what to put on a resume when you have zero work experience

A reader writes:

I was tapped to help my friend, “Jordan,” get their resume together. Jordan and I are both in our early-mid 20s and have been friends since we were in middle school. Jordan has always been very introverted and didn’t really do extracurricular activities at school. They were okay as far as grades, but they didn’t really do anything beyond that. Their scores on tests like the SAT’s were extremely high and I know that Jordan can spend hours composing music, researching, or writing—they even built multiple website forums from mostly scratch for our mutual friends to participate in.

When we went to college, Jordan struggled with their major, switching it a couple of times before moving to a community college (due to the costs) and eventually deciding they would take a break to try and get some work experience before going back to school. During this time, Jordan did not really make very many friends and had a hard time participating in campus activities due to stress.

They don’t have any work experience, volunteer experience, or really, anything that they can put on a resume! They are hard working and very, very smart, but schooling was always a challenge. I know that Jordan could be a good employee, and I think that channelling their skills into a workplace could help them gain some serious self-esteem that they are lacking. They can be very driven and focused, but they just don’t have anything that could “prove” it to a boss or hiring manager. They are looking at volunteering opportunities, but they are limited — while jobs are advertised everywhere. Jordan asked me to help write their resume and I am at a loss!

What do you do if your resume is truly “empty”? Jordan is getting frustrated with the sense that “you have to have experience to gain experience” and I can’t help but agree. Do you have any advice for us? Help! (And no, neither Jordan nor I are comfortable or able to share the websites they built—they’re all defunct and the ones that are still around are private for our friend group!)

Yeah, if Jordan truly has no work experience of any kind, not even interning or volunteering, and no extracurriculars, their job search is going to be hard. The thing is, employers don’t really hire for potential — you’ve got to be able to show how you’ve applied that potential in some way. Even with entry-level jobs, you’re going to be up against other entry-level candidates who have some amount of experience — summer jobs, internships, campus projects, etc.

Did Jordan do anything during school other than attend class? Edit articles for professors? Organize an event? Make fundraising calls to alumni? Lead a class project? None of those are great substitutes for work experience, but they’re better than nothing, and it might be that digging into those types of activities will yield some content for their resume.

But if not and there’s literally nothing Jordan could put on a resume, it’s likely that Jordan won’t be competitive right now for the sorts of jobs that expect a resume. Instead, they need to focus on getting any work experience they can. Volunteering would be good. Temping would be better (and if they can pass the temp agency’s skills tests, they’ll probably get sent on some temp jobs). They should also consider taking a low-level customer service job just to have something on their resume. And this is very much a time to lean hard on their network (and friends’ and family members’ networks if possible) to find someone who might be willing to pay them for something, even if it’s just a few weeks of filing.

Also! Don’t dismiss those website forums so quickly. Building something from scratch is impressive. I get that they’re either defunct or private, but if Jordan can create one that’s sharable, that would allow them to list all of that work (and then if asked for samples, they can explain the situation and offer up the model one that is sharable).

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 443 comments… read them below }

  1. Bubbleon*

    Oof I remember the frustration with “you have to have experience to gain experience” when I was first job searching, although I had just a little bit more than nothing on my resume. I ended up applying to temp agencies and was placed almost right away after months of looking on my own. It’s an excellent suggestion, especially if Jordan doesn’t know what they want to do yet.

    1. Meliza*

      I second this. I had great success with a temp agency, and it was crucial to getting the necessary work experience in order to apply for permanent positions. I hope they look into it!

      1. R.D.*


        I spent the summer before I graduated college temping and it worked out very well. I got to work in a variety of offices across the city with a wide range of duties. I learned basic office norms in a low stakes way. I was able to put that on my resume and the temp agency provided a reference when I finished school.

        I’ve gone back to temp agencies twice when I’ve been laid off and had temp assignments turn into full time offers. Most of them I turned down, but one temp job alerted me to an open position with the company, where I ended up working years. The guy who managed me when I was temping gave a recommendation to the hiring manager. I was told my thank you note got me the job, but I’m imagine the internal recommendation also helped.

        1. Ama*

          I fell into temping during summers when I was in college because a friend’s older sister handled temp placements for a large company in our hometown and was more than happy to place any reasonably responsible people who weren’t looking for permanent jobs. The experience I gained was absolutely invaluable –not just the practical skills (I joke that I can manage any jam on any copier or printer because I’ve seen so many of them) but the exposure to office norms and even workplace things you might not expect (I worked at a month-long placement when half the department was about to be laid off, and it taught me a lot about maintaining professionalism even in dire circumstances).

          I can make a direct line between those first temp jobs and the slow building of my skills to the nonprofit administrator I am today.

    2. Natatat*

      This is a great suggestion. At least in my area (working at a university) temping is always in demand for the seasonal very busy periods. And those that temp can often, if a position becomes available and the dept really like them, transition into a permanent job in the department. Temping seems like a great way to build up experience if you have no experience or a gap in your resume (ex. was a stay at home mom for several years).

    3. Maggie*

      When my husband’s job was relocated to literally the other side of the country, I went straight to a temp office. The temp company employee told me immediately that I had the highest typing score of anyone she had ever seen and that she didn’t want to hire me because I, with a college degree and work experience, was “overqualified” and would surely leave quickly. I cried and told her I was desperate (I was!) and would take any job and promise to work it for 3 months minimum with no complaints. I got a call center job for $11/hr immediately. It was a blow to my ego, but I kept my end of the bargain, worked there for four and a half months, and was able to use that time to scout out the new city and position the experience into a full time job with health insurance. Temp agencies can be life savers!!

    4. LQ*

      Strong agree on this as well. Jordan’ll want to brush up on some good basic using word/excel/typing things before going in, at least in my experience if looking for something in an office. There are also temp agencies that place more manufacturing work, warehouse work, or the like.

      I’m also going to suggest that Jordan might be a good candidate for a local government career/work center. Some of them have connections to places that do initial or quick placement kinds of things like temp agencies but with the government/nonprofit doing some basic skills training first which could help out to getting the actual job because the company assumes everyone will be at at least that level.

      1. ElinorD*

        agree with all of the above!
        When I first graduated with little direction and p-t retail jobs only, I temped for a year for experience, contacts, and to help me get my feet underneath me. When I got laid off after a few years, I called a temp agency before the day was out and was sent on a job a couple of days later. It’s a great way to get experience, references, and a sense of who you are as a worker. It’s far from glamorous, but I got contacts and friends that lasted many years.
        Also – check the alumni network for internships!

    5. selena81*

      I know the problem all too well, and got around it by ‘cheating’ (that’s how i see it): apart from the list of normal jobs there is a kinda-secret list of jobs for positive-discrimination candidates. Getting one of those propelled me into a one-year contract with the company. My ‘special treatment’ is based on being diagnosed with autism and it sounds like your friend might be in the same boat (f.i. because of the inability to multitask: attending school ánd building a resume at the same time)

      anyhow, building forums from scratch is definitely a skill worth bragging about: have them build a dedicated showcase-website (make sure it does _not_ look like Jordan just filled out some template that someone else made)
      just to be clear: having your own website is not the huge sellingpoint it used to be (any true developer has a github portfolio), but it will still convince somewhat clueless recruiters of your nerd-cred

  2. WellRed*

    I think Jordan needs to get off the stick and apply at places like McDonald’s or retail or call centers, while also keeping an eye out for a volunteer opportunity that makes better use of his actual skills and interests. He needs to gain experience and learn to communicate with people. It’s not enough to be “very, very smart.”

    1. slkfjdskdf*

      in case you didn’t catch it, the OP deliberately used gender-neutral pronouns for Jordan, not he/him :)

    2. Rebecca*

      I second this one! I can’t imagine going into an office type job having no other work experience–my retail and food service experience taught me how to Have a Job, which is an important set of skills. Following a schedule, not getting to choose which tasks were mine, getting along with lots of different personality types, etc., etc. Those jobs were really important to my formation as a worthwhile employee. I’m always surprised when people say they skipped that phase of their careers. I think Jordan could easily gain some confidence, some resume lines, and a good reference from a job like that!

      1. TootsNYC*

        also, I have the impression that there’s a little more tolerance for rookie mistakes at McDonald’s than there would be in an office job.

      2. AnnaBananna*

        Eh, my best friend and I ‘interned’ in high school during Christmas breaks for the state parks and rec department doing filing and whatnot. It’s totally possible to get work without experience. BUT, we got the job due to knowing someone adjacently connected to that government office, so…

    3. Foreign Octopus*

      I actually agree with McDonald’s. They’re excellent at being people’s first jobs because there’s training involved and the ability to gain qualifications. I’ve seen many people come in at sixteen and then leave after university with strong experience from working there.

      1. I'd Rather Not Say*

        And I’ve noticed that McDonald’s has generous tuition assistance if Jordan does decide to go back to school.

          1. Alli525*

            As is Chick-Fil-A, if Jordan is in that area of the U.S. I know CFA has some ideological positions that many don’t agree with, but I personally know a few gay and/or atheist friends who used CFA’s scholarship to get the hell out of their conservative hometowns and live authentic lives, and I’ve heard that many other LGBTQ kids have done the same.

            1. Short Time Lurker Komo*

              I have a friend who has just started working at Chik-Fil-A who ideologically disagrees with the CEO, but has discovered the culture is more about being the best you can be and being polite and helpful to people. ‘Everyone has a story’ was the theme of one of her training videos.

              She also doesn’t fit in the ‘normal’ box (at all, in any way), but the peeps have accepted her and enjoy working with her and don’t give two flips about it.

    4. kittymommy*

      Yeah, I mean at some point people just need to know if you’re going to show up at work when scheduled. Getting an entry-level retail/food service job will likely be all the they can hope for right now until they can prove this, gain real-world experience, and either move up in the organization or find something else.

    5. Alianora*

      Yup. I had some prior volunteer experience, but my first paying job was at a fast food chain that hired pretty
      much anyone who applied. It’s not the best way to hire (some of my coworkers really should not have had anything to do with cash registers) but it’s the quickest way to build up some work experience. And I did learn a lot in that job, even though it’s considered “unskilled labor” and my workplace lacked professional norms.

    6. LaurenB*

      They’re probably going to have a tough time at their first job. I was terrible at my first several jobs! Might as well make the first one where showing up is most of what it takes to be a good employee, and where not being a star won’t matter so much. (I was basically fired by not scheduling from my first fast food job, and I did show up. I didn’t steal money or vandalize the place. I was basically just clueless and really bad at making myself useful. I much preferred school to work for a long time.)

    7. a good mouse*

      My best friend was in a similar position to Jordan and ended up working at Barnes & Noble for a few years. Now she’s a librarian in an elementary school. If Jordan really likes music, maybe they can look for a retail job that is related while they build work experience to make it a little more personally interesting.

      1. Yikes*

        I worked at a Barnes & Noble, and it was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. They also promote from within, will pay for you to go to college under certain circumstances, etc. It’s a fantastic organization.

    8. Bird Is The Word*

      Agreed. There is no shame in buildling your work experience in fast food. I started at Mcdonalds, went to waitressing, then admin assistant to a full blown accounting role (same company as previous role). I was able to do this without a degree and am very proud. If you work hard it will open a lot of doors. I went from minimum wage in my parents home to pulling in a livable wage soley on hardwork.

    9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Except in my experience, having a service industry or retail job still isn’t enough to get yourself an office job in the end. I’ve seen a lot of people fall into this trap and sadly I cannot say I’m someone who hires someone for any office position who only has retail experience after a very hard lesson learned on that adventure in being the person to “give them a chance” in a rather mundane data entry kind of job, nope nope nope.

      Call centers are not the best either but they are a step ahead of the service/retail aspect.

      They need a job to pay the bills now and to gain references and exposure, that’s for sure! But don’t think that just by putting in the time and effort to work your butt off at Any Old Job Anywhere is going to be that launching pad into an office position.

      1. WakeUp!*

        I don’t think finding work in the service industry is falling into a trap, though. If they eventually want an office job, sure, they’ll probably have to go back to school or temp or seek out some other experiences somewhere. But remember that a lot of people work in the service industry or retail their whole lives–most commenters seem to be white collar office workers but that might not be Jordan’s path or goal.

        1. WakeUp!*

          ETA-I know OP said that Jordan didn’t want to work in retail etc because of their introversion, but lots of introverts have literally every job imaginable so they’re going to have to get over that.

          1. Alianora*

            I totally agree. To expand on your point, working food service took some getting used to, but dealing with customers is not nearly as draining as, say, going to a party. With customers it’s basically a series of scripts. You eventually go on autopilot. Most customers aren’t really that chatty. There’s also back-of-house stuff you can do in retail and food service that’s pretty solitary.

            If the issue is shyness rather than introversion, being thrown into a job where you have to interact with people can actually be a very good way to grow as a person. Of course in order for this to happen you have to be open to it.

            1. Spool of Lies*

              Yes, great point. Someone wise (possibly a commenter on this website) once said that customer service is a professional skill like any other that can be learned, honed, and mastered. You do not have to be a “people person” to work in customer service.

            2. Astrea*

              Yes. I’m a shy introvert who struggles greatly in crowds and at informal social venues, but I loved and excelled at working a major national park’s extremely busy visitor center information deskand popular areas. My ranger uniform was the “magic feather” that allowed me to act outgoing and confident while on the job, and I was able to get enough restful alone-time when off work to sufficiently recharge my peopled-out batteries (admittedly, having access to lots of hiking trails helped with this). I eventually felt burned out by the end of a season, but was surprised at my own resilience. I still love doing that type of information-oriented customer service.

            3. whingedrinking*

              Also, it’s worth bearing in mind that while you have to deal with a lot of people, most of them will be for only a short time, and the interactions are very goal-oriented. For the most part, they will know what they want and it will be within your power to give it to them – they don’t have to actually like you. This can still be draining for introverts but not as bad as having to socialize for eight hours a day.
              However, if you’re bad at dealing with conflict and compartmentalizing, customer service can be a real horror show. You will get people who will yell at you and refuse to be satisfied by any reasonable accommodation, and those people will tend to stick with you more than the lovely and wonderful ones.

            4. Marion Ravenwood*

              Agreed. I was a painfully shy teenager who didn’t speak to anyone if I could help it. Then I got a Saturday job working on a supermarket checkout. Because I had a few standard scripts – saying hello/goodbye, asking people how they are/if they’d like help etc – it was a lot easier than having to think of things to talk about. Sure, sometimes I’d get asked questions that threw me for a loop, but generally the ‘routine’ of the checkout was really helpful for me in building confidence and being able to be a bit more chatty, which helped me to progress to food service/bar work (which I found a bit less rigid than retail due to more things going on, although there were similar elements) and then to office jobs after university.

            5. Baby Fishmouth*

              Yeah, I would say I’m probably an introvert, but I acted in plays a lot as a kid, and I was surprised how much that experience helped me when I worked in customer service – almost every interaction is scripted (sometimes literally – when the company makes you stick to a script), and you can make the same jokes/say the same things over and over, so it really involves no thought. It’s all on the surface. If it weren’t for the terrible pay/terrible hours, I might have stayed in customer service a lot longer. Jordan just needs to try something, anything, and go from there.

              1. Roy G. Biv*

                Agree to all of this. A “this is my script and I really know my lines, but I can improv a little if I have to” approach to customer interaction has been this introvert’s key to success as a sales rep.

            6. Duffel of Doom*

              I’m definitely an introvert, but my first job out of school was retail and I excelled! I was really good at it, and was given the room and support and I needed to come out of my shell and grow. I stayed much longer than I had initially intended because I genuinely enjoyed it.

          2. sunshyne84*

            They can work overnight in stocking at a grocery store or plenty other places. I worked at a sporting goods store…..and then went into office work. So it can happen if you focus and work on your customer service skills.

          3. Falling Diphthong*

            Anecdatum: A lot of actors turn out to be introverts–they can do charm and interaction, but it’s a job thing to them.

            (And typing as an introvert–yeah, you need a job. You can worry about how well it’s suited to your specific personality once you have the skills and experience to be choosy, but introversion is not “can’t stand for long periods.”)

          4. ZK*

            Introvert who worked in retail, waited tables, etc. I learned to be great at customer service. But my lunch break was (and still is) spent in my vehicle, away from people, so I can recharge.

          5. sarah*

            A lot of stores, especially bigger ones, will have teams that don’t require interaction with customers– I worked in merchandising and signing at a major department store and most days my shift was over by the time the store opened.

      2. Retail*

        Plenty of managers and corporate office types have gone the hourly to office route!

        My friend quit our company and then regretted it and reapplied and eventually got to be ~management~ classified in HR.

      3. call centre bee*

        Thanks for saying this. Been there, done that. People want you to have experience in the field and skills you’re applying for. Where I live, working in McDonalds will qualify you to work in other fast food places. Year later maybe you could be manager at Burger King. For someone aspiring to office work, the only option is to somehow find someone who believes your academic experience indicates your ability to switch on a computer. Getting your foot in the door is the hardest part and so many people in this thread are acting like job experience is interchangeable when these days, managers have the option to only hire people who have already proven they can perform that exact job role elsewhere.

        Having no job experience has led to me still working ground-level in a call centre in my thirties. It took about nearly a decade post university for somewhere to employ me that wasn’t a restaurant or cinema. Even then it was a dodgy start-up that has left me with crippling work anxiety. I hate this culture of ‘yeah, to become a teapot designer first you have to be a teapot designer for five years’.

        I should say I did temp for years too, but that experience was always disregarded as “just temp work”.

        1. call centre bee*

          On a more positive note, I think there are more options online these days. If I was graduating now and had a creative interest like Jordan, I’d certainly consider creating an online channel to demonstrate my skills. Never know what could come of it!

        2. poodleoodle*

          Yup I’ve seen this too. Working in retail or merchandising means Mcdonald’s or Wendy’s won’t call you back, let alone office type roles. I’m glad I like my career because I have no idea how I would ever switch without starting 100% over at the bottom. I’ve known people on their second or third career and I’m just like, how?

          I think Jordan’s best bet honestly is to find a “pay the bills” type of job while they further their education to what interests them and then take internships along the way.

    10. Samwise*

      Grocery stores. Lots of turnover at grocery stores so positions open up; working hard, getting along with others, and showing an interest in moving up can potentially get Jordan moving up from bagger or cashier.

      Speaking as an super-introvert and as someone who’s been working for a reaaaaalllly looooonng time — Jordan is going to have to work on social skills and doing jobs that require interaction with others. That’s just the way it is in the US, especially for very entry level work, and especially for work where they will want to get noticed by a manager who can be a good reference. If Jordan takes a job that hides them away working alone all day, they are not helping themself.

      OP, I think that is something you can talk about with Jordan. I would be very straightforward with them about it, too.

      1. Natalie*

        The overnight shift at a 24 hours grocery store might be a good option for someone who doesn’t want a lot of customer interaction – it’s a lot more stocking and cleaning than it is cashiering.

    11. AnnaBananna*

      There’s also:

      Being host/ess at a local restaurant (you really don’t need experience to walk to a table…ask me how I know), working at the local ice cream shop, merchandise stocking for a local mom and pop shop, etc.

      I think a lot of folks shy away from fast food because of the stigma but it gains the same level of experience as the above suggestions. In the meantime I would HIGHLY recommend Jordon find a passion project that is adjacent to their major. Whether that’s web design, graphic design, etc. Those projects can easily be fit in the hours spent not working and then Jordan has something else to show for their time away from school. Also, building up skills via free MOOCs like Coursera will also show dedication to education/development even if there’s no output yet.

    12. Carrotstick21*

      During the economic downturn, my Interior Designer mother suddenly found herself unable to get work. One of the hardest things she had to deal with from others was the constant advice to “just take a job at McDonalds; what are you, too good for that?” with the implication that anyone can get a job at such places easily. She was very discouraged because she already HAD applied at McDonalds, UPS, and loads of other retail places. Guess what? They all want relevant prior experience, just like anywhere else. None of them hired her.

  3. Karen from Finance*

    My first resume included things like being a server for events (which I did only once or twice for friends of the family), babysitting, and, yes, being a mod in online forums. I agree with Alison’s advice here fully.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      True, my very first job ever was babysitting / petsitting, and at least that was something. I started off doing it for friends and family too, then got more jobs by word of mouth. Then again, I was twelve.

      1. The Original K.*

        I did my first resume in high school for summer jobs and it was essentially all babysitting (I was looking at camp counselor jobs) because that’s all you can do when you’re 12, 13, 14, and I like kids and lived in a neighborhood full of them, so that’s what I did. I think I filed at my mother’s office for a few weeks in the summer and put that on there too. Then I had the summer jobs (got working papers at 15) so I added those, and then I went to college and had other jobs and internships and extracurriculars so I added those. Babysitting is a great place to start (assuming you like kids)! Just showing up somewhere on time and getting paid to do something is work experience.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          Or if you don’t love kids, pets. Or if you don’t love pets, empty houses! I used to get paid to go water plants, pick up the mail, shovel the walk, flip different lights on and off. Not much to spin but at least it’s a place to start, I suppose.

          1. The Original K.*

            I did too! My neighbors used to pay me to pick up the newspaper and mail and water the plants, etc. when they went on vacation. It wasn’t much but it was pocket money for doing very little work.

            1. TexanInExile*

              And as you become the person who needs the kid to be in your house, you realize how important a quality that really is! I miss our high-school age catsitter so much! (Curse you, out of state college, for calling him away.)

      2. eee*

        Yeah, I feel like even something like being someone who is on a dogwalker app could be really helpful, because blam that’s a company that’s a period of time that’s duties and responsibilities.

      3. Cindy Featherbottom*

        Same. First job was babysitting. That ended up being the ticket to getting a legit job later. The person I was babysitting for knew the owner of a new restaurant and was happy to be my reference. Once said owner saw their name on my reference list, I was hired without another thought. You never know what kind of connections you can make from those kinds of jobs.

    2. Foreign Octopus*

      My first job was selling hot pasties on a market stall in my local town.

      I learnt so much from that job: the responsibility of turning up on time, handling money, dealing with busy periods, and handling difficult customers.

      These jobs are great for experience.

  4. Liza*

    This was me a few years back. I was forced to move home because I couldn’t find work, so I used that cushion of not needing to pay bills to throw myself into volunteering in the sector I wanted to work in. Even if it’s just helping out in a charity shop, it demonstrates that you can turn up reliably and get along with colleagues.

    1. sofar*

      And many organizations that rely on volunteers are DESPERATE to get someone in the door who is willing to get trained for the basics and then take on more responsibility. Not sure what city LW and Jordan are in where volunteer gigs are “limited,” but I volunteer in my spare time at an animal shelter, and we’d be thrilled to have someone who can simply show up for their shifts. If they’re willing to learn some skills by taking on some customer service, assist with office work, run offsite events, coordinate with the foster network, or take photos of dogs for social media, OMG we would just die with joy.

        1. sofar*

          City shelter in Austin! But I’ve volunteered at a few shelters around the country that are just as in need of volunteers willing to go above and beyond. In fact, a lot of retirees do treat their volunteer work as a full-time job and have launched their own “programs” within the shelter to train and market the dogs better.

      1. Adalind*


        When I was laid off years ago, I started volunteering at animal shelters and it has blossomed into something I still do today (one thing I do is help with social media which I do list on my resume). Most places that need volunteers would LOVE for someone to do exactly what sofar mentioned. Most volunteers stay for a hot minute then fade away but if you can keep at it – it’s great experience. We too are in desperate need of people to walk dogs and help with other office duties (scheduling spay/neuters, etc).

      2. Legal Beagle*

        Seconded! I work in a typical non-profit office, and we are always looking for volunteers to help with things like data entry, mailing, scanning and filing, etc. Being a competent, reliable volunteer is a great way to make connections in the field, as well as gain professional references for your job search.

      3. Ali G*

        Taproot is a great place to find these types of gigs. I am sure there is non profit out there that would love some help with their website and Jordan can use the product to showcase their skills.

        1. Iris Eyes*

          Now that is a fantastic idea! They already have the basic skills but need to show they can put them to use at someone else’s vision and timing. Even if that doesn’t lead to the type of position they are ultimately going for it could be a way to freelance and pay their way through more schooling when they get to that point or allow them to take on an internship or entry level position that otherwise wouldn’t meet their needs financially.

      4. Natalie*

        Particularly, in my experience, if your available during normal business hours. I can’t count the number of volunteer positions I see in my city that stay open for ages, because most of the people who would/could volunteer for it work a 9-5 and that’s when the volunteer is needed.

      5. AnnaBananna*

        Yep, animal shelters, food programs, even volunteering at churches will ALL help the resume. I’ve totally hired someone in a student assistant job that had only held volunteer work at their church. It showed working with groups/people and responsibility which was really the only thing I needed, as entry level is pretty much all trainable anyway….

      6. One of the Sarahs*

        My local animal shelter is always crying out for dog walkers – it’s a popular lunchtime “escape the office” for people in the area

      7. boop the first*

        So true… I volunteered at an animal shelter to get work experience to graduate high school, and usually the volunteers there were just people who were forced to do community service for low-level crimes. The first question any new volunteer asked me was “So, what are YOU in for?” Ha ha ha.

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      In my experience, the best way to find volunteer opportunities is to proactively apply everywhere that could possibly try it, that Jordan might be interested in. Lots of volunteering isn’t advertised, but if Jordan can put together a list of things they can do, and make it as wide as possible, and sends it out, it’ll be a good start.

      The thing is, at this stage, they can’t be too picky about what they do. Of course the dream is that a fantastic non-profit doing something they passionately agree with want to use Jordan’s web skills (eg), but they need to manage their expectations, and understand that the first level of volunteering might be just getting proof they can turn up, get on with people, and help them up the ladder. Even if they end up doing something that they don’t actively enjoy, it’ll be far better for them to be having a routine, getting out of the house etc than sitting at home.

      They should think get on google and have a look at organisations in their area, and reach out to them, proactively. Is there any kind of local/city/area umbrella organisation for charities/non-profits in the area that could be a good lead for opportunities? Is the a library, hospital or community centre? Could they volunteer with a local school (though that might take longer to get started if they need clearance checks first) Does the local parks service need help with litter picking and such? If they’re religious, are there opportunities through faith-based organisations?

      And if there really aren’t any local in-person organisations, could they do something like volunteer for Librivox in the US or Listening Books in the UK, which both involve recording books, and both also have other volunteer positions that seem to be able to be done remotely? There are more and more opportunities to distance volunteer, and while that doesn’t have the same benefits of in-person volunteering, it’s definitely better than nothing.

    3. Elemeno P.*

      One of the traps I’ve seen people fall into with volunteering is not wanting to do it because there are no part-time or full-time official positions open, and they don’t think it counts for a resume. Not true! If you volunteer once a week at the same place for a year, you still have a year of experience volunteering at that place. I’m pretty sure most hiring managers know that a volunteering position usually isn’t M-F 9-5.

  5. Sorrel Gilbert*

    What a coincidence! My next YouTube video is going to be about this!

    I would like to re-iterate the point about temping. Even for someone who’s shy it gives you a try if diferent jobs and workplaces – and you can hopfully find somewhere that suites you. Although it can be scary meeting new people, but the thing about temping is that yoy’re not there to make friendships – just work.

    I wonder if finding work somewhere online like upwork could be a possibility if the friend has good IT skills. (Even if it’s low paid as you have to compete with people in India, you gain experience for a resume). There are a lot of website building jobs to get a foot in the door.

    1. Lilysparrow*

      I always had good experiences temping as a way to get started in a new city or after a break in employment.

      Due to the nature of temping, it can be easy to stand out and move up quickly if you are motivated, reliable, and a quick study.

    2. CastIrony*

      Upwork is a great idea!
      I actually just joined a captioning website, Rev, where you put close captions for very little cash, and the perk is that you can work whenever you want!

      http://www.rev.com is the site if anyone is interested.

  6. Serenata*

    How does someone get to be in their early-mid 20s and never held a paying job? Wow.

    Anyway, like Allison said, they need to get some sort of job or do some volunteering. People with anxiety get jobs all the time. There are entry-level jobs that don’t require you to deal with customers and be extroverted; they’re just harder to find. I get that Jordan may not be the type to wait tables or work retail, but there are data entry jobs and clerical jobs that can build into something that is resume worthy. If they have technical aptitude, look into something like Best Buy’s Geek Squad or the local computer repair store. There may be some customer-facing aspects of the job, but the reward of fixing broken tech may be worth it.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      My young nephew, not a people person, has had good luck finding employment in warehouses and shipping centers, and seems to enjoy that. And the pay is better than I used to make as a lifeguard/swim instructor at his age!

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Yep, my husband is a supervisor at a warehouse and they’re CONSTANTLY hiring for people to pick-and-pack and move boxes around. Or, if there’s an airport handy, package handler — FedEx and UPS often have airport-based positions that are pretty much always hiring.

      2. Legal Beagle*

        Yes! My job focuses on helping people who have struggled to obtain stable employment, and warehouse jobs are really popular. This might also be good for a shy/very introverted person, since it’s not customer-facing.

    2. Foreign Octopus*

      Surprisingly, a lot of my Spanish students (mid-2os, finishing their masters) have never held a paying job for two reasons: one, the economy is still bad after the recession, and two, parents encourage them to pursue their education so that they can escape the recession.

      1. Auntie Social*

        Jordan might do well as a valet car parking attendant at malls or at restaurants. My daughter did that in LA during college, put liver treats in her pockets and tripled her tips when a rich lady would see that her little dog “Fluffy just looooves you!” She and her roommate got bonded and did pet sitting too. You create a website and you’ve been running your own business.

    3. CR*

      I have a few friends with wealthy families who went straight from high school to undergrad to grad school without ever having a regular kind of job like retail/waitress/barista. It’s crazy to me, but it happens.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I think this is probably okay if you’re getting internships or field relevant entry level experience instead, although I do think there’s some valuable life experience to be had in the service sector. But TBH I don’t think my colorful career of minimum wage jobs helped me land a professional career as much as a few well placed internships did. The issue here is that Jordan has neither.

      2. MK*

        It’s not as uncommon in countries other than the U.S., even for people who are not wealthy. I only ever worked at my family’s bussiness till I became a law intern, and most of my generation didn’t either, regardless of economic background. Also, pre-crisis in my country “retail/waitress/barista” used to be a job for skilled professionals that paid well, not something teenagers and students did to get expierience.

        1. AnnaBananna*

          Yes, definitely cultural. And most Americans at 18 leave the house as quick as possible (INDEPENDENCE RAWR), whereas this isn’t as urgent for non-americans.

      3. KHB*

        My family’s not wealthy, but I went to undergrad on scholarship, and that’s more or less what I did. Undergrad got me into grad school, grad school got me a postdoc, and postdoc got me my first “real job” at the age of 28. Over the years, I picked up a smattering of experience with things like volunteering, grading, tutoring, and summer research, but I think it could have gone pretty much the same way even if I hadn’t.

        I was lucky, though, in that despite not being quite sure what I was doing, I was able to springboard directly from each stage to the next. If I’d failed to launch or fizzled out at any point, I might have found myself as stuck as Jordan is now.

      4. pleaset*

        Not having either a regular entry level job OR internships/volunteer experience is really bad. You’d have to be wealthy enough to have no worried about getting a job through connections to literally do nothing career- or employment-oriented during schooling to be like that. Or clueless.

        1. WakeUp!*

          I’m sure OP would love to be able to share this post with Jordan as advice. Maybe everyone should save their judgmental/shaming/woulda-coulda-shoulda comments for another day.

        2. sloan kittering*

          Well, I think definitely internationally, and in some place here (like Harvard or something – or med schools maybe) if you graduate from the top program in your field, you’re going to get picked up on that basis. Like, companies will have arrangements with programs like that to set them up with the chance to hire their new grads. Internationally I also think it’s less common to have a college degree so that is a higher mark of distinction on its own (as it used to be here also). The issue is that most of us are not in those programs, and an average college degree in the US isn’t enough all on its own to stand out.

          1. pleaset*

            I went to Harvard as an undergrad and a similar place for grad school. Even there people worked hard at internships, jobs, etc to get ahead. (though maybe not if the intention was med school or only future academic work, but generally). And for sure there were structures to enable that – companies recruiting on campus. That said, at Harvard as in high school I got my internship and work opportunities outside those structures.

            1. AnnaBananna*

              As someone who paid her own way through college, I couldn’t even fathom how someone could afford to do an internship (in 2001, very few were paid unless you already had a grad degree). I think there are tooooons of disadvantages to non wealthy and non sholarship students, and many of them are instituional knowledge as to the programs available to students. Yes, we all know there’s a career center, but we probably don’t know that we get free resume building workshops, or that there are grants to apply for to cover costs during internships.

              Let’s not judge someone for not taking advantage of every opportunity as many of us are way too busy to even know they existed in the first place.

              /steps off soapbox

              1. Quake Johnson*


                I love when the multi-millionaires suggestions to young grads is “work for free to gain experience.” Okay but when I die of starvation what next?

                1. TechWorker*

                  Yeah – unpaid internships are all very well if your parents live in a city with lots of opportunity and you can live rent and board free whilst doing so… but most folk aren’t in that situation!

          1. One (1) Anon*


            There are plenty of countries that prioritize getting an education first, then holding a job, and plenty where children stay with their families well into their 20s. The US traditions aren’t universal.

    4. MK*

      “How does someone get to be in their early-mid 20s and never held a paying job?”

      There are actually a myriad of ways that can happen, ranging from practical to philosophical/cultural. Jordan’s case is remarkable (and difficult) not because they are 20-something and han had no paying job, but because they are 20-something and have had no paying job, no internships, no volunteer work, no extracurricular acrtivities and no completed education, plus they doesn’t appear to have some specific reason (ill health, great poverty) for this.

      1. Dagny*

        Possibly Jordan’s parents didn’t make Jordan do any of those things. Jordan is apparently very smart and can focus a lot when s/he wants to, but hasn’t translated that into grades. It’s possible that his/her parents are the types who think that being smart and going to college is enough, and don’t know either how to play the elite college game, nor do they know that Jordan has to hustle.

        All the time here, we see kids writing in about the terrible advice their parents give them on applying for jobs and interviewing. I see terrible advice given to kids about college admissions. (When a school gets 30,000 applications for 1,500 slots, no, you are not guaranteed admittance just because your parents can pay.)

        The whole business about changing majors really stuck out at me. I was told that I would be graduating college in four years no matter what, and if I wanted to take longer, I could pay for it myself. Let me tell you, I picked a major and stuck with it (then added a second one on, but completed in the four years). It just seems like NO ONE is sitting Jordan down and saying – look, no one cares if your major is music, philosophy, or computer science. People do, however, care if you manage to graduate, so just pick one and get the degree.

        1. boop the first*

          Yeah, that’s the thing. We’re told that good grades is the highest priority that brings the highest reward. No one tells you about doing taxes, living on your own, the cost of living, and how your value to the world is only what people can take from you, so social skills/popularity should really be the highest priority rather than hard work. Whoops, so everyone got it backwards and now it’s too late.

    5. Random Obsessions*

      Some people with disabilities have a hard time holding down work and getting through school with excellent grades.
      Of course this doesn’t explain why they didn’t pick up some work on the holidays, unless they weren’t applying to jobs which would higher people with little work history.

    6. EventPlannerGal*

      I know a lot of people who got that far without ever having a paying job. I went to a private school in the UK where pupils were forbidden from having any kind of paying job – even a Saturday one – during term-time because it was considered a distraction from our studies. It was just assumed that naturally we didn’t NEED one and we’d be able to get the leadership/commitment/timekeeping/teamwork stuff to go on a CV from extracurriculars and volunteering. And then at university they would just get a student loan and so on and often a lot of support from their families and the years go by and suddenly it’s graduation time and you’re 20-whatever and have never actually had a job. I know quite a few people who had a LOT of trouble adjusting.

      1. TechWorker*

        I had a job before university (a weird one, but a job) and more standard service type jobs in a break when I switched courses (waitressing, reception), but it’s also the case that at the university I went to you literally had to get permission to have a job during term time and most people didn’t. I think the logic was that the holidays are long and you can work then but a) I spent a lot of my holidays catching up on the academic work from term time and b) accommodation was generally term time only so it relied on there being very seasonal work available where your parents live. My field internships paid well enough to include accommodation so I got decent experience over summers but anyone in a field with badly paid internships (like, all of the arts) basically didn’t have a lot of choice. So def not impossible to graduate without much experience.

    7. Anonymous36*

      As others have mentioned, culture can be a part of it. I have several friends who come from a culture where there isn’t really such a thing as getting a job before you’re finished with college. In their home countries, kids live with their parents until they’re married and the parents financially support them through college, and then it’s normal to get your first ever job after college.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        This *can* happen in the US (and it helps if the college has placements/job fairs that help make this happen), but since Jordan didn’t finish their degree they’re in an especially bad place, unfortunately.

      2. Jessen*

        My culture growing up was ‘upper middle class white american’ and that was definitely the default assumption. I actually had to fight my parents over getting a 10h/week job on campus. Until you had your final degree, you were supposed to be exclusively focused on academics. We were told the most important thing was to get good grades and things like outside jobs were distractions from what would actually matter when you hit the job market “for real.” Your parents were supporting you until then, so what would you need a job for?

        Grades were the most important thing. Extracurriculars were ok so long as they didn’t take time away from studying, but tended to be very unfocused. Jobs were for kids whose parents couldn’t or wouldn’t pay to put them through college.

        1. Oof*

          A friend of mine was told he was lucky his parents let him work during college. Apparently, he worked full-time just as a perk! The disassociation we can inadvertently teach our children can be staggering.

        2. pleaset*

          What did you do in the summer?

          I was upper middle class in the US (not white though0 and didn’t work during the school year in high school until internships/jobs senior year (only had half day of classes). And in college I don’t think I worked during the year until junior or senior year. Public HS and my parents paid for college completely.

          But my parents sure won’t about to let me just hang out/do nothing in the summers – I had paying jobs during summers in high school and onwards but internships or volunteer work would have been OK with them too.

          1. Myrin*

            I mean, that’s your parents – I’m not from the US so I’m sure my lens is a bit skewed here anyway but well, I will freely admit that I didn’t want to do work during my summer holidays and my parents were fine with that; yep, I was indeed lazy and since I didn’t need to find work during my teenage years, I didn’t. I probably would’ve been similar to Jordan in my early twenties if my family hadn’t been dropped into poverty when I was 19 and I had to get a job.

          2. Jessen*

            Before college I pretty much did school year-round (I was homeschooled, but my friends were more likely to be put in academic camps or summer classes or something than have jobs). The one time I did try for a summer job I was pretty much told people didn’t want temporary workers anyway. I had some summer jobs in college but I think if classes had been an option that would have been seen as much better.

          3. I’m actually a squid*

            My parents seemed to think summer jobs during high school was a lower-class thing so the most I could do was pick up every babysitting gig I could (babysitting being allowed as it would of course prepare me for a woman’s one true place -in the home). I would have preferred almost any other job but it wasn’t a fight I would have won. Come college my parents wanted me to take summers off so I’d be available to drive my younger sibling and go on vacation with them but I’d already gotten a part-time job and threw myself into that.

            Had I gotten along better with my parents and been the homebody they’d wanted, I can easily see myself graduating from college with nothing beyond babysitting on my resume.

        3. emmelemm*

          I came from the same environment. Fortunately, I did get a work study job for like 10 hours a week, and I had some volunteer experience at some point. But I never had a retail/food service job, ever.

        4. londonedit*

          Upper-middle-class white British background here, and my experience was the same. I was at uni from 2000-2003, so before the economy went to hell in a handbasket in 2008, but my parents paid my uni tuition fees (which at the time were only around £1,000 a year – it’s £9,000/year now, but even so, nothing like the fees in the USA) and the understanding was that they were paying for me to get a good education, so they expected me to focus on my degree. I had a student loan (again, not huge compared to US standards) to pay for living expenses, so I didn’t ‘need’ to get a job. I did end up doing a bit of work for my dad, and working in the office of a small hotel owned by some friends of my parents, during the summer holidays, because I understood that I would need to have some sort of work experience on my CV when I graduated, but it wasn’t a full-time job by any means.

      3. Alianora*

        This was my experience with an Asian dad/white mom (both American). They never pushed me to get a job — I decided to get one during the summer between graduating high school and starting university, and continued working from there because I wanted to build up work experience and I liked being able to save up money while my parents were supporting me through my undergrad degree. If I wasn’t self-motivated, I could easily have graduated at 21 with no paid work experience.

    8. many bells down*

      My son’s probably going to be one of those. We’re just trying to get him through high school right now, but he’s bad at following directions of any kind and he’s going to struggle with a job. He’s very smart and a talented programmer already, but he’s just very bad at being told what to do.

    9. GS*

      I’m not sure if your question is rhetorical, but I had this experience.

      I lived rurally until I graduated from high school. My parents did not teach me to drive or get me a car so there was no way to get a job in high school. I moved to the “big city” after high school with my mom, whose contribution to my education was supposed to be paying for my housing while I focused on university (she was a professor at a college and had no idea how important interstitial jobs would be to getting work later). I went to university for a couple years on scholarships, dropped out, and job hunted for 2 years unsuccessfully.

      Finally I ended up with a brief stint seasonal telemarketing but it was only for a couple months and I was maybe 23 years old or so (got it through the daughter of a friend of a family member). No work for awhile after that, then a friend of mine got pregnant and asked me to help with, and then gave me, her housecleaning business in my mid-twenties. I ran that solo for a couple more years. It wasn’t till my mid-late twenties that I lucked into actual stable (though not full-time) employment through a friend of a roommate who mentioned he was hiring when he was over one day.

      I attribute my total inability to get a job for so long in part to my upbringing: I was taught that in the presence of authority one should be quiet, deferential, never meet anyone’s eyes or look them in the face. Once I learned I was allowed to bring my spark and personality to an interview things turned around considerably. Now that I’m the one interviewing, I understand that rapport is a draw, not an affront.

    10. Eight*

      I was (kind of) a Jordan: good grades, introverted, no friends or extracurriculars in college, ridden with social anxiety and very into the internet. It happens. I went to college in a large city in the throes of the recession, and I could not get a call back from any kind of employer—retail, food service, clerical, tutoring, work study, you name it. I looked into volunteer opportunities, but they all required a full resume and a ton of references. I was not a competitive candidate for anything. I eventually got an internship through family connections, but I couldn’t find any kind of paying job until I was 22. It was rough.

      If Jordan is skilled at web design or writing, they should consider putting together a portfolio of samples and shopping it around for internships or freelance websites like Fiverr and Upwork. They can also look for training programs for recent grads, which exist in various fields and I was unaware of when I was a student. With a well-done academic resume and a portfolio, Jordan may be able to get into an internship or program in a field like digital media, especially if they spend some of their time at home training in a more specialized skill like a programming language or SEO.

    11. Stephanie*

      My parents wanted me to focus on college and I was fortunate enough that they picked up what scholarships didn’t cover. When I wasn’t in class during the semester, they did expect me to do something paying, but I know this wasn’t every student’s experience. I will say, I think retail and warehouse work did teach me to be dependable and to grit through unpleasant customer interactions.

      I’ll throw out, too, there are sometimes non-campus jobs that expect students to have full-time availability that isn’t compatible with class.

    12. Samwise*

      I work with college freshmen. I have several students like this every year. Some of them did not get super involved in high school, and they are not involved in anything outside of class here at the U, either (their explanation being, I want to get used to the coursework first and then I’ll see if there’s something extra I want to do).

      I have them do a resume for my class, with a self-assessment (now that I’ve done this resume, I see that I need to…) and next steps (this semester I will do ….).

      Every so often I have a senior come back and ask for a recommendation — I haven’t seen them since their first year — because they spent their college years going to class: didn’t work, didn’t get involved, didn’t get to know the profs in their major. It’s really sad, because I can’t ethically write a letter for them; I just don’t know anything about them, and neither does anyone else.

    13. Rez123*

      It’s quite easy where I’m from. There just aren’t that many jobs. Getting a job when you are under 18 is difficult by default since companies generally wants to hire people with whom you don’t have to worry about legal hours. McDonald’s cannot hire the entire university student body. There is a catering school from where they hire bartenders and waiters. Yes, there are some jobs but not enough for everyone. I applied for every burger king, McDonald’s, H&M etc. Without any luck.

      I wouldn’t have had work experience if I hadn’t knows someone who recommended me for their company. I interned, but in my field (health care) the finances are quite limited so people dont get jobs from it without luck. It’s just mandatory part of school. So I’m not seeing this as a shock. Sure, he could have done something and he still can but I don’t think this is that rare.

    14. Archaeopteryx*

      I got my first job at age 19 or 20; I valued my summer freedom more than cash when I was in high school. Granted, I had tons of volunteering and extracurriculars, so I wasn’t in this situation, but not having even a summer job until college age isn’t that strange.

      1. Politico*

        The problem is not that Jordan didn’t work McJobs in high school. The problem is that xe dropped out of college and has no examples of leadership at college and no serious internships.

    15. epi*

      Am I missing something?

      I’ve seen a couple of comments say that Jordan does not want to work retail or customer service jobs due to introversion or anxiety. But I’ve reread the letter a couple of times and I can’t see where the OP ever says that Jordan has rejected these types of jobs; or that Jordan has anxiety or any other diagnosis. Alison even suggests in her response that Jordan seek out this type of work. I can see why someone might read in between the lines and come to the conclusion that Jordan is rejecting or feeling incapable of certain types of work, but it seems like a bad idea to assume since it isn’t very complimentary to Jordan and isn’t actually stated in the letter.

      1. Serenata*

        It describes Jordan as being “very introverted,” which is not the same as having a diagnosed anxiety disorder, true. However, a lot of those customer-service and retail type jobs often causes a lot of anxiety for introverts. Yes, there was a little reading between the lines, but there are plenty of entry level jobs for people who are introverts that won’t cause anxiety.

    16. Serenata*

      I grew up middle class, white, and I had a job basically since it was legal for me to be employed. I scooped ice cream, baby sat, worked a variety of retail jobs, taught dance classes, worked at a performing arts center, waitressed, etc. My parents expected me to work and put myself through college. I was also involved in school plays, honor society, band, cheerleading, etc. I’m just a few years older than the poster and their friend, so it’s not a generational thing. I’m just kinda surprised that there are parents out there that don’t push their kids to do *something,* whether it be extracurriculars, a job, whatever. I mean, I’m not surprised… there are parents out there enabling their kids to do this kind of stuff all the time.

      I picked up that Jordan has anxiety (as do I), so maybe Mom and Dad tried to care for Jordan as best they thought they could by not pushing Jordan to do things that made Jordan anxious.

      Since Jordan has anxiety issues, jobs that are more independent are probably better for Jordan. If Jordan can drive, maybe being a delivery driver would be a good idea. They could start real easily with something like UberEats or GrubHub. Also, grocery delivery apps would be a good place to start, too, like Shipt or InstaCart. This is, of course, assuming Jordan can drive. Otherwise, my other suggestions of data entry and hardware repair stand, too.

      1. Jessen*

        It wasn’t even “enabling” for a lot of us. It’s more like literally all your time is supposed to be focused on academics (or for me, religious activities). Having summer job or working through college was seen as wasting your time and choosing a little spending money now over securing your future.

      2. I’m actually a squid*

        My parents discouraged extracurriculars because they didn’t want the hassle of picking me up and they didn’t trust other drivers so I couldn’t easily get rides home. Fortunately I was a stubborn little thing and did theater all four years of high school but that was my one victory. Jobs were the same way so I had to wait until college where I could work on-campus long enough to afford a car. Even then they would have preferred I not have my own life and schedule because that made things harder for them.

    17. Liza*

      In my case, it was a combination of being severely depressed and also being from a wealthy middle class family who thought I should focus on academia because that was how you got a good job after uni. They also got me to give up all my extra circular activities once I started my GCSEs. The depression had alleviated somewhat by the time I started university but my parents admitted afterwards that they hadn’t expected me to make it that far and so were happy to help me out financially if it meant I could use my time to get my work done and do things that made me happy (I had not been happy for a long time). It was a luxury in many ways but a hindrance in the long term.

      I also can’t speak for other countries, but here in the UK, internships are not much of a thing apart from very specific courses that are designed to include them. University life in general overlaps very little with the vocational world, so if you want a job you pretty much have to look outside of uni.

    18. Marion Ravenwood*

      I definitely knew people at university like this. It was generally those who had well-off parents whose attitude was that university was the kid’s ‘job’, so they were supported by family. (I had the ‘lite’ version of this in that my parents took this view during term time and supported me along with my student loan payments, but that if I wanted anything during the holidays I had to work for it. Hence the retail/food service/bar work mentioned upthread, along with occasional babysitting.)

      A few of them did do summer internships and things though, particularly in second and third year. (Which goes into a whole issue of how generally it’s wealthier kids that can afford to do these, particularly in London and particularly in in-demand sectors like politics, publishing, journalism etc. But that’s for another thread.) I also knew at least one guy who just went to work for his dad straight after he graduated.

      Also in the UK some universities limit the amount of time students can work during term time, or heavily discourage it – either across the whole institution (e.g. Oxbridge) or for people taking courses with particularly heavy workloads, like STEM subjects or medicine/nursing/midwifery etc. But in both those scenarios it can be easier to get a job after graduating due to the prestige of the university and/or demand for those particular skills.

  7. Sloan Kittering*

    As someone who hires entry level employees, I think I’d rather see Jordan gain some form of paying employment in the traditional entry level fields – food service, customer service, whatever that looks like, many of which don’t require a resume or past experience – rather than a volunteer or self-directed activity. That’s of course if Jordan was only going to be able to accomplish one of these, obviously both would be better and something related would be even better. If I see that a young person has held a paying job, I can reasonably hope that they will have some sense of workplace norms: they will probably understand that they have to show up on time every single day, that they have some sense of decorum and professionalism, etc. If all Jordan can demonstrate is a self-directed side project, I’m not going to have a lot of confidence that they will meet the lowest bars of employment. Anyone want to disagree?

    1. Environmental Compliance*

      I’m going to disagree that volunteer organizations *don’t* require meeting certain levels of ’employability’. Obviously, the bar for that is all over the place, but volunteering at an actual organization often comes with set hours & requirements. You don’t play ball, you don’t get to volunteer any longer. I’m not sure I would hold working at McDonalds to be better than volunteering at a well known charity organization related to their chosen passion/career field simply because MccyD’s gives them some money every so often.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I suppose it would depend on the situation. It doesn’t help me judge the employee if they just put in a few hours here and there with a nonprofit. But if it was a true long term volunteer gig with the consistent hours? Hmm. Maybe. There’s just not the same accountability I find – or even if there actually is, I would worry that there’s not. Maybe you’re right if I got a very good reference from the volunteer supervisor.

        1. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

          I think you’re right and there is a lot of variance in volunteer roles. I’ve definitely had volunteer jobs that were a real commitment in terms of time and work output, but I’ve also had volunteer roles where I’d show up once or twice a month, when I felt like it and my schedule allowed – both great experiences for me personally, but from my resume you couldn’t tell which was which. I have to admit that for my most recent job search, my resume included a volunteer gig which definitely fell into the latter category – I volunteered steadily on the weekends for maybe two months, then life got crazy and I didn’t go for quite some time, but I never formally quit so my resume says I volunteered for 6+ months.

      2. eee*

        yeah i think the nature of the volunteering is important. For example, when I was a volunteer research assistant I needed to show up at set hours for meetings, dress at a certain level of formality, and produce work in a timely manner. Vs my friend who volunteered for someone’s campaign was able to log in to a phone banking system at home and call people whenever they wanted (within reasonable business hours of course). If they didn’t want to call anyone for 2 weeks, they didn’t need to. A volunteer position for the purpose of obtaining experience should include demonstrating they can adhere to a set schedule, complete tasks within a reasonable amount of time, and interact with others in a semi-professional manner. I.e. volunteer receptionist or social media person for an animal shelter could be very helpful, whereas foster kitten parent is laudable but doesn’t really show me that you have the basic skills I’m looking for.

        1. Elaine*

          Agree that the nature of the volunteering is critical. It could be very much like a job, where the volunteer demonstrates ability to show up on time, perform well, and get along. Or it could be like a non-profit where I worked where volunteers thought they were doing us a big favor and thus could do whatever they did or didn’t want, whenever they did or didn’t want. Big difference in the scenarios. Of course we didn’t have to have them back, but that kind of thing does mean that in a situation like Jordan’s, an actual paying job might look more meaningful on a resume to some hiring managers.

      3. Samwise*

        It depends on what they were doing at the volunteer org and for how many hours per week they were doing it. Volunteering four hours or eight hours a week isn’t the same as 30 or 40 hours a week at McD’s or a grocery store or a retail store or a warehouse… For the latter I can see that the applicant has successfully met some basic job requirements (show up on time, stay the whole time, do your work) for many weeks or months, which volunteering may or may not demonstrate.

    2. Karen from Finance*

      I’d make an exception for unpaid internships (in cases where they’re legal, or illegal but still done). Likewise, some volunteering activities is for organizations that aren’t paying you but still hold you up to a certain standard.

      I’d make the distinction between self-directed vs employed, rather than paid or unpaid.

      But I admit I’m biased: I know a guy who started his own tech start-up right after college, tanked, learnt nothing of the experience, and got his first job at 29. He’s insufferable and I wouldn’t want him in my workplace.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yes, a completed internship of six weeks or more with a decent reference is as good to me, or better if it’s relevant to the job I want them to do.

      2. pleaset*

        “I’d make the distinction between self-directed vs employed, rather than paid or unpaid. ”

        Good point, though if the self-directed paid off well or had other measurable resultd – as in “I started by own dogwalking business and grew it to 20 clients earning 100s of dollars/week for a teenager – thats’ pretty good.

      3. Delphine*

        The majority of my work experience before my first post-college job was freelance writing and editing. It was a job and I was getting paid. Why should that kind of work be held against a person?

    3. Lizzy May*

      I agree with you. Taking an average employment experience vs. an average volunteering experience, I would put more weight in the employment experience.

      Now that doesn’t hold true if the volunteering experience was long-term and consistent or involves tangible results that I can personally judge or if it came with a great reference but an average experience, the paying job has more value for me.

    4. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      I agree with you. Part of it is bias due to the fact that volunteers aren’t usually held to the same levels of accountability as an employee is. I know that in some places they are, but there’s an inherently different dynamic between a paid job employee/employer relationship and a volunteer/organization relationship as far as expectations go.

      Honestly, I think Jordan needs to find a structured job. It really doesn’t matter what the job is, and spend some time there. As a hiring manager, I would need to see that Jordan has some workforce experience.

      The good news is, that a lot of places will take a chance on new to work employees. Temp agencies that specialize in warehouse/assembly work is where I would start or with the warehouse/assembly employer directly. Often temps are brought in without too much in the way of interviewing, so the barriers to entry are pretty much non existent; reliable transportation, over 18, pass a drug test, and clean background.

      Once Jordan starts to get some experience, they can focus on looking for relevant to what they want to do for long term work.

    5. n*

      Would it make a difference to you if the self-directed activities involved client-work? I agree that making a website for you and your friends for fun doesn’t give the best sense of employability. But I think making a website for a friend’s small business would be a little different– it would show that you know how to work with clients, how to collaborate, how to take direction and accountability to someone other than yourself.

      Ideally, someone with zero work experience would do both– retail or food service job, even part-time, and then working on side-projects to help break into their chosen field.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I guess I’d try to suss out in the interview – how big a commitment was this, and how much accountability? If you spent a few hours putting something together for a friend, it’s not going to reassure me that you’ll be a good employee for my 9-5 job (although it could be a portfolio product, if my job was designing websites, which is something). If you can spin it into a real business that you’ve been managing over the past six months, I’d probably take it more seriously. Real metrics of success would help.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yes, a paying job of some sort is always better, I agree. It’s also better if they can stick with it for a year or two, which stinks and believe me, I get not wanting to do that grind. But I need to see that “Hey I worked at McDonald’s for 2 years as my first job, please give me a deeper look!” for a position than “I’m at McDonald’s now, readily looking for my next step up in the world, so I keep casting my line trying to find the nibbles!”

      Climb the ladder at McDonald’s and then I’ll be more interested in showing you how to climb ours over here. Sadly a lot of individuals just cap out at the low rung in food service and then expect to transition into an office setting, which I’ve seen be a difficult task, which has left me a very jaded sad woman in the end.

      1. sloan kittering*

        Oh, for an entry level role I’d take someone who has been at McDonald’s for six months, if they haven’t been fired or walked off. I don’t need them to have climbed the McLadder.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Ah see, I don’t even try anymore because if I had a dollar for every one of those resumes I did try to respond to and got radio static, I could buy the AAM crew lunch.

          The forever land of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” in low rung hiring. I stress out less by just doing the job of 7 people than hiring someone who may disappoint me.

      2. Jessen*

        The worry I’d have is a lot of entry level jobs don’t really have a ladder anymore. Or rather, the positions on the ladder are so few that 90% of the workers won’t ever be able to get one. You could be a great Walmart worker for years and the only reward you’ll get is having more gruntwork assigned to you.

  8. Foreign Octopus*

    I agree with looking into temp agencies. They’re an excellent way to build hard skills and create a reputation, as well as not looking strange if there are a number of different jobs on there because they can be explained away by temping.

    I get that Jordan is introverted, and I sympathise as I am as well, but the reality that work involves us putting in the time, effort, and sometimes stress to make sure that we can earn a living. There is no alternative and, unfortunately, Jordan is going to have to steel himself for situations that may be uncomfortable in the short term so that he can be comfortable in the long term.

    It might be useful to attend a few fun things with him that will improve his confidence (if you’re willing). Off the top of my head: a walking group, a foreign language class, an art course. These wouldn’t go on a CV but they would go towards making him more comfortable speaking to people and that is a key element in all workplaces.

    1. Kelly AF*

      I have had excellent luck with Meetup for finding groups of people to do things with! I think that could be both a confidence-booster and a networking opportunity. I actually once got a volunteer position on a statewide charity’s board of directors through someone I met in a hiking Meetup group. (Although I would caution against going to events that aren’t explicitly about networking with an obvious networking agenda — that might come across as aggressive and off-putting to some.)

      1. Nerine*

        Seconded. Meetups have changed my life and I can not recommend them strongly enough. Specific ones rather than general ‘social’ ones, I’d say, so you have something in common with the people there.

    2. Nerine*

      That is, as you say, the ‘reality’ for most people, and being “uncomfortable in the short term so that one can be comfortable in the long term” is probably not a bad attitude to have, if Jordan can develop it, purely so that they can one day live on their own terms.

      1. Foreign Octopus*

        It’s my attitude, for sure.

        My dream is to write books for a living but I am well aware of how difficult it is to achieve that and so I’m working so that I have enough free time to write in the hope that one day my hard work will pay off and I can live as I want to live.

        Fortunately though, I actually enjoy the job I get paid for so I’m lucky in that regard.

        1. Nerine*

          Ha. Same, same and same! :) Fancy that. I’m very lucky that I can work comparatively few hours and have a lot of time to write these days.

    3. One of the Sarahs*

      In my experience of temping, there’s a good amount of data entry work, where companies need people to just come in, do it consistently and leave after 3 weeks, or whatever. Yeah, it can be tedious, but if Jordan doesn’t want to work in more sociable jobs, it does what they need, which is get that experience.

      The advantage of that kind of temp job is (in my experience) that it’s less desirable, and can be lower paid so, for example, I would turn it down, because I was better placed in the markets.

      The important thing is for Jordan to not look down on any kind of temp job, no matter how menial, because temping is fantastic for learning about the world of employment. I especially like it for looking at work cultures, analysing management styles, and getting that feeling of being like a wildlife tv presenter or cultural anthropologist, getting to watch and experience, but knowing you can leave. I’ve always learnt something from every temp job I’ve done, even if it’s “how not to do X”. If it’s mind-numbing data entry, I learned how to break things down into micro-goals, to keep myself challenged, how to quickly spot-check my work etc. And if they’re using resources like Alison’s, they can think about how to use the experiences when applying for the next thing. If nothing else, temping can offer opportunities to just get to know a different part of a town or neighbourhood, with lunchtime explorations etc etc.

  9. CC*

    Ah I feel for Jordan. I didn’t do any internships in college and in high school did only two extra curricular activities. I am introverted, sure, but a lot of it is I was (and am) depressed.

    I agree with Alison on the volunteering and low-level customer service jobs. If Jordan needs more income than that, I suggest taking multiple jobs. This is not ideal, but my aunt has to do the same thing, sometimes we don’t really have a choice.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      To be honest I think I would blame the college that lets a student graduate with good grades and zero internship experience. They are really setting their graduates up to fail!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It is if it’s very part-time and counts as course credit and is in place of one class that semester, which is something colleges should encourage/require.

          1. BaffledQueen*

            That would have been an utterly bizarre expectation in my degree program. I can’t imagine what sort of internship could have counted as credit towards my degree, and I’d have been furious if I’d been expected to do some crappy office placement in lieu of actual learning! I’ve never wanted that sort of job, never had one, and it would have been a complete waste of time.

            1. Sloan Kittering*

              I’m so interested to hear this! (genuinely, I mean). I’m trying to imagine what field wouldn’t have benefited from real world experience. Maybe something within academia itself, where being a student is the exposure to the job that would make the most sense?

              1. eee*

                the only thing I can think of would be fields where you can’t actually do certain things without required degrees, i.e. a senior majoring in psychology couldn’t sit in on someone’s therapy!

                1. Pilcrow*

                  Teaching and medicine are other areas the require degrees, and there are opportunities like student teaching to give experience. I would think the psychology field would have something analogous.

                  Even then, a student could volunteer for a crisis hotline.

                2. n*

                  But a senior psych major could be a research assistant– screening study participants, scheduling interviews, admin support, etc.– either in an academic setting or a market research setting.

                  The whole comments section is making me realize that not all colleges do a very good job of informing students about what job options their majors prepare them for. Professional majors, like business and marketing, aren’t the only majors that can prepare you for jobs. Even liberal arts majors teach transferable skills.

                3. Birch*

                  I actually supervise 2nd year psychology students who function as temporary research assistants in exactly the kind of program Alison mentioned–short term, counts as part of their degree, set up as a formal module. I’m currently baffled as to the lack of understanding of work norms a lot of the students show, so yeah, internal internships are a great way to learn about work whether or not the actual job itself is something you would do for a career.

                  There are a lot more options for things to do with degrees like psychology, and interning is one way to learn about the options.

              2. Samwise*

                No, even in academia the work is not at all being a student. It’s teaching, collaborating, communicating, researching (which is not the same as being a student). “Being a student” or rather “learning, ability to learn, eagerness to learn” is the baseline.

              3. Karen from Finance*

                My first formal work experience was in academia. I did proofreading and copy editing, managing the office’s communications, etc. I got to listen in on a lot of the meetings which taught me a lot.

              4. BeeJiddy*

                I’m undertaking a Bachelor of Science, and at least where I live (not the US), there are no real opportunities for internships etc. until you’ve already completed your degree. The most you can hope for is assisting a Professor etc. on one of their research projects in your last year or the summer before you start your honours year – if you choose to do honours. The only exception I have seen to this is performing fieldwork in Ecology. Even then, there are only a small handful of students who will have this opportunity, either due to academic excellence or being chummy with the Professor. And it will definitely not be paid. Luckily for engineering or tech students, there are lots of (paid!) opportunities available from their second year onward.

                I’ve settled for getting an on-campus job helping those doing papers I’ve already completed. It will be great for my CV, but it’s not specifically relevant to my major(s).

            2. Karen from Finance*

              Even if your field is a very academic field, there are still internships in research centres or in academia. My first internship was in the university itself. I’m finding it hard to think of a field where there would be no relevant jobs.

            3. plant lady*

              Yeah I second the curiousity! What field is there, where real world experience wouldn’t be valuable?

          2. Murphy*

            I’ll use my college as an example. 5000 students, in the middle of nowhere. Most students didn’t have cars, and the area couldn’t possibly sustain that many internships. I just don’t see logistically how that would work.

            1. Sloan Kittering*

              We’ve hired interns remotely to do research reports on various topics. Students are especially good for this, since they do a lot of writing anyway. Anything through the internet would work. Hell, a real-world blog would be better than nothing.

            2. Ella*

              I went to a small school in the middle of nowhere, and they specifically scheduled the year to have a month between semesters during which you were required to do some form of project or internship. It could be on or off campus, and many academic departments and on-campus offices offered interships for it, so you didn’t have to travel to get some real(ish) world experience.

            3. Dust Bunny*

              This. And most of us couldn’t afford to take unpaid or low-paid internships. I worked full-time during summers to pay for my books, etc., the next year. I was in college during the 1990s, though, when remote work was harder.

          3. Choux*

            I’m trying to wrap my head around this. I went to a large university in a very small town. I was in the magazine journalism program. There were no magazines being produced in that small town. There was also only one newspaper, and I think some of the students got an internship there, but certainly not all of them. I ended up traveling an hour and a half back to my hometown on the weekends and working at my hometown newspaper to do my internship. There were plenty of kids on campus with no car to get out of town. I really don’t see how it would have been possible for every student to get an internship in their chosen fields during the school year.

            1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

              My school was similar (~9k students in a small town). Most internships were done either in the big city a couple of hours away in the summers or the student relocated for a semester or summer to do it.

              It was just sort of expected that the students took off a semester and completed a full time internship. Granted, one of our largest majors was hotel and restaurant mgmt, so in that discipline ‘away’ internships are the norm, maybe the expectation just carried over into the other majors (mine was business).

            2. Alfonzo Mango*

              That’s a similar situation to my major and cornfield college. It just wasn’t possible for all 15 of us in the graduating class to get an internship at the same time.

              1. sloan kittering*

                IMO the college administrators should be able to figure out *some* kind of partnership where 15 kids can get hands on experience at some point in 4 years – even something within the campus’ own services would be better than nothing (above folks talk about editing content for the campus website or newsletter). Or else, I’d honestly suggest that potential students pick a college that *has* put in this effort, as they would be better served elsewhere.

            3. Samwise*

              It is too bad that it didn’t occur to your department to create a magazine that majors in the program would work on. Free magazine — I don;’t know when you were in school (when I was, it would have had to be on paper!), but for the last ten to 15 years at least it could be sent out online.

              My point being, academic depts of every sort have a responsibility to assist their students in getting pertinent work experience.

              1. Choux*

                There was one. Published three times a year. But that was a class, it wasn’t considered an internship.

                I also worked for the campus newspaper for two quarters, but that was not considered an internship either.

        2. Sloan Kittering*

          Yeah, I’m not blaming the student, but the college really should have the contacts to place their students in positions in lieu of coursework, and for free if not paid. Even if it’s something short.

          1. Dragoning*

            This is hard, too–I went to college in a very small town that didn’t even have a bus system, and I couldn’t afford a car. I also lived with my parents during breaks, a full five-and-a-half-hours away. When I went to career services for help, none of their network ever reached to where I would be able to get to work.

            1. Dragoning*

              (I did actually have an internship in college one summer, but my uncle got my that, not my university, and one of my professors said they wouldn’t have counted it for credit anyway because it “had no opportunity to converting to a full-time opportunity” which….seems strange.)

        3. Cheesecake2.0*

          My grad school required 400 hours of internship to graduate, which was able to be done over the summer by most students. However, we had to register for 3 credits of “internship” for it to actually count, and then pay tuition for those 3 credits we were taking, even though the internships were not provided by or mentored by the school. My grad school cost $1100 per credit, so the $3300 cost of my “internship” basically negated the money I’d made over the summer actually working the internship. It was such a sketchy set up and a real financial burden to many of my classmates.

          1. Rory*

            This was my university too. Thankfully it wasn’t mandatory, but it made unpaid internships impossible for those of us who didn’t come from wealthy families.

            1. sloan kittering*

              Yeah this is a failure of the university. They should be ashamed of themselves, and students should pick a different school.

          2. Judy (since 2010)*

            We were not required to have an internship or a co-op placement, but my university offered a “class” with special pricing, something like $150 per semester. We didn’t get credit, but we were still enrolled as a full time student. This was pre-ACA, so you could only stay on your parents’ insurance if you were enrolled full time as a student.

          3. greenlily*

            This may partly be related to the regulations surrounding federal student loans. If you’re not enrolled for at least half-time status, you may be required to start paying back your loans (and those loans might start accumulating interest if they weren’t already). So, to attract you to a degree program that requires an internship, the school creates an “internship course” that earns you whatever number of credits would be half-time for your program, and you enroll for that course, and your loans don’t go into repayment.

            One possibility would be to not charge tuition for those credits at all. Another possibility would be to give the students a grant that cancels out the tuition charge. A third possibility would be to charge a reduced tuition level. Schools probably have reasons for doing all of these, but yes, it likely boils down to there being costs associated with the overall degree program and the schools seeing no reason not to pass those costs along to the students (especially if they expect the students to take out loans to pay for it anyways). It’s pretty awful.

          4. Yup*

            My grad school also required internship hours – it amounted to 10 hours per week for a whole semester, so I think 160 hours total? None of us had paid internships, and we were required to take a “class” that was a once a month check in on the internships. The majority of my classmates were ALREADY working full time, and taking classes full time.

            The internships themselves were actually very valuable – and they helped us find work that was meaningful to what we wanted to do with the degree – but yeah. It cost us each thousands of dollars, plus 10 hours a week we didn’t have, plus three hours a month we didn’t have. It was incredibly, incredibly stressful.

        1. Sloan Kittering*

          I don’t think it’s a degree thing, it’s a college thing. Some colleges will help place their English majors at internships with, for example, a publishing company or get them positions as contributing writers at magazines or book critics or SOMETHING. It’s required and for credit, in lieu of coursework.

        2. Lizzy May*

          Same. It just wasn’t a part of the expectations for any Humanities course at my school. Now, I worked during school and I worked over the summer so that never really hurt me, but not every school or program has internships built in and it’s not like every English major is going to intern at a publishing house. There just wouldn’t be enough jobs and that’s not geographically feasible for many people.

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            I still stand by my statement. The college should be able to provide SOME kind of SOMETHING that their graduates can talk about – work study in the library is better than nothing at all. I honestly don’t think it should be possible to graduate in good standing if you’ve never been exposed to the working world in a real way, because it’s just such a cliff after graduation, and you’re going to get outcompeted immediately.

            1. Pilcrow*

              I agree. I was an English major and was still able to get an internal internship at the university editing web pages and there were two senior-level classes with projects similar to a short term contract: re-writing the policies/procedures manual for the local United Way chapter and creating a process manual for a local candy company.

              I didn’t have a lot of paid job experience, but it was something for my portfolio that I could show employers.

            2. Colette*

              I kind of agree – there is no post-college path that wouldn’t benefit by having a non-academic job or internship in undergrad.

              But … I wonder whether that would just raise the bar for post-college job-hunting, the way having a degree has often raised the bar of what is required for an entry level job.

            3. That Girl From Quinn's House*

              Work-study positions are mostly for students who qualify for work-study grants. Not everyone receives those in their aid package.

            4. Someone Else*

              I think, though, there’s a difference between “the college should be able to provide some kind of something” and “the college provides it, but any one individual student won’t necessarily realize that or where to go or who to talk to or how to start that process”.
              Like, I gotta admit, I went to a fancy schmancy highly ranked recognizeable private university, and when I first read in this thread the whole “blame the college that lets a student graduate without having done internships” thing up top I was very confused. I don’t hard disagree or anything but I never did an internship. No one in my friend-group did that I’m aware of. I don’t even know if there were any. Probably? I don’t know. We had part time jobs and other things so we’re no Jordan, but I’m having some cognitive dissonance over here given I went to a good school. I think I agree it’s a good school, not just well-known as one. I don’t think they failed me in this regard. But it’s a completely foreign concept to me this standpoint of MustInternships. I’m assuming people who wanted internships researched and found them. Or students in majors that really require it, their advisors would’ve brought it up. But the rest of us it was very much something easy to never think about.

        3. Det. Charles Boyle*

          My English degree offered zero internships, too. However, I was a work-study student in school and took clerical/assistant jobs in the Dean’s office and the English Dept. office and learned a lot about office work/professional norms (while getting paid). I find it really odd that a former student in his or her mid20s has never held a paying job. Or maybe there’s family money and the job isn’t really needed?

          1. pleaset*

            I worked in a literary agency during the summer between high school and college. That would have been a good internship for an English major.

        4. Lucille2*

          Internship was not required for my degree, and there weren’t many offerings of internships locally at the time either. In order to take a summer internship, I would have had to forgo a full summer of earning possibility at my job, which was a hit to the wallet I couldn’t really afford.

          LastJob hired interns and paid them a pretty sweet stipend. I couldn’t help but feel that our interns had advantages not all college students have. When I was in Jordan’s phase of career, finishing my degree was paramount in order to lift me from the depths of working in customer service for the rest of my adult life. I couldn’t afford to take a break from school or risk paying back loans without the promise of stable income. I understand that Jordan is wandering a bit at the moment, which is normal at that age, but it seems Jordan is setting their career sights a bit high based on their level of experience.

          1. Sloan Kittering*

            But see, your college should have done more to help you. It shouldn’t have been a logistical/ financial burden to you, it should have been included in the academic program you were already paying for. There are schools that do this, and they set their students up in the position, arrange for their logistics, and let this serve in lieu of coursework for that semester. Schools that don’t do this, in my opinion, are shortchanging their students and setting them up to fail.

            1. Samwise*

              Yes. Some of the majors at my U do this. If the student does the internship during a regular semester, rather than the summer, it is not extra tuition to be enrolled in the course credit for the internship. I worked in one dept that would help students get a summer internship and then register the student for the internship *course* for the following regular semester. If they completed the internship satisfactorily, they got the credit. If they didn’t, they were un-enrolled from the course. We had a lot of first gen and under-resourced students, it would have been unethical to do otherwise. Completely against university rules, for sure, and a fire-able offense, but the right thing to do.

        5. n*

          That’s a shame. There are so many valuable internship opportunities for English majors: editorial assistant, content marketing, social media, tutoring, corporate communications, even doing general admin/program support at an arts or education-focused non-profit, etc.

          1. Pilcrow*

            I think it’s a shame English majors tend to limit their thinking to newspapers and publishing. We have a widely needed skill – to communicate clearly. We can do a lot with it.

            English majors also have an advantage with writing samples. Even if it’s just music reviews for your favorite bands or re-writing bad instructions it’s something concrete to show a prospective employer. My school gave us lots of projects. You bet your bippy I kept them all for my portfolio.

            1. Eight*

              English is so often thrown around as the cliche of a “useless” major (which is very untrue) that I’m not surprised that so many of us felt boxed into going into publishing. I struggled to find an internship as an English major, and I’m pretty sure it was because I applied to nothing but publishing houses until my senior year, since no one had ever told me any options aside from that and teaching. (My school career counselor only suggested that I minor in computer science and didn’t have anything helpful to say after I turned that down.) Publishing is VERY competitive in my area, and I got nowhere with internships until I ended up applying for grant writing, which I hadn’t known or thought about for most of my life. I really think colleges need to do a better job of introducing students to the actual job market they’re entering–not just in terms of unemployment rates, but in regards to what jobs are out there (including less glamorous ones and jobs that can’t be summed up with a one-word title), what sectors are growing, what non-academic skills would be valuable, etc.

              1. Pilcrow*

                I should probably state for the record that my university offered an English degree track/specialization in technical writing. I also came to an English degree a bit backward. I started out in Industrial Design and realized I wasn’t such a great designer, but I was very good at laying out presentations and organizing information, which led to me taking a business writing course. Boom, mind blown. All of that means I already had the broader business world in mind while getting my degree.

                I imagine I would have probably fallen into the same set of limiting assumptions if I had a more traditional English track.

            2. Marion Ravenwood*

              This might be a UK thing, but I did an English Literature degree and *everyone* assumed I wanted to be a teacher. (My mum was a teacher, and whilst it’s a noble and worthy career, growing up I saw the long hours she worked and how much work she brought home with her every day, as well as the fact I knew there was no way I could discipline a 6ft-odd 14-year-old. So I did not want to follow in her footsteps!)

              That said, on the writing samples, I think lots of us honed our skills working for university newspapers (we had two) or by writing blogs. I ended up using both of those to get my first internship at an ad agency, and then used those to work . But I still would have loved work experience at something else, if only to show there were other things I could do with my degree rather than feeling I had to go into a massively competitive field or one I didn’t feel cut out for.

              1. Roy G. Biv*

                +This. English major as well, and wanted to/did work in advertising (and marketing, and sales), but everyone else assumed I wanted to teach. Um, no.

          2. Samwise*

            My first real job with my shiny new English BA in the teeth of a terrible economic downturn was at a building contractor managing paper flow, permits, scheduling — an excellent job for an English major. Communication, writing, organization, time management, self-discipline, willingness to learn. If I’d stuck with it instead of going to grad school I’d would have moved up quickly and could have done very well — for sure I’d be making a lot more money than I do now!

      1. n*


        I’ve attended multiple colleges, and at each one, there were abundant opportunities to do work-study (if you qualified). Even if you didn’t qualify, there were often jobs that didn’t require work-study eligibility. Even though they’re usually only 10-15 hours a week max, on-campus jobs provide really valuable experience and references.

  10. Shark Whisperer*

    How hard have they tried to found someplace to volunteer? They could try VolunteerMatch to find a volunteer position that matches their skills. Even if there isn’t a perfect volunteer position, any sort of volunteer experience with anything they’re tangentially interested in would put them in a better place than where they are now.

    1. Anonymeece*

      I don’t know Jordan’s situation, but one problem I ran into when trying to volunteer was that I would have had to drive at least 30 minutes away to find a viable place to volunteer (we lived in the boonies), which cost money I didn’t have. If someone can support them while they do that, awesome.

      If money is a problem – which it sounds like it might be – then temping/food service/relative hiring them to file might be a more viable option.

      Just putting it out there that it might not be that they’re not trying very hard, but instead, running into logistical problems due to location and finances.

      1. Shark Whisperer*

        That is a fair point. It was just the wording of “They are looking at volunteering opportunities, but they are limited — while jobs are advertised everywhere” made me think that maybe they just don’t know where to look for volunteer opportunities.

        1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

          I was scratching my head at that sentence too… but from the other angle…. if there are so many jobs being advertised then apply for them!

          At a certain point if a company is having difficulties filling roles, they will take a chance on a blank slate candidate.

    2. Mint Lavendar Hartke*

      There’s also a UN Volunteers site that has lots of remote volunteer opportunities with lots of nonprofits around the world. It’s a pretty good platform!

    3. MsMaryMary*

      Some volunteer organizations want references too. For example, my retired mother, a former teacher, volunteered to cuddle NICU babies at the hospital. She needed to provide three references!

      1. WakeUp!*

        That’s probably a good thing since she would be working with maybe the most vulnerable population possible. I’m guessing most volunteer gigs aren’t so stringent.

    4. your vegan coworker*

      Yes, it sounds like both Jordan and LW assume that volunteer opportunities will be advertised like jobs. That’s not how it works, except for large non-profits that have funds to spend on such advertising. Jordan should identify all of the non-profits in their region and then reach out to any that are in sync with their interests, offering to help. Many small non-profits would be very happy to have a volunteer with web skills. Since web work can be done remotely, Jordan could also contact non-profits anywhere that are dealing with some issues close to their hearts, looking on their websites for volunteer opportunities or just using the “contact us” feature to offer their coding skills.

  11. What are you eating?*

    I agree with Allison. I started with supermarket jobs after high school then moved on to restaurants, delivery, translatoon etc I currently have 2 part time jobs and still have a hard time finding an internship for this summer. Jordan really needs to start somewhere, retail or fastfood are good places. Then slowly move on and closer to what he wants to do. At least he can have something on his resume to start with. With no volunteer and extracurricular activities, finding a job that isnt retail or fast food might be very difficult. Start somewhere, take advantaged of his skills and demonstrate it

  12. Flower*

    Can they ask non profits about volunteer opportunities that aren’t advertised? It’s unclear to me if they’re already doing that, so if yes, ignore this. Most places I’ve volunteered at were always looking for volunteers, and didn’t much care about prior experience. Museums, theaters, shelters (human and animal), stables with programs like PATH, etc, all often take volunteers (even rely on them) but may not advertise widely. They’re rarely full time though, and of course there’s no pay involved.

    I feel for Jordan; I’m also in my early 20s and having grown up in a relatively wealthy area, we were often discouraged from taking jobs during the year and sometimes even in summer, and that didn’t necessarily go away when going to college. Often there were extracurricular activities but some parents I knew even discouraged that, because the focus was supposed to be on education. I hope they figure something out, and I’m glad they have you to help!

    1. Flower*

      On the note of theaters by the by, the one that gets Broadway shows in my area uses volunteers as ushers and those ushers get to then see each show on the season at least once without paying for it. (I’m seriously considering getting myself to do it so I can see Hamilton this summer.)

    2. pleaset*

      I got my first “white collar” job out of college with something that wasn’t advertised. Wrote to 15 places and got one (i was special in a way, and it was jobs that not a lot of people wanted to do).

      1. WakeUp!*

        Gumption! Probably works better when you have a college degree, if you’re trying to land a paying job, but worth a try for volunteering.

    3. Guacamole Bob*


      At a couple of different career transition moments in my life I’ve done a bunch of volunteering, and emailing nonprofits you’re interested in and asking about regular opportunities can sometimes pay off. Not every small nonprofit needs low-level office help or has the staff to manage it, but if you contact a bunch you can probably find one who would be happy to schedule a willing volunteer for a day a week of data entry or stuffing envelopes or answering phones, if you could commit to a long enough period that training you is worthwhile (a few months, maybe?). And you can get progressively more interesting work if you are smart and capable and prove yourself, and get good references, too.

      I did data entry for a Habitat for Humanity chapter for a few hours a week (they have a ton of volunteers who want to come build houses and do a lot of work managing them in a database), did some bookkeeping for a tiny org that was just launching, answered phones and folded bulletins at my church, and probably some stuff I’m forgetting.

  13. Rainy days*

    Working at a nonprofit that sees a steady stream of interns / volunteers, I notice that while we don’t advertise impactful or interesting volunteer projects because we don’t trust the average volunteer/intern who comes in, if volunteers commit to a lot of hours and a long volunteering period and show themselves to be reliable, independent, and resourceful, they will be able to get added to bigger projects, the kind that could actually be mentioned on a resume. If Jordan doesn’t need a full-time job right now, they might consider working part-time and volunteering part-time–but treating the volunteering like a second job.

    My friend took a semester off during college and did this, balancing about 20 hours / week of retail work with about 20 hours/ week of volunteering. At her volunteer position, she was initially tasked with answering phones (a low-level, typical volunteer task for the organization) but then her boss went on leave and because she was very trusted by then she actually took over a lot of her boss’s tasks during the leave period. She was told she was the best volunteer they’d ever had, she went back to school, and they hired her after she graduated. My friend was a strong student, but otherwise had a pretty weak work resume before this–she mainly did sports in high school / college and had little work experience. There is a strong element of luck here–but my friend also made her own luck by being a stellar volunteer who was trusted by the time an opportunity to shine came around. If nothing else, she came away with a really great recommendation and some office experience.

    I don’t know of any small nonprofit that has a lot of money to spend on their website, so if Jordan earns the trust of a nonprofit leader through their volunteering, they could offer to update their website for free. This would give a web project they could feel comfortable sharing.

    I hope Jordan can find their way!

    1. CR*

      That is a very good advice about nonprofits. I am also in that field and we never advertise for volunteers but we love people who are willing to help.

    2. many bells down*

      I’ve had this experience as a volunteer. My boss calls me her “guinea pig” because whenever there’s a new project she’d like a volunteer to try, she asks me if I’m available. And as a result, I’ve been given opportunities that are usually not available to volunteers, such as working as a liaison for VIP guests or performers. I don’t know if it’s really a detail to add to a resume, but it definitely gets me an excellent recommendation. Not only from the volunteer coordinators, but from other staff that I’ve been seconded to.

  14. Ann O'Nemity*

    Is there a local government or nonprofit-run workforce solutions center? Someplace with the mission to help struggling jobseekers find work. Places like this often have special partnerships with employers who will agree to hire candidates who would otherwise not be able to get their foot in the door.

    1. AMT*

      To add to this, if Jordan is diagnosed with a psychiatric disability (or can get diagnosed), there might be vocational rehabilitation services available in their area that can help with job placement, coaching, etc.

      1. Athousandeyesandone*

        IME those places give bad advice or only advice on government jobs. They rewrote my resume and filled it with hobbies and interests and other fluff wording, even when I had some experience already. They also don’t seem to have connections to any employers, unless you are “seriously” disabled.(I have asperger’s syndrome and social anxiety) Might be my area though.

        1. AMT*

          The one in my state (New York) has extensive services that go way beyond resume and cover letter help. Among other things, they provide job placement, funding for college education, and money for job expenses (e.g. work boots, tools). They even help people with the startup costs for small businesses. It’s a great program and I wish more states had something like it.

  15. StaceyIzMe*

    Jordan can list his education insofar as it supports his technical skills and he can also list any skills that lead to some sort of real product (music written, websites produced, whatever). I’m not saying that this will lead to a job- it may not. But it will at least clarify his skills. Also, I think he’d benefit from “hanging out his shingle” for one or more of his skills (teach music, tutor website building, whatever he can really do that’s marketable). He also sounds like he needs to be screened for depression and possibly for ASD (sorry for the armchair, wholly unqualified recommendation- but limited desire to connect? goes in for processes he likes without regard to practical application? stressed by school and certain kinds of interpersonal interaction? well- it couldn’t hurt to check. Also, if he’s coachable, he’d benefit from a coach. If he isn’t coachable and is depressed/ stuck, then therapy).

    1. Anonononononon*

      Please respect the LW’s gender-neutral pronouns for Jordan. We don’t know Jordan’s gender identity or preferred pronouns, and assigning them male pronouns, especially when the LW went out of their way to not do that, is disrespectful.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Do we actually have the OP around here to let us know they used a unisex name for this purpose? This is assigning a lot of weight to what we’re perceiving as a possibility of why the OP chose that name and it’s frankly over the top.

        1. Bart Simpson*

          It’s not “over the top” to ask other commenters not to make assumptions someone’s gender identity.

        2. Rapunzel*

          They/them is a legitimate gender identity and it really takes approximately zero effort to just refer to them with the pronouns that were used in the letter.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’d appreciate if people used the pronouns from the letter. That said, people often mess up the pronouns from letters where “he” or “she” is specified as well (because they are reading casually/skimming/etc.), and I want to ask that we not continue derailing on the topic. Thank you.

    2. Koala dreams*

      Yes, I also think it’s possible to make a resume / CV with just high school graduation and maybe courses from college, if they have any transferable skills. Everybody has to start somewhere. Then apply to entry-level jobs where experience is not needed, such as customer service or warehouse jobs.
      Tutoring could be a good idea for a part-time job. Even if it’s just a couple of hours here and there to start with, it’s a way to build connections and show yourself as responsible.
      I don’t know if it’s the same in the US, but here in Sweden it’s good to list having driver’s license and access to a car (if that’s true) for many entry level jobs, in addition to the having graduated high school.

      1. Jessen*

        It would be sort of weird to put driver’s license and car access on a resume in the U.S., I think. It’s generally assumed most everyone gets their license at 16 anyway, and employers expect you have access to transportation (which outside of a few major urban areas means a car). It’s just so common that it would be odd to mention.

        1. Ella*

          On the other hand, there are some jobs where it’s quite standard to mention a drivers license. I know from experience that actors frequently put it on their resume, because it can be relevant. (If they need to drive in a shot, for example, or if they need to schlep back and forth between filming locations.)

          It can also be helpful to mention if you’re applying for jobs that have a delivery or travel component, especially if you’re located in a big city where having a drivers license is less standard. If you’re applying for a job in NYC, for example, they might not assume you’re able to drive as so many people there don’t have cars.

        2. Stephanie*

          My job requires a drivers license (because we have to travel to suppliers frequently, which requires either driving there or renting a car once you depart the airport), but yeah, I didn’t list it on the resume.

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I used to list mine on my resume as a holdover from when I had a theatrical resume. I had a VP comment on it in an interview once, kind of derisively, but in a way that only said, “Yeah, you should take this off.” He was kind of a gruff dude, but he helped launch my career, so I was glad I took his advice, no matter how acerbic. Now that I have more experience I don’t think it matters. I also travel internationally occasionally for my job and was only asked if I had a valid passport after I started.

  16. MK*

    “Jordan can spend hours composing music, researching, or writing—they even built multiple website forums from mostly scratch for our mutual friends to participate in”

    “They are hard working”

    Here’s the thing, OP: most people are willing to work long and hard at things they like doing, especially when they go at it any way they like and at their own pace. The thing work expierience showcases is that you can work long and hard (and hopefully succeed) at something when you are beholden to other people for ways and results, you have time constraints and you can’t just stop doing it if it gets boring or too hard or interferes with whatever else you might prefer to give time to. To a lesser degree, a university diploma serves as evidence of the same thing, that you made a commitment to do a certain amount of work, submitting yourself to external standards and evaluation, and stuck with it for a few years satisfactorily.

    The picture you paint of Jordan is of someone who hasn’t committed to anytying much, and the things they have accomplished are mostly not subject to evaluation. That doesn’ t mean they have no work ethic or skills, but they have no way to show this to a potential employer. It’s a tough sell.

    1. Rainy days*

      Agreed. And I’d say that for most jobs I’ve seen, reliability is far more important than intelligence.

        1. Jessen*

          Not sure it is. There are a lot of really bright people who don’t have the discipline to get all the parts of their job done when needed, especially the boring parts. Generally someone who does a good job almost all of the time is more valuable than someone who does an amazing job some of the time.

            1. MK*

              In this context the employer, but I would argue to society as well. Brilliant flakes don’t really contribute as much as films and books would have us believe.

              1. Nerine*

                That is entirely possible, but there are plodding flakes as well. Also, someone can be unsuited for a ‘regular’ job and still be a very, very valuable human being and do very worthwhile work. To me, being valuable to an employer is, at best, one facet of human life.

                1. WakeUp!*

                  It was super obvious from context that Jessen was talking about value to an employer, not making comments about someone’s value *as a person.* This is a workplace blog. It’s about work.

                2. Jessen*

                  I’d also say a lot more of it is skill than people want to give credit for. It’s just one that’s not necessarily directly taught to people. (Some of the ADHD discussion yesterday touched on this – it can be really frustrating for those of us who struggled with focus and organizational skills, because they’re often glossed over in favor of teaching academics and it’s just assumed we’ll pick them up along the way.)

                  There’s no indication this is an issue here, mind, it’s just something that employers are going to want to see demonstrated. And that’s one point where any job at all can help, even if it’s just showing up to stock shelves.

            2. Ella*

              Are you saying that reliability and the ability to finish things you commit to doing aren’t valuable skills? Intelligence is great, but kind of meaningless if no one is finishing the day to day, mundane but necessary tasks.

              1. Nerine*

                I know you’re probably not disagreeing with me here, but Jordan could very well be both. They are just having a hard time proving it to employers.

                1. Ella*

                  I’m disagreeing with your claim that it’s damning indictment for most jobs to prefer reliability over intelligence. Both would be good, but the daily functions of life require the former and often don’t require the latter, or require it to a lesser degree.

                  Obviously it’s tricky to prove the latter without a job history, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid quality for jobs to value.

            3. WakeUp!*

              More valuable to someone who needs consistent, high-quality work? So, the vast majority of employers.

              1. Rainy days*

                And most people. Even highly skilled work tends to become routine after a while, and I would rather have a surgeon who followed best practices reliably rather than innovating on me. I’m grateful to my parents for feeding me and caring for me every single day of my childhood, even though it wasn’t the most interesting thing to do most of the time.

    2. AMT*

      Yep. Finding a first job may not solve these issues if Jordan doesn’t address the underlying problems, which seem to have a lot to do with motivating themselves to do things that are unpleasant and anxiety-inducing — and possibly with figuring out what they want to do with their career in the first place, and how to get there from here. I’m sure Jordan doesn’t want to go from “I can’t get work experience for my resume” to “I quit a bunch of jobs after a few months, how do I put that on my resume?”

    3. Snarkus Aurelius*

      This is what I was trying to say, but I felt like I was mean.

      OP, it’s not enough to say you’re hard working, driven or focused. You have to back that up. That’s the point of previous experience.

      You have to show up to a job no matter what and complete the tasks. You can’t change projects when you want. You can’t leave when you want. You can’t do what you want all the time. (You think I enjoy filling out expense reports?) You can’t pick your coworkers. Being introverted is irrelevant when it comes to those obligations.

      I’m hoping Jordan finds something, I do, but Jordan has a lot to learn.

    4. Kimmybear*

      Substitute teaching…In most places there is a shortage and doesn’t require a college degree (a high school diploma or some college). You can pick and choose days/environments (I only do Mondays and only high school) and with Jordan’s academic experience, they will probably be more comfortable in a classroom environment than in an office to start off. There are drawbacks and challenges but it’s an option to be considered.

      1. pleaset*

        That’s actually f*d up if your right about substitute teaching, as least for primary and secondary education. I’d not want someone with little experience doing that.

        1. Kimmybear*

          Some places require a Bachelor’s but definitely not all. (Don’t get me started on whether that’s a good thing.)

          Here are some examples:
          Fairfax County VA
          Proof of Qualifications
          If applying to be a substitute teacher, a copy of your undergraduate college transcripts that show 60 credit hours or more (grade reports, graduate transcripts, or college diplomas are not accepted) is required***.
          If applying to be a substitute instructional assistant, a copy of your high school diploma is required***.

          Miami-Dade County FL
          The requirements for a Temporary Instructor are acceptable references and 60 or more credits from an accredited college or university with a minimum overall GPA of 2.5. In addition, Temporary Instructors must complete a training program offered by Miami-Dade College.

          1. That Girl From Quinn's House*

            I have some friends who were substitute teachers on semester breaks from college, so they were 18-22 and only had a high school degree.

      2. NewGlassesGirl*

        Yes, though it may not fit with Jordan’s introverted personality. On a side note my sister in law started out subbing and was able to use that to get a full time job in a juvenile jail helping struggling teens ( I don’t know any other specifics) She had her degree in the arts and finds it very fulfilling what she does now. The only job experience besides subbing was working in fast food.

      3. Asenath*

        Your experience with substitute teaching must be regional – substitutes in my area need to have the same qualifications as any other teacher, and the only shortages are in very rural areas. There used to be some kind of emergency license for teaching, but I don’t even know if it still exists – it used to be for, say, talented and experienced musicians who didn’t have a music education degree.

        It’s also very different being a student and being a teacher, and some students will give a substitute a much harder time than they give their regular teachers. I would never recommend teaching to anyone who wasn’t qualified and wasn’t passionately interested in doing it.

        1. Elizabeth Proctor*

          You need to be a certified teacher to sub for a day where you live? I’m pretty sure that’s not the norm in the US. Now long-term subbing is another matter. Of course I can imagine certified (e.g. retired or perhaps stay-at-home parents) teachers would be more in demand as substitutes anywhere.

    5. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this.

      My first job out of college was cleaning kennels in a vet’s office. It’s one thing to put in 55 hours a week doing something you love; it’s quite another to put in 55 hours a week cleaning up the worst kinds of dog poo. You don’t know how good a worker somebody really is until they have to do something awful full-time for awhile. (I moved up quickly and got to do less-disgusting/more interesting things, but everyone started at the bottom at this place. Even RVT’s had to put in time on kennel duty to remind them not to get too full of it with the kennel staff.)

      1. Birch*

        High five for kennel staff–I did that for 3 years in high school! We were lucky to have amazing vets and techs but oh the poo…. sure teaches you humility and to value the positives in any situation.

    6. JediSquirrel*

      +1 to this. The purpose of these early jobs is to prove that you can get something done, regardless of how unpleasant or difficult it is. I know a lot of young people who quit their job when it gets difficult, and that will definitely have a negative effect when they try to get something in their field.

  17. AMT*

    Maybe Jordan could try to focus on the “skills” section on their resume? It doesn’t have to just include skills developed on the job. It might include skills developed on their own (e.g. programming languages, software, and other thing they might have picked up designing web sites) and things they learned during their time in community college (what did they study? how does it relate to the kinds of jobs they want to do?). Also, is Jordan including their community college experience? There’s no reason not to list college attendance (and even listing individual courses if relevant), even without a degree. If their GPA was high, make sure to include that, too.

    BTW, make sure Jordan isn’t just looking for volunteer opportunities in places where they’re advertised online (e.g. Idealist). Even if, say, a local museum or children’s music program doesn’t have an official volunteer or internship program, there’s no harm in emailing or dropping by to see if they need a hand.

    1. StrikingFalcon*

      It sounds like they have some programming skills – can they build a sample website and look into online contracts for that kind of thing? Reach out to local businesses and offer to build a webpage for a small fee?

      And yes, definitely list what college experience they have. It’s still experience even if there was no degree.

      1. Cassandra*

        This was my thought as well. Could Jordan build an online portfolio?

        This is a very meta idea, but — an online portfolio about the process of building an online portfolio, aimed specifically at college students who have never had a website of their own before could make friends FAST, and would certainly be a substantial tech-skills and tech-communication demo.

        Soup to nuts — what’s a webhost and how do you get one? what’s a domain registrar and how do you interact with one? what’s HTML and how do you do it? what’s FTP and why might you need it? what’s WordPress (or other CMS of Jordan’s choice)? And so on.

  18. Val Zephyr*

    I think retail or food service would be more beneficial than volunteer work. Jordan needs to be able to show to future hiring managers that they are capable of holding down a job.

  19. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Being brutally honest here….

    Temping and volunteering are the ideal ways to go here. The primary reason being that Jordan will have some flexibility in deciding what to do and when to do it. The margin of error is a lot wider here than it would be with a permanent job. Jordan sounds like a very dedicated person, but permanent jobs expect a level of long-term commitment and internal motivation to learn the job and stick with it.

    It would also help to know what Jordan is trying to get out of a job during this break from school. This is a very realistic interview question.

    I don’t think Jordan’s chances are great in applying to permanent positions that require a resume. I’ve been on the hiring end for a variety of skill levels. Every single time I’ve gone through this process, all of the resumes (yes all of them) are filled with a variety of previous experiences, education, extracurricular, publications, etc. To be sure, a bulk of those resumes were less than stellar in relation to what I needed, but they were still substantive. A resume with no experience at all? Not even a minimum wage job or volunteer work? I have to pass.

    Many years ago, I reviewed an application for an entry-level position at a non-profit. The applicant graduated from a very prestigious Ivy League university…7-8 years prior. There was literally nothing else on her resume other than her degree and a course listing. Two thirds of the page was blank. I just…wanted to have a long conversation with this person, but I couldn’t. She was immediately passed over for literally hundreds of other prospective applicants.

    1. katherine*

      “Many years ago, I reviewed an application for an entry-level position at a non-profit. The applicant graduated from a very prestigious Ivy League university…7-8 years prior. There was literally nothing else on her resume other than her degree and a course listing. Two thirds of the page was blank. I just…wanted to have a long conversation with this person, but I couldn’t. She was immediately passed over for literally hundreds of other prospective applicants.”

      Being brutally honest here: If you expect applicants to have prior experience for an “entry-level” position, you should not advertise it as entry-level.

      1. TechWorker*

        So a) entry levels jobs can still reasonably require more than nothing on your CV, and b) I imagine it was the 7-8 years of no work history and nothing else either than scuppered it for this candidate, more than just the lack of experience..

      2. Natalie*

        Employers typically decide to interview the most qualified people, which in pretty much every case is going to be someone with literally any work experience over someone with zero work experience. That’s the not the same thing as expecting or requiring it to be considered for the position.

      3. Archaeopteryx*

        An entry-level office position usually has a bit higher standards than entry-level retail or food. This applicant wasn’t disqualified for not having prior experience, they just weren’t nearly as attractive a candidate as people who’ve demonstrated reliability. This doesn’t sound like a ‘need experience to get experience’ Catch-22 so much as a pretty sensible judgment call.

      4. VelociraptorAttack*

        Well entry-level in “professional” positions (such as one might find in a non-profit) typically means entry-level for that field, it does not necessarily (or even generally) mean entry-level, no previous work experience at all. An entry level marketing position, for example, just means you don’t need direct experience in marketing. I would think some amount of demonstratable skills will still be expected.

  20. Mike*

    If Jordan is good with web development, there a lot of options for seeking out entry-level positions based on skill and personality without as much focus on experience.

    – Coding bootcamps: These can be expensive, but the right ones tend to funnel right into open positions
    – Services like Vettery or Triplebyte (USA): Recruiting services that are trying to find skillsets for their corporate clients
    – Angellist: Job board for startups. The companies there are sometimes the type to take a risk if the prices is right and you can demonstrate the skills. Probably better as a resume builder than any kind of long-term career choice though
    – Hackerank (and similar): Do fun coding challenges. Recruiters keep an eye on the results to find people.
    – Open source: If you have the time, contributing to open existing source projects can sometimes valued almost as much as professional experience, since you often end up using the same tools and processes for collaboration. The “Mungell/awesome-for-beginners” project on GitHub can be a good place to start.

    Jordan would still need to be able to demonstrate strong people skills and such in screening calls/interviews, but these are not uncommon ways to break into the field.

    1. Libby*

      On the flip side of your first suggestion, summer coding camps for teens! From what I’ve heard from friends and family who have taught and attended, you don’t necessarily need to be the most socially aware person– you need to be decent with kids, respectful, dependable, and good at coding.

    2. Troutwaxer*

      Gotta second the Open Source projects. And volunteering to put on conventions is great for anyone with technical skills.

    3. Autumnheart*

      Kinda sounds like Jordan doesn’t have much of a personality. Being an introvert who never leaves the house isn’t going to be a selling point to a potential employer.

      If I were this person, I’d suggest a retail job, because a) they typically don’t require experience, and b) the crash course in customer-facing requirements would be a good way to teach Jordan how to develop a professional face and deal with things that are basically “It’s a dirty job, but you have to do it” obligations. Problem-solving, thinking on your feet, prioritizing tasks, and basically putting up with jerks while not letting it get to you, are all good soft skills for any number of jobs.

      1. WakeUp!*

        You’re pulling the comment about personality out of nowhere. Seemingly 95% of people who comment on this site regularly call themselves introverts, and I bet a large portion of them would also describe themselves as homebodies. To paraphrase a genius, “This is not America’s next top best friend.”

        1. Autumnheart*

          I’m an introvert and a homebody myself, but Jordan’s entire description drew a picture of a very solitary and isolated person. They didn’t do any extracurriculars in high school, they didn’t join in campus activities, they’ve never had any kind of job before, their hobbies are all “one person at a keyboard” hobbies, they have a very difficult time making friends. That’s not a well-adjusted person. I’m certainly not *blaming* them for that, but the fact of the matter is that it’s created this situation where they are now at a tremendous disadvantage compared to their peers. Few employers want to hire a person who has literally NOTHING in their life history that points to some kind of community participation. Especially not when there are literally millions of people who would be a better choice in that regard.

          That’s why I think a customer-facing service position would be a good choice. Someone else suggested Barnes & Noble, and as a book-lover who once did a seasonal stint at B&N, I would heartily agree that that would be a good choice. If Jordan has a car, I’d also suggest pizza delivery (which I’ve also done) because it’s fairly minimal customer interaction, and good cash tips for the hours you work. But really, any retail job would be a reasonable choice, because it teaches you how to make small talk with people you don’t know, develop a professional “patter”, and generally insert yourself as an authority into a situation where there may be conflict. All things that introverts tend to struggle with more than extroverts. I think Jordan would benefit a lot both personally and professionally from all those things, and a low-stakes, high-interaction environment like a retail job would be a good “boot camp” kind of experience.

    4. Mike*

      Also: Small, local, marketing companies can sometimes be desperate for anyone who can keep a website working. They usually have a few for their clients, but undervalue the work to the point where even developers who have *half* the skill required to build a forum will have better options. This would be another “get the experience, and get out” role, but can really force you to learn a variety of skills very quickly.

    5. katherine*

      I would recommend this route, in addition to seeking out freelance positions in web development/coding.

      There is a good chance, based on how the OP has described Jordan, that applying primarily to retail/food service jobs will result either in their getting no interviews (these companies are already swamped with resumes, including resumes of younger people and/or people with more experience, and the larger chains also tend to rely on huge online application systems; plus, as many people here have said, having a college degree will often get someone automatically disqualified for being “overskilled”), or getting quickly fired. These jobs don’t exist to be aversion therapy for introverts, and they’re not a kiddie pool for people to “learn their lessons” and then graduate. They exist to be jobs, they are often some of the least forgiving, most demoralizing jobs out there, they tend to have no qualms about getting rid of someone they don’t like (because there is a near-unending supply of willing workers), and they don’t tend to have advancement potential.

      Source: Both of the above things happened to me — sending hundreds of resumes out with no response, then getting fired in two weeks from the retail job I finally did get. The only thing I got from it was feeling worse about myself.

  21. dovidbawie*

    Ah, yes. My first resume heavily relied on participation in campus activities & my dedication to shoveling horse manure in a timely fashion. Call me crazy but I legit miss working on a horse farm.

    1. Auntie Social*

      My friend was a feed lot cowboy—he says he misses it, but it prepared him for being a judge in family and juvenile courts.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      One of my favorite jobs ever was unloading the conveyor-belt dish machine in the college cafeteria. Semi-independent, and the lunch ladies were awesome.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You were around beautiful animals and out in the outdoors! That’s a dream come true for so many people if they weren’t stuck in a world where they needed more money than that job can pay.

  22. Sloan Kittering*

    I guess Jordan could maybe try to talk about coursework they’ve completed, if they’re truly desperate and if it’s a good match for the type of organization they’re interviewing with. “My favorite class in school was my Computer Science course” (at the Geek Squad office), “I worked on this super interesting final report for the class, I’d like to finish my major in that subject when I earn a little more money.” I dunno, might get a sympathy vote. Super desperate but at least it shows that you’re interested in this specific job for a reason, which is one thing employers are looking for.

  23. Lucille2*

    People really bad mouth working in customer service, but this is exactly the type of person who has everything to gain from spending some time in customer service. I would recommend focusing efforts on a company where there is potential to work one’s way up from the bottom rung. It’s possible – I’ve done it and know many others who have too. Those types of jobs are coveted among customer service jobs, so Jordan likely needs to start somewhere that will take on someone with no prior experience. That includes outsourcing call center jobs where you could put in 6 months of crappy shift work and find your way into something more promising. I understand that Jordan is kind of shy, but customer service is a low-risk way to move outside that comfort zone. Yes, it can be stressful, but any job comes with its fair share of stresses.

    There are some valuable skills to be learned in customer service:
    – creative problem solving
    – conflict management
    – communication and soft skills
    – being the frontline person for a customer’s experience with the business can teach you so much about how corporate decisions affect the customer. Positive and negative.

    1. VM*

      100% agree with the skills. I got started with summer jobs in retail, then moved on to office jobs with other professionals. Most of my coworkers started their working careers in food service or retail and are decent to very good at all the skills you listed. I’m pretty introverted and it was tough to move outside my comfort zone but I’m glad I learned how to handle people when I was selling them garden tools rather than now when I am telling them they owe us thousands of dollars that they weren’t expecting.

  24. SarahTheEntwife*

    If the anxiety/introversion is holding Jordan back from considering typical customer service jobs, maybe something like warehouse work or stocking at a grocery store would be more up their alley?

    1. Auntie Social*

      I agree, someone who is reliable and shows up for the 2:00 A.M. shift without fail is someone I’d interview.

      1. Stephanie*

        Yes, I got promoted from my first job at Brown Shipping Company and did some employee supervision. Reliable employees were in short supply.

      2. BRR*

        My MIL does hiring for line workers at an autopart factory and she has trouble with people showing up regularly for every shift. The problem is they pay more than minimum wage, less than a living wage, and the same as all of the other manufacturing plants in their area, which is a small town that doesn’t tend to attract new resident. She’s told me she’ll basically hire anybody that can pass a drug test (yeah, I know. Not her decision and something she can’t change) who can show up.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Ah I’ve been your MIL before. We didn’t even make anyone pass a drug test in our podunk operation and it was still impossible.

        2. TootsNYC*

          My dad worked at Home Depot in the Des Moines area. He said they were always hiring, because people would come, get the job, and quit after about three shifts. So if Jordan is determined, simply continuing to come reliably to work can end up creating a STELLAR job reference.

    2. WellRed*

      Our local newspaper contracts with delivery drivers. Just gotta have a car and be willing to show up in the middle of the night.

      1. pamela voorhees*

        Seconding newspaper delivery! It’s tough work hours (I think my news carrier said her hours were something like 1 AM to 5:30 AM?) but it’s quiet, has almost zero customer interaction, and just like all the other mentioned jobs it’ll show that you can show up on time, accomplish tasks by a deadline, etc. Plus, if Jordan likes wildlife and depending on where they live, they’ll probably get to see some cool animals! (Our carrier regularly talks about seeing owls and bats.)

    3. Stephanie*

      Yeah, I had an underemployment gig at the Brown Shipping Company warehouse. The hours were kind of weird and you get dirty (and pay was terrible), but I didn’t have to deal with customers and I got to listen to music/podcasts while I worked.

  25. irene adler*

    There are on-line skills assessment tests one can take if the temp agency tests can’t be taken right away.
    This would demonstrate wpm typing, skill level with Word, Excel, Access and other software. It’s a start.

  26. Not So Super-visor*

    Tell Jordan to go to a temp agency. Temping sucks, but it will get them some experience. If they can type, they can usually find some sort of data entry or call center experience. Once they’ve got some experience temping, they can have something to put on their resume. Sometimes temp positions even turn into full time positions.

  27. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

    I never had a paying job until I graduated highschool at 18. My resume consisted of a not very good volunteer experience and karate. Since I had pretty much bupkus on my resume I included the fact that I had studied karate for 7 years and had a black belt.
    A new store opened in town and they held a job fair to fill dozens of positions. I applied and the only thing the interviewer was interested in was karate. I was hired for a part-time position stocking shelves.
    I had more extracurricular activities than Jordan but they have more education so I consider us to be equal in terms of resume content. My second job was a full time position at a call centre.
    Jordan could stock shelves, work in fast food or retail, there are lots of entry level jobs out there that will look good on their resume (though I don’t know what the job market is for Jordan).
    After a year at the call centre I quit and started university. With one year of university and my other two jobs I got an entry level job in my chosen field.
    This is one example of how entry level jobs build on each other. Jordan can build their resume too and they don’t have nothing. They have some higher education on the resume, but they should still be applying for entry level work. I found stocking shelves to be enjoyable and satisfying; this is how Jordan can launch their career. Best of luck to your friend!

    1. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

      Also I am an introvert too but the thing wirh the costomer focused jobs I’ve had (call centre, barista, waitress) is there is a framework for human interaction which gave me a lot of confidence and removed the awkwardness I often feel in social interaction, because I always knew the next step. I hope Jordan doesn’t feel discouraged by being introverted – this will not hold them back. :)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This reminds me to say that Jordan should not be putting all their higher education on their applications for truly entry level positions.

      I had many friends during the recession denied jobs as cashiers or stocking because they had too much education and they were flagged for it. Yes it’s absurd but it’s sadly the way hiring managers in those situations are often trained to think “they’re going to be out of here first opportunity they get and look, they have a degree, that’s gonna mean they’re gonna be out of here even faster than anyone else!”

  28. American Ninja Worrier*

    Jordan probably needs to start with a fairly low-level job for a while to gain employment experience, but I also think they should look into some coding/programming communities or projects to do in their spare time. They could create some things specifically for putting in a portfolio that could lead to a better-paying job that Jordan would enjoy a lot more. That’s assuming they’re interested in that sort of work, but it sounds like they might be! Anyone here more familiar with different types of programming who can elaborate (or correct me if I’m off base)?

  29. CastIrony*

    If Jordan is willing to go back to college, she could apply for work study or non-work study. That’s how I got my first paying job!

  30. MsMaryMary*

    I agree that finding an entry level, low skill* job is the place to start and get some work experience. If Jordan isn’t comfortable with the customer interaction involved food service, retail, or a call center because they are introverted and reserved, they could try a laborer type position. Landscaping, house painting, packing or warehouse work. Maybe even entry level manufacturing.

    *No disrespect meant, I just couldn’t think of a better term. I’ve worked in retail and food service and spent a little time in a warehouse. It’s certainly not easy.

  31. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I went from graduating high school to getting a job. Sadly the only true reason I got in when I did was that I had a friend who had a sister who needed an assistant at her office.

    I did play up my teacher-aid position I had in high school, thank goodness I had that because I had no extracurriculars activities either!

    Has your friend spoken with a career center or perhaps a temporary placement agency? Some of temp agencies will be able to help if they’re placing within office-assistant kind of roles without a resume in hand, then that will give them a starting point.

    Honestly it’s all about finding where you can sneak in and those are tricky, so it’s not something you can coach someone on :(

    It’s the age old catch 22 of wanting experience but how do you gain experience if everyone wants it and nobody seems to want to give you a chance prior to that, sigh.

  32. Relatable*

    I have a friend in this situation, and I pointed them to Americorps. Anyone have experience with that and care to chime in?

    1. plant lady*

      I did two. back-to-back, three-month internships with AmeriCorps after I finished undergrad! After that I got paying, full-time work in my field. The internships paid me $75/week (woot woot) plus free rent and $500/month towards my student loans, and they paid for my travel to and from the work locations from my hometown.

    2. WomanOfMystery*

      AmeriCorps gave me my career! I had been volunteering for a few months and they offered me a position through AmeriCorps— I got demonstrable skills in archiving and (volunteer) management, as well as showing I could do paperwork cheerfully.

    3. n*

      So glad someone else suggested this first.

      The best AmeriCorps gigs IMO are the residential ones– those are really the only way to afford it. I think the NCCC has the most residential opportunities– you travel different regions doing different projects, mostly manual-labor intensive.

      Another good program to check out is JobCorps. It’s a residential, paid job training program. A high school friend who sounds a lot like Jordan was able to start a good career by participating in that program.

      1. n*

        Oh, another thing to check out: WIOA on-the-job training programs. They’re funded by the federal government, and incentivize employers to hire applicants who face barriers to employment. The application process can be really bureaucratic, but it’s an option to check out.

    4. Retail*

      Everybody in my americorps cohort had experience or a degree in that field – often graduate. My roommate’s position is with a museum, her private school didn’t do internships, so this is her first museum job with a degree in museums.

      They’re just as much about connections, work histories, as other stuff.

    5. pamela voorhees*

      This is a good suggestion, but I would add that I personally had a very, very bad experience with my AmeriCorps position, and I would urge Jordan to studiously vet the program they’re interested in before applying! AmeriCorps can range widely in what you’re expected to do, how many coworkers you’ll have, the population you work with, what the pay is, reporting structure, etc. I don’t mean to warn anyone away, but just do your research beforehand (although that’s very good advice for anything, really :) )

  33. Me*

    I am at a job 18+ years later that started with my journey into temping. I temped a few short terms, then landed a long-term administrative position. They loved me, brought me on as a company paid temp (more money) then hired me full time. I moved and grew with that company and am here still. Temping can be a good option.

    That said, it sounds maybe like Jordan struggles with knowing how or being comfortable interacting with others. A customer service type job, even if it’s low paying/low skill, can often help someone learn some people skills – both clients and coworkers. The positions I held when I was younger, were tough for sure. But I learned a lot about human interactions at work and it really has served me well. Plus, again in my experience, there’s a sort of camaraderie that comes along with being in the trenches so to speak.

    Also, your a good and caring friend.

    1. Me*

      Oh also !!!! Many many many city or county governments have an office specifically designed to help people get work. In my county it’s called Workforce services. They are phenomenal not only at helping with resumes and such, but they have specific programs and monies for things like paying a client a wage for an approved unpaid internship, job training programs, etc. Please encourage Jordan to look for something similar in your area.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        OMG last time I tried hiring using WorkSource I got zero applicants.

        But, please please please try that method if it’s something that’s available in your area. This made me recall that I found an old job that way as well years ago, it was all they posted on because they’re so cheap and were archaic as well in many ways. It’s a foot in some door and in this case, you need to know where all the weird trap doors of employment may be lurking to peak into them.

        1. TootsNYC*

          OMG last time I tried hiring using WorkSource I got zero applicants.

          Well, maybe Jordan won’t have any competition, then–and that might be good.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            That’s my whole point here ;)

            Seriously. It’s a very little utilized platform but some employers love it because it’s free and are trying to fish the unemployment pond, which isn’t very big so much unemployed folks aren’t even bothering with that listing source!

        2. Me*

          Great points. In my admittedly limited experience in our area, our county employment office is much more suited in helping exactly this kind of individual than say in the more skilled, advanced career realm people who were maybe laid off or such. They were pretty useless for my bother in law transitioning from military intelligence to the same job but DOD and contractors (very specific resume requirements. I ended up helping him because they just didn’t have the knowledge)

          The one in our area even has a program specifically for undeserved youth to obtain summer jobs – basically employers get bodies for free and the county picks up the bill.

      2. MsMaryMary*

        When I looked into jobs referrals from my county/state, there were a lot of suspect job postings. Some MLM schemes, shady credit/refinancing services, “marketing” jobs that turned out to be door to door satelltie TV sales…. Hopefully that’s not the case everywhere, but Jordan should beware.

        1. Me*

          That is crazy to me! That I would expect from like craigslist. It sounds like they may just have some kind of job posting board that allows anyone to post jobs on their site. I definitely wouldn’t recommend that. My county one works with local business directly, so they’re definitely not all alike. You also have to go in and work with the staff, it’s not just a job posting resource. That’s more what I’m recommending they see exist. Jordan seems to need more help in finding a fit then just where to look for job listings.

  34. Où est la bibliothèque?*

    Online work? You can find (very low paying) data entry and audio transcription gigs really easily.

    There’s also online tutoring, at least ESL, and some of those websites only require auditions and degrees, not proven experience. That also might be a good way for an introvert to to get out of their comfort zone a little.

  35. Stephanie*

    Not quite the same, but I helped interview interns for my department. We didn’t expect them to have much experience, but yes, absolutely nothing on a resume meant we passed. Just had to have something on there–fast food, retail, school projects–any of it was fine! My coworker here joked about getting hired with Pizza Hut on his resume–“there was a quality standard we had to meet with those pizzas–I definitely applied it to interviewing for a supplier quality engineering role here.”

    I think there might be something he needs to resolve first–I don’t want to internet diagnose, but based on the letter, it sounds like there’s something that may be hindering Jordan. I knew a few Jordans in high school who were able to test well, but flamed out in college because they weren’t able to follow through things that didn’t interest them or weren’t learnable like a standardized test.

    In the meantime, yeah, I think something like retail or food service or warehouse work is the way to go to get something on the resume.

  36. Coder von Frankenstein*

    Since Jordan has done some pretty heavy-duty website work, why not start there? Are there any local businesses that Jordan has some kind of connection to (family, friend, regular patron)?

    Check out their websites. There’s a good chance they suck–I mean really, really, suck. Most small business websites are awful. Jordan could spend some time reading up on web design, and then volunteer to make them better, or even rebuild them. If Jordan can get paid for it, that’s ideal, but even if they can’t, it’s something they can put on a resume and use to demonstrate their skills.

    Note that website design requires aesthetic/artistic chops as well as technical skills, but it sounds like Jordan has some of that going on as well–enough to put a decent small business site together, at least.

    In the meantime, Jordan should probably be looking for a McJob of some kind. It ain’t fun, but it pays the bills (more or less), it helps develop the habits of working, and it proves that you can manage the basic workplace requirements of showing up to work and doing the thing you’re told to do, which are not universal capabilities by any means. It beats the heck out of having no work experience at all.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Problem with this is finding any business who will allow a rebuild a website. If it’s bad, it’s because they’re cheap or don’t see it as much value.

      Also someone who will let someone use them as a protect for free is questionable on another level. You cannot just volunteer services to a for-profit and a non-profit will still need a portfolio to show your credentials on some level.

      That’s dangerous to hand over your website to a stranger,without a job background…

      Again we’re back at needing to network and find someone who will trust Jordan in the end.

      You may as well just have Jordan cold call asking for a real job. This scenario is ripe with the idea of gumption getting you into the workforce.

      1. Coder von Frankenstein*

        Of course you’re not going to get anywhere cold-calling with a proposal like this, and I suggested no such thing. I started by asking if Jordan has any connections to local businesses.

        The point is not to avoid networking; it’s to parlay a networking connection into a resume that highlights Jordan’s technical skills, rather than a job doing clerical work or moving boxes.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          But don’t you think if Jordan has a connection to someone in business…they’d be the best person to ask for a paying job stocking their shelves or doing their EA work for them? Instead of asking to re-tool their website.

          If someone I knew by way of their parents perhaps was all “Hey let me do this really big daunting task for you for experience!?” I would see them as someone who cannot see the scope of their abilities or ambitions. They need to bring it down a million notches.

          If you ask me if you could get an office assistant position, learn about what our company website should even start to look like from that ground level and then hope that one day it’ll be your project, that’s a lot less of a wild leap and more likely to be taken serious.

          I think the point here all across the board is that Jordan needs to get in on the ground floor and not try climbing through windows but use one of the many doors.

      2. Autumnheart*

        Besides that, it can be really thankless work. Small businesses want you to design the next Amazon.com for $100, complain that you didn’t make them millionaires overnight, and then use that as an excuse not to pay you the agreed-upon amount. At least with a McJob, you get paid for the hours you work. And there’s a certain amount of anonymity in customer service work which, I think, is beneficial when one is trying to get entry-level work experience. If you hang out your shingle as a freelancer and someone says “Autumnheart Designs was a terrible experience! Never hire them!” [because they were a horrible client], that has a much higher chance of following you professionally than someone who complains that you didn’t smile enough when you rang up their groceries.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          This is an absurd transition into small business bashing.

          I’ve had major, universally recognized companies refuse to pay invoices for product that they got because of some accounting nonsense on their end. Such as a buyer didn’t follow their internal rules but we of course didn’t know that. We send a bill for the products they received and they’re all “Nope, not paying this! That buyer didn’t have authorization or doesn’t work here any more this isn’t traceable in our system, etc.”

          So yeah, the “small businesses” are taking advantage of so many people. The big guy smashes the little guy all the frigging time and has a lot more power in doing so.

          1. Autumnheart*

            I had to take my last freelance client to court in order to get paid. Enough said.

  37. Colette*

    Based on your description of Jordan, I think that fast food or retail would be a better place to start than temping for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is well defined, predictable work in a way that temp work isn’t. There are interactions with coworkers and sometimes customers, which will help build professional interaction skills. It will also build a track record of going in and doing what work needs to be done no matter how you feel or whether you think it’s the right way to do it. And consistently showing up and doing a good job can go far in that kind of environment, and will help Jordan get some good references.

    I’m afraid putting Jordan in multiple temp jobs, with multiple strangers, where the work is not well-defined, will not go terribly smoothly.

    1. TootsNYC*

      When my daughter was in the middle of anxiety and depression, i think she’d have benefitted from working at Rite-Aid or something.

      The tasks are clearly visible, and there’s a boss that expects to pretty much tell you what to do. She wouldn’t need to invent them the way you invent a school paper, etc., or plan complicated ways of doing them. When the tasks are done, it’s clear and rewarding.

    2. emmelemm*

      I think this is definitely a consideration. Whenever I’ve done temping, it’s been stressful mostly because you move, sometimes quickly, from environment to environment and never know what to expect. Change is what is hardest on my anxiety and introversion!

      On the other hand, I have gotten permanent positions from temping. If you can just get in and start demonstrating your competency, it really helps people who either don’t present well on paper or don’t necessarily present super well in the interviewing process (me).

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      I agree. From my own temping experiences, what most places are looking for in a temp is someone who already has basic workplace skills down solid and can be relied on to turn up and do whatever it is they’re supposed to do. They’re not really looking for someone who needs a great deal of investment to get them up to scratch because they know that in a few days or weeks, they’ll be gone.

  38. TootsNYC*

    I had to help my college-sophomore kid put together something to use for summer job-hunting, and I realized I had really messed up by not making him get a job as a high school student in the summer.

    I didn’t really know how to do that in NYC, though. It just seemed so daunting.

    And it made me realize how very luck I had been w/ my high school jobs (our business-skills teacher set up jobs at companies in our town for every one of her students), and my summer jobs in high school and college (I use my office-services skills at a summer camp affiliated w/ my church).

    1. TootsNYC*

      He had NO work experience.

      So I created a header that said, Leadership Experience,” and was able to put in stuff like “team captain for cross country” and “student leader at kendo” and “president of college kendo club.”

      But at least he had those!

      yeah, now is the time to get a job at Target, or something. Even if it’s only for 6 months. (My dad worked at Home Depot, and they were ALWAYS hiring, because the people they hired kept quitting, except for a core group)

  39. theBubba*

    I would like to suggest that Jordan consider the military. They DO hire on potential, and there are some very highly skilled jobs available. Depending on what their entry standardized test scores are, Jordan could be offered jobs in the cyber, satellite, IT, or software engineering fields.

    The entire area of military intelligence is well suited for people who can work in their heads for long periods of time and accomplish things with computers and technology. The military will take an immature, callow individual, and teach them how to work at a job, how to interact effectively with others (on the job and socially), develop them as a leader, and offers many benefits and opportunities for self-improvement, as well as having a job that serves others.

    I often sense a stigma against the military. There’s a stereotype that the military is for losers, is stupid, is violent, is useless, or other negative associations. This is actually wrong. The military is a good place if you have nothing, come from nothing, have no direction, or need to grow as an individual. It will challenge you definitely, but also nurture and reward you.

    The only absolute rule I would suggest is, DO NOT go by yourself to the recruiter. Talk to someone from the military first, even if only on social media, to learn pitfalls and what you should do to get hooked up with a good job and not an unskilled one. Even better if you know someone IRL who was in the military to help you.

    One caveat, military service is only possible if you are a basically healthy person without any debilitating chronic medical or psychiatric conditions.

    1. The Redshirt*

      This is a good idea. One of my parents joined the Canadian military in 1979 without any job experience. The area was in an economic depression, and they’d been unemployed for a year. During 20 years of service, they learned a complicated and valuable trade as an aircraft mechanic.
      As an introvert myself, I greatly enjoyed working in The Base toolcrib. It was very satisfying running around the bins of gear filling orders.

    2. afiendishthingy*

      We don’t actually know if the writer used gender-neutral pronouns for the sake of anonymity, or if they/them are the real Jordan’s pronouns, but if it’s the latter, the military may not currently be an option for them.

  40. katherine*

    For the short term, Jordan could also look into SAT tutoring, one of the few jobs where having extremely high SAT scores actually directly matters (as in, they ask you about it in the application process). This could be either through the major companies or independently, though the big companies are easier to break into. It requires, obviously, the ability to effectively communicate and teach well, to self-motivate, and also requires a method of transportation. It will also undoubtedly be part-time/gig-based. Nonetheless, it will result in a resume item.

    1. Uhmealeah*

      I had this same thought and then some.

      The OP pointed out a few strengths and areas of expertise: extremely high SAT scores, composing music, researching, writing, and building website forums. I’d recommend that the OP discuss Jordan’s strength and go from there. High SAT scores screams “tutoring” to me and it seems like there are so many opportunities to tutor both in person and remotely these days.

      I’m unfamiliar with composing music, but maybe gig-industry sites would have work for people who have experience composing music?

      I’m not sure if the “researching” and “writing” were in regards to a particular topic, but it seems like these would be great skills in an entry level office job, as an assistant, or other similar field.

      As far as building forums, it seems like this requires some level of skill as I’m not able to just do this myself right now – is it coding, designing, following a template or merely moderation? Something like building a website, even from a template or site that provides support can still be a handful. Can Jordan offer their services to adjacent or similar tasks and see where that goes?

  41. TootsNYC*

    My son got his first job because I suggested he ask at his high school (a private one linked to our church) if they needed laborer help during the summer. And they did, and the guy in charge was someone who went to our church and was his teacher when he was a student.

    So, now he has work experience. And they’d like him back next summer if he’s interested, so that’s a good reference.

  42. TootsNYC*

    re: introversion

    I’m not one, so I don’t know.

    But I would think that it would be easier in some ways to do retail if you ARE an introvert.
    Because you aren’t seeking to create connection with the customers; you just want to give them what they need. So you can be pleasant to a stranger, but you have no emotional stake in the interaction.

    They become a task, not an interpersonal relationship.

    if they’re rude, oh well, they’re not someone you know, and it doesn’t matter–your vision of yourself is not wrapped up in this.

    But as I said–I’m not an introvert, so I don’t really know how it works.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      I’ve always been something of an introvert, and worked in retail my whole adult life. There’s something to what you say, but while it’s easier to do the job, it’s not necessarily easier to excel at it. The best *do* make that personal connection, albeit only momentarily. And with the current culture war between brick-and-mortal retail and online discount retail, many retailers are getting more picky about the stuff you can’t teach, like those interpersonal talents.

      A job flipping burgers is certainly better than nothing at all, and retail experience is a great way to work on being less introverted. But it might not be as easy as it sounds.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      People have different ideas of what constitutes an introvert as well.

      I’m an introvert. I will exhaust myself with socializing events pretty quickly. A busy day at work will exhaust me as well! But it doesn’t make me miserable at all. I love it in the end.

      I’ve always had a customer facing job in some aspect. Never retail or food service but always the person on the phone or email working directly with clients one way or another. It’s great. I am a casual friendly person who just needs time to re-juice my mental batteries more often than people who thrive on large events and large groups all day and night.

      It’s literally the major reason why I don’t plan on having kids. I love children but they need attention on their watch, not my schedule and I’d be horrible at being able to give up my much needed recouping time if I cannot go home and crawl into my darkened room with just my cat and tv etc.

    3. Autumnheart*

      I’m an introvert, but working in retail jobs gave me top-notch “interact with strangers” skills, and made me a lot more comfortable with approaching people and being on the front lines of solving their problems. It definitely wasn’t my favorite kind of job (1st tier tech support = I hate the phone forever), but I was fine at it, and the skills have always been valuable as I entered and progressed in my career field. I even had a sales job for a short stint, which is basically an introvert nightmare, but I actually did really well at it because it was for a product I knew a lot about. (But then the company closed and laid everyone off, and then I got this job, so. But it’s nice to know I could be good at it.)

      Umpteen years later, I’m still an introvert, but I’ll also be the person who has nice conversations with people in the TSA line and stuff. I also have a certain amount of social anxiety, but knowing that I *can* have pleasant social interactions makes it easier to go into uncomfortable social situations–everything from traveling, to trying restaurants by myself, to introducing myself to people I don’t know, to navigating interviews. All kinds of stuff, really. I’m still far from the life of the party, but I still go to the party. (Most of the time. :) )

      1. BRR*

        That’s a great point. I’m shy and working the front door at a bar was great for helping me be able to fake my way through that weakness.

  43. Steve*

    Maybe Jordan can talk up her experience developing those forums from scratch. If they can code or do web development they could be a good career. In fact, maybe Jordan wants to go to a coding bootcamp. I know several people who have done them and gotten decent entry level work from them. It could be a good career for an introverted person who can already do well with computer work

    1. LaDeeDa*

      If they are that good they could post an ad on fiver.com and offer services. When my cousin got laid off from her very entry level office job, she posted on fiver that she could do translations from English to French and Spanish, and she was quickly making the same amount of money she was making from her office job. My brother is a graphic designer and he has a fiver seller account and he will design business cards, logos, letterheads, etc. He makes a pretty steady income from it, and they are one-offs so he can accept requests when he has time.

  44. Anonymeece*

    OP, you say that Jordan was going to community college. They might be on a break now, but they can also try applying for jobs that are clearly for students (not work-study, as that’s only for those who are currently enrolled in school), but staff admin jobs.

    I work at a community college and many of the students and people we hire are brand new to the work force (we hired someone in July who graduated in May!), and we take more chances than would be expected, simply because many of them don’t have any experience and we understand that.

    For writing the resume, just put their education, maybe some relevant coursework, and hope for the best. Sometimes you get lucky.

    Some jobs we hire for: peer tutors (these are students, but there may be similar opportunities), reader/scribes for disability services, circulation staff for the library…

  45. Magenta Sky*

    There seems to be an assumption that Jordan will eventually end up in a white collar job that benefits from a college education. Perhaps that assumption should be reexamined. If one does not mind working hard, and coming home dirty, there are a lot of blue collar careers that pay very, very well (with no student debt), and in many cases, pay while you learn them. It might be worth Jordan’s time to look up the Mike Rowe Foundation, or look for similar programs.

    1. Polymer Phil*

      Jordan sounds like a smart person who has trouble with school – a skilled trade could be a good fit.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        I agree. Not everyone can or should go to college, not everyone is cut out for a white collar job. My oldest nephew is a smart young man but school was never his thing. In the fall he started in a paid program training to become an airplane mechanics. He is doing really well and loves it.

        1. Magenta Sky*

          Not everyone is cut out for a blue collar job, either. The real point, though, is that neither is “better” than the other. Americans have a fetish for college degrees and white collar jobs, to the point where people with neither are considered lesser beings in some way. But the fact is, without mechanics and machinists and plumbers, we’d all be hunting dinner with sharp sticks and pooping in a hole in the ground, because blue collar work is the nuts and bolts that keeps a modern civilization working.

          There are a lot of blue collar jobs that have gone unfilled for a long time, because of that fetish. Many offer paid training and apprenticeships, and decent middle class wages with no student loans afterwards. It’s worth considering.

    2. JSPA*

      Plumbing, electrical and other skilled trades pay excellently and are fairly difficult to outsource or automate. (New construction may move towards prefab – in – toto– or not, as that’s been the supposed “next big thing” every few years, for decades– but existing construction will continue to need servicing). Training programs and individual tradespeople are emphatically looking for trainees / apprentices. Many tradespeople will expect an early to very early start time (pick you up at 6:15, or you arrive independently at the first remote job site at 7. Avoids traffic, and some customers will pay a premium to have you in and out before they go to work.) One does have to take direction well, think in 3-D, not be opposed to working with one’s hands, and not be squeamish about contact with floors, the area under sinks, the dust behind cabinets, spiderwebs. But someone who can do some elementary website building probably has the skills to learn the code book, how to balance electrical loads, etc. As a long – term career, you can work for a company or be self employed, and do pretty well (decent pay, generous vacation).

      I’d suggest a gentle but serious exercise and stretching routine, starting right now, if Jordan is considering such jobs. Also, while a boss can be asked to use “they,” educating paying customers is not generally part of the job description. Form of address will likely be, “hey kid.” Possibly, “meathead,” if you don’t have the wire stripper ready to hand over, when needed.

  46. Polymer Phil*

    If I’m understanding this correctly, Jordan is taking a break before returning to college. I’m not sure why a resume is even necessary – Jordan isn’t likely to get hired for some kind of entry-level office job without a college degree, and the blue-collar jobs that would be realistic targets are the kind where you fill out an application rather than submit a resume.

  47. Retail*

    I gotta say “just get a customer service job” with no experience is not easy.

    Somehow it was for me in 2012 – stumbled into union retail shop with only 4 months of a campus job at a gate booth (minimal interaction, literally there to be a body), lasted 4 years enjoyed it etc.

    Applied to the same company in a different region and the first responses were come to our hiring fair! The secondary responses have included the line “more closely match the needs of this position” for front end hourly associate. I now have more experience and 4 years WITH THEM in multiple departments… and a rejection!

    All that to say… I feel for Jordan and I still feel the same way but I was freaked out after undergrad because chronic illness left me with nothing but a degree. Now I’m working full time not with people not making a lot, making more than I did retail, but… major sympathies.

    If Jordan can volunteer and isn’t too racked with shyness, there are census and political campaigns gearing up. Those are great and offer diverse types of work! And while you may not be able to list the candidate/issue on a resume, it is good in an interview.

    1. Retail*

      What I mean is I’ve noticed entry level jobs expect an adult to have experience so a 15-18 year old is more likely to get a customer service job over an adult because of that expectation.

    2. Politico*

      “And while you may not be able to list the candidate/issue on a resume, it is good in an interview.”

      If you are working in DC, you would be foolish not to list political campaign experience on your resume. (There might be exceptions here and there, such as if you’ve worked for Ds but are applying to a very R polling firm or whatever, but that’s unusual. And I can’t say about civil service jobs.)

      Outside of DC, it perhaps depends a little more, and of course you run the risk that someone who liked candidate Y will be pissed because you worked for candidate X, but in general, I’d leave it in, especially if the job is in related to what you did on the campaign. Working on a presidential or senate campaign can be one of the toughest jobs you’ll ever do, and many employers who know that world very much appreciate that. Remember that you find political campaign veterans in all sorts of power private sector positions, and they didn’t usually get there by hiding their campaign experience.

      Actually, the biggest risk, in my experience, is that an employer may think you’ll leave to work on another campaign or run for office yourself — not that it looks too partisan.

      1. Retail*

        Ah I’m in the South and when I applied for AmeriCorps I was worried that it would be too partisan for their official non partisan requirements

        1. Politico*

          Again, I can’t actually speak to career civil service appointments (as opposed to “Plum Book” political appointments, where yes, working on the campaign makes all the difference in the world). And I don’t know where AmeriCorps specifically expects. Although my general feeling is that “experience is experience,” the best advice in this situation is to reach out to AmeriCorps itself and ask what’s appropriate.

  48. Nerine*

    First off, I realise this is a workplace blog called Ask a Manager. I think Alison’s advice is realistic as well as practical and I’ve seen useful as well as kind things being said in the comments, too.
    All that being said, I am a tad disheartened (if not surprised) at the token condescension to Jordan that comes out of certain comments. “How could anyone…?” “They need to get off their stick…” “They need to get over it…”

    Jordan is being described by their friend as an intelligent person who researches, writes and composes music. That is intrinsically valuable. They also seem to be a valued member of their friendship circle. That is intrinsically valuable, too.

    People who have more trouble fitting in than others need to have the realities presented to them but they have the right to decide that they are not suited to a certain subset of realities.

    1. JSPA*

      Something can have great value to one’s happiness, but not be an indicator of employability. Friend is trying to help Jordan write a resume, not get a date or build a musical portfolio.

      Fair or not, reasonable or not, applicable or not:

      People who take a break from college can have to fight a presumption that they are likely to have difficulties with one or more of the following: set schedules; meeting demands; stress management; time management; setting aside momentary preferences or convenience in pursuit of a greater goal. If all Jordan’s accomplishments are things that can be done in moments when inspiration, focus, mood and the stars happen briefly to align, they do little to counter that worry.

      Sure, there are a bunch of other common reasons that can lead to needing a job without completing college. But employers are allowed to avoid wherever yellow, orange and red flags they perceive (absent discrimination on a few specific categories). Including the absence of green flags.

  49. LaDeeDa*

    Temp agencies are for this very thing! If Jordan has basic computer skills and phone skills they can get placed doing everything from filing, scanning, filling in for a receptionist… we currently have a temp who is scanning, boxing, and archiving old files that we are required to keep. She is taking a year between high school and college and has no office work experience, but she is a smart young lady, can follow directions, has decent computer skills, and shows up on time. Her 6 week temp job is turning into another 6 weeks to help out with some up coming events.
    If Jordan lives in an area with a lot of call centers, that may be an option as well. Call centers have high turn over, especially in areas with lots of call centers. They usually make applicants take a basic test, but when I was a corporate trainer for a call center many of the people had no experience in anything but fast food and retail.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Also related to temping, if you can be a rock-star temp and leave a good impression like the woman in your office right now, that’s gold to a temp placement agency.

      I was that woman. I had my first job then quit after 14 months because they were going bankrupt, the stress at 20 just wasn’t doing me any good to keep it short. I couldn’t find a job myself after trying and failing, I needed a lot more people skills at that stage in life as well.

      So I went into temping. I was put on a project that lasted 6 weeks, making photo copies for a big project a firm was doing. They brought in 12 of us, I was the last one standing. As the work dwindled they cut people, the people who weren’t reliable or were socializing more than working went flying out the door as the days went on. Then it was just me, wrapping everything up myself. They wanted me to apply for their in-house position as well, they really pushed for it! I wasn’t interested for a variety of reasons. But their feedback made the temp agency place me immediately afterwards. Same positive glowing feedback.

      Soon the temp agency had me in a temp to hire situation where I ended up running the place in the end. And now I’m me. I’ve never had any unplanned downtime in my career afterwards and recruiters are knocking down doors to get at me while I’m over here being all “LOL nah, I’m happy where I am, thank you, let me connect with you on Linkedin though, that’s cool.”

      Temps by default are pinned with a poor label, they assume something is wrong with you. Yes it’s gross but it’s like all other entry level grunt work, you have to jump in the mud and do it. If you cannot do it the traditional ways like through school channels or nepotism etc.

      1. LaDeeDa*

        That is amazing! I never think of temps as a poor label, I always think of them as someone who is trying. In 20 years I have only had 5 or so really awful temps. Most were young people just trying to find their way, or people who were semi-retired, or people who were laid off.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Ah see it was many years after I was a temp that I had the reason to hire my own. Sadly they lived up to the stereotype in the end, I never found one I could bring on long term even though it was my desire and I tried to always let them try to prove themselves before coloring them with any predetermined brush.

          I was more angry at the temp agency in the end though, they aren’t very good at the recruiting process, they’re money hungry and just want to put a body in the position, who cares if it’s a good fit or the right skill set.

          They were sending me people who had really bad reliability issues and struggled to use computers, despite being told it was heavy data entry and detail oriented work that needed to be done on a daily basis. They were stuck at “Oh you want someone to do customer service? Okay cool…here are people with maybe some reception background if you’re absolutely lucky, they can greet people all day long!” We didn’t need someone to greet people, we needed someone to take/process orders and respond to questions about where their orders are, etc. *curls in a ball and cries*

  50. LaDeeDa*

    I am trying to think what was on my very first resume— all I did in high school was babysit because it paid more than all my friends working retail or fast food, and it was more flexible. I honestly can’t remember when I did my first resume… It must have been when I was graduating from college, but by then I had a job and an internship. Sheesh that was a long time ago!

  51. LaDeeDa*

    The other thing I just thought of, for someone who has design/development as an interest but isn’t a school person, there are coding bootcamps that at 12 weeks long and I know several developers who have that as their only formal training.

  52. Jana*

    Jordan should definitely look into volunteer positions. Often there aren’t prerequisites and there are a lot of volunteer opportunities that expect substantive contributions drawing on a wide variety of skills. Volunteer web designer or something similar might be a good thing to look for, but this would also be an opportunity to just get exposure to a workplace, so Jordan shouldn’t limit the search to only certain skills.

    Online courses may be something to consider as well to pick up specific skills and some can result in a certificate that is an educational credential that could be a resume-builder for Jordan.

    1. TamiToo*

      I agree with this 100%. Volunteering can offer outstanding work experience, and can help someone gain real-world experience. It is something to put on a resume and get some exposure to workplace norms. From working in the staffing industry, we consider past work experience as a pre-requisite for hiring someone. They have to have SOMETHING, even if it is volunteer experience. You have to demonstrate that you have the ability to hold a job and be reliable, as well as have references that we can call upon to verify your workplace skills.

  53. aa*

    Speaking as a pretty intense introvert, perhaps Jordan might consider not applying for jobs at all, but freelancing as a web designer or any of the other things which they can do to a professional level. I have never been employed in my life, because it’s clear to me that I can’t deal with office life or its equivalents. The idea of having to clock in and out makes me break out in hives.

  54. Betsy S*

    It might be possible to find volunteer website work without having to rebuild from scratch. Look at every local volunteer group, small business, nursery school, food pantries, local musicians, community newsletters, churches… there’s got to be someone out there who can use some improvement. You can take resume credit for improving or maintaining a website even if you don’t make major changes. Jordan could also build some sample sites – even for imaginary businesses just to have something to show. But if they can learn Drupal, WordPress or Joomla I bet they’ll find some gigs.

    Another way to get shortterm work is to check sites like Taskrabbit or whatever is near you. Sometimes quick gigs can lead to longer-term work if the employer is impressed.

  55. Politico*

    Two obvious options:

    1. Work for a political campaign. You can start off as a volunteer, but on lots of campaigns that can quickly turn into a staff job, and political campaigns are one place where a young person can acquire a lot of clout very quickly.
    2. Startups. Hang out at local startup events and network with startup employees. They’re less likely to care about non-linear career paths if you look like you’re competent and can multitask and can work well in the startup culture.

    Now for the unpopular bit. In either of the above, Jordan needs to stop referring to him/her/hirself as “they.” “They” is a plural pronoun. Using that in cover letter and resume is going to come across to all but the most woke as “doesn’t understand grammar” at best and “Problem Employee” at worst. If a traditional pronoun absolutely doesn’t work, then pick a non-traditional but singular alternative, e.g., “hir” or “xir.” But frankly, I don’t think pronouns should be Jordan’s hill to die on at this point.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That may or may not be Jordan’s pronoun; it’s possible the letter writer did that to disguise gender/keep the situation anonymous. However, “they” is no longer solely a singular pronoun. Some non-binary people use “they,” and we’re not going to tell people to stop that here any more than we’d tell them to be less feminine or pretend to be straight. If you’re unfamiliar with non-binary folks, there’s lots on the internet that can help explain.

      (That said, Jordan is unlikely to use “they” in a cover letter because we don’t typically refer to ourselves in the third person in cover letters so it’s likely moot anyway.)

    2. One of the Sarahs*

      “They” has also been used as a singular pronoun since the 14th Century, and in major literature in every century since. It’s been common use for longer than there’s been printing presses.

    3. Eliza*

      Speaking from experience, neopronouns get a lot more pushback than singular “they”, so even setting aside whether changing pronouns from “they” to “hir” is relevant to the situation or reasonable to ask of someone, I don’t think it’d be an effective suggestion.

      1. TechWorker*


        I’ve no idea why you think people would understand ‘xir’ or ‘hir’ more easily than ‘they’ which is massively common in usage if gender isn’t clear.

        (‘I went to the doctor today’ ‘oh yeah? What did they say?’).

        + what Alison said, if they used 3rd person in their cover letter that would be odd regardless of pronouns so probably just, not an issue…?

        I use ‘they’ all the time in work emails, partly because lots of the people emailing me have names I don’t know and I don’t want to make the mistake of assuming their gender and getting it wrong!

      2. Politico*

        All I can say is that I disagree with the singular “they” — yes, people sometimes use it colloquially, but usually in specific contexts (“everyone in Etlanna likes their Coca-Cola”). And colloquial usage isn’t the same as formal writing, and even colloquial usage doesn’t make it grammatical. (Ain’t it so?)

        Still, we English speakers (“us English speakers”?) don’t have an academie francaise to make official pronouncements, so whatever floats your boat. Just understand that you run the risk of finding someone who isn’t so casually dismissive of grammatical points, and who will junk your resume/writing sample for a job you might otherwise have gotten for taking this approach. If that risk is acceptable to you, go for it.

        (In particular, it sounds like one of this candidate’s few selling points for jobs beyond fast food is writing skills. You’re not doing to land a job as a copy editor or journalist by presenting an ungrammatical writing sample and justifying it on the grounds of colloquial speech.)

        Eliza is right that neopronouns will get pushback too, of course. (That is why I wrote that given the unfortunate position Jordan finds xirself in, I would not necessarily pick this hill to die on at all *from a job search perspective*.) But at least they show that Jordan knows how to write grammatically and is doing this for identity reasons.

        Of course, it is possible that a very woke employer may not care or may even like the pronoun choice. But face it, there aren’t many woke employers out there.

        1. JSPA*

          This may be something politicized in the world of politics and talk radio, but in the”real world,” I’m hearing it quite broadly on the street. Not surprising, as its a natural grammatical formation that most little kids use, until trained out of it. So once that training isn’t monolithic, people return to it pretty comfortably.

          There may be questions from customers of the “is that a boy or a girl / what do i call you.” Instead of a formal deceleration every time, there are moments when “call me Jordan” will work best. Or “I use they” (as opposed to the, “my gender is / my pronouns are” formulation).

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Again, we have no way of knowing what pronouns Jordan uses; some people use “they” to make the letter more anonymous.

          And again, no one should be referring to themselves in the third person in job search materials.

          It’s really off-topic from the letter so please leave this here.

    4. Snark*

      Oh, ffs – “they” has been used as a singular pronoun for persons of unknown or ambiguous gender for hundreds of years. Just stop.

  56. LilyP*

    I do some screening for entry-level/new-grad positions in tech and I often see resumes where people list course projects with some details and/or relevant personal projects with some details in their own sections. If there are any class projects (don’t have to be group projects) or personal projects Jordan’s done that would be relevant to the jobs they’re applying to I’d include that. It’s not *as* good as work experience but it’s definitely fair game. Fwiw, relevant personal projects are often seen really favorably in tech — people see it as, you’re so passionate about the technology you do it in your down time & you’re disciplined enough to accomplish results without external motivation.

    Also, they should put a lot of energy into writing great, customized cover letters. In a cover letter it’s more reasonable to talk about personal/academic experience that might be loosely relevant to the job but not specific enough for a resume. Good luck to Jordan! :)

  57. I heart Paul Buchman*

    I think this is going to be a multi-stage process. I would focus on the next step in the chain rather than the end goal which is a bit further away.
    1. Is it an option for Jordan to return to study? Employers are more likely to consider a student than a long-term unemployed person. This would also give Jordan access to career centres and referees and an easy answer to ‘What do you do now?’ Is it an option to re-enrol at the community college in their previous course? You can leave as soon as you find a job!
    2. Find a volunteer position ASAP. This can be on-campus (soft start) or in any of a million non-profits. Working at Goodwill looks better on a resume than nothing. Volunteer tutoring is a good option for a smart/introverted person! It is one-on-one and requires experience they already have (school). I have volunteered helping ESL kids with their homework – it isn’t time intensive, is rewarding and comes across positively to employers in my experience.
    3. Have a genuine look at your expectations of a job. Entry level is entry level for a reason. There is no shame in working a job in food service/sales or any of the above (my first job was making hot dogs :). Being smart is only one piece of the puzzle.
    4. This isn’t asked for advice but I hope it is helpful (I’ve followed it myself). Start acting like an employed person. Set an alarm, dress for the day, go out of your house every morning (for a walk/job search from the library/to buy groceries), work to a task sheet Monday – Friday. This will help your mindset, make starting a volunteer post easier and when you find a job it will reduce the lifestyle shock that follows. In my country it is free to be a guest member of the university library, the free membership lets me visit the campus, use a little wi-fi and borrow books. It is free, heated and there is lots of busyness. It gives me a sense of purpose. If this isn’t an option is there somewhere near you that you can go that meets these criteria (even a neighbourhood drop in centre?).

    Good luck!!

  58. Beth*

    My brother had this problem when he graduated college–same boat, plenty of potential but just no evidence to back it up beyond school stuff. The good news is, Jordan only needs one job to get their toe in the door and prove they can handle a professional environment. The bad news is, right now, Jordan is effectively a beggar–as in, beggars can’t be choosers. They need that toe in the door really badly, so they can’t afford to be picky about what it is.

    For now, I think they should try to get a job in literally anything they can (meaning both ‘that they can get hired for’ and ‘that they’re physically and mentally able to do, at least for a little while’). A lot of people find their first work experience in food service (fast food worker, dishwasher, etc.), retail, call centers, or working in an office as a front desk person or scheduler. This isn’t likely to be their dream job, and they shouldn’t expect it to be. The point is really just to prove that they can show up consistently and behave well enough to not get fired–in other words, they’re capable of functioning in a professional environment.

    Once they have that, they can put it on their resume and continue their job hunt for something in their preferred field. The single biggest thing holding them back is likely the “literally no professional experience” thing. Even entry level positions will be unlikely to hire someone with a totally blank resume; they’re entry level because they don’t require work experience in their field, but they likely have plenty of candidates who have demonstrated that they can keep a job at least for the summer, so they don’t have much incentive to take a risk on someone who hasn’t cleared that fairly low bar. Once Jordan’s had a job–any job–for a month or two, they’ll at least be on par with your average entry-level candidate.

  59. ..Kat..*

    Since we want Jordan to succeed at their first job, we need to recognize that Jordan is an introvert. Retail and many other jobs that are customer facing are not good choices for success. Maybe data entry? Google “jobs for introverts.”

    1. Autumnheart*

      Being an introvert means that being around people tires you out more than average. It doesn’t mean a person can’t or shouldn’t interact with other people. I’m tired of this perception being spread around, like being introverted is some kind of handicap. It’s not.

      1. Elsajeni*

        It also doesn’t mean “shy” or “socially anxious,” although many people use it that way. But whichever way the OP means it, sure, it’s true that it will have some impact on what type of jobs Jordan is great at or finds pleasant. If Jordan is an introvert, they may find retail or customer service to be mentally tiring in addition to physically tiring. If they’re shy or socially anxious, they may find retail or customer service to be difficult or stressful — although as a lot of commenters have pointed out, customer service interactions tend to be “scripted” and predictable, so they might find that it’s less stressful in practice than they’d expect. For some people way out at the end of the scale, customer service would be too exhausting or too stressful to be sustainable, even if they were desperate… but lots of people have jobs that are tiring, stressful, or otherwise somewhat unpleasant, especially at the start of their careers when they have no experience, and manage just fine. It is at the very least worth considering.

    2. Beth*

      I don’t think this is good advice. Jordan might not be well suited to being, say, a door-to-door salesperson–but eliminating all jobs that require interacting with people is more likely to hurt them than help them. So many first job-type jobs are service jobs; refusing to consider them narrows the pool a lot, which is counterproductive when they’re already struggling. They should be looking for a job they can handle doing for a couple months to a year, with the goal of getting their resume started rather than finding a perfect fit.

      For what it’s worth, I say this as a rather shy introvert who’s objectively pretty bad at jobs like retail, waitressing, etc. I’ve still done them, both because they’re what I could get at the time and I needed both the income and because I needed to have something on my resume so I could get jobs that were better suited to me. It might not be fun, but it doesn’t need to last forever, and most people can handle it for a little while.

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        I agree. Absolutely, there are jobs out there that require truly minimal human contact; I’m thinking things like night-shift work stacking shelves, delivery driver, night-watchman, outdoor roles like gardener or park ranger – which are all absolutely things that Jordan could pursue. But there are just so many jobs out there that do require at least some interaction with others that eliminating them all just seems really foolish. I don’t know that they’re in a position where they can afford to be picky! And in any case, nobody’s saying that they have to be an amazing shop assistant or anything, just that they have to start somewhere.

        I’d also add that a lot of jobs that are considered to be “good for introverts” are ones that require the employer to have quite a lot of trust in your abilities – either that you are capable of working well alone without the need for supervision, or that you have skills essential enough that they’re willing to overlook a lack of social ability. To be blunt, Jordan has not demonstrated either of these things.

  60. Not Australian*

    Without knowing where Jordan is in the world (albeit assuming USA because this blog tends to skew that way) may I suggest the solution that worked for my son? He had great educational qualifications but very little work experience, and after a long spell with a company that went under he stayed at home for a while supporting his disabled wife and their small children. In the end, he took a job as a hospital porter – always in demand – and logged several solid years of turning up and doing the work before he got a chance to move on and teach IT at a local college. It’s not an obvious career progression, but fast-food is not the only option; some hospital and warehouse jobs are open to people with no previous experience and there’s very often additional training that can lead to other opportunities, so if Jordan is physically robust this may be worth considering.

  61. Notasecurityguard*

    This kind of shit pisses me off because “entry-level” should mean entry level not “5 years experience mandatory but we’re gonna pay you poverty level wages and if you don’t respond to requests from your 6 managers to literally not figuratively eat a big bowl of shit with a ‘yes sir! Thank you for this opportunity sir! And must I say you have the most kissable posterior I have ever seen and thank you for allowing me to bask in its majesty!’ We will immediately fire you because you are a worthless peon” /endRant

    For the OP if you’re in the US some government jobs (typically lower level stuff) don’t require resumes and worse comes to worse for car salesmen the hiring criteria tends to be “can you read and did you manage to come to the interview sober”

    1. Beth*

      I know the type of “”entry level”” job you’re mad at here, and they piss me off too.

      But it’s not fundamentally unreasonable for many entry level jobs to want to see some kind of evidence of previous work for a candidate. ‘Entry level’ should mean you don’t need any particular work experience *in that field* to be a viable candidate. But when choosing between someone with a proven record of being able to function in a professional environment and someone with no record whatsoever, it shouldn’t be surprising to anyone if they choose the former.

      1. Notasecurityguard*

        Idk if I were a manager and I was hiring for stuff that was truly entry level (where I expected that they’d need more training and there’d be a learning curve) I wouldn’t count experience as much as other things because I’m already training them in the first place plus the person with no experience might have more raw talent or might be “hungrier” than the person who did an internship.
        Plus I think there’s what to be said for bringing in people who aren’t burdened by “Well we do things that way”

  62. foceffus*

    not clear what sort of work he’s looking for. if he’s actually “building” websites (has HTML/CSS/JavaScript skills, etc.) and wants to be in that space then you can go to sites like rentacoder.com and do some small contract work to build up a portfolio. if what he did is go to some wysiwyg thing or build stuff on wordpress i don’t think that’s going to impress anyone.

    i changed my major three times, dropped out of college, worked odd jobs (refueling airplanes, tv dinner factory, luggage store, auto sales, etc.) then joined the army, got out, went back to school, got a computer science degree and have been working in software development and now IT management for over 10 years. so, yeah, you have to work for it. not sure what this kid expects.

    1. foceffus*

      …and while i was working on finishing my degree i worked at mcdonald’s. it’s possible if you put in the effort.

  63. a nerd*

    My comment will probably get buried in this huge pile BUT I have a feeling I know what types of forums Jordan and OP were working on – my guess is forum-based roleplay? which is basically just collaborative writing, but definitely too nerdy to put on a resume (in the same way that running a World of Warcraft campaign or being a really top-notch DM for Dungeons & Dragons involve skills, but not the stakes & etc that you would want.)

    If Jordan is good with coding you might encourage them to do commissions, and to focus on resource sites, writing sites, other forums with a less niche/nerdy slant, or to apply coding to sites outside of jcink or whatever platform you use. That way they can sell the skill as general “coding” with specific examples that require minimal explanation as opposed to “well, I can code a skin on a specific forum host and my only examples are for small communities of people writing southern gothic/supernatural/Harry Potter fic/etc etc etc.”

    If Jordan is only applying for office-type jobs, they should maybe look into food service or retail, just to get *something* under their belt. (And if they’re a bookish type – it sounds like they might be – bookstore jobs seem to carry some cache, and if you have an independent bookstore with a robust events schedule, there are opportunities to gain experience in marketing and event planning.)

    Good luck!

  64. nnn*

    It’s not clear to me whether Jordan has graduated. If Jordan has graduated, their job search should include jobs at their alma mater. Colleges and universities hire for all sorts of non-academic roles, and many prioritize their alumni. They also hire temps for various things, so that could be a foot in the door.

    If Jordan hasn’t graduated yet and returning to school is in their future, they should look for student on-campus jobs – maybe even take less than a full course load so they have time to work. Everything from tech support to landscaping could be a student job depending on how your school organizes things, and, again, schools specifically hire their own students for these jobs. Plus they’re often a limited number of hours a week to better fit into an academic schedule.

    Also, if Jordan is considering returning to school, getting a credential that is the prerequisite for a specific career (especially a profession that has a fairly organized setup for connecting new graduates with jobs) might be the way to go.

    A useful kind of volunteer work can be sorting food at the food bank. There’s a clear, specific task with a clear specific endpoint. It doesn’t require any creativity or advanced interpersonal skills. And it’s very simple (in the sense of non-complex) to come across as cheerful, helpful and efficient – and to get a reference attesting to the fact that you’re cheerful, helpful and efficient.

  65. Michele Aymold*

    To “Jordan” and other entry-level job seekers. I hear you, picking a major isn’t easy, nor is finding a career you can be passionate about. In fact a recent report revealed more then 55.3% of college graduates leave their first job before the end of their first year — you’re not alone in being lost. Specifically I encourage members of the teams I have managed over the years and the college students and recent graduates that work with today to start career exploration and gaining experience early. But it’s not too late for you. As others have suggested, volunteering, internships, apprenticeships and temp work can all be fantastic options – in particular the gig economy model can be a great fit for someone like you who wants to dip your toe into industries and career paths before making a long term commitment. Micro-Internships are a specific option for those enrolled in school, but you can just as easily gain the core skills employers are most in need of while driving for a ride share or taking other gig assignments. Best of luck and personally happy to help in anyway that I can.

  66. TamiToo*

    I work for a “temp agency” or more accurately a staffing agency. “Temp jobs” are not what they used to be. Without any real world experience, it is unlikely he will be able to secure much employment outside general labor. Unfortunately, outside of unskilled labor, most employers want people with experience. They want people who can hit the ground running. It’s possible that he may find an employer that is willing to train him, but it’s more likely he will find it through networking than through a staffing agency. If you can’t demonstrate that you have done any work in the real world, it is going to be difficult for a staffing agency to place you as well. We aren’t miracle workers.

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