elle D*

          I was thinking the same thing. OP, you mentioned you used to be a retail store manager. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but as some others have suggested think that it’s going to be challenging to get an office job without a degree. Perhaps you can go back into retail or something similar in order to start generating income, get some volunteer office experience under your belt, and reassess in 6 months? This will at least give you a plan to tell your parents.

          If you’re really hell bent on getting an office job, network, network, network! See if there’s a young professionals chapter or some kind of chamber of commerce group you can join to meet professionals in your area. I have a friend who does not have a degree or any college credits at all, but has networked her way into two administrative assistant jobs.

          1. OP*

            I’m not so much hell-bent on an office job so much as I realize that it pays higher and is more consistent. Before I found this site, I wasn’t even getting call-backs from local retail places that I was sure I’d be a shoe-in. I’m pretty confident that a combination of my higher education plus the fact that my credit rating is in the toilet did it — the former because I was over-qualified, that I would be a flight risk, and whatever excuse is made against a debtor.

              1. Anonymous*

                Some places have applications that require you to authorize you are willing to undergo a credit check as part of the background check. The places that require it typically check credit after they’ve decided the candidate is a good candidate and are doing the pre-employment background check though.

              2. Anx*

                At least 1/4 of applications I’ve filled out have included a waiver so they could perform a credit check.

        2. OP*

          How do you propose I clarify? I fear that I’ve already hijacked a pretty good parents-don’t-know-crap-about-modern-hiring-practices-anymore post.

          1. ToughLove*

            My reply was written before your clarifications. But being a nerd, I listen to Dave Ramsey a lot (not a fanboy and disagree with some advice, just find it entertaining). People call in in tears about $2000 and others $200,000. it makes a difference if your debt you need to clean up is $5,000 or $50,000 in how you would tackle it. Not expecting you to say on here…more of a rhetorical wishing I knew your situation better to give better advice.

  13. Anon Accountant*

    Are you a recent college grad? If so, check with your college about post-graduate internships or register with the career services department for job openings emails, register with the College Central Alumni Network, etc.

    If not, definitely check local non-profits. Some may have you assist with various clerical tasks or other tasks where you gain some experience and contacts. Let friends and family know you are interested in clerical jobs.

    This may not be the best advice but our new receptionist landed her position by sending a resume when no opening was advertised to our firm. She sent our resumes to various businesses she knew would have clerical workers. It just happened our current receptionist was preparing to resign in a few weeks and her resume was on file so they interviewed her and she was a good candidate.

  14. Elysian*

    Alas, sometimes our parents lead us astray. My parents sent me to my first job interview in my mother’s shoes (which were too big) and my Sunday-church-going dress (because you wear ‘nice’ things to interviews). I did not get that job, and looking back I think I probably looked like one of those greeting cards with a little girl playing dress-up in her mother’s closet.

    Your parents are sending you down the wrong path, OP. You need to gently ignore their horrible advice.

    1. Anon Accountant*

      This made me LOL. And reminded me of when my mother yelled at me for not being aggressive enough because I wouldn’t go to businesses in person to hand deliver a resume and “talk to someone in person”.

    2. Natalie*

      Awww! That’s sort of a funny and sweet image (since it seems like you weren’t permanently scarred by it).

      1. Elysian*

        Haha, not too scarred, it’s easy to laugh at. But without my parent’s guidance it really did take me a long time to figure out what appropriate work wardrobe was. It’s incredible how many things people are subtly taught that they just take for granted that everyone knows. I try to remember that when I’m screaming “Kids these days!!!” inside my head.

  15. Confused*

    I tried this once a while back when I was desprate for work. Thinking about it makes me cringe big time! Please don’t do it.

  16. AdminAnon*

    OP, I feel your pain! I was in your exact position a year ago (except I had finished my degree). My parents gave me the exact same advice, which I completely ignored (hard to do when you live under the same roof…). Then they pushed and pushed and pushed until, just to get them off my back, I pretended to do it. I got all dressed up in my nice suit, printed off some resumes….and then went to a coffee shop on the opposite end of town for a couple hours. I’m not saying the deception is the best way to do it, but I had tried explaining things to my parents until I was blue in the face! My dad once got a job by offering to work for free–30+ years ago—so he was 100% convinced that I should do the same. However, when I (finally) was hired last March, it was for a job I had found and applied for online, with an organization I had volunteered for previously.

    Anyway, best of luck!

    1. OP*

      Ah, yes, the old switcheroo. I hope it doesn’t come to this, but given the amount of diligence otherwise, I think it can be forgiven.

    2. The Clerk*

      I got all dressed up in my nice suit, printed off some resumes….and then went to a coffee shop on the opposite end of town for a couple hours.

      Oh, wow, I just posted something like this further down. We need our own coffee shop just for people pretending to pound the pavement, lol. Maybe it can be behind a regular coffee shop like the speakeasies used to hide behind other businesses.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Lol! I like this idea. Everybody hiding out in there, secretly filling out online apps. And of course it would need to be staffed, so it would create jobs in and of itself!

  17. VintageLydia*

    I know it’s not ideal, as it’s not office work, but honestly I’d apply to restaurants to be a server or other similar not-office-but-marginally-well-paying work if at all possible to get your financial ducks in a row. It’s not easy work. I hate it. Tried it for one month and failed spectacularly, but if you can do it, the money isn’t awful. It helped pay my best friend’s way through college (well, she got loans and financial aid for tuition but the serving work kept a roof over her head that wasn’t with her toxic parents and paid her other bills.) I worked retail and into management. Made crap money and the hours were generally awful but again, paid the rent while I was in college.

    I’m spit balling here. These are things you probably thought of and a stable office job would probably be better in the long run, but it sounds like you need to move out sooner rather than later based on your comments here.

    1. OP*

      Honestly, I swore I would never go into food service again. That said, I did check with the local fast fooderies. They’re not hiring.

      I have never waitressed before. It’s something to look into — locally is a wash, but there are a couple cities within an hour’s drive that could possibly be worth it.

  18. Andrea*

    Maybe your parents have contacts who need help with a certain project and you can gain experience that way. I would also be hitting the MS training site online where you can start learning about mail merges, how to use Excel, etc. These are all useful when you are in an office environment.

  19. Stephanie*

    *groan* I’m in a similar boat–job hunting while living at home. What’s not helping is that so much of the job hunt now is virtual. So, to them, it can look like I’m not doing a whole lot since there is a lot of laptop time. Crazily enough, too, I think my dad is almost a little jealous that I get to “stay home” all day (he’s nearing retirement and tired of working).

    My parents suggested I go volunteer at a research lab at the local university and ignored me when I pointed out that it was (a) possibly illegal and (b) usually the domain of grad students or paid techs.

    I get lots of well-meaning, but horrible advice from my folks. Issue is that neither of them has done a full-out job hunt in the last decade. I’ve just learned to nod it off and say “Ok, thanks.”

      1. Stephanie*

        Yeah, I was receiving unemployment. At one point, my dad was trying to figure out a way to get laid off from his job to get the extra money. I don’t think he really enjoyed it when I pointed out that he’d have to keep job hunting or the piddling amount (I think it’s something along the lines of $275/week in Arizona). This is completely ignoring the fact that he probably wouldn’t see the money for ages after severance payouts and vacation cashouts.

    1. The Clerk*

      So, to them, it can look like I’m not doing a whole lot since there is a lot of laptop time.

      Ugh, this takes me back to when I first relocated in 2009 and stayed with my father and his wife. She was like, “But all you do is sit in your room with your computer!” Um, okay, I could come out to the living room with my computer, or possibly the kitchen with my computer, but not the porch because the wifi doesn’t go that far. I guess I could get dressed up and go sit at Panera with my computer and pretend like I was out “pounding the pavement,” but frankly I’m not at my best resume-crafting ability surrounded by strangers. Note that all of these options are me with my computer because even then paper apps were almost gone and most places would just tell you to apply online if you went in.

      “But So-and-So walked into [Department Store] and got hired on the spot!”

      So-and-So walked into [Department Store], saw an old friend from high school who was a manager there, the job search came up in conversation, and the friend told her to go home and apply online and she’d pull the application and give it to the store manager. A, that’s not “hired on the spot,” and B, since I know no one in this state, it’s highly unlikely this situation is going to happen to me.

      (Note that although she “knew lots of people in hiring positions,” somehow they all vanished when I wanted to know when I could talk to them).

      Now I’m having a fantasy of starting up a halfway house for grads as an alternative to living at home where they can sit in their rooms on their computers all day long with impunity. Alumni can donate and stop by to give advice. The director (me) will poke her head in every now and again to say things like “How’s the job search coming?” and “Have you thought about temping?” But it will be meant sarcastically and everyone will get it. After dinner we’ll get together and play board games like Life.

      1. AdminAnon*

        I LOVE the halfway house idea! Count me in.

        Also, when I was job hunting from home, I *did* have to go sit in the kitchen because my parents were convinced that if I were really in my room applying for jobs I would’ve gotten one already. Never mind the fact that the job I’m in now was posted in October 2012–I applied 2 days after it was posted and was hired in late March 2013.

        Bah. This whole post and all of the comments are bringing me back to the absolute worst 9 months of my life. My sympathies to everyone who is job hunting right now, especially any new professionals who are living with their parents!

        1. The Clerk*

          There needs to be a support group…I mean, even after I cobbled together some work and answered a roommate ad rather than deal with them, the emails with links to jobs and newspaper clippings of jobs kept coming. Newspaper clippings. Why didn’t you just send me a telegram?

          We need framed cross-stitch in all the hallways of the halfway house that say things like “These boots were meant for pounding the pavement” (with cowboy boots in the corners) and “Have you irritated the f**k out of a hiring manager today?” or “Stop and smell the roses. Then ask the florist if they’re hiring.”

          1. AdminAnon*

            Hahaha, YES! I love the cross-stitch ideas. Brilliant.

            My mom would tape the newspaper clippings to my bathroom mirror when I was out of the house working my retail job (I am SO GLAD I at least had that to get me out of the house/get her off my back).

      2. Stephanie*

        Ooooh, I’d move in too!

        Make sure you ask if we’ve applied to retail jobs as well and if we’ve gone to drop off resumes in-person.

        1. The Clerk*

          Hell, I’ll do you one better: I’ll tell you that you can’t be too proud to apply for retail just because you have a degree, and that if you do a good job you’ll be promoted in no time. Because retailers totally promote from within. Except the one I work for. And the last one. And the one before that. Gee, I must have been so unlucky to pick the only three retailers whose corporate offices hire managers from outside without the store manager even being involved in the process…

    2. AdminAnon*

      Yes! As I posted above, I was in that same boat last year. My parents were extremely well-meaning, but my mom hasn’t worked since my brother was born (he’s 22) and my dad has been headhunted from job to job since the early 90s (and before that he worked for the family business and then walked into his next job by volunteering a trial period), so neither of them has any practical experience with job hunting.

      Side note: my relationship with them has improved VASTLY since I got a job last March and moved 2 states away…

  20. J*

    So OP, which big name school is this precisely? Have you already had a specific in-person meeting with the university financial aid office to discuss your situation? If it’s one of HYP or UChicago, they all have large need-based aid packages that can be changed mid-course. It sounds like your school hasn’t been very helpful thus far and it might help for you to meet with them about this (Skype?). These schools are usually very motivated to help you graduate on time and you taking time off is adding to your time from matriculation.

  21. nyxalinth*

    Heh, I had a similar discussion with my room mate yesterday! (she’s 75, I’m near 50). We were discussing the resume I’d sent to the Non-Profit, and I told her I hadn’t heard back yet.

    “Can you call them?”

    “Um, no, we don’t do that anymore. It’s highly frowned upon.”

    “Well could you resend your resume?”

    “That’s highly frowned upon, too. In this job market, you send it, and the ball is in their court till they decide otherwise.”

    “Oh, well I don;t see why they wouldn;t call, you have plenty of experience.”

    “Yes, but so do over 9000 others applying…they can afford to be ultra super uber picky about anything, even stupid stuff. So all I can do is my part, and hope for the best.”

    I don’t think she really gets that Things Done Then Are Not Done Now, but she did change the subject.

  22. susan*

    Have you thought about doing some freelancing to make some money? I do some editing and indexing freelance work (part time) — you would at least build a portfolio and get experience running your own business.

  23. Graciosa*

    I want to stress even before I write this that I am NOT recommending this – I know nothing about it other than what I have seen in an occasional news article. I am hoping others will be able to provide more insight.

    Now that I have the disclaimer out there, have you considered options for very quick projects under systems like TaskRabbit? It sounds like an environment where someone might be able to get a little bit of experience doing very small projects (probably for equally small compensation, but more than nothing).

    This may be a possibility your parents probably haven’t considered – has anyone on AAM used such a service? I have no idea how good an option this might be, but perhaps others can speak with more authority.

    1. Simonthegrey*

      Don’t know about TaskRabbit, but there are online things like ChaCha or MTurk where you can do little tasks. They pay pennies, but it can add up.

      1. nyxalinth*

        Mturk isn’t bad. Depending how you approach it and how long you do it, it can either be extra coffee money while interviewing, or if you work hard and also get lucky, equal to part or full time working paying min wage. I’m making about 8-10 dollars a day for 3 hours work eight now so I’m not an expert–yet!

  24. Not So NewReader*

    OP, lots of good advice here, but I did not see this one:

    Please consider part time clerical jobs. Like you I wanted to get out of retail and never look back. I ended up with two part time clerical positions. (One paid very well and both jobs came equipped with terrific bosses.) Like you are experiencing getting that first one was nasty- you are looking for someone who is willing to take a chance. So that was a long process. I knocked myself out at these two little jobs and the referrals keep coming.

    Parents. Sigh. You could try reminding them of when they had to explain stuff to THEIR parents and it did not go well. I am guessing your parents are maybe a tad older than me? I still remember trying to get my parents to understand school/work/modern friendships. That was a lot of work. They never really did get it- but they did quit trying after a bit.

    I think you do have keen insight into what is driving their behavior. It sounds like they have huge financial concerns. So probably talking about your job hunting technique has nothing to do with their actual concern. Because their actual concern goes unresolved they are going to keep pursuing your job hunting techniques. You may want to point blank say “Mom and Dad, I am concerned about your financial well being and I am pulling out all the stops to make sure that I do not add to your concerns.”

    As to the waitressing jobs, I found that was even more depressing. Typically a few senior people get the best tables and hours. They are the ones who make the money. Newbies get the crappy hours and the crappy tables. I think the law still allows restaurants to pay just over $2 per hour, the rest you make in tips. Supposedly. But let’s say this all goes okay- the next thing is that you are saving up money and paying down debt? Nothing sparks an audit like a $2 per hour employee that shows $10k in savings. arrrgh.

    Probably the best point I can make here is watch out for plans where the digressions have digressions. You are getting further and further away from where you want to be with each digression.
    I am not clear on what your chosen field is. I had a friend who wanted to become a veterinarian. My thought was take any job in a vet practice- clean floors,whatever. Be friendly, be personable. So she did it. The next thing I know she was doing hands on with the animals and gaining practical experience that puts her well ahead of her peer group in school. (Yes, she went to school, too.)
    Please go back to square one on this. What types of jobs would be tangent to your field of study? Here is the key- your enthusiasm comes back when you go to job interviews because you are in your arena, your home field. Conversations just flow better.

    Just some thoughts for whatever it’s worth…

    1. The Clerk*

      OP, lots of good advice here, but I did not see this one: Please consider part time clerical jobs.

      Since the OP said she was looking for clerical work, I doubt other posters felt the need to mention it. Part time doesn’t mean the desired experience is less, just the hours…plus, lately part time is the new norm because employers don’t want to be locked into a set number of hours, provide benefits, worry as much about unemployment claims. Part time is kind of like temping in that it isn’t always there as a backup anymore.

  25. MovingRightAlong*

    Wow. I’m sorry you’re going through all this, OP. It sounds like you’ve thought through a lot of options and none of them are ideal (or simply not doable). You mention above that you could expand your search to some nearby cities and I wonder if there’s a way to expand it a bit further: do you have a trusted friend or relative with a spare room or a couch whose residence you can afford to reach? If so, you could potentially begin applying to jobs near them as well with that person’s address on your application. A lot of ifs, but wanted to throw it out there.

    If you’re not a reader already, can I suggest as a place for moral support? Lots of readers and writers there have been through similar situations and may also have come across some more unusual avenues for assistance when it comes time to return to school. Best of luck.

  26. Anonymous*

    Honest to God, OP, I feel for you. I hope you can find some way to finish that degree. Even if you return summer duarte and live in your car. For the record, I did that at one point in my life and it is not that bad. It really sounds like you just need to escape the parents however you can. All the best…and good luck. You will do well!

  27. Chriama*

    (I hope I’m not so late to the discussion that the OP never reads this comment!)

    Premise: Having people drop out right before they complete a degree is not good for a university’s reputation if it happens too often, and it’s in their best interest for you to graduate in a timely manner.

    I recommend talking to the student aid office at your school. If your scholarship was suddenly canceled in the middle of the year you probably would have qualified for emergency student aid, or they may have been willing to do something like defer some tuition payments until you could get more help from an outside source. However, you would need to make an appointment to speak with someone and get referred to someone of higher authority if necessary. A simple email or phone call to the front desk clerk definitely wouldn’t resolve this because they wouldn’t know about all the possible exceptions that the university can make to keep students.

    You could even try talking to your faculty dean or program director to see if there’s program-specific financial aid or if they know of any relevant positions like being a TA or research assistant. They may know of opportunities with professors or may even be willing to create such a position for you by rearranging the budget (e.g. finding a class that doesn’t have a TA but could use one).

    What’s your standing right now with the school? Have you withdrawn as a student or merely deferred registering for your last year? I think it’s still worth going back to the school and seeing if there’s some way they can help you make it work.
    As a current university student myself, if anything went wrong my first instinct would be to find a way to keep my status as a student so I can access the support systems (financial aid, career services, job board, health centre, residence) that are only available to current students. Could you look at the possibility of registering in a single course in order to reinstate your status as a current student?

    I know I’m not addressing your original question (Alison did a bang-up job there) but I want to quote Not So New Reader who warned you to “watch out for plans where the digressions have digressions”. I mean you could end up in a temp/part-time job that leads to work that takes your career in such a radically different direction that you never bother to finish the degree, but right now it sounds like your plan is: find a steady non-career type job –> start paying off debt so you can take out more student loans –> finish your degree –> find an entry level career-type job –> get on with your life…. see how many steps are now between you and the final goal?

    I would say you should re-evaluate your plans to give yourself some flexibility in reaching your long-term goals. In other words, I would make a plan for at least the following alternatives:
    1) getting non-career work so you can pay off enough debt to get more student loans in a few years (aka your current plan)
    2) getting back to school within the year (trying some of the things I mentioned above)
    3) getting some bottom-rung clerical work that could lead to a full-time gig or even career progression
    –> this last one is pretty hard but not impossible, and includes things like taking courses at your public library in a particular software and actively finding ways to take on more responsibility at your temp gigs. If you need more direction I recommend crowdsourcing from the excellent commenters here ;) during Friday’s open thread

    Ok, sorry for the long post. I don’t know all your circumstances but your responses to the comments made me think it was worth addressing the underlying issues of your situation. I hope this helps!

  28. The Clerk*

    OP, I’ll mention something that worked for me (not that my situation is great, but it’s better than what it was) and might work for you. K-12 schools are almost universally underfunded right now, and no matter where you live there’ll be some near you. Try calling the ones nearest to you and then working your way outward and ask if they need volunteers to cover the front desk during lunch, run copies, do laminating, etc. They might put you in the media center (library) where there are a ton of admin-type tasks. If you’re not a kid person (I really wasn’t, though I found after a time I really liked my middle schoolers), it’s okay because you’ll mostly be around the adults.

    I would try middle and high schools first, since elementary schools are more likely to have parents coming in to help. Jobs in the school system are very incestuous and most of the time you can only get one if someone you know in the district calls the principal and says “Interview this person.” It might lead to a job, but in any case you can get references from everyone you help and it’s something for your resume. Plus the hours are flexible; you don’t have to be there all day or every day.

    1. AdminAnon*

      Tacking on to this, you may be able to find work as a substitute teacher. Most states/school systems only require a certain amount of college credits in order to sub. Obviously it’s not as ideal as a full-time, permanent position, but it would get you out of the house and possibly get your parents off your back a bit and give you at least a little money/experience. Also, it could lead to a position in the office or a long-term sub position. A lot of the potential of the subbing game depends on the supply & demand in your area, but it was pretty lucrative for my brother when he was right out of school and job hunting. Also, the flexibility of the schedule will allow you to keep job hunting/interviewing on your off days.

      Just a thought!

      (Sorry I’m commenting on this post so much; it’s just hitting really close to home for me and I want to help)

  29. Jessica*

    Oh man, between the gimmicky resume and cover letter writing books and my parents’ advice, I did so many stupid things when trying to get a job in high school and right out of college. I feel for you OP. Thank god for this blog!!

  30. some1*

    Late to the party but I transitioned from retail to an admin career. I started as a temp and got hired. When I did apply for a receptionist position, I played up the parts of my retail duties that a receptionist needs: how to greet customers, dealing with unhappy customers on the phone and in person, counting down the drawer and checking in stock can translate to basic, accurate record-keeping, etc.

  31. Pauk J*

    Ok Alison – I can see your points, particularly from entry level and lower skill set jobs – but from a skilled, technical and production positions standpoint, this concept has merit. So I would not be writing this off so decisively – Potential employees are ALWAYS making claims of capabilities that they simply do not have- people pay pros to write resumes and cover letters – and flat out lie.
    The pay for work thing can easily be handled though a 1099 / Independent Contractor aspect – as an independent service contractor you can offer anyone a sample. The caveat is that the job seeker must have all of the details arranged and understand how it works ahead of time – preparation and education but not too much cost.
    The job seeker could also offer to do a specific task – and possibly get paid if the final product was valuable but otherwise no strings attached. Of course this is something something that the employer needs to have done.
    I would add – that one thing I think many people can be doing as part of their job search, is volunteering. You can discuss work this on interviews, and list some of the experience on resumes – as well as networking. Employers want employees that do things , you get paid for what you do – not what you say you can do.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Employers who want to do skills tests do it as part of the hiring process and will ask you for that. Offering to work for free generally looks desperate and as others have pointed out trivializes the investment employers make in hiring and training good employees.

  32. Overkill*

    If you’ve graduated from college and your school conducts alumni interviews or schedule meetings for prospective students to meet alums, I’d volunteer to do that. You’ll have contact and experience working with a variety of offices on campus: alumni affairs, admissions, financial aid, etc. while gaining experience, marketing, presentations and interviewing. Just a thought.

  33. VaguriesOfFate*

    I realize I’m late to this thread, but in your initial question you mentioned being available for temp work. I assume this means you are registered with one (or more) temp agencies.

    If you are, find out what is available through the temp agency for free training. Many of the more reputable temp agencies have training systems through companies like SkillPort available online, free of charge to anyone who is registered with them for temp work.

    If those are available, you can take courses on any of a number of office/clerical related topics (MS Office, SAP, Open Office, etc.) and many others. When you use those company affiliated training services, you not only get certificates of completion that you can use to prove skills, but the temp agency also gets a record of courses you’ve taken. This not only adds to the skill set they can use to sell you to potential employers, but also proves to the recruiters that you are willing to take the time to invest in your skills and your future. It may not be direct office experience, but it’s definitely a significant start and a way to prove you have the ability and drive to do what you say you want to.

    Never pass up an opportunity for free training, it will always help out at some point.

  34. Linguist curmudgeon*

    Ohhh, this makes me think of an awful, smug book I read a few years ago – it was intended as an “anyone can make it in America!” response to Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Nickel and Dimed,” but it was mostly self-congratulatory pap from an able-bodied young white man. His secret to success was to move to a homeless shelter (genius! Why doesn’t anyone else think of doing this??) and offer to work a week for free until he gets hired. Allegedly it worked…

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