There’s no shame in a survival job.
After college, I felt like I had it together- career-wise.
This was my second time (well third, if you count secondary) finishing school. With a university degree and college diploma under my belt, I felt I was equipped to plunge into the workforce. I had my LinkedIn profile all updated, a polished resume a great agency helped me make, and glowing references. I was ready. Let’s do thissss.
I spent what felt like eternity searching job boards for leads on a job. I asked around my network. I applied at first sparingly, looking for ideal options- things in my field. When that seemed like I was getting nowhere, I switched up my strategy. Jobs in and around my field. Still nothing. New game plan- I applied and applied and applied all over the place.
I have to mention that I was lucky- so lucky- to be basically squatting with an amazing couple I affectionately call my “Moncton parents”. They’ve been there for me since first year university, and graciously let me move in for a lot less than what they could’ve asked for. Other people in this circumstance might retreat home to their parent’s basement (valid, by the way), but that wasn’t an option for me. My family lives in a minuscule place that lost village status a while back. Quaint, but booming isn’t the word we can use here. Not a lot of jobs in any field, let alone mine. Trust me, I looked into it.
Time out, recent or soon-to-be grads. I worked my ass off in school. I got really good grades. This was not a matter of me being unemployable. I worked part-time and networked and all that jazz. Same for you if you’re having trouble finding something- your degree or diploma isn’t useless. That extracurricular stuff you did and volunteering and nerve-conquering networking pays off, just not necessarily right away. Finding something that makes sense and makes you feel happy can take time. I’ll get to that. Put away the panic buttons.
Some people waltz right out of school into jobs. But into dream jobs? Rare. And given that most people last, what?, 3.4 years in a role, you’re likely to move on and upwards even if you did land a ‘great’ gig right out of school. It’s not about comparison, and that’s key. Just because your classmate is working in your “field”, doesn’t reflect anything on you (unless you really didn’t give a lot of effort to your job search, then maybe). From my experience, many of the people who landed those impressive jobs are no longer in them. And I graduated less than five years ago. Not everything is what it’s cracked up to be anyway. I still turned away from applying to several jobs at this point that I knew deep down would never (ever, ever) be a fit. Payroll? HA.
I burned through a lot of time (and money) trying to find something that ‘made sense’ with my education. I also burned through a tremendous amount of energy stressing about it. It didn’t help that I felt well-meaning pressure from family, friends, and well, the bank, to get it together and start doing something. I really didn’t want to do something outside of what I studied for. I was also proud. It wasn’t that I found it beneath me, more like I was embarrassed to have to do something that I wasn’t excited about, and felt I’d studied to do more than. I wanted to go home at Christmas and be met with high-fives, not concerned or stuff-your-face-so-you-don’t-say- anything reactions when asked what you’re up to.
Eventually I had to give in. If it wasn’t for my before-mentioned adoptive family, I’d have been like that meme where they put ice cubes between slices of bread and called it a pre-payday sandwich. I was really fortunate to have people who were patient with me in this time. I don’t take for granted how much easier this was for me than many, many people in more serious financial situations and/or don’t have the opportunities or support I did(and do).
After months of applying everywhere and getting next to no response, I took several survival jobs. I worked in a group home, a call centre (one hour on the actual job. I am not kidding. One hour.), and a sushi restaurant.
All of these experiences were humbling but rewarding. I like to think everything comes full circle and there’s something to learn in everything. I met incredible new friends who also worked at the group home. We helped take care of kids who touched my heart and taught me a lot about autism and other challenges some youth face. There was a beautiful, simple afternoon when this sweetheart of a teen and I just sat outside and blew bubbles for an hour. I will never forget that. ❤
While the call centre environment left me rattled with anxiety every time someone picked up, I was impressed by how nice the workplace was, how professional people were, and how employees handled the terrifying call sequences so smoothly. And being a sushi queen? Got to work with an amazing family in their restaurant and understand some of their challenges as owners and more specifically, as owners who are immigrants. They cared for me like family, offering me food, encouraging me, and making me traditional concoctions when I was sick. I wasn’t the best server (trust me, plenty of miso soup found it’s way onto tables, floors, and laps), but it was a rewarding experience I don’t regret.
Working these jobs did suck the life out of me sometimes, I won’t lie. Shift life isn’t for everyone. Paying down debt on that salary wasn’t an option. Thank goodness for loan freezes. I felt pretty depressed at times, wondering if I’d ever catch a break. I got too discouraged to even apply for other jobs. It was hard to find the time to do so. I felt like all I ever did was work, sleep, and smell like tempura.
A (lovely) friend of mine suggested I do temp work at the company she worked for. The assignment was a covering for a secretary, mixed with some HRA duties. I jumped at it, and worked there on top of my waitressing job. It was nice, dressing up and getting to do office work. I knew it was temporary, but it was empowering to be given a chance. So grateful for that. I could’ve turned it down because it was temporary, and as a secretary. Lesson here: Take chances that feel right. Always.
Turns out, it was my chance. I got a reference from that friend to another company called Alongside. That’s where I am now, in a job where I have autonomy, sharpen new skills daily, and work with awesome people. You can read more about that here.
Survival jobs are jobs you can take while you’re looking, BUT, don’t use them to take advantage of the people that provided you with them. Recognize the opportunity to work is still an opportunity. These jobs give you a chance to afford yourself more time looking for a career job. Remember though, it’s still someone’s business and managers/owners put their trust in you and gave you a shot. Be a good human.
See these jobs as a learning experience. You have NO idea how they will come back to benefit you in the long run. The things you do, the people you meet. Working with small business owners helped me understand how to talk to customers in my current role, and get their needs. Empathy and appreciation even, for other people in those roles. Remember, some people actually want or have to do them for a career. And we need them. You’re no better than anyone else because you are just working those jobs for a short time.
Doing customer service as a waitress actually helped me understand how to do it much better in a SaaS company- key principles still apply across the board. Working with children with challenges taught me further empathy and compassion. Transferrable skills come in all forms- so do your job well, be gracious and kind, and you’ll learn things that can help you down the road.
Eventually a job that makes sense will come along. Don’t stop looking, but always listen to yourself when applying and taking positions. Some of my friends would say they made this mistake, and they learned from it. Will I like this job, or am I applying just to pay bills? Am I accepting this job for because someone told me to, or because I feel trapped? Is it because I’m too proud or scared of what people will think? Will I get past the honeymoon stage in this role, and then hate my life and spend my twenties stressed or bored?
My doesn’t situation apply to everyone, I realize that. Be smart about the circumstances you face. But don’t ruin your reputation in an industry by taking something that doesn’t make sense- that you can’t do well or won’t like, then it ending badly. Take some time to do something outside of your career aspirations while you look for a better fit. It will come.
Also, ice cubes sandwiches probably suck but I could write an entire piece about how to be economical with a rotisserie chicken…