What should you look for in an entry level job? The company is hiring you to be their employee, at a time in your life when you are full of promise and willing to work hard to prove yourself.

But — in a way, you are also hiring them to be your boss. So think about what you want from the relationship, as well as what they say they want from you.

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“Say they want”? Yes, because we must read job postings carefully. What does a phrase like “show initiative” mean? It could mean that the company recruits potential management from the shop floor. Or it could mean that the company’s managers abandon employees to make decisions with no preparation, authority, or backup. You will probably sense which scenario is more likely from your job interviews.

But for now, let us assume that the offer looks promising. Then you must ask what you want from the job: Here are some questions to wrestle with:

Suppose you need a job for the paycheck because your real life isn’t your work, your real life is coaching amateur ball. With a certificate, you could operate a fork lift. You would likely start at $23,645, and after ten years you’d make $39,376, regular hours. Of course, you should fireproof your job by locating in a region and industry for which the prospect is boom, not doom. And if you are happy with the money, you have solved a problem!

But if you want to rise quickly in the company, make your mark on society, or get great rewards from your work, fork lift is not the job for you. Instead, intern with a politician or non-profit, or co-op with a company, as part of a higher education program. These opportunities pay much less but they provide the contacts and open the doors to the future you seek.

Most people find themselves somewhere between these two positions: They have modest ambitions but prefer meaningful work, with promotion opportunities. Now, a critical question arises: Does your prospective employer offer co-pay, time off without penalty, or other advantages if you to pursue further education related to your work? Acquiring a certificate or degree is not only a career asset; it creates a subtle pressure for your employer to promote you, and it makes you more attractive to a competitor if your employer cannot do so.

At the entry level of any career, it’s wise to determine whether future advancement is likely. If most senior managers in the industry are retirement age and middle management is thinly scattered due to earlier layoffs, a promising mid-twenties employee can enjoy rapid career advancement. On the other hand, if top management is mostly fortyish and there are many promising mid-twenties employees, advancement could be slow. Advancement in a for-profit enterprise usually depends on whether a higher position is vacant, not on merit alone.

Now, let’s look at some entry-level careers and what they offer:

Social media manager

If you’ve never thought you could recover the value of the time you spend on Twitter, you’ve never heard of a social media manager ($31,000 – $55,000). In this career, you are employed by a company which has a presence in the social media world – this includes social websites and services, as well as television, radio, newspapers, etc., to make sure that a given effort is helping the company. The field is so new that it’s not fallen victim to credentialism yet. If you have built 10 Web sites for fun, which half a million people have visited, and have 50,000 Facebook friends, this field could be for you. Put another way: Your prospective employer wants 50,000 Facebook friends too, and will pay you to make it happen. But to stay ahead of the curve, by all means, get a Bachelor’s degree online, and take any relevant courses your employer will pay for.

Financial industry

Today’s financial industry is strictly post Gordon “greed is good” Gecko and, come to think of it, not many smart people were wailing at Gecko’s funeral. Greed, basically, is stupid. It upsets judgment. It destroys viable industries. Wiser heads say, leave something on the table for the next round. One promising entry level career is investment banker. Based on your research, you decide which business ideas your bank should finance. You need a Bachelor’s degree in accounting, business, economics, or finance, but you can easily make more than $30,000 per year to start. Most of the further rewards are for achievement, so that amount just defrays the cost of being in the business. If you need to get in soon, consider becoming a financial clerk ($30,000 – $38,000) or financial sales agent ($30,000 – $89,000), proving your worth and maybe getting your employer to help with your education.

[Click here to browse our list of accredited online Finance degree programs]

Nuclear power reactor operator

This career is quite well paid ($54,590 – $100,310) compared to other power plant opportunities ($39,520 – $82,770), but you need a strong math and science background, because you are controlling a nuclear reactor. Both nuclear and other power plant careers are largely learned on the job, and your job chances are good, as many older workers retire. Additional courses help your case for advancement. Power operators are subject to random drug and alcohol tests.


This is the business end of science, and young engineers—computer, sound, or project, for example—are well-paid ($50,000–$90,000 a year, to start) because they solve problems to which a cost (and therefore a price) can be assigned, in terms of time, effort, and money. Typically, engineers can find a Bachelor’s degree opportunity online.

[Click here to browse our list of accredited online Engineering degree programs]


You can earn $41,000 – $58,000 doing legal work without becoming a lawyer. You would probably work with a firm of lawyers, handling routine matters. The relevant certificate can be earned online or at adult night school. This is a good choice if you want to combine your entry level career with young family responsibilities.

[Click here to browse our list of accredited online Law degree and certificate programs]

Bereavement services

As the population bulge ages, funerals are becoming more common and the trend is to individualized mourning. The funeral director ($50,000 – $73,000) helps people plan the way they wish to be remembered and helps survivors create memories they can recall with acceptance. Certificates and degrees in mortuary science are available from a number of schools, including online opportunities. Jokes about death are easy, but comforting mourners may not be, so the director needs considerable psychological awareness and skill. A related career is bereavement or grief counselor ($37,000–$45,5100), for which you require counseling training. As a counselor, you will likely be working with a government agency, which offers many benefits.

Food scientist

Does it seem like everyone these days is on a special diet? Disease prevention through lifestyle management, including healthy eating, is a major trend, and increasingly tailored to the individual. That’s where the food scientist($48,000 – $76,000, median $61,000) comes in: designing palatable food products that meet health, safety, convenience, and affordability standards. A degree food science takes less time to earn that many science degrees.


Nursing is an excellent career choice because you can practice with a variety of educational qualifications. You could be a Licenced Practical Nurse (LPN) ($31,000 – $43,000), Licenced Vocational Nurse (LVN) ($30,000 – $43,000), or registered nurse ($43,000 – $65,000) or even triage nurse($51,000 – $67,000) or trauma nurse ($60,000 – $70,000). The field is certain to grow because older people, a growing proportion of our population, need them at all levels of qualification. If you must start earning now, investigate nursing aide ($18,000 – $27,000) and work up. Especially investigate employer co-pay for further training.

[Click here to browse our list of accredited online Nursing degree programs]

Multimedia animator

Now here’s the perfect career — creating special effects electronically — that not only features booming demand but plenty of room to grow ($32,360 – $99,13; 2009 median $58,250). And it’s also a chance to prove that all the time you spent on video games wasn’t wasted. Programs from certificate through Bachelor’s degree are available online, and the field rewards talent.

Teaching English as a second language

Although today’s lower birth rate means a reduced need for teachers in the public school system, there is no shortage of new immigrants or others who want to improve their English language skills as adults. You can start at $43,000 per year, and the average is $73,000. You are best to start with a Bachelor’s degree in English or Education, and you will need a certificate: TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) One advantage of this job is that you are usually teaching adults who are highly motivated to learn.

[Click here to browse our list of accredited online ESL Teaching degree programs]

Conservation scientist

In this career, you can put environmental concerns and a Bachelor in Science, biology major, to use by monitoring risks to natural resources such as soil or water, and develop plans to protect them, as well as education programs ($35,570 – $87,890; 2009 median $60,160). Conservation scientist is a good choice for job security and benefits because you will probably be working for a government or a large firm. Need to get started earning right away? Consider conservation worker (up to $60,000; 2009 median $44,000), where you may qualify with a high school diploma and general knowledge. For advancement, get your science degree via continuing education and check out co-pay offers.


As a psychologist ($70,000 – $96,000) industrial ($45,000–$89,000) , child ($55,000–$70,000) psychologist, you help people overcome mental, emotional, or cognitive problems. About half of psychologists work in school systems or hospitals—recession-resistant enterprises. Here, education is crucial because the field must distinguish, for everyone’s protection, between qualified psychologists and just anyone who “wants to help.”

[Click here to browse our list of accredited online Psychology degree programs]

Landscape Architect

You design and create spaces people can work or live in, using wood, stone, plants, and other natural materials, and ensure that all projects comply with regulations. You need a degree in Landscape Architecture to support high hourly rates, but you could start with a certificate in Landscaping. This field should grow because today increasing numbers of people choose to invest in their property or vacation at home. You can easily make $40,000 – $58,000, but much more if you are savvy and hardworking, and especially if you own the business and are sought after locally.

Merchant marine

You’d like to see the world before you settle down, but teaching English abroad isn’t for you? If you’re able-bodied, consider the merchant navy, shipping goods worldwide ($24,000 to $68,000, depending on rank). You mostly learn on the job, but to make clear that you’re not just another seasick landlubber, take some technical courses focusing on the modern merchant or navy ship and volunteer with watercraft activities.

Biomedical engineer

In this job you apply your engineering degree to biology to produce better information systems, instruments, artificial organs, and prostheses ($49,480 – $123,270; median $78,860). Because the field is relatively new and growing rapidly, aptitude may be more highly valued than qualifications. If you need work now, try starting as an engineering technician ($36,000 – $56,000, high school diploma) and check if your employer will co-pay for more.

Social service assistant

If you need to get started earning right away, consider social service assistant (2009 median $49,000, high school diploma, good attitude). Then fireproof your job by getting your further qualifications in social work ($25,000 – $45,000) via continuing education, with possible co-pay. Especially consider this entry level option if you’re handicapped by a less privileged background. That could be your key asset: role model for comeback kids.

[Click here to browse our list of accredited online Social Service degree programs]

Gaming surveillance officer

Here’s an entry level career well suited to the quick mind and sharp eye: Detecting cheating at casinos ($27,000 – $43,000, high school diploma) Of course, the gaming surveillance officer mustn’t be a problem gambler. It could be a great start to a future career in a variety of fields such as law enforcement, fire investigation, claims investigation, or computer security. Some things you just can’t learn in school; you must see them in action, and your experience is a career asset.

Claims investigator

If you doubt you’d want to be a police officer (35,000 – $55,000) but have a nose for detection and an ear for fact-free stories, consider claims investigation ($40,000 – $45,000, up to $60,000). You help protect the honest policyholders of an insurance company by detecting fraud. Consider an online degree in insurance and risk management to start. This is another job where, basically, results matter more than credentials, but you need background understanding of the industry as well.

Public relations manager/Hospitality PR manager

You are a company’s public face. You develop the company’s image by event sponsorship, advertising, employee training programs, slogan, and even gimmicks ($42,000 – $65,000, Master’s degree). Or, with a Bachelors in Public Administration ($70,000 – $81,000), you market a grand hotel or resort. Mostly, it’s fun, but you must be prepared to troubleshoot a big problem. How much you make usually depends on the size of your employer. PR might be a good way of putting an Arts degree to work, with some additional training.

Events manager

If you’ve got the energy, consider being an events manager (55,000 – $89,000). A Bachelor’s degree is a good beginning, but your main job is to organize events people actually come to, and then come back next time. So— if you’ve got the aptitude, earn first, learn later, if possible. This career can be exhausting in spurts, but is a great entry to many fields in arts, entertainment, and politics, as well as business.