Chapter 3: Preparing to enter the workforce

Table of contents

3.1 Introduction

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Six people stacking their hands together as a team.

For many people, the next step after a homeschool education is getting a job and becoming a part of the workforce. Some people may be able to get employment through family members, while others have family members who own a business that they can join. 

But in many cases, entering the workforce requires a lot more, well, work. If you’ve never had a job before, getting one might feel intimidating. That’s what this chapter is going to prepare you for. 

In this chapter, we’ll prepare you to enter the workforce by showing you how to : 

  • Identify the job sector that’s right for you 
  • Search, apply, and interview for jobs
  • Recognize and deal with safety issues in your workplace
  • Get a job with the government or join the military 

Just like in Chapter 2, we’ll start with exercises to help you understand your own strengths and goals—but this time, we’ll focus on matching you with the job that you’re best suited to. You may already have a “dream job” in mind, or you might be struggling to imagine a job that you could be good at. Either way, making a list of your goals and doing some market research can help you nail down the right sector for you. 

Once you’ve decided what kind of job you want, the next steps are finding those jobs and actually getting one. We’ll go over the best ways to find job listings, how to prepare an application, and how to approach a job interview so that you’re maximizing your potential. 

A source of intimidation for a lot of homeschool alumni is safety in the workplace. If you’ve never had a job before, and particularly if your homeschool education took place in an unsafe environment, it might be hard to recognize safety issues at your job—and you may not know how to address them when you do find them. We’ll go over what to look out for and how to deal with it by reporting safety problems, joining a union, and avoiding job scams and labor trafficking. 

Finally, we’ll take a closer look at two types of jobs that may be of interest to homeschool alumni: government jobs and the military. Working in these areas can come with special requirements and unique challenges, so we’ll discuss how to navigate those factors. 

Ready to find your ideal job? Let’s get started.

3.2 Finding areas of professional interest

3.2.1 Getting to know yourself professionally

In the last chapter, you took inventory of your current situation by collecting personal documents, assessing your financial situation, determining whether you qualify for Selective Service, and then reflecting upon your interests. Now, it is time to translate these findings into tangible professional goals.

While this may seem overwhelming at first, please remember you are not alone in this! There are many helpful resources online for determining what jobs will best suit your needs. This Forbes article gives you ten questions to ask yourself that will help you determine what sector you will thrive in. Take inventory of your likes and dislikes, your hopes of what you will accomplish in your profession, and what the ideal workday would look like for you. In this Indeed article, there are twelve more practical questions you can ask yourself to narrow down your search – what education and employment history do you have? Do you want to work indoors or outdoors? What would your ideal schedule be like? As you reflect, you will get a sense of what your ideal work environment might look like.

3.2.2 Market research and occupational outlook

You have probably heard of market research most often in the context of businesses developing new products to sell. Market research is the process of gathering information about consumers’ needs and preferences so that you can tailor your product or marketing strategy to appeal to the most people. When you conduct market research to determine your career options, the product you are marketing is yourself! If you think about potential future employers as your “customers,” you need to design your “product”—your own skills, abilities, and experiences that you have already built and may continue to develop—to provide maximum appeal to them.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself as you begin your market research:

  • What industry do I want to work in?
  • What potential jobs could I get in that industry?
  • What are the salary expectations for those jobs?
  • What types of skills and experiences are employers looking for?
  • Do I need any additional education after graduation in order to qualify?
  • What types of work would I be doing on a day-to-day basis? Do I like that kind of work?
  • How many jobs are available in the location where I want to work?
  • Is the industry growing or shrinking?
  • What kind of job security is there?
  • How is the work/life balance?

To keep your market research findings in one place, we recommend recording it in a dedicated word document, notebook, or spreadsheet depending on your preferences. 

It can be helpful to make contact with someone who works in your field. You can ask them questions about that career and inquire about shadowing and internship opportunities. In the next section, we cover informational interviews in more depth!

3.2.3 Informational interviews

Conducting an informational interview with a professional in your desired field is a fantastic way of  learning about career paths in that particular field and making contacts. As the University of California Berkeley Career Center clarifies, an informational interview is “an effective research tool and is best done after preliminary online research. It is not a job interview, and the objective is not to find job openings.” Informational interviews are a powerful way of gleaning information about jobs before applying.

3.2.4 Gaining experience

Here we’ll briefly discuss job shadowing, volunteering, and interning as means of gaining job experience. Job shadowing, volunteering, or interning in a field  you’re interested in has many advantages: it gives you experience that you can put on your resume, it connects you to valuable contacts, and it gives you a true-to-life glimpse into what it would be like to work in your field of interest.

Job Shadowing. Job shadowing is an opportunity to follow a professional during their workday. During a job shadowing experience, individuals have the opportunity to accompany an employee throughout their workday, observing their tasks, responsibilities, and interactions. This immersive exposure to real-world work environments provides valuable insights into the intricacies of different jobs, allowing young people to explore their interests and gain a deeper understanding of specific industries. Job shadowing is a helpful way to better understand a prospective career for you. A job shadow can last from a few hours to a few weeks. 

This Indeed article gives you a 6-step action plan on how to secure a job shadowing opportunity, along with tips on how to get the most out of your experience.

Volunteering. Volunteering is not only a meaningful way to get involved in your community, but a means of getting hands-on experience with different kinds of work. To give one example, if you’re interested in working in the medical field, volunteering at a hospital can give you a glimpse into how medical workplaces operate. Hospital volunteers generally help with patient support, through escorting them to appointments or keeping them company as they await appointments. Not only is this work important and fulfilling in and of itself, it also helps you develop a “bedside manner,” which is one of the most important aspects of a medical career. 

This is just one example of how volunteering gives you both practical experience and concrete insight into potential career paths. Check out this resource from the YMCA for a list of volunteering opportunities and see which appeal to you! 

Internships. Internships are structured programs that provide young professionals with practical, hands-on experience in a specific field or industry. Internships are temporary positions that typically last for a predetermined period; even though they sometimes lead to permanent employment at the organization, they are not jobs!

 Moreover, a 2019 study found that about 43% of internships were unpaid. The premise of an unpaid internship is that interns are compensated in college credit or another academically enriching experience. If your plan is to directly enter the workforce, we therefore only recommend considering paid internship opportunities in a field you wish to break into. When deciding on pursuing an internship, please ensure that the work expectations  are made clear in writing, whether through the form of a contract, a memorandum of understanding, or another document explaining the role and its expectations.

3.3 Preparing to apply for jobs

Now that you’ve conducted all preliminary research and have a sense of the jobs you’re interested in, it’s almost time to start finding jobs. Before searching for jobs and filling out applications, there are two essential application materials that we strongly recommend that you have on-hand before applying: a resume and references.  This is because 1) almost all jobs require that you submit a resume and references, so it is more efficient to have them prepared before starting, and 2) they take time. Resumes take time because, as you will see soon below, a lot of thought goes into creating a coherent and competitive resume. And references take time because, as a courtesy, you have to request your references’ permission to list them well in advance.

To make our discussion more concrete, 3.3 and 3.4 are going to follow a hypothetical job applicant, Riley, as she navigates the process of entering the workforce.

Meet Riley
Riley is a homeschool alumna in her early 20s looking for entry-level administrative positions in both public and private sector organizations. She has taken some general education courses at community college while she was being homeschooled, but her highest level of completed education is a high school diploma. She has experience volunteering at her local animal rescue and food bank, and as a teenager, she worked at her local grocery store.

3.3.1 Resume

The resume is arguably the most crucial component of the job applications you will submit. Resumes are typically single-page ordered lists of your work experiences and skills. It’s helpful to think about resumes in marketing terms: the purpose of a resume is to serve as an advertisement where you are the product. The information included in your resume, and how it is presented, should be chosen with the intention of piquing the interest of a hiring manager and inspiring them to grant you an interview.

A good resume has the following components: 

  • Your name and contact information
  • A resume introduction (see the link here for more on this)
  • Work experience  
  • Skills (industry-specific skills, technical skills, languages spoken)
  • Education
  • Awards and honors
  • References (more on that below) 

There are several common formats for organizing this information into a resume. The most common is the reverse-chronological order resume, which lists your experience in order from most recent to least recent. This is the type of resume employers generally expect to see. In some cases, the most compelling part of your application won’t be your experience, but your skills (e.g., you want to be a software engineer and haven’t yet had a job that requires coding, but you’ve self-taught coding). In these scenarios, a skills-based resume might be ideal.

For most applicants, we recommend a resume that is a combination format, meaning that it is  mostly reverse-chronological, but  has dedicated sections to list your skills. That way, you get the best of both worlds, balancing past accomplishments with evidence of future potential! The example below follows the combination format.

Indeed, the best way to demonstrate how a good resume looks is to show you one. See below Riley’s resume for her application to administrative assistant jobs.

Riley Phillips
123 Main Street, Anytown, Anywhere | +1 (555) 123-4567 |


Motivated homeschool alumna with a strong work ethic and a passion for administrative work seeking entry-level administrative positions in both public and private sector organizations.


General Education Courses, Community College
Anytown, Anywhere (2021)

  • English Composition, Algebra, American History

High School Diploma, Homeschooling Program
Anytown, Anywhere (2017 – 2021)


Cashier, Local Grocery Store
Anytown, Anywhere (May 2020 – present)

  • Operated cash register and processed customer transactions accurately
  • Provided excellent customer service, addressing inquiries and resolving issues
  • Maintained a clean and organized work area

Volunteer, Local Food Bank
Anytown, Anywhere (2019 – Present)

  • Assisted with food distribution and packaging
  • Conducted inventory management and maintained records
  • Supported event planning and coordination

Volunteer, Local Animal Rescue
Anytown, Anywhere (2018 – Present)

  • Assisted with animal care, including feeding, grooming, and exercising
  • Provided administrative support, including data entry and filing
  • Participated in adoption events and fundraisers

Dependable: Trusted with company funds and customers’ personal information
Organized: Ensured that records were complete and filed correctly
Customer Service: Maintained friendly, professional demeanor when interacting with the public

Proficient in Microsoft Office Suite (Word, Excel, PowerPoint)
Fast typing speed of 70 words per minute
Bilingual: English (native), Spanish (conversational)

Roy Connor, Manager at Local Grocery Story, (444) 333-3333
Bob Smith, Volunteer Coordinator at Local Food Bank, (444) 444-4444
Valerie Johnson, Volunteer Coordinator at Local Animal Rescue, (444) 555-5555 Additional tips and resources

While we recommend something similar to the format of Riley’s example resume, there is no one good way to create an effective resume. Keep the following in mind as you are writing your resume:

  • Your resume should fit comfortably on a single 8.5″x11″ sheet of paper. Hiring managers may discard or ignore additional pages, and overcrowded types are difficult to read. There may be some exceptions, but you should still do your best to stick to a single page.

  • You should keep and consistently update a longer Master Resume, a full record of your achievements and experience for your own use. This will allow you to easily tailor your one-page resume to each opportunity. See Clark College’s guide for creating a Master Resume.
  • Each time you submit a resume, it should be tailored to the particular opportunity you are interested in. Your skills and experiences should be reorganized or rewritten to highlight key words or concepts from the job ad or the organization’s mission statement. See Yale University’s guide to tailoring your resume.

  • Your resume should use only strong action verbs and should avoid the passive voice. The verbs you use should highlight your contributions, rather than what someone else did or assigned you to do. Wake Forest University has a number of suggestions for strong action verbs based on different categories of experiences. 

  • Double- and triple-check your resume for spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors and have it reviewed by a trusted mentor if possible. As an advertisement, your resume should represent you at your most polished, and employers may reject a resume which has typos.
  • Don’t limit yourself to listing only your paid work. Volunteer, service, entrepreneurial, and internship opportunities are also great demonstrations of your skills and experience. The example resume above includes volunteer work! Ask a close friend what they think your greatest life accomplishments are and see if there is a way to incorporate these into your resume.

3.3.2 References

Many employers will require you to list references on your applications: sometimes after you’ve completed an interview, but sometimes on the application itself. References speak to your character and professionalism. They are generally prior employers, teachers, mentors, or anyone else who has witnessed your work ethic, and it’s often helpful to get references from a variety of sources (as Riley did in her resume in 3.3.1). If possible, references should not be your parents, siblings, or anyone else closely related to you. As a rule of thumb, it is good to have 3 references on hand for a job application cycle.

You shouldn’t list someone as a reference unless you have asked them first. For example, you can say “Would you be willing to serve as a reference for me on my resume?” Asking for a reference can feel awkward: it’s intimidating to ask  a “superior” for a favor, and it’s natural to worry about feeling entitled. The authors of this section have asked for (many) references, and have also been asked to provide references. We can assure you that references are a regular aspect of one’s work life, and you are not placing unfair strain on your references if you ask politely with plenty of advance notice. Some potential references may even feel honored that you asked them to serve in this role for you. However, if someone tells you they are unwilling to serve as your reference, you should thank them politely and avoid using them.

Typically you will just include the reference’s name and phone number on a job application, and the job will call the reference. However, some jobs may ask for a recommendation letter from the reference. This is rare for jobs, but more common for educational opportunities. Recommendation letters are a lot more time-intensive for your recommenders, but if a job application requires a letter, don’t feel bad about asking a reference for one! Many references will understand and write a letter for you. And if they don’t have time to write a letter, still include their name and phone number on your application!

3.4 Starting your job search!

Now, we’ll finally walk through the nuts and bolts of searching, applying for, and interviewing for jobs.

3.4.1 Where to search for jobs

You can search for a job in a variety of ways!

Local job postings and word of mouth: Small local businesses without a website may post paper job ads in their shop window or on a community bulletin board at the grocery store or library. You can also talk to friends, mentors, and other community members to find out about organizations that may be hiring, but have not yet posted a job ad.

Job board sites: An efficient and common way to apply for a job is to utilize a job board site. The most common job board sites are Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, Google Jobs and ZipRecuiter, and some industries have industry-specific job board sites. On these platforms, companies pay to post their job openings on these websites, and candidates can then search job openings in their area. Candidates can narrow down their search based on job type (full-time versus part-time), salary, benefits and job descriptions. 

There are several potential drawbacks to online job sites that you should be aware of.

  • Scams. While online job sites are an easy resource to gain an understanding of jobs available in your area, it is important to note that these sites are a common place for scammers to post their false job openings. Please exercise caution in using these websites.
  • Outdated positions. Often, companies will not take down old job posts, so candidates will waste time applying for jobs that are no longer available. If utilizing job boards as a resource, please take note of when the job was posted. If it was over 30 days ago, it is in your best interest to visit the company website or contact the company directly to see if the job is still available.
  • Quality over quantity. With an abundance of posts on job boards, it is easy for candidates to get overwhelmed with their options. 

Company Website: If you have a clear idea of what company you want to work for, sometimes the most efficient way to find openings is to directly visit that company’s website. Many have a “Careers” or “Employment” page where they list how to apply for a job at this company. Some will ask you to fill out an online application, others will ask you to email your resume and cover letter to them. Follow the instructions listed on the website in order to maximize your chances of employment with this company.

Cold-Call/Email: If you are interested in employment with a specific company and cannot find out how to apply for a job there, you have the right to send an interest email or phone call. Introduce yourself, your past employment and volunteer experience, and state your interest in the company. It would be helpful to attach your resume to the email, if you are reaching out via email. Ask if it is possible for you to schedule an informational interview (see 3.2.3). Even if there are no job openings at the moment, getting in contact early with the company is a helpful way to make yourself known!

Job Fairs: A job fair is an event where organizations that are hiring can interact on an unscheduled basis with interested job applicants. At a job fair, you can visit a table for each organization, and you may get the chance to meet hiring managers or complete an on-the-spot interview. Job fairs can be organized by individual companies, by your local chamber of commerce, or by organizations like community colleges, libraries, and county governments. Come prepared with your resume and references, and ask to learn more about the opportunities presented.

3.4.2 Apply!

Now you have selected the jobs you are interested in applying for, it’s go-time! The first step in most job applications is a standard online application. In addition to the typical required fields (name, address, etc.), you may be asked to submit the following: Identifying documents

You may be required to submit these documents in order to prove your identity and your right to work in the United States. The most commonly used are:

  • Passport
  • Drivers license 
  • Social security number (SSN)*

*Note regarding Social security numbers: Please be careful who asks you for your Social security number. Check out this article from The Balance on when it is appropriate to send your Social security number. Cover letter

Cover letters–sometimes known as Letters of Introduction or Letters of Interest–are letters formally introducing yourself to the company and explaining why you are a good fit for the relevant job vacancy. They are typically addressed to the Hiring Manager and have the layout of a typical business letter.  Columbia University Center for Career Education recommends the formatting of a cover letter to include:

  • A short length: 3-4 paragraphs is the ideal length
  • First paragraph introducing you as a candidate. Briefly explain why your background and qualifications make you an ideal applicant for the position. 
  • Second paragraph highlighting your relevant skills and experience. Make sure to use language directly from the job ad and connect your background with the job tasks. If needed, you can use two paragraphs for this section.
  • Third paragraph concluding the cover letter. Thank the reader for their time and reaffirm your interest.
  • Including your contact information, date, employer’s name/title/address, signature
  • When writing your cover letter, use  the active voice (for instance, say I drafted memoranda rather than memoranda were drafted by me).

The following example from Riley follows the guidelines above.

Dear Hiring Manager,

I am excited to apply for the administrative assistant position at [Company Name]. As a motivated homeschool alumna with a strong work ethic and a passion for administrative work, I believe I would be an excellent fit for the role.

My experience volunteering at the local animal rescue and food bank, as well as my previous job as a cashier at a local grocery store, has equipped me with the skills necessary to succeed as an administrative assistant. I have developed excellent organizational and time management abilities, strong written and verbal communication skills, and attention to detail. I am proficient in the Microsoft Office Suite, and my fast typing speed of 70 words per minute allows me to work efficiently and effectively.

In addition to my skills and experience, I am committed to community service and volunteering, which aligns with [Company Name]’s values. I am proactive, adaptable, and always willing to learn and take on new challenges. I am confident that my strong work ethic, positive attitude, and dedication to excellence would make me an asset to your team.

Thank you for considering my application. I have attached my resume for your review. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require any additional information.

Riley Phillips Submitting the application

Before you submit your online application, please proofread to ensure you filled in all required fields and relevant optional fields. Some online applications may require you to answer the type of questions you might be asked in a job interview—make sure to submit answers that sound as professional as your resume and cover letter.

3.4.3 Attend an interview

Congratulations! You’ve landed an interview. Now is the time to make a great first impression. Here are some tips on how to put your best foot forward:

    • Arrive early: Arriving early to an interview is a sign of professionalism and also gives you extra time in case of an emergency. 

    • Come prepared: Bring a copy of your resume to the interview.

    • Dress professionally: Take the time to research proper business attire and select an appropriate outfit (think along the lines of blazers, dress pants, pencil skirts, and button-downs). Ensure that your outfit is neat and maintained. If you need help finding professional clothing, many charitable organizations like Clothes the Deal and Dress for Success offer free clothing to help job seekers succeed in interviews. The organization Jails to Jobs offers a directory of local organizations throughout the country that may provide free professional clothing.

    • Reflect on your past work, volunteer and education experiences. No matter what position you apply for, your interviewer will ask you questions pertaining to your skill-sets, your strengths, and how your past experiences have prepared you for this specific role. Think about how your past experiences transfer to the job description and have an answer ready. If you have a difficult time answering questions on the fly, you can also consider writing out answers to potential questions beforehand and practicing your answers.

    • Many interviewers utilize the S.T.A.R interview method. S.T.A.R stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. S.T.A.R interview questions typically start with “Tell me about a time when…” and are looking for specific examples.  Utilizing this practice allows interviewers to gain insight into your personality, experiences and abilities. This BetterUp article gives tips on how to use the S.T.A.R system to your advantage.

    • Come with your own questions. Remember, an interview is just as much an opportunity for you to examine your prospective employer as  it is for them to examine you. This is your chance to get a firsthand look into the work environment and determine whether it would be a good fit for you. Look on the company’s website; most companies have an “About Us” or “Mission Statement” page where they state their values and vision for their company and how they are achieving it. Most companies also have a “News” page where they post updates on recent projects and accomplishments. Look through these resources carefully and come up with your own questions. Most employers will give you the chance to ask whatever you would like at the end of the interview, and interviewers look kindly upon the fact that you took the time to prepare.

3.4.4 After the interview

Congratulations! You completed your interview, and we know you did a great job! Sometimes, it can take a while for employers to get back to you on their decision. As you wait, here are some proactive steps to give you your best chance possible.

Within a day of your interview, send a “thank you note” to your interviewer. Thank them for the opportunity to speak with them and reiterate your interest in the job. This helps communicate your genuine interest in the role and appear proactive to your potential employer.

If it has been one week since your interview and you have not heard back, feel free to follow up with a phone call or email. Mention that you are still interested in the job and would like to know the status of your application. But don’t feel bad if you never hear back, because it is unfortunately far too common for companies to just ignore candidates they do not select. Just move on to the next application or interview and don’t look back!

If you are told you did not get the job, do not let it discourage you! Everybody experiences rejection at one time or another. Even if an application process does not result in a job, it is a valuable experience that will prepare you for future pursuits. Continue your diligent job search and continue improving your resume and interview skills.

If you did receive the job, congratulations! Look over the offer letter for the company. In the offer letter, the company should list out your compensation, benefits (if you are a full-time employee) and paid time off. Study this document and ensure that you are happy with everything that you see. If you need any clarifications, do not hesitate to reach out to the employer and get your questions answered. If the employer asks you to sign any documents limiting what you can do outside of work (such as a nondisclosure agreement or a noncompete clause), it may be a good idea to hire an employment attorney to review these documents.

3.5 Workplace safety

Most jobs are safe places to work, with procedures and rules in place to ensure that no one is harmed on the job. But, unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sexual harassment, physical endangerment, predatory financial practices, and emotional manipulation can all make a workplace unsafe. 

In this section, we’ll go over some common workplace safety issues and how to address them. If you ever feel unsafe in your workplace, trust your instincts.

3.5.1 Common workplace safety problems to look out for

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) divides workplace safety issues into six categories: 

  • Safety hazards: Unsafe conditions that could cause injury or death, such as dangerous machinery, spills on floors, elevated work areas, and confined spaces.
  • Physical hazards: Environmental factors like extreme temperatures, loud noises, or exposure to radiation that can harm your body without touching it. 
  • Biological hazards: Things you may be exposed to if working with animals or people, such as blood, other bodily fluids, animal or insect bites, bacteria and viruses, mold, and animal droppings. 
  • Chemical hazards: Chemicals you are exposed to at work including cleaning products, flammable materials, pesticides, vapors and fumes, and gasses like carbon monoxide, acetylene, propane, and helium.
  • Ergonomic hazards: Working conditions and positions that put a strain on your body, such as repetitive movements, vibration, poor posture, and heavy lifting.
  • Work organization hazards: Things that cause stress in the workplace such as unreasonable workload, lack of respect, violence, and sexual harassment. 

Now, you might notice that many of these hazards will be present in a lot of jobs. If you’re a nurse, for instance, being exposed to the biological hazard of illness is part of the job! Likewise, construction workers are likely to work around dangerous machinery and in extreme conditions, while office workers sitting at desks will naturally have to deal with the threat of poor posture. 

The problem comes when your workplace doesn’t take appropriate steps to protect you from these hazards. For instance, if you’re asked to clean up someone’s blood or vomit at a daycare without being given personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, or if your boss sends you onto a construction site without a hard hat, these are unsafe working conditions. There are also some hazards that should never be present in a workplace, such as sexual harassment and physical violence. 

In many cases, it can be hard to identify the line between a truly unsafe workplace and one that’s just intense. After all, lots of jobs expect employees to work hard even under difficult conditions. The best ways to know if your workplace is unsafe are to trust your own instincts and talk to your coworkers.

3.5.2 How to report a workplace safety issue

If you feel unsafe, bring up your concerns to a manager, a supervisor, or your HR department. (However, please understand that the HR department’s role is to protect your employer from being sued, rather than to ensure you have a safe place to work.) If you’ve discussed the problem with other employees and they share your concerns, you can bring a complaint or request to management together. 

In many cases, your workplace should respond to your concerns and put better safety measures in place. However, if you’re told to “just ignore it” and go back to work, you can file a health and safety complaint with OSHA by filling out an online form or calling your local OSHA office or 800-321-6742 (OSHA).

3.5.3 Unions

The unfortunate reality of workplace safety is that your employer is often motivated to ignore workplace safety issues. In many cases, when a hazard exists in the workplace, it’s because the employer would rather expose workers to unsafe conditions than pay for a solution—whether that’s additional training, safety equipment, or a day off to avoid extreme temperatures.

This is why unions exist. Unions are organizations of employees that join together to protect workplace safety and other rights. By joining together, unions can improve working conditions and address unsafe situations. 

When a workplace is unionized, the employer and the union (i.e. the group of employees who have organized as a bargaining unit) sign an agreement, or contract, about working conditions. Depending on your workplace, your union’s contract might cover: 

  • Wages and raises
  • Protections against discrimination and harassment 
  • Healthcare benefits and retirement 
  • Scheduling
  • Safety practices

Having a union contract allows workers to demand changes in the workplace and insist on accountability from employers. If you don’t have a union, your boss may be legally able to brush off any safety issues you bring up. With a union in place, you can count on your contract, your union reps, and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold your employer accountable for your safety.    

If your job has a union, you should join it. While you may have to pay union dues—a small fee that helps to fund the union’s work—unions are not predatory organizations. Instead, they are collective groups that give every worker the power to speak up and insist on safety in the workplace. How to start a union

If your workplace doesn’t have a union, you can start one with your coworkers. Forming a union can be a long and difficult process, but it’s an extremely effective way to ensure that your job treats you right. 

To start a union, you should: 

  • Talk to your coworkers. A union can only succeed if a large number of workers agree that they want to see conditions improve, so start by simply talking to other employees about how they feel about issues at work such as pay, safety, and benefits. 
  • Find a union organizer. Look for a local union that protects workers in jobs similar to yours and reach out to their organizers to ask for tips and guidance. An organizer can explain the legal process for starting a union and give you resources. 
  • Form an organizing committee. The union organizer can help you pick out a small group of people to actively reach out and build a larger group of employees who want to unionize. 
  • Sign union support cards. Once the organizing committee has ensured that a majority of workers want a union, they can pass out support cards and file them with the National Labor Relations Board to request a union election. 
  • Vote for a union. Once a majority of employees have signed union support cards, your workplace will be required to hold a union election, where all eligible employees can vote “yes” or “no” for the union. Before the election, you’ll want to keep organizing and encouraging people to vote yes. 
  • Negotiate a contract. If you win your election, a committee of unionized employees can start meeting with members of management to draft and agree to a union contract covering all of the concerns that led you to form a union. 

Not sure where to begin? Below is a list of the eight largest labor unions in the United States. Look for the union that’s most similar to your sector of the workforce. 

  • United Auto Workers (UAW): for automobile, farm equipment, and construction equipment manufacturing workers as well as some professional workers. 

But these are just a few of the largest unions that protect workers in the United States. If you don’t see your job listed here, look up unions in your sector. Or, if you know someone in a similar job who has a union, ask which union represents them and their coworkers.

3.5.4 Avoiding scams and labor trafficking

In most jobs, a union is the best protection you can have against workplace safety issues. But unions can only protect you in legitimate jobs. 

Job scams and human trafficking are serious problems in the United States, particularly among vulnerable populations like immigrants, women, and people with low incomes and low employment prospects. If someone is desperate for a job, dangerous people can take advantage of that to get money or other resources out of them. How can you know if a job is a scam?

A strong sign that a job is a scam is if you’re asked to pay up front to get or do the job. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns against scammers who promise you a job, including a government job, and: 

    • Say they have the “secret” to getting the job
    • Offer a certificate that will improve your odds of getting the job 
    • Promise that you’ll make a lot of money working from home 
  • Ask you to pay up front 

If you’re promised a job—not offered one after an interview—do not trust that promise. Be wary of anyone who says that you need to “act fast” to avoid missing out on an opportunity. Do your research on any job opportunity you’re offered, and if you don’t trust it, don’t take it. It’s always better to miss out on a potential opportunity than to pay a scammer money for a job that doesn’t exist. Multi-level marketing (MLMs)

Multi-level marketing (commonly known as MLM) is a particularly common type of job scam. Unlike a scam offer for a job that doesn’t exist, an MLM will actually offer an opportunity to make money—but the money you can make through MLMs is typically far less than the money you have to spend to be in them. 

Here’s how an MLM works. Unlike regular companies, MLMs sell products through person-to-person sales, meaning that anyone can become a distributor just by buying up a bunch of products, selling them, and recruiting other people to become distributors. In theory, you can make a lot of money as a distributor by earning commissions off not only the products that you sell, but the sales of the people you recruit, too! And, because MLM distributors are classed as independent business owners and not formal employees of the company, you’ll have tons of freedom without a boss setting your schedule or forcing you to meet certain deadlines. 

Sounds great, right? It does—and it’s not illegal in most cases. But MLMs receive a ton of criticism for one simple reason: it’s a lot easier to lose money through MLMs than to make money. People who sell products for popular MLMs like LuLaRoe, Arbonne, Amway, HerbaLife, and doTerra often find that they’ve sunk thousands of dollars into products they’re not able to sell. In fact, studies have shown that up to 99% of people in MLMs lose money.

Are MLMs illegal?

Not necessarily. Technically, a multi-level marketing plan is legal, but it becomes an illegal pyramid scheme if distributors are required to recruit continuously instead of simply selling products. In addition, all of the MLMs listed above have been under investigation and faced major lawsuits for mistreating distributors and customers. 

Common MLMs to look out for

The companies on the following list are MLMs that have been associated with negative and predatory business practices. Do not get involved with any of these companies. This isn’t a complete list, so always research a company online before trying to become a distributor.




Beach Body

Body Shop at Home

Color by Amber

Color Happy

Creative Memories








Jordan Essentials


Keto Coffee

Legal Shield







Nature Direct



Pampered Chef


Signature Homestyles


Harvard Risk Management

3.5.5 How to recognize labor trafficking

MLMs are predatory organizations, but they don’t meet the level of danger posed by labor trafficking, which remains a huge problem in the United States. 

Labor trafficking isn’t just sex trafficking. In fact, it’s a common practice in: 

  • Agriculture
  • Construction
  • Health and beauty services
  • Food service and hospitality
  • Domestic labor

Labor trafficking is defined as compelling someone to work through force or coercion. Victims of labor trafficking can be of any age, any gender, and any ethnicity—and it doesn’t just happen in the fields described above. 

If you are recruited to work a job and then forced to work a different one, or if you’re given false promises about your working conditions and compensation, you may be a victim of labor trafficking. Likewise, if you’re threatened, pressured to pay high recruitment fees, given a contract in a language that you don’t understand, or physically forced into a certain job, you may be in a trafficking situation. Labor trafficking can also occur when a family sells a child or adult in order to pay off debts. 

Look out for common tactics used by labor traffickers. According to the National Prevention Toolkit, these include: 

  • Intimidation and violence: Threats of sexual, physical, and verbal abuse or retaliation against family members (e.g. “If you don’t work for me, I will assault your sister.”) 
  • Isolation: Not being allowed to leave your home or job site, having your personal documents or communication devices confiscated (e.g. “Your passport stays with me as long as you work for me.”) 
  • Financial control: Little to no wages, money deducted for benefits you don’t receive, being forced to pay back money (e.g. employer’s name on your bank account). 
  • Diminishing resistance: Limited access to food, unsanitary living conditions, long hours that reduce sleep (e.g. dependence on your employer for food and basic necessities). 
  • Threats of law: Threats of arrest or deportation (e.g. “If you tell anyone what’s happening, I’ll have you/your family member arrested.”) 

If you suspect that you or someone you know is a victim of labor trafficking, you can report it to the National Human Trafficking Hotline online or by calling 1-800-373-7888. The Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families also maintains a list of resources for victims of trafficking.

3.6 Federal, state, or local government jobs

The federal government is an incredibly large employer with jobs in every city and state. Federal government jobs offer fantastic benefits and typically great work/life balance. They may appear to be difficult to apply to due to bureaucracy, which is partially true. However, the process is easier than ever, and the federal government has recently greatly decreased the number of jobs that require a four-year college degree. There are many more entry level jobs now, and jobs that instead require practical work experience or personal skills. These changes are ongoing, with guidance issued in May 2022. As just one example, becoming a TSA agent only requires a high school diploma or GED, and jobs are open across the country. 

USA Jobs is the federal government’s largely centralized hiring database. Look for jobs marked “open to the public,” which are jobs designed for people not currently employed by the federal government or in the military. Then look for jobs “series” (a.k.a. types of jobs or skill sets) that are interesting to you, in your state or a state you want to live in, and require only a high school diploma.

Jobs with the federal government may sometimes pay slightly less than similar jobs in the private sector, but include unique benefits that can sometimes greatly outweigh the difference. For example, federal employees (regardless of agency, with only a few exceptions) choose their health insurance (and dental and vision insurance) from tens or hundreds of different health plans through the centralized Federal Employee Health Benefits program. You can view all the plans available to federal employees (and their spouses and children) by zip code and their cost (cost per paycheck, which is typically every two weeks). These plans are greatly subsidized by the federal government; you pay roughly 30% of the cost and the government pays about 70%. You can also change your health insurance every year, giving you ultimate flexibility.

Some states are joining the trend, citing the need for employees and the challenging economy. For example, Maryland in March 2022 eliminated degree requirements from thousands of jobs. However, every state and local government hires differently and offers different healthcare options and benefits; there is no nationwide equivalent to USA Jobs for state or local government jobs. We recommend checking your state’s website for further information, or searching private online job posting sites such as Indeed, GovernmentJobs, LinkedIn, and the like.

3.7 Military

Joining the military is a unique career with some incredible benefits, such as stable work, provided housing and healthcare, the potential to travel, free future college education, and gaining skills that can transfer into some civilian jobs later on. However, some jobs in the military carry extremely high physical and mental risks, including serious injury and death, and you may not always get to choose your job. The military is a binding career, often requiring at least 8 years of your life once you join, and you are subject to a wide range of restrictions that are not present in other careers. Joining the military is not right for everyone, but can be fulfilling and advantageous for some.

There are six service branches of the U.S. military: Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Space Force, and Coast Guard. Each branch has options for full-time employment with a high school level education (active duty enlisted), or with a college degree (active duty officer). All branches except the Space Force have part-time opportunities through the reserves, where most people hold separate jobs while attending training drills on certain weekends. In addition, each U.S. state and territory fields an Army National Guard and an Air National Guard, which are focused on homeland security and humanitarian relief, although the President can call up the National Guard for deployment and combat. The National Guards offer opportunities for high school graduates either full-time or part-time. Thus, different branches offer a variety of full- and part-time options for service.

One significant advantage of the military is that after serving, most members of the military are eligible for the “GI Bill,” where the government will pay for public college in-state tuition and some living expenses so that you can go to college after your military service. Service members are also eligible for other benefits such as discounted home loans and some forms of health care. 

But unlike other jobs, joining the military requires you to sign a legally binding commitment to serve for a given length of time. Quitting early is rarely an option and otherwise is a crime. Lengths of commitment vary, but most obligations are a minimum of 8 years, with 2-5 of those years being full-time active duty and the rest being in the Reserves or other status. You also have to attend and pass boot camp, among many other requirements. Here are some typical commitments, all totaling 8 years:

Army: 2-5 years active duty + 3-6 years reserves

  • Navy: 2-4 years active duty + 4-6 years reserves
  • Air Force, Coast Guard & Marines: 4 years active duty + 4 years reserves

The military’s eligibility requirements vary by the branch, but generally include:

  • 17 years old (if you have your parents’ consent) or 18 years old (if you don’t).
  • Be in good physical condition, of appropriate weight, and able to pass a standard physical screening prior to entry.
  • A high school diploma or equivalent.*
    • *A diploma, including a homeschooling diploma, is most desirable. It is possible to enlist with a GED (General Education Development) certificate, but this is the least competitive option and very few people (1-5% of applicants) successfully enlist with only a GED. (See Section 2.2.2 for more details on homeschooling diplomas). Although there are some alternatives, like earning 15 college credits from a vocational, community, business, or traditional college, this may be a significant burden before trying to enlist.
  • U.S. citizenship or Legal Permanent Residence, though some opportunities exist for non-citizens.
  • Taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test and obtaining a sufficient score to qualify for enlistment eligibility.
There is an incredibly wide range of information you should consider before joining the military, most of which cannot fit in this book. Check out the resources below!
  • Today’s Military is the Department of Defense’s (DoD) centralized website for military recruiting and contains high-level details about the different branches, eligibility, and basic benefits.
  • Careers in the Military, a DoD website run by the makers of the ASVAB, describes the wide range of careers, including those focused on combat and those which aren’t.
  • The Balance Careers has a wide range of articles about various aspects of the military.
  • Money Crashers offers a guide to various advantages and disadvantages to joining the military.
  • DoD Recruiters work for DoD and help explain how to apply and answer your questions about the military. However, recruiters are, for good and for bad, salespersons who are attempting to persuade you to join. Various guides offer suggestions for pitfalls to avoid when talking to recruiters.
  • The Center on Conscience & War offers a more critical take on military enlistment and offers frank advice for speaking with recruiters. (Disclaimer: sources cited are from the 1980s and 1990s, and details may, or may not, have changed since.)

3.8 Conclusion

No matter what type of job you look for, joining the workforce after a homeschool education can be a rewarding way to put what you’ve learned to good use and support yourself, your family, and your other dreams. 

What we hope you’ve gotten out of this chapter is:

  • A better understanding of the job skills and interests that can make you a valuable worker
  • Practical strategies for approaching the job search and application process
  • Useful resources to navigate challenges in the workplace 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 61.7% of the adult population was a part of the workforce in 2021. That means six out of 10 Americans have a job—and the average person will hold about 12 jobs over the course of their life. 

But getting a job might not be your first step after you complete your homeschool education. In fact, many careers require further education before you can get a position. That’s why Chapter 4 and the chapters that follow will provide advice for post-homeschool education: college, community college, trade school, and other forms of learning that can help you build on your homeschool education.

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