how to explain why you want a minimum-wage job

A reader writes:

How do you answer “why do you want this job” when it’s, say, a warehouse or custodian job? With so many people out of work, they want the job because they need a job. There is really no other reason.

These are not professional jobs like HR, social workers, teachers and so on where you can and should honestly answer because you love working with children, or helping people, and want to use the skills in ” x ” job and so on. These are stocking shelves, delivering newspapers at 3AM, cleaning toilets or putting together widgets all for minimum pay.

Nothing at all wrong with the jobs. Jobs with pay, pay the bills.

But they want to know why you want the job? ” I have always wanted to clean toilets because….”  ” Putting together widgets facinates me.”   “Stocking corn flakes reminds me of eating at my Grandmas when I was 5.”  I am not trying to be sacrcastic or glib. But the reason why people will do those job is because they need to pay the bills.

I understand the need to focus on the ability to do the job, be on time, focus on the job, I get all that. But what about WHY you want to do the job? Or work for THIS company?

It helps to understand why they’re asking: They want to get an understanding of how you’re thinking about this job. Are you going to be miserable in it? Are you going to be late every day because you won’t be able to motivate yourself to come in to do this type of work? Are you going to look for every excuse to slack off when you’re on the job? Or are you going to find something in it to keep you focused and engaged?

It’s not that they’re looking for people whose dream has always been to stock shelves. But they are looking for people who aren’t going to be itching to get away every day that they’re there.

So do this (and I know this is going to sound totally pollyanna-ish, but I mean it): Ask yourself what elements of the job you can find some appeal in. Maybe you’re hyper-organized and it will give you a sense of accomplishment to put things in their place and ensure that shelves are neat and filled. Maybe you like being up late and love newspapers and figure a 3 AM delivery route is a good fit for that. Maybe you simply take pride in a hard day’s work, and you’re eager to stay busy.  And if none of those are true but you need the job anyway, then imagine what someone else (not you) might find appealing in the job; that’s now going to be your answer too.

No one thinks you’re saying that you’d rather be doing this job than sleeping in or hanging out with your family or reading a novel. But the idea is to explain what it is about this job that would make you prefer it over a different type of minimum-wage job or, at least, how you will find satisfaction in it while you’re doing it.

{ 72 comments… read them below }

  1. KayDay*

    I totally agree with AAM on this, but I’ll add my 2 cents anyway. No one wants miserable employees (or they shouldn’t, at least) because can cause financial losses through lost sales, bad customer service, low productivity, etc. Use this opportunity to talk about “fit,” be that working with customers, working in a fast paced environment, working in a solitary environment, helping people, not having to work with people, etc. Or you could talk about why you really like the company’s service/product. For example, I have on many occasions considered taking a second job at a gelato shop near my office, because I am seriously passionate about their gelato (really).

    You should be truthful in your answer, but your different interviewers won’t be comparing notes, so it’s okay to tell one job that you really want a job that capitalizes on your excellent organizational skills, and to tell a different job that you love suggesting interesting gelato combinations.

    1. NicoleW*

      I smiled at your passion for the gelato shop.

      If I wasn’t working my full time office gig, I would want to be a grocery store cashier. I have been fascinated with checking out groceries since I was little, and I was genuinely excited when stores started to have self check-out lanes.

      And having worked retail, quick food service and waitressing in my student days – I would pick any minimum wage job other than retail. It made me miserable.

      Unless you’re applying to 100 minimum wage jobs at once with no preference for the type of work, I’d say you do have a reason – however small – for choosing it. Did you choose to apply to retail or custodial? Food service or factory work? Or perhaps it’s a particular company or store you’ve loved.

      1. Ceep*

        LOL at your delight about self checkout…Me TOO!!!! I love those, and I especially like having produce that I have to key in the codes.

  2. JLLopez1006*

    You make some great points and suggestions.

    This may seem like a problem that many people doubt they would ever have to face, but with so many people being laid off, many have had to go back to working minimum wage jobs just to have a job. Or if you only want to work part-time or have some flexibility, you are more likely to find yourself looking at minimum wage positions.

    The answers to this question could also apply if you are looking for a job that is significantly lower than your previous pay, whether due to a layoff, firing, relocation, or change in careers.

    Thanks for the good words as always.

  3. Satia*

    I wish the OP had said what type of job it was but in most retail positions or food service ones, you will have to work with people and showing an enthusiasm and a gregarious personality during the interview.

    The position doesn’t really matter. As AAM says in the reply, it behooves the interviewee to do research and be prepared. And there’s a difference between being creatively honest and a lie. Be honest but be creative within the context of both the position and your personality and personal needs.

  4. ThatHRGirl*

    I’m happy to see this question here… This type of job is the majority of what I hire for. Over the last 3-4 years there has definitely been a change in the applicant pool and understandably there are more people out there who NEED the job more than they WANT this actual job. Recruiters and hiring managers understand that.

    I don’t expect someone to be truly passionate about working in a distribution center, but I do like to read things like “I enjoy staying busy and doing physical work. I’ve worked at a desk in previous jobs and would welcome a change of pace”. Or something like, “I enjoy working as a part of a team and having a measurable goal”. If are really a night owl and enjoy staying up late, be sure to emphasize this – 2nd and 3rd shift positions can be very hard to fill long-term.

    I’ve had a lot of former professionals be very happy in these types of jobs because it’s good exercise, not too stressful, and not the type of work you have to take home with you at the end of the day.

    A lot of folks don’t realize how automated warehouses have become, and how much technology is involved. If you have experience working with any type of technology, that is a huge plus. Also, most of these positions (direct-hire, rather than through staffing agency) pay at least $10/$11 an hour, well above the actual “minimum” wage, for what that’s worth.

    1. ThatHRGirl*

      Ugh, typos. I meant that it is the type of work you DON’T have to take home with you at the end of the day.

    2. jmkenrick*

      I have to say working at bookstore, in the stock room most of the time and on the floor the rest (I never did cash register stuff) remains the most statisfying jobs I ever had. And cleaning houses for extra money in college? Also surprisingly satisfying, despite being minimum-wage, low glamour jobs.

      1. Jen M.*

        I’ve always wanted to work in a book/music/media store. I’m a media junkie and a voracious reader. I’m also a writer. I’d probably find such work very satisfying.

        I also like retail, because there is SOME flexibility. To have a flexible retail job and still have time to work on my art would be awesome!

        Unfortunately, retail will not pay me enough to cover my expenses. :(

    3. Kimberlee*

      Man, I wish I knew what jobs you’re talking about where they’re low stress and you don’t take them home at the end of the day! While my current “real” job does have its stress, it doesn’t compare to the stresses of my last fast food job, especially when you take into account the wage difference.

      And I totally agree about the hiring pool for those jobs having changed… I feel bad for people out of work and looking in a field that is “beneath” them (former welders who used to make $$$, CNA’s, a dude that used to work for Blackwater, all people who applied for work at my last food job), but its no excuse for not having a better answer than “Because I need a job.”

      The worst one, though, was one I got multiple times: “I’m applying because I have to apply to jobs to keep my unemployment.” With the clear implication that they didn’t particularly care if they got hired. :(

      1. Rana*

        I can sympathize with the last one, though. The one time I qualified for unemployment (usually academics do not, as we’re considered “term hires” or contract labor) I was expected to be “actively looking for work” in order to keep my benefits. This meant, in their minds, applying for several jobs a week, even said jobs were non-existent.

        Never mind that there was nothing within 50 miles of me that was a fit with my skills or experience, never mind that the job market I was applying in is seasonal and this was the off season, never mind that it’s a national market… if I didn’t show concrete proof that I was applying to local jobs every week, no matter how ill suited, they would suspend my benefits and I’d have to go in and explain the realities of my profession’s job market to an uncomprehending supervisor.

        It was just easier to apply for jobs I knew I wasn’t qualified for, even though I knew it was a waste of everyone’s time.

        1. T*

          My dad is going through this now with his unemployment. It is a real catch-22. His company has every intention of calling him back when work picks up, but since they have not given him an exact date, he must apply for jobs weekly. So what if he gets hired at a job that pays less than what he is making now? He has to take it, even though his company has every intention of calling him back.

          I’d also like to mention to AAM that this is really great advice!

          1. Too frequently 'between jobs'*

            At least in Texas, it’s not 5 or 7 or whatever “job applications’ you have to have to keep your unemployment. It’s ‘job CONTACTS’. So going to job search clubs count, as well as ‘job search training’.

        2. Joey*

          I’m always interested in this. So was it that you weren’t qualified or weren’t interested in taking a local non-academic jobs? It sounds like you would meet the minimum requirements and be capable of performing the duties for a whole host of jobs.

          1. Rana*

            Simultaneously over- and under-qualified, unfortunately. A PhD in history isn’t something that looks good to someone wanting to hire folks just to file things (even the MA looks bad), and that degree is pretty much useless for things like engineering jobs.

            Then there’s a whole category of jobs where I possess 9/10ths of the required skills (plus a whole host of related skills), but lack experience in one particular computer program (yes, I can learn these programs, and have, but, again, that’s not enough in a competitive market, and not something that can be easily done overnight). Or, worse, there’s the “must have 3-5 years experience in the field” requirement. That’s the kiss of death for those of us trying to shift fields, let me tell you.

            I would have been satisfied having a local job (it would have meant I wouldn’t have to move, which was important since family and my boyfriend (now husband) lived in the area) but there really weren’t any opportunities. The first real work I was able to find was through a temp agency, and consisted of filing thousands (no exaggeration, I was required to track the numbers) of files a day. It was a job that had burnt out three temps before me (they warned me when offering the position) and I ended up quitting after there was a local wildfire and they insisted on people coming in despite the fact that the building was full of smoke.

            This is why I’m now freelancing, for all that it pays poorly (and has no benefits). It’s much easier to “sell” a client on your skills relative to a single project than it is to convince an employer to take a chance on a PhD “ivory tower egghead snob” with “no real-world experience.”

            1. Kimberlee*

              I think drawing the line when the building is full of smoke is quite fair. :) Is that even legal, to make you work in a smoke-filled room?

        3. Kimberlee*

          I don’t know about all this. I mean, I’m a total liberal, very much in favor of good unemployment programs, but I view them as needed in order to keep food on the table and clothes on the back, not as a way to get money while you search for your perfect job somewhere else. I mean, I feel like society has filled its obligation by paying unemployment until you get a fast food job somewhere that you can work while you apply for jobs you’d rather be doing elsewhere.

          If you get “branded as overqualified” or otherwise don’t get hired, fine. Its a tough market, even in fast food or reatail. But, in my opinion, intentionally only applying for jobs you know you won’t get hired for, in order to keep getting paid to run a job search for your ideal long term position, is borderline fraudulent (sorry if that’s harsh, not wanting to start a flame war, that’s just how I see it ).

          1. Susan*

            I don’t disagree with you as a whole, but there is scientific evidence that staying in a miserable, poorly suited job makes you more depressed than actually continuing to be unemployed; I agree with it, as I’ve lived through it these past few years. It made me question my former professional skills and completely shaken my self confidence (can I still do x and y? will anyone take me seriously anymore? do I know how to think like a professional? can I remember how to speak corporate again?), and made me a miserable person for my spouse to live with. I think it’s a disservice to the company you work for to take a job while actively job searching elsewhere. They are investing time in training you, don’t they deserve some kind of time commitment from you? I’m all for putting food on the table, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a Catch-22 here, I think. Also, no company is going to hire you (even fast food) knowing you’re way OQ and/or still seeking a “real” job. I would say the recent college graduates have a better shot in the job market right now, unless all employers have that “3-5 years of experience in similar position” requirement.

            1. Anonymous*

              This is true, true, true! I am living this nightmare now!

              Yes, I am miserable. Yes, I am looking; however, as you have stated, my self-esteem and skills have been RUINED by this job.

          2. Jen M.*

            She DID state that there were not a lot of jobs local to her that were a fit, but that she still had to put in the effort.

            This was not about “applying” just to get money. It was about doing what she needed to do to keep SOMETHING coming in. I’m sure if she’d found a job that was a fit, she would have taken it.

      2. The gold digger*

        Man, I wish I knew what jobs you’re talking about where they’re low stress and you don’t take them home at the end of the day!

        I can give you an example. I was laid off from a job where I was in charge of getting the customer and item data from 70 factories ready for conversion to SAP. Nobody knew exactly what “getting the data ready” meant. It was part of my job to figure it out. I would wake up at 2 a.m. in a cold sweat worrying that I had missed something that would mean major customer and production screwups down the line.

        After my layoff, I worked at Macy’s (just over Christmas). I was in Better Women’s Clothing. I was a clerk, ringing up purchases and putting clothes away.

        It wasn’t easy – I was on my feet the entire shift and sometimes (rarely) there were rude customers, but as soon as I left work, I stopped thinking about it. I knew there was nothing I was responsible for there that had any real impact.

      3. ThatHRGirl*

        Totally understand, Kimberly… I’ve worked retail and food service as well.

        The jobs I’m talking about specifically involve working in an automated distribution center, packing clothing items. These folks are responsible for knowing how to use the handheld equipment, and making a daily “quota” of sorts (not a total number of items, but more like an efficiency calculation). As long as they manage time well, maintain a steady pace, and do things the way they are trained, the goal is very easy to meet. It’s perfect for people who might not like dealing with customers, and who like to be accountable for their own work and no one else’s. And some companies even let them use iPods all day while they’re working. :)

        It’s also worth a mention that many larger companies offer these types of workers access to the same really affordable benefits packages that their corporate employees get, whereas store associates don’t get that. So that is a definite perk.

    4. tango*

      I agree. I took a part time job last year in retail for something to do while waiting for the job market to improve. After many years of being a homemaker, it wasn’t like companies were beating down my front door to offer me a professional job like one I had before staying home. It’s been a blessing. The exercise has been great and I’ve lost weight. I feel like I’ve contributed something worthwhile by showing up on time and doing a good job even though the pay is low. To work a year with an employer that isn’t exactly “high status” and receive good performance evaluations shows I am commited and have a good work ethic. Now I am searching for full time professional positions right now but do intend to keep working at the store until I do find something else.

  5. Pollyanna*

    I’d always heard that you should think about why you’re applying for this minimum wage job over that one, and give the part of the answer about why one is better for you.

    Here are some answers I’ve used, or suggested to others:

    Applying for a work in a distribution center – “Because I like the exercise, and feeling like I’ve done a day’s work at the end of the day. You can’t always get that driving a computer.”

    Fast food cashier – “I like working with people, and everyone’s happier when they get French fries.”

    Retail sales associate – “I like helping people shop and spend money. It’s great to help people get what they want.”

    Janitor/Maid – “I like things to be clean, and I like that it’s a more pleasant environment after I’ve done my job.”

      1. Anonymous*

        I agree, they were all very good! What about talking up the company and wanting it as your last career stop (like Macy’s or Home Depot), eventually becoming a manager but realizing you have to know the ins and outs of all the ground-up jobs first? Like Rick Tigner at Kendall-Jackson winery.

  6. OP*

    Thanks for all your great answers !! To expand a little,,, he is not coming from executive type jobs or office jobs. He did mfg for 15 yrs and sand blasting for 5. All lay-offs. And he will do pretty much anything to gain employment. It is just hard to get excited about certain positions.

    He keeps getting rejections even after passing the drug screens and walk throughs and interviews asking him which jobs he wants do. And we know that there are just a lot of people looking and more than likely it is not him personally.

    He even got ” fired” after a day for not wearing steel toe shoes in a job where they gave him no direction that he would get fired if he didn’t wear them. ( temp to hire) . Not a happy guy about that. He knew the product well,, 15 yrs of it and it was decent $$.

    So he is getting frustrated as to what to say anymore and gets to the point where he wants to shout.. BECAUSE I NEED A JOB !!!!

    This is great information and has shed a good light on how to approach this a little better.

    P.S. He interviewed for a driving job deleivering newspapers to the hubs last week and they have called the references just today. I think that is a good sign.

    Thanks all again…

    1. Diana*

      Congrats! That is good news. And I love AAM’s advice to find something you like about the job, it’s like looking for the silver lining.

    2. tango*

      Oh good news! The upside of this job is he can listen to anything he wants on his radio while doing his job. He can sing off key or argue with the talk show host, listen to a book on tape or drive in total silence. Whatever he wants. That’s a definate plus not every worker can experience.

      1. ThatHRGirl*

        You’re right… I’m jealous! I have to drive a lot between our corporate office and warehouse locations, and although it sucks I have to pay for my own gas, I look at it as 30 minutes each way of uninterrupted time with my iPod :) Especially now with the weather getting nice and the windows & sunroof can come open.

      1. OP*

        Thanks again everyone for your positive responses. I wanted to let you all know he got the job to put out some positive vibs out there.

        Wishing you all that are stuggling as well best of luck…

  7. Amy*

    I know it’s easy to get frustrated for you or a partner looking for work. I think your positive attitude helped him get it. ;) Sometimes people just need someone to be positive.

  8. Anonymous*

    thanks for this post!! such great advice that I really needed. I am a recent college grad and I havent been able to find a job that fits my experience or lack of experience. I have an interview soon and the only reason I could find for wanting to work here was the because i need a job. I totally understand the frustration even though I havent been in this position for a long time.

    Thank you for your advice once again AAM

  9. TJ*

    It is difficult to find a minimum wage job especially when you have a certain level of qualifications(eg. Degree) so I empathise. I have been trying to get a temporary position for a while and have applied to many recruitment agencies and they never called me back. They seem to think that employing such group of people is a risk because we would jump ship as soon as a good permanent position comes along.

    Its frustrating because you are willing to do these jobs and you can’t do away without getting an income with all the bills that you need to pay. I am sure most people would honor their commitment of a 3 month contract so it is disappointing not to even be given a chance when you are available and willing to accept that kind of low salary.

    Appreciate the answers given, AAM. Will try to make use of them when I go for an interview next week.

    1. tango*

      One thing to keep in mind isn’t just the current job but future opportunities within the company. Is there advancement for better jobs if you find you like the work and/or envirornment? Can you parlay what you might do short term into another area (or company) where that experience would be helpful?

      At my store, the hourly sales associates are primarily high school graduates. Some are pursuing college but that’s only a handful. But the manager and co-managers? The majority have college degrees. In fact our store manager has a Masters Degree in veterinary biology from Texas A&M. He just decided retail was a career he preferred after working for this company part time during his college years.

      So my point is that sometimes it’s good to try something if you think there are positives to the job that match your preferences because you could learn that yes, in fact, that is the direction you want to go.

  10. CJ*

    I have been in this position during my career where I’m interviewing for jobs I didn’t really ‘want’ but needed. I got a job working for a grocery store’s floral department because I was enthusiastic about customer service and talked about the creative side of floral arranging. I mentioned that I had done all the flowers for my own wedding (a month before the interview). I talked about how fun it was and how much I liked helping people. Got the job!

    Worked it for six weeks until one of the office jobs I had applied for called me in and offered me a position. Floral work, as it turns out, is filthy, exhausting work. But I had fun, because the job lined up with what I thought it would be: customer service with the added fun of being creative and helping people find just the right thing. Was I exhausted? Yes! On my feet all day? Yes! Could I do that job again if I had to? Yes!

    I think if you can link the job you’re applying for with something you’ve done in the past, it will help. You can always mention, “I did a job similar to this during college. I don’t mind being on my feet all day, and I love performing great customer service.” If those things are true, then there’s your answer!

  11. Student*

    If you have talked to other people who work at the company, you can try something like:

    “I heard from Cashier Kathy that the managers at Generic Grocery are easy to work with and the co-workers are pleasant.” Flattery will get you everywhere, and your buddy Cashier Kathy looks good too. I did something like this for a grunt job at a library.

    When I did a cashier job a while ago, I told the interviewer that I liked their store more than the local rival store, that it was friendlier and cleaner. Worked like a charm. I learned while working there that the store does a decent amount of charity work, so I think I’d focus on that angle if I had to apply for a job like that again.

  12. Joanna Reichert*

    Wow – talk about timely!

    I just received offers from Wendy’s and a local snap n’ sell portrait studio after being out of work since early January. As a long-time AAM fan, I’ve been using nearly every trick up Alison’s sleeve . . . . and the only employment I could snag were fast food (never done it before!) and a primarily sales-based ‘seasonal’ job at the portrait studio.

    This winter was a very depressing one for me – I had a position that didn’t suit me at all and apparently they could tell I was unhappy and let me go. A week after I totaled my car.

    Employers have been asking why I want a ‘beginning’ job, and I’ve been trying to be diplomatic and not just shout out, “Because I’m eating bread and my savings are dwindling and I’m freaking out!” Stupid economy. I give them the usual spiel of, “I’m tired of office jobs and want something more engaging” and whatnot, and that seems to satisfy them. Though I’m not thrilled with making as much money as I did in high school.

    Now I have 2 part-time jobs that I’ll have to walk/bicycle to – but you know, I’m STILL happier with this scenario than where I was over the winter. Beggers can’t be choosers, and didn’t that forecast say it would be 80 next week? I think it’ll work out. : )

  13. AD*

    You can also spin this into what you like about the company itself. This depends on where you are applying, but, for example, if you are applying for a janitorial position in a hospital, “I want to contribute to providing excellent healthcare” or something like that.

  14. Anonymous*


    If you have the means to stay alive, i.e. savings, spouse with source of income, parents to live with, etc. then yes, one should probably take a job one doesn’t necessarily want and get off unemployment.

    However, if what I am collecting via unemployment benefits is greater than any minimum wage job offered to me I believe it is smarter financially to decline the offer and continue collecting. If I were to accept the minimum wage position and thereby stopping unemployment I would not be able to pay my mortgage, children’s tuition, parent’s medical care, car insurance, etc.

    So is my refusal of a minimum wage position fradulant or a matter of my and my family’s survival?

    1. Kimberlee*

      Yeah, I think it is fraudulent (though we might want to keep away from that word now, since I think we’re straying from what *is* legal to what *should* be legal, so its not as good a term). Society, to me, has a burden to keep you alive, not keep you in your mortgage or your children in private school or college. Ideally, if you have to take a low-paying position, you have to make cuts to adjust to your new lifestyle (maybe you can’t afford your car payments anymore and you have to sell it), and the system would pick up the slack in the meantime (parents go on Medicare, kids go to public school or take out college loans, etc). That’s not to say there’s not holes in public services, but you can see the drift here.

      I mean, sure, its financially a better deal for you to keep collecting. But it’s not the taxpayer’s responsibility to keep you in the lifestyle to which you’ve become accustomed. People live on low wage jobs for years, for lifetimes. There’s no reason you can’t (especially when you have the advantage of non-liquid assets you can sell).

      1. Joanna Reichert*

        Yes . . . . . but (and please keep in mind that the government classifies me as poverty and hubby and I have been living on his $130 per week, of course living with his folks helps – so I’m not remotely in the same position as Anonymous 2:53 p.m.) it is absolutely silly to introduce such upheaval if you do not have to do so.

        Why should someone have to possibly default on their mortgage, pull their kids out of a school where presumably they’re getting the attention they need/require (after all it could be a special needs school), etc.? Plus I doubt she/he wants to receive massive tickets for not paying their car insurance. And don’t get me started on the Medicaid stuff.

        What you’re suggesting as an alternative is *technically* true, but we can’t possibly understand someone else’s situation, and I think it’s unreasonable to say, “There’s no reason you can’t.”

        For instance, everyone says, “There are programs out there to help low-income people with dental care.” Sure there are. But not for 20-something married white women. I busted my mouth in 2009 and am still missing 5 front teeth in my bottom jaw and have 4 discolored, chipped top front teeth, and I give thanks every day a creditor hasn’t called me, wanting to know where that $11,000 is. No one – literally NO ONE – is willing to help me, or has a program or discount for me. Can you imagine what it’s like to not have smiled since May of 2009? People don’t want to hire you when you can’t smile, even if you gently try to bring it up.

        I do agree, however, that too many people are spoiled rotten and don’t comprehend that many things in life are LUXURIES and not a right or a requirement. Fresh clean water, and hot water, is a luxury. Cars are luxuries. Shopping because you’re bored or have extra money is a luxury. But many people in America are scared of living humbly – I do agree with that – and those people will never take the plunge of a simple life.

        I’ve recently accepted low-wage, ‘beginner’ jobs simply because that’s all I could find. Plus my unemployment still hasn’t been approved so at this point minimum wage is better than nothing. But I’m in a position to do so – spring’s here and I can walk/bike to work and my in-laws let us live with them for low rent. I can’t imagine trying to do this with any amount of real financial responsibilities.

        1. Anonymous*

          That is a great answer. I have two masters degrees and live in a geographical area with an affordable cost of living, with a lot of other multiple degree holders. I am an online adjunct, and work minimum wage temp jobs for the extra cash. Plus, it gets me out the house so I can interact with others. I’ve had jobs paying “good” money, but they also came with a lot of stress and more hours in the office than I care to think about. I’ve had to rethink my standard of living, but I am much happier. I should mention that as an older worker, I don’t have a family to support – so that is something to consider as well.

        2. Anonymous*

          This is a great discussion – note that employment laws vary state to state, so you want to be sure what the “non-published in the handy little book” laws are in your state…I worked at a state unemployment office and learned it’s not so cut and dry. In my state, if you got offered a job in 2008 at a range far outside your former income, let’s say 50%, you could refuse to accept it. Today, it will depend on who reviews your case whether that’s fair to turn the job down, or whether you’ll be cut off of unemployment for refusing work in this economy. So be careful in refusing any work, that could put you at risk. Plus, you can work and still collect unemp benefits, so long as you don’t go over a certain percentage of wages (50% ratio). The twist is you can’t tell your employer you don’t want more hours in order to not affect your unemp benefits; the employer can turn you in for refusal of work – see above. Again, I can speak only to my particular state. The only way I saw out of the vicious circle I described above would be to tank the interview.

          1. Kimberlee*

            This is interesting! Yeah, I would actually be in favor of completely overhauling our unemployment laws so that instead of being tied to your previous income, they provide a flat standard of living… enough to pay for a studio or 1 bedroom apt, food, and a little wiggle room for clothing, etc.

            But I do strongly feel that if you’re going to participate in the system as it exists, you should play by the rules (and it seems like those rules are sometimes set up to benefit you in varying ways anyway, thanks for that info Anon!).

            The idea that the person above, while I don’t know how much he makes exactly, seems to have a higher standard of living on unemployment than many people have working their asses of 40 hours a week, and then hearing that person complain about having to deign to take a lower position, is what really gets me.

        3. anon.*

          I hear you, and feel for you too. I do have a suggestion though for your dental work – do you have a dental school anywhere near you? My daughter, who lives in another state needed a wisdom tooth removed. I unfortunately could not help her financially and we have no insurance (she’s 23 now and on her own, working but as a contractor w/ no benefits). She lives in the DC area and there is a college with a dental school near by. She was able to get her dental work done on a sliding scale basis and for much less than here in NY. Its worth looking into.

        4. Ellie H.*

          I think this is a really interesting debate too. It almost resembles Heinz’s Dilemma. I can see both sides of the argument. In general I feel more personally aligned with Kimberlee’s views but I find many counterarguments very compelling, especially the example of dental surgery, the cascade of problems that could be caused by having to default on a mortgage, and so forth.

        5. Anonymous*

          Well said. So many people don’t seem to understand that if you can’t meet your mortgage payments, you get foreclosed upon. If that happens, your credit is shot, and it will be very hard to rent.

          Keeping a roof over your head and food on the table IS meeting your basic needs. If you can’t manage those two basic things on minimum wage, it does not make sense to work minimum wage, when UE brings in more.

          (No, I have never collected UE, but I understand how it works.)

  15. Emily*

    I used to volunteer with a program that prepared recently released convicts who’d served fairly short sentences for “low-level offenses” to apply and interview for new jobs. Volunteers helped them polish their resumes, explained any unfamiliar terms or concepts that come up in job seeking (first-timers don’t always know immediately what “reference” means or why an application asks for a permanent address and not just an address), and coached them through mock interviews; professionals with the appropriate training and credentials counseled on the more complex aspects of job seeking and reentering the workforce after being incarcerated.

    One thing that I think applies to a job search at any level is the importance of knowing something about the company. If you know that a chain has adopted environmentally sustainable business practices, that a particular store supports a local charity, or that a delivery service allows drivers to listen to the radio so they can sing in the car (congratulations to your husband, OP!), you can talk about how you appreciate and respect that kind of social commitment or commitment to a positive work environment. Even some seemingly minute detail about the company’s day-to-day operations can become a good “why do you want this job” answer; it could even make the job genuinely more appealing to you.

    Two of the most compelling answers I heard:
    —A woman who was practicing for an interview for a housekeeping position at a hotel. She knew from a relative who worked there that the housekeepers cleaned in pairs within teams on their shift, and that every shift had a captain. She talked about why that set-up appealed to her: she was quite used to being alone and knew she could work independently, but she liked the idea of working alongside a partner who she could depend on and who could depend on her as they got their job done together, keeping the pace, checking each other’s work, etc.. She also said she believed that she could prove herself and eventually become a shift captain, and she’d be a good role model and leader to other “girls—or guys, too!” Her good humor and attitude and the fact that she was thinking realistically about the nature of the work, as well as possibilities for the future, were huge assets. Volunteers didn’t usually hear how the participants’ interviews turned out, but I did happen to find out that this woman got the housekeeping job.
    —A man practicing for an interview at a transfer station where his job, if he got it, would be to stand on his feet all day in an uninsulated hangar-type building sorting garbage from a conveyer belt. He said that he knew this particular facility had employees where ear protection with built-in walkie-talkies, which allowed them to communicate with each other, within reason, during their shifts. He was excited about that type of environment, especially versus facilities where employees wear ear protection that just blocks out all sounds whatsoever, because he knew he’d like to be able to get to know his shiftmates’ names, where they were from, if they had any kids; to ask if they needed a break or a hand with something; or just to say, “hey, my feet hurt, yours, too?” With a little coaching, that answer was shaped into a pretty winning statement about working as a unit and this candidates’ ability to build team morale.

  16. AGirlNamedMe*

    I actually think it is fine to be honest about wanting the job in part because of money.

    “I’ve always wanted to be a cashier in a grocery store, and to be honest, I really need the money.”

    In my experience, employers want to hire people who want (need) to work.

  17. Ellie H.*

    I got work once basically by saying how much I needed the job. It was a one-man furniture moving company run by a recent college grad, and I helped him with two jobs, the summer after graduating from college. I was the first girl he had hired – he said he thought it would be interesting to try a female, and that he was swayed by my saying “I really need a job” in my application. In truth, I wasn’t very well suited to the work (I’m 5’7” 125 lb female – I lift weights and am reasonably strong for my size, but I struggled with the work and there was one super heavy couch I just wasn’t able to lift at all) but I was glad for the opportunity to do it. I like physical work and I thought it would be interesting, a good workout, and a good way to make $60 in four hours, all of which it was. I probably wouldn’t do it again but it was a good experience to have had. Now I have much more respect for people who do heavy physical labor for a living because it is really grueling and I’m grateful that it is not the only option available to me for employment.

  18. Jen M*

    I used to work part time at a couple of local kennels. I am still friends with both owners (my ex-bosses.) One of them, I see pretty frequently, and I take my cats in to have her groom them.

    My time working at these kennels was really rewarding. I love animals, and I loved to see how happy people were when they’d pick up their pets and see they had been well cared for. I got to spend time with the animals, I got to hang out and socialize, and I got to leave work at work.

    If I found myself needing a job, I’d go back in a heartbeat. I didn’t care that I came home every night smelling like dogs and cats! I didn’t care that I spent hours taking care of and cleaning up after animals and then had to come home and take care of my own! I just love animals that much.

    Sadly, this was a minimum wage job. Most animal care jobs come with very low pay, or that’s what I’d be doing. (I have a very high mortgage.) Well, that and my art.

  19. Kate*

    I have an MA and am a very accomplished professional but was killed in the economy. After a year of being unable to find work, I lost my house, moving into an apartment which drained my savings and eventually lost that and had to live in my car.

    I took to minimum wage jobs. The first really appreciated me, and promoted me, explaining what an asset I was. But the work ethic of the lifers and kids of managers to a professional being in their midst was to degrade me at every turn and ensure that I got all the low pay high labor shifts while they minimized their labor and upped their income. When I consulted my boss about creating more equitable arrangement, he said, “you’re just a minimum wage employee. If you don’t like it, there are plenty more who can fill your place. Who needs ya?” That was humiliating enough for me to tender my resignation on the spot.

    Yes, I needed the money, but working there was so demoralizing. For all of his insults, I excelled at customer service and made the most in tips. Customers were actually dissatisfied with the service the others provided, and yet my strong work ethics and positive attitude were considered expendable….

    I applied for another. The manager asked why I wanted it — I explained honestly that I needed the money and liked the atmosphere in the store. She decided it would be a shame to use my skill set in the role for which I applied and decided to consider me for a professional position….telling me the rate would be minimum wage when I used to receive six figures doing this same job. By the time I paid taxes, filled my car, I would barely be breaking even or operating at a deficit. My heart sank.

    I was disgusted that this woman wanted to pay me this rate for highly paid professional services. It’s like knowing someone usually charges $150,000 to do something..and getting it for $5. She could have offered far more but thought she could get away with the least amount possible.

    I don’t think I could go through the minimum wage experience again. The money offered is not sustainable – except for kids living at home with parents. You work so hard and to what end?

    I am now aggressively and doggedly applying for professional jobs, but in the meantime, I am homeless (living in my car), and have no money left for food or gas but what is in my car. I never thought I would be in this predicament. It’s mortifying but having to be subjected to the demeaning treatment of minimum wage jobs.

    It nearly destroyed my self esteem.

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