At a recent gathering of small-business representatives from around the nation, William Dunkelberg, chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business, opined on what one result from an NFIB poll meant: Clean up your act.
Dunkelberg was aiming his remarks at the young looking for their first job. In short, he recommended improving your attitude, ditching the nose ring and looking clean. “Does it take a high school or college degree to know you should be clean?” he wondered rhetorically.
Results from that 2007 survey of small-business owners hold the same lessons for job-seekers today. When asked 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 as 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 a thing first-time job-seekers can do about their lack of job-specific or occupational skills. But poor attitude, people skills, inappropriate appearance and inflated expectations are well within their control.
As for “inflated wage expectation,” know this: They should plan on working for a minimum wage. It was meant for them, it’s an entry-level wage for the young and inexperienced. 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. ”
As Forbes magazine contributor Jeffrey Dorfman noted, “In fact, according to a recent study [by economists Joseph Sabia and Richard Burkhauser] 63 percent of workers who earn less than $9.50 per hour (well over the minimum wage of $7.25) are the second or third earner in their family and 43 percent of these workers live in households that earn over $50,000 per year. Thus, minimum wage earners are not a uniformly poor and struggling group; many are teenagers from middle class families and many more are sharing the burden of providing for their families, not carrying the load all by themselves.”
Politicians, however, are making it much more difficult for teens and very young adults to find a job, which is a pity because, as the NFIB poll showed, prior experience is what employers value the most. By constantly calling for higher and higher minimum wages, they – in spite of having all the evidence as to their negative effects in front of them – are forcing small-business owners to cut back on job opportunities for first-timers.
By the way, good luck, if you think a big corporation is going to take a risk with a first-time job-seeker. Local small-business owners are their best chance, and for most, the only chance.
But the good news is this: When NFIB took its poll in 2007, employers looking to fill job vacancies were offering, on average, $12.50 an hour, which is more than $4 higher than today’s Montana minimum-wage rate of $8.05 an hour and more than $5 higher than today’s federal minimum-wage rate of $7.25 an hour.
So to those looking for their first job, you will most likely begin earning a minimum-wage, 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.

Riley Johnson is Montana state director for the National Federation of Independent Business.

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