Five J.O.B.’s That Aren’t That B.A.D.


[Editor's note:  If you recently lost your job, take a look at Wise Bread's collection of tips and resources for the recently laid off.]

(Let me preface this discussion by saying that the jobs listed won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. If you don’t like to work hard, sweat a little, or be around people, you may be out of luck. I would also like to acknowledge that there are plenty of great people who do these jobs all the time. They chose them, they love them, and they might as well be considered their careers. And that’s cool, too.)

There will be times when the reason to work is to simply get paid. Regardless of where you got your degree or how many years you’ve worked in that specialized industry, it may simply be necessary to grab an entry-level position with a decent wage. Location, family choices, illness, a return to college, or merely a time of low job opportunities can all put you in a place to take anything available.

Restaurant jobs – The first thing people think of when someone says to “go out and get a job” is the fast food industry. As a former manager for a fast-food giant, I can vouch for the fact that most of these places are always hiring. But if you’re looking for a different kind of experience and more cash, I would highly recommend working as wait staff. There’s reason that starving artists, wanna-be-actors, and grad students take to these positions like ducks to water. Nightly pay, a fun atmosphere, and the chance to meet all kinds of people are what kept me waiting tables at a steakhouse after I started a family. It’s possible to turn tables for fully-lined pockets, and the hiring process is fairly painless. (While many restaurants list jobs in classified ads, I found most of my jobs by walking in off the street! Pick a place with a “hiring” sign for better odds.)

School bus drivers – If you don’t like kids, you can just skip this one. Most of the school districts in my area are usually hiring at least part-time drivers. The wages are higher than average, and the hours make it an attractive job for the right temperament. The requirements for hire will differ by state and locality, but expect a drug test, background check, and a possible driving endorsement requirement. You can pick up extra gigs during athletic events for even more money, and the better drivers can sometimes choose the routes they want to take. (Check your local school job boards or call for positions that might be available.)

Customer service – This job goes by all kinds of titles, including “customer support specialist” and “inside sales agent.” Whether you actually have to sell anything is usually a matter of semantics (since most businesses will want to you at least try to upsell at any opportunity.) The better businesses pay nice, have flexible hours, and offer benefit packages to make most folks drool. If angry customer interactions are not your thing, you can try to get into a more specialized niche, such as hotel reservations or customer service satisfaction surveys. (Check your local job listings for available positions in this field.)

Clerical temps – One of my favorite jobs was found through a temporary employment agency, and it paid fairly well. While the rate of pay will be determined by how much of a cut the agency will take, it can be negotiated. (For example, for a $12 an hour job, my agency may have gotten $18 an hour. There was some wiggle room in instances where they really needed me.) Jobs ranged from stuffing envelopes, data entry, and answering phones to the more involved personal assisting, medical transcription, and claims processing. Hire through an agency can be strictly “temporary” or “temp to hire” (which gets you a permanent placement after a trial period.) Expect to fill out some lengthy application forms and to take some skills testing before being eligible for placement. With most agencies, you can work as little or as much as you like. (See your local business listing under “temporary employment” or “employment services” for opportunities near you.)

Merchandising and contract retail – Every season, big retail stores change out their merchandise and displays. This has to be done by somebody, and most of them hire it out. The employees that perform these “resets” (the placement of merchandise), inventory audits, and some ordering processes get their jobs through merchandising and retails companies. These companies have work throughout the year, and the pay is fairly competitive. If you work as an employee, you can sometimes get nice benefits. Working as an independent contractor might reap you the rewards of gas or travel reimbursement. Prepare to work odd hours (sometimes 3rd shift or overnights), as this is when a lot of the retail work is done. If you’re handy with tools and like to work hard, these are great opportunities. (See’s website for a listing of companies.)

As the job outlook continues to be iffy for some, it’s good to know that there are places out there still willing to pay the bills. And while I can only speak from experience, there’s been work for me when I’ve needed it. Do you have a job field that’s always hot where you live? We’d love to hear about it!

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Guest's picture

I reckon the customer service job is the best in the list. Even if sparring with angry idiots isn't your thing, it's good for developing a thick skin!

Guest's picture

As an executive of a placement firm in Dallas, TX with branches in Arizona as well. I wanted to point out that your description isn't necessarily accurate for all staffing firms. In fact, many staffing firms are changing their targeted business practices, and making permanent career placements a goal rather than one off temporary placements for any short duration.

We predominantly place individuals in full time positions (required to work full time), which typically convert after 3-6 months. The pay is very competitive (we place 30-85k a year jobs all the time) and our markup is negotiated with our client, and thus your pay (typically not negotiable) is negotiated beforehand. The salary might have some wiggle room in it based on salary, but this is always mandated beforehand as a range, and won't affect our markup. (In fact, since it is percentage based, we typically fight to get our employees as much compensation as we can). We also offer free credit and career counseling services because we believe in an investment of our employees.

Linsey Knerl's picture

It's really good to hear that more and more services are being offered by placement firms.  I especially appreciate the credit and career counseling services that you mentioned your firm provides. 

Finding a good firm is important, and I wouldn't hesitate to "shop around" a bit if I didn't feel that they were representing my desires in the job market.  When I first became a mom, I really wanted to work, but didn't feel good about being gone more than 30 hours per week.  My firm worked really hard to get me opportunities that both paid well and respected my schedule.  It was also instrumental in some networking that finally got me that "career" position I had always been wanting! 

Guest's picture

I've had both good and bad experiences with placement firms, but the single most important trait I've found in all of them was that they specialized in my industry, which made my job placements that much more enjoyable (or better fitting anyways).

As for restaurants, even if there isn't a hiring sign in the window, you should always ask to fill out applications. I'll admit it, I'm actually a huge fan of working in restaurants, and every place I've ever worked takes applications even when they're not hiring. They're usually pretty honest as to whether they will need help immediately or not for another few months. The key to to try and pick a restaurant that doesn't have a high turn-over rate for the staff!