For two years, Rahimi (pictured, center) has worked for Columbus, Ohio–based Mission Essential Personnel, as an interpreter at the Kabul Military Training Center in Afghanistan. (His first name has been omitted to protect his identity.) He spends his days serving as the go-between for members of the U.S. Army and those of the Afghan National Army, who speak Pashto and Dari. Both sides need instant and accurate communications as they collaborate closely on maneuvers and tactics in the field. Rahimi, who is a native of Kabul, took the job to support his family and to fund his studies at Kardan University, where he is pursuing a degree in business administration. Rahimi says his success on the job depends upon building a close rapport with U.S. Army officials. “I still have a connection with even those who have gone back to the States,” he says. —April Joyner

Life has been tough for Michelle Zhang since she moved to the United States from China five years ago. In 2008, her husband lost his job at a pharmaceutical company in Connecticut; he moved the family to California for a new job and lost that one as well eight months later. Zhang had been an engineer in China, but when the family moved back to Connecticut, she took a housekeeping job at a casino to help support her family. Over the next two years, she picked up other odd jobs, sometimes working two at a time. That changed this May, when an employment agency placed Zhang in a temp-to-hire position as a technician at Quality Electrodynamics, a Mayfield Village, Ohio–based company that manufactures coils for MRI machines. “I’m so lucky to have this job,” she says. “It’s been a tough time for my family, but it’s made me stronger.” —Issie Lapowsky

For 19 years, Josh Christensen (far left) has spent his days outdoors, transforming rocks into custom exteriors for developments around the country. The work, though physically demanding, is rarely monotonous, he says. Over the past year, Christensen has worked as a subcontractor for Outside the Lines. The Orange, California–based company is building an 18-foot waterfall for Salt Lake City with rock quarried from Utah’s Browns Canyon. Christensen followed his father into the construction business right out of high school. “I don’t know anything else,” he says. —April Joyner

When Martin MacAlister is not touring with Kill Lincoln, his ska punk band (“punk with trombones,” he says), he is teaching kids as young as 6 how to play “Yellow Submarine” on the guitar. MacAlister is an instructor at Bach to Rock, a Bethesda, Maryland–based music school for kids, a job he landed while still in college. MacAlister splits his workweek between the classroom and the school’s state-of-the-art studio, where he records with students and, occasionally, his own band. Though owning a studio is MacAlister’s goal, he says he loves teaching. “The most rewarding part of my job is when the kids I taught to play the classics come back as 15- or 16-year-olds, writing their own material. It shows they’re really owning it, and that’s pretty cool.” —Issie Lapowsky

In 2004, Willue Jerry, then 14, moved with her family to California from Sierra Leone, after the country was convulsed by civil war. Today, she works as a food packer at Revolution Foods’s Oakland culinary center, where, starting at 5 o’clock every morning, she places cooked meals onto trays and packs the trays into boxes for nearby schools. Jerry also sorts incoming shipments of produce—a task not so different from the responsibilities she once held at her parents’ struggling farm in Sierra Leone. “It was hard sometimes to even have food to eat,” she says of her old life. “Where I’m working now, they make the employees lunch every day for free.” But what Jerry loves most about the job is her early schedule, which gives her plenty of time to get home and play with her 2-year-old son, Elijah. —J.J. McCorvey

David Hill began working for Resource Environmental Solutions, a Baton Rouge, Louisiana–based wetland restoration company, the summer before his senior year in college. The work was mostly clearing brush in the hot Louisiana sun. After he graduated, in 2008, Hill began traveling the country in search of wetland acquisitions, like this one in Nixon, Texas. The company buys and restores the land to sell wetland mitigation credits to companies that need them to comply with federal laws. “Since I’ve worked here, we’ve planted over a million trees a year,” he says. “How many people can say they’ve done that?” —Issie Lapowsky

Last year, Kelli Stratton (pictured far right, smiling) left her job as an accountant after the trucking company she worked for filed for bankruptcy. She hit the online job boards and two months later landed as a technologist at Denver-based Rivet Software, which provides public companies with software for filing Securities and Exchange Commission documents. At Rivet, Stratton has been able to put her accounting background to good use, thanks to SEC rules that now require public companies to submit their electronic SEC filings in a specific format. “If those regulations hadn’t been put in place, I probably wouldn’t have this job,” she says. “I’m thankful for that.” —J.J. McCorvey

Ben Siegler went to cosmetology school with the intention of cutting heads for a living, but he wound up unsatisfied with the pay. He was working at an uncle’s pizza parlor in Arizona when Jimmy Vosika, a family friend, told him he had a job waiting at his company,, should he move back to Minnesota. Within two months, Siegler was back home. He is one of six employees who coordinate the shipping of parts that have been retrieved from damaged televisions from ShopJimmy’s warehouse to a distribution center. After work, he and his co-workers play softball in a community league. “I see myself being here for quite some time,” he says. —April Joyner