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It begins by cleaning up your act

 


Here is some advice to the young looking for their first job: Start by cleaning up your act.

Also accept the fact that you’ll likely be starting out at a minimum wage, but will not be there very long if you’re a good worker and look presentable.

When asked by their leading association, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), to name the biggest problems small-business owners faced in filling job vacancies:

• 61 percent listed lack of job-specific or occupational skills as a typical or occasional problem

• 54 percent cited the poor attitude of the applicant as a typical or occasional problem

• 52 percent said poor job and/or work history is a typical or occasional problem

• 51 percent commented that lack of social or people skills as a typical or occasional problem

• 43 percent called inappropriate appearance a typical or occasional problem

• 43 percent commented on inflated wage and/or benefit expectations as a typical or occasional problem.

There’s not much you can do about your lack of job-specific or occupational skills if you’re just starting out in the work world. But poor attitude, people skills, inappropriate appearance and inflated expectations are well within your control.

NFIB’s chief economist, William Dunkelberg, advises losing the ’tude, ditching the nose ring, and cleaning yourself up as good first steps toward your job search. “Does it take a high school or college degree to know you should be clean?”

You know, or should know, the importance of first impressions.

Here’s something you should also know about the minimum wage: It was meant for you. It’s an entry-level wage, earned mostly by people in their late teens or very early 20s still living at home.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the federal agency that keeps track of all minimum-wage workers, reports, “Minimum wage workers tend to be young. Although workers under age 25 represented only about one-fifth of hourly paid workers, they made up nearly half of those paid the federal minimum wage or less.”

But to hear politicians tell it, increases in minimum-wage rates are needed to pull middle-aged men and women out of poverty. Nonsense. The bulk of the gains will go to members of families with above-median incomes. A higher minimum wage only makes it harder for you to qualify for that first job and start building that work experience that employers value the most.

Washington state has a particularly sordid history with its minimum-wage rate. Back in 1998, voters were conned into passing an initiative that linked all future increases in the minimum wage to rises in the federal Consumer Price Index, thereby, supposedly, taking the issue forever out of the hands of politicians. Well, that didn’t work so well, as cities across the state trip over each other to boost it higher and higher.

Here’s something else to know: Good luck, if you think a big corporation is going to take a risk with you. Your local small-business owner is your best chance, and for most, the only chance.

Now, for some good news: When NFIB took its 2007 poll on job vacancies, employers looking to fill jobs were offering, on average, $12.50 an hour, which is more than $3 higher than today’s Washington state minimum-wage rate of $9.47 an hour and more than $5 higher than today’s federal minimum-wage rate of $7.25 an hour.

You will most likely start out at a minimum-wage rate, but with hard work, a friendly attitude, an ability to work with colleagues, and a presentable appearance, you will not be working for a minimum wage for very long. That is, if politicians don’t interfere with the natural order of things, again.

Happy Job Hunting.

Patrick Connor is Washington state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

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