THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Silver lining: Make the best of a bad job

People often ask: If it's such a good job market for young people, why can't I find a good job?

The answer is that there are tons of really bad jobs being offered. For all the talk of flexibility in the workplace, very few companies are actually offering engaging jobs with flexible hours. You usually have to pick one or the other.

But many people are looking for special setups with a job– a lot of flexibility so you can write a novel, or you want time to think but you don't want to starve, or you want to work for only six months before you go traveling.

Each of these circumstances screams: retail. Or some version of a bad job that's similar to retail.

When I graduated from college the job market was terrible, so I have experience in retail jobs (and getting fired from them). So here's a primer on how to select a job from a smorgasbord of terrible jobs.

Get the Word on the Street

There's tons of gossip about what it's like at brand-name entry-level jobs. If you want to train during the day for the Olympics, work at Home Depot. It's their specialty. If you have big medical issues, work at Starbucks. Even people working part-time are sometimes eligible for their great benefits.

A recent book gives the low-down on some big name brand stores. 

Gap: Bad. Endless shirt-folding.

Apple: Good. Great employee education process.

The Container Store: Picky. You'd better love their product if you're applying for a job.

Conduct Your Own Interview

It's not like the service sector is overflowing with applications. Even though you're looking at dead-end jobs, you're still in high demand. It's still an employee-driven job market. So leverage your demographic luck and turn the tables on the interviewer. Conduct your own behavioral interview to determine if the manager at the terrible job will be good.

Kronos is a firm that teaches retail businesses how to hire good managers. Steve Hunt is from the talent management division of Kronos, and he says that the best way to tell if your manager will be good is to understand how the manager got hired. The company should have a clear set of guidelines for evaluating management candidates, and the company should hire managers. Hunt recommends that you ask how the company measures and evaluates a manager's people skills. How your manager answer this question can tell you a lot about how serious the company is about making sure their managers aren't jerks.

If All the Jobs are Lame, Pick a Mentor Who's Good.

I used to work for Esther Williams– the bathing suit beauty queen who was still sending a headshot from 1950 even in 1995. Well, actually it was I who was sending the headshot, since signing her autograph was my job. It was a great job because I was playing beach volleyball all day, trying to get on the professional tour, and I could deal with Esther's fan mail at night.

It sounds fun, maybe, to people who like reading sappy letters from lecherous men, but signing the autographs was no walk in the park: she was always telling me to make her E loopier. But there was a redeeming quality about the job, and that was that Esther is a marketing genius. And I learned a lot from her about how to build a brand.

That's when I realized it's not the job that matters but what knowledge the person you work for can share with you.