Small shops are probably a better place to start. Get to know some local owners. Offer to buy them lunch (or breakfast) and just talk to them. Ask them about the business, what someone needs to do to get into the business, ect. Even if they aren't looking to hire someone, they may have some contacts who are. BUT... you have to make a good impression first!!! Also, pay really close attention to the electrical stuff. There are all kinds of people trying to get into this business that know how to change parts, but if you can learn to like electrical, and get good at it, that will give you an edge.
To be honest, two years isn't too bad at a dealer, as it will give you some time to start building your toolbox, so you don't have to do $5,000, $10,000, or $20,000 all at once. The nice thing about finding a smaller shop, especially like a family business, is they can work with you a little more. Plus, you get a more rounded experience working in a shop with only a few techs, vs one that has a specialist for everything. That will be useful if you decide to try for one of the bigger places later on. Just remember, the bigger the shop, the more politics involved.
A degree will help, but some decent projects on your own car can show them that you actually know how to apply it. Something like stripping a harness for an EJ swap shows that you not only know how to read diagrams and follow wires, but that you understand the information they're giving you.
Lastly, make a good impression on your teachers. Since you don't have much "real world experience", references are going to be your best way to build credibility. And while a good word from your aunt on how nice you are is great, a good word from people in the industry, or even people you have done work for, is even better. You should know enough from your schooling to be able to some brake jobs or oil changes on the side here and there. While it's not really shop experience, if the customers are impressed with your work, it's going to speak to your cleanliness and professionalism.
Personally, I work at a small shop. I had made good friends with a fellow usher at church who owned a shop. I talked with him a lot, and made a pretty good impression on him. He invited to come down to his shop sometime, so I did. He showed me around, and we talked for a while after that. He wasn't looking for anyone at the time, but without me even asking, he started calling some other shop owners he knew to see if they needed anyone. It took some time, but about a month later, he asked me if I was still looking for a job. He gave me the number of the guy I know work for. At the time, he only had one tech. So I got to shadow the main tech, and I'd do some stuff like brakes, oil changes, and water pumps. After I had been there almost a year, he had to let the other guy go, so I am now the main technician. We've got one other tech there now, and a service writer. We stay pretty busy, and the shop's reputation is built on integrity. My boss opened the place back in 1980. One really nice thing about it is they treat me like family. So, while there are definitely advantages to bigger shops, a small family owned place can be a pretty good place to work. Lol, who knows, play your cards right, and they might just sell you the shop when they go to retire.
P.s. ASE certification is big, so make sure you know how long until you can get certified, and let them know. Certification is not only important to customers and parts houses, but it shows a commitment to your work. I believe they have a new certification for maintenance tech that only requires one year of work experience. And, for the main a series tests anyway, you can supplement 1 year of work experience for 2 years of formal education. Definitely something to look into.
Edit: Sorry for the wall of text. Hope it some of it helps.
Edited by Dj7291993, 31 March 2014 - 09:37 PM.