Coming in to this election year, one of the most debated political topics is our nations unemployment rate. While the exact numbers may vary from state to state, we know that this ratio is even higher among the African American and Hispanic populous. While this is partially due to the purported lower education levels, I believe the main reason is that it is just plain harder for a young ethnic individual to 'catch a break'. While racism may still come into play from time to time, I think it is mostly due to the lesser extreme concept that there are still just plain old cultural differences among the people of our beloved United States. An old white man is less likely to hire a young black person, not because he is prejudice, but simply because he might subconsciously fear that this young person's presumed cultural background difference may spill over into the workplace and conflict with his business image or corporate culture. Perhaps that hiring manager is simply thinking about what he could possibly have in common with this young candidate, someone whom he will have to work with forty hours a week. He may be thinking about the previous candidate who was equally qualified but commented about his favorite team and the football game last night. He may be thinking that the first man might be easier to get along with and 'fit in' to his workplace better. In any case, we can speculate infinitely about the reasons for lower unemployment among minorities but ethnicity aside, I really wanted to write this article to give some insight and advice to those who are struggling to find a job or have yet to catch their first break.
My thoughts here are not so much about spell-checking your resume or wearing a suit to the interview but rather taking some common-sense social steps to make yourself more attractive to the people in power. And if that fails, I am offering a few ideas for those who feel the need to make their own path like I did. I have been self employed as a business owner for over ten years and for ten years prior to that, I probably worked two dozen full and part time jobs. After several menial jobs in the retail, food, and service related industries, I managed to catch that break because I had the drive to succeed. In later years, I had worked as a manager in several different office environments and was even responsible for the hiring of entry and intermediate level staff. I'd also like to tell readers that a few years back, I 'caught a charge' and now have a felony conviction on my record and will share some tips on how I even managed to deal with that. I am a white male and I do not have a college degree, but I do know how to 'hustle'. I'm not that smart, but I have made a decent life for myself through hard work and the help and blessings of God. These are my crash-course tips for getting your foot in the door.
The first thing you need is drive. If you are not motivated to better yourself and are happy working at McDonald's then you need not read any further. If you feel that it's time for a change and are willing to put some energy into your future, please continue. No one will hire you for anything other than McDonalds unless you have some relevant experience. I'm not even going to talk about college or trade school. Maybe you went to school, maybe you didn't. Formal training or not, what can you do? If you have some skills, then you can skip down a paragraph as you are probably looking in your field. If you have no skills, here is what you can do. 1) Intern: Find an entry level internship that offers training and work somewhere for free for a year to get some skills. 2) Volunteer: Join a church or a group that does something you have a remote interest in and get mentoring and training. Again, you are working for 'free' but at least your local church is trying to do good in the community and some of their members may even point you in the right direction for paid employment. 3) Temp: Many large companies use temporary agencies to fill positions without the hassle of placing ads and interviewing candidates. While the jobs may not be very desirable and may not pay more than McDonalds, they will certainly introduce you to places you might have never gotten into otherwise. 4) Stay away from drinking, drugs, and people of poor character. The life of a grasshopper may seem appealing, but it is the ants who prosper. 5) Invest in yourself: If you are unemployed, your free time is not free. Be productive with your time. I spent over a year in jail, during which time I was productive. I exercised, I learned to sketch art, I read the Bible, and I wrote a book, which I followed through with and had published. You should be doing something to better yourself at all times. Computers and internet access are practically everywhere nowadays. Play with a computer and open up the software tutorials and try to learn them. Try to practice typing faster. Read up on a trade or industry that interests you. Learn about the various products and services people are buying and using and try to pick something up. Look to family or friends who have made it and ask advice. Get to know people better off than you and see what they are doing.
So once you have a little something to offer an employer, it won't be long until you get an interview. It is a known truth that many people are hired for a given job, not because they are qualified, but because they are likable. Your personality has at least as much to do with you getting ahead and getting a job offer. Evaluate yourself by asking questions like: Do I smile and make eye contact? Am I sincere in my speech? Do I act and talk appropriately for the type of job I am applying for? More importantly, can I quickly and casually find a common ground to identify with the person interviewing me? Look around the interviewers office and comment on a family picture or softball trophy or something and throw out a bit of personal information about yourself. Mention something you learned about the company while reading their website the night before. Listen to the news frequently and throw out a comment about something you heard. Make it known to that person that you are not only interested, but that you are a three dimensional person who will contribute to the team. White, black, or Incredible Hulk green, we are all more alike than different. If you realize this and look for ways to identify with a potential business owner or hiring manager, you will find it becomes very easy to get a job and possibly establish a career path.
If all else fails, think about forging your own path. There are many things in this country that need doing and there is no reason you can't make a living like everyone else. I tried my hand at computer programming, but just wasn't cut out for it. In my spare time, I had learned to sell things on eBay and then one day an opportunity arose. A local performance auto shop where I took my old car for repairs asked me if I could help them sell some stuff on eBay. I readily agreed and for nearly five years, I got to work whenever I wanted and made some good money (about \$\$250,000) working a job that was 'easy'. All because I had learned a skill and was ready when the time came. I even furthered that same skill by getting another part-time job at a consignment store that sold things on eBay and learned even more about buying and selling junk. You don't need to be a mechanic to take most of a car apart and you don't need to be a computer programmer to sell things on eBay. Even if you have a criminal record like I do now, a job like that isn't going to be asking a lot of questions. For that matter, other jobs like telemarking, cleaning, landscaping, or even blog writing are all readily available if you really need to turn a dollar. I don't have a literary degree, but I wrote a book! Anyone can start their own business if they are looking for the opportunity and willing to do the work. It all starts with the drive to do something with your life.
Speaking on my personal experience after being jailed for over a year, I knew I would have an even harder time finding employment now that I couldn't pass a background check. I was just about broke and needed to come up with something soon. Leaning on those same skills I had learned earlier, being able to click around a computer and sell junk on eBay, I went looking for a business partner. In short order, I found the owner of an antique and furniture store and we struck a deal. I gathered up what money I had, and together we opened a consignment store at his existing location - which was a perfect compliment to his struggling business. Upon teaming up, I gained from his knowledge of furniture, antiques, and the estate and auction process and he gained from my tech savvy and computer experience. While we are not getting rich, we are surviving in a difficult economy with the hopes of growing our business which already provides a few part-time jobs to others.
The bottom line is that some people just don't want to work. They look to family or the system to support them. Unemployment has always been over five percent, simply for this reason. Yes, it's worse now than before, but anyone that wants to work can find a way to make a living - it's just a matter of motivation. In closing, I hope these simple tips and my testimony will help a few people get on track. In a matter that's more related than you think, the Bible tells us that if we work hard and are faithful to God, our needs will be met. I personally believe that more important than any tips, having a spiritual foundation is the first step any person should figure out and all else will follow.
Michael McWilliamson is a thirty-eight-year-old college dropout and convicted felon. He lives in Maryland and currently is self employed as the owner of the Curiosity Warehouse Estate & Consignment store near Baltimore. McWilliamson is the author of Wisdom from a Turtle, a book he wrote during a sixteen-month stint in jail.