When I was in college, I had two career plans lined up. First, I could become a philosophy Ph. D and eventually professor. Second, I could go into medicine.
I still remember the moment I chose the latter. I was hiking the summer of my junior year, and I decided to spend a day just comparing pros and cons and coming up with a final conclusion, and although I can’t remember the reasoning involved I decided it was definitely the doctor one.
And that went well, because now I hear all grad student would-be professors are kind of doomed, philosophers not excepted. But I still give some thought to my poor counterfactual self, lost in a hostile career market with no useful skills.
And unfortunately a few of my real friends, grad student and otherwise, are in that position right now, which makes my heart sink every time I hear from them. I enjoyed reading Louie’s story of how he got rich working in Australia, because it suggests there are still ways to turn your life around really quickly and without much fuss. Jobs you can just walk into – no sending out hundreds of resumes and having your soul slowly sucked out with each interview you don’t get – that can give you the financial cushion to reach some more permanent state of self-sufficiency.
So I’ve been thinking about this idea of “floor jobs”. By a floor job, I mean something that puts a floor in how bad and desperate your life can be. As in “I won’t be unemployed forever, I can always go do X”. Or “I won’t be working at this miserable fast-food place with this boss I hate forever, I can always just do X”. A lot of this depends on just how unlucky you are – the floor for high-IQ people with savings and college degrees is quite a bit higher than the floor for less smart people with no qualifications who need something now.
But floor jobs all need a couple of characteristics to count. First, they don’t need formal specialized education: “engineer” is not a floor job because you need to be in school for several years getting an engineering degree. Second, they are all pretty easy to get – anywhere from “walk right in” to “send your resume to a few places but they’ll probably accept you” – none of this heartbreaking hundred-resumes no-interviews thing. Third, they all have some advantage over let’s say retail – either high pay, good working conditions, or medium-to-high social status (very few have all three).
These are some of my candidates for floor jobs right now. Disclaimer-1: with one exception, I know nothing about these jobs except what I hear second- and third- hand and through the Internet. Disclaimer-2: the phrase “floor” is not meant to imply that these are bad or dishonorable jobs, only that they are easily accessible and have some advantages.
English Teacher Abroad
I start with this one because I did it and loved it. Your ability to speak English is actually a heavily desired and respected skill in some parts of the world. Many of these parts of the world have very low costs of living and exotic scenery and friendly people.
The qualifications required vary with the jobs. Most countries prefer people with college degrees. A few don’t. Many schools prefer people with some sort of TEFL qualification (you can get an only-sort-of-fake one with a one week online course for $50. Others don’t care about this. You don’t need to know the language of the place you’re going, and in fact some schools actively prefer you don’t (on “English immersion” principles).
Visas are going to be the problem. It’s medium hard to get a job with a foreign English school in your home country; only the really big multinationals will bother recruiting abroad. One popular strategy, which works better in some countries than others, is to go to the country you’re interested in on a tourist visa, interview there, and let the school that hires you change it to a work visa.
Your worst-case scenario, if you have no qualifications and no tolerance for visa nonsense, is Cambodia. As I understand it, schools in Cambodia will hire high school graduates with no previous experience, and visas are handed out like candy.The only downside is that you do have to live in Cambodia.
If you have a couple more qualifications, time, and tolerance for nonsense, China is a good alternative. Japan used to be as well but I hear it’s getting a lot tougher (it pays really well, though) . Other places I hear nice things about include Thailand, South Korea, and Costa Rica.
Bottleneck: Money to get to foreign country, visas. College degree really helps.
Alyssa Vance makes the case for becoming a programmer if you don’t like what you’re doing now.
It’s high-paying and fun, you can learn it on your own without worrying about college degrees and such, and there’s lots of demand.
The downside is that you have to have a spare six months or so to start learning programming, the willpower to actually do so, and the analytical skills to become good at it. Most people probably won’t.
If your limiting factor is time or self-motivatedness, schools like Dev Bootcamp offer to bring you from zero to full programmer capable of getting a $90K job in about two months – but the going is really hard and the tuition is just above $10K. App Academy is similar but has no up front cost – you pay them after you get a job. A warning: some friends here mention that these companies’ claims of “90+% job placement rate” are misleading, as halfway through they expel anyone who they don’t think will get a job in order to keep their numbers up.
Bottleneck: Time, money, natural programming ability, motivation
At least in America, if you’re young and fit the military is almost always happy to have you. People generally sign up for an eight year term, four of which are active and four of which are in the reserves. People who get good scores on occupational tests can usually avoid being front-line infantry if they want and learn useful-in-the-outside-world skills like technology or engineering. And it’s an honorable and high-social-status profession that provides good veterans’ benefits afterward.
People in high school (or part of the way through college) can take advantage of officer recruitment scholarships through ROTC.
If you’re from one of those mean awful countries that spends their money on food on education and universal free health care instead of subsidizing a people-hungry military-industrial complex, all is not lost. The French Foreign Legion takes anyone, French citizenship and French language ability not required. Best of all, your past (including criminal record) officially vanishes when you join the Legion, and you’re allowed to join under an assumed name. Between being in a legion, having a secret identity, and fighting evil-doers, you’re basically a superhero.
Bottleneck: Physical fitness, emotional fortitude, conformity with your ethical system, must like sand. French Foreign Legion only wants men, and you have to fly to France to sign up.
…is the gender-neutral version of “camgirl”. Another one that wins on ease of access. You sign up on a website. You show them a driver’s license to prove you’re 18. You set up a webcam. And people pay to watch you do sexy things.
In theory. Obviously this works better if you are female and very pretty. Very few women are clients of camsites, so if you are male your choice is pretty much to cater to gay men – which can also be lucrative if you’re up for it.
There seems to be a very wide salary range based on your attractiveness, gender, ability to self-promote, what you’re willing to do on camera, and how long you’re willing to spend online, not to mention just plain luck. It can range anywhere from “barely able to support yourself” to “there is no way people really give other people this much money for just sitting in front of a camera, is there?”.
Bottleneck: Attractiveness, conformity with your ethical system, low inhibitions
Anything In North Dakota
The US unemployment rate is 7.6%. The North Dakota unemployment rate is 3.3%. In some of the western counties, it’s less than 1%. The reason is obvious: they struck oil there a few years ago, and now the state is desperately trying to attract as many people as possible to help extract it and support the burgeoning community of oil extracters. Restaurants and convenience stores are desperate for workers and the pay reflects that.
Bottleneck: There’s not a lot of housing there, plus you have to live in North Dakota and it sounds miserable
Speaking of oil, and of living in terrible places, oil rigs are hiring. If you’re willing to live on a tiny and extremely flammable platform in the middle of the ocean for long stretches, they will offer you jobs that start around 30K quickly go up to about 100K, no particular qualifications required.
Rigzone.com talks a lot about engineers and such, but there seems to be a pretty big demand for just warm bodies to perform menial tasks as well, and the job includes a good learning curve where you have ample opportunities for advancement (insofar as moving to another part of the same couple-thousand-square-meter platform is an “advancement”).
And if you really don’t like the sea, there are always onshore oil rigs to consider, although I don’t think they pay quite as much.
Bottleneck: Willingness to live on tiny flammable platform in ocean.
The most attractive thing about truck driver is probably the education arrangement. You say you want to become a truck driver. If the trucking companies want you, they will pay for your training course in exchange for a certain portion of your first year’s salary. And they probably will want you – trucking is a “http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2012/10/31/employers-desperate-to-fill-truck-driving-jobs/”>high demand industry right now.
Most people would find trucking unpleasant. But for people who like quiet and alone time and whose nightmare job is having to satisfy hordes of chattering customers to an exacting schedule every second of the day, it might be more tolerable than other options.
Bottleneck: Good driving record, ability to tolerate lifestyle
This one sort of breaks the rules in that it requires a lot of activation cost and agency and set-up and pandering. But many people I know have had very good experiences (and make very good money) tutoring (mostly rich) kids.
Obviously you have to have something you can tutor people in. But if you got into a good college or had a very good score on the SAT or similar standardized tests, or you have a college degree in some subject like Math or English, that’s probably good enough. Bonus points if you know something like Biology and can tutor aspiring medical students.
It can be exasperating trying to find people who need the tutoring, and the schedule can be kind of complicated, but wages seem to go up to three digits an hour in the best cases, and there are some sites that will help you.
Bottleneck: Book smarts, organizational/self-marketing ability, living in a place full of would-be over-achievers
Repetitive Computer Task Doer
This one wins the “ease of access” competition by a mile at the cost of losing the “acceptable pay” competition by a light-year.
Sites like Amazon Mechanical Turk and ODesk allow you to log in, do some basic data processing exercises for someone, and then get a small amount of money. Typical tasks include taking surveys or writing short articles.
The good news is all you need is a computer and a little bit of time, and there’s lots of work to be done and not a lot of people asking about qualifications. The bad news is that the pay is terrible, way below minimum wage. Depending on how quickly you finish them, some tasks can give you $1 to $3 an hour. Others pay less.
This is probably not a good way to support yourself. But if you happen to have support, or are just really desperate for a short period of time, you might be able to make enough money for some food or something with this one.
Bottleneck: Internet access, willingness to tolerate low salary