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Route to success isn't always straight

| Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, 12:02 a.m.

Abigail Gehring knows a lot about jobs. She's sure she had 25 jobs by the time she was 25 (she's 29 now), and she has written books about odd jobs and dangerous jobs.

College still makes sense for the job seeker, according to Gehring. Never mind that half of all new graduates, it's said, are coming out to no job of their dreams, at least immediately.

But she also thinks conventional attitudes fail to give enough credit to blue-collar work. And the latter may well offer pay and vocational satisfactions completely unappreciated in the halls of ivy.

In fact, a kid without a specific professional goal could do worse than delay going to college, Gehring said in an interview. Take a “gap year” off the books to go work for “life experience” invaluable in any career, she said.

For the laid-off older worker, if there's money saved up, the cushion enables a longer job search. But if that's gone, she advises, take part-time (for pay) and volunteer work in your own field or charitably. “That way you can emphasize in future job interviews the volunteering rather the current unemployment.”

An advantage Gehring cites in a spate of unemployment is that it gives you time to take stock of what you really like to do. “See if you can match it to where the needs are.” Someone who loves animals, for example, might apply to a pet store or to walk dogs.

Though herself not a personnel professional, Gehring's guess is that people who hire tend to look for “flexibility, a self-starter ... someone who has worked hard at anything.” And yet if 300 job-seeking resumes pile up on a company's desk, it's almost inevitable the edge will be given to those claiming college diplomas.

A Vermont native now living in New York with her husband (he's a videographer and wedding caterer), Gehring says she began working in her parents' hot dog shop at age 5. Exploitation this wasn't. She's grateful for the training. Personality and family history are reliable predictors of work ethic, she believes. That doesn't mean it's unteachable. Gehring thinks public schools should instruct much more on life experiences, such as sensible spending and learning to balance a checkbook.

Her own work history included stints as a modern dance teacher and caring for an Alzheimer's patient. She taught snowboarding at a ski resort, played Cinderella at kids' birthday parties. And told joke fortunes as a “lipstick reader.” Bridal shower guests pressed their painted lips to a napkin, and in the gluey red patterns was destiny.

Today, Gehring is managing editor of Skyhorse Publishing Inc., a New York producer of books that she joined at its founding a few years ago with just three other workers. Today there are 40, producing 650 titles a year.

A book of Gehring's own that Skyhorse issued in 2009 is “Dangerous Jobs,” a terse and sprightly guide to the “world's riskiest ways” to earn a living, complete with suggested websites for applying. Police officer, miner and firefighter are predictable enough. But how about movie stunt double, circus performer, underwater welder or military mercenary? Maybe the life of a “sherpa” is for you, helping mountain climbers get to the top.

Gehring's current work-in-progress is a cookbook. “Food service is always going to have entry-level jobs,” she said. “And the wedding industry doesn't go away in good times or bad.”

Jack Markowitz is a columnist on Thursdays for Trib Total Media. Email jmarkowitz@tribweb.com.

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