I don’t want a minimum wage job

A reader writes:

I’m job-searching, and many people have suggested I get a minimum wage job. Some have gone as far as to call me lazy, say I have a bad attitude, etc., because I don’t want to work for minimum wage. I know that, aside from one, most who have suggested it mean well. I know the benefits of working a minimum wage job (any pay is better than nothing, it keeps me busy, etc.).

I’m kind of tired of feeling guilty about it. I do NOT think I am better than anyone, I am not arrogant, and I don’t think I’m entitled to anything. I don’t look down on people who work minimum wage either. I respect people who can make an honest living. With that said, the reasons I don’t want to are:

— I want a “real” job. And by “real” job, I mean one where I have room to advance, learn new skills, and just be a professional.

— I have worked minimum wage/low skill jobs, and it is difficult to break out of the pattern. You work full-time, and you get no time to go on interviews, or you have to take time off and lose money becasue you’re being paid by the hour. I don’t want to be treated badly at my job (and most of them were like that).

— I want financial security for myself and independence, and I won’t get it if I can’t pay the rent, simple as that. A one-bedroom apartment in a really crappy neighborhood costs $800. Minimum wage brings, at most, $1160. That’s about 70% of your income just for rent.

— And I haven’t admitted this to anyone, but I have applied to a couple of minimum-wage places. And I was never called back. You have no idea what this has done to my self esteem, that I’m not good enough to work in a bakery.

I would prefer to volunteer or even do an unpaid internship than work retail or food service. I don’t know if my reasons are valid or if anyone feels the same way I do. I’m just tired of feeling guilty about it.

Well, this really comes down to your own particular set of circumstances: Are you in a financial position to wait a while until the right job comes along, or do you need money coming in fairly soon, regardless of the source? If you’re financially equipped to wait, there’s no reason that you can’t or shouldn’t. It’s not like there’s a moral requirement to be working every day if you don’t need to.

But you also need to be realistic about your situation. If you’re financially struggling, or just barely getting by with no buffer for emergencies, or not well qualified for other jobs, you do need to have a plan for doing something about that. That plan may or may not involve minimum wage jobs, but the key is to be realistic:  Do you know how you’re going to support yourself for, say, the next year? If you don’t really know, then yes, a minimum wage job might need to be part of your plan for meeting your financial needs.

On the other hand, if you have reason to be confident that a better-paying job is imminent, and you can support yourself in the meantime, there’s no reason you need to take a minimum wage job just because people are telling you to. But, obviously, you need to be realistic about whether it’s truly imminent. You should base that sense on how much interest you’re getting from the employers you want, how far you’re getting in their hiring processes, etc. You absolutely can’t base this on wishful thinking or ideas about whether you “should” be able to get a better job; it needs to be based on the reality of what’s happening.

One other important point:  If your plan for supporting yourself involves other people helping you (parents, spouse, roommates, etc.), and they are pushing you to take a low-paying job, that means that they think you should be pitching in more. If that’s the case, you need to have a more direct conversation with them about your arrangement, your side of it, their expectations, etc. It’s one thing to decide that you’re not going to take a minimum-wage job when you’re covering all your own expenses; it’s very different when someone is helping you, and they’d like you to be contributing more.

Basically, this is what it comes down to:  You need to have a way to pay for all the costs of living — food, shelter, clothing, emergency savings, and whatever else you want in life. It needs to be a reasonably long-term plan, something that covers you for more than just the next few months. And it needs to be based in reality, not on wishful thinking. As long as your plan meets those criteria, then it’s really no one else’s business what the specifics of your plan are. If you can afford to not work while you wait for the right job, or to volunteer or do unpaid internships to make yourself a more marketable candidate in the long run, then great. Do that, and ignore people who think they know better than you do.

But if your plan doesn’t meet those criteria — if you have no idea how you’ll pay your bills in two months or what you’ll do if your car breaks down tomorrow, or if it’s based on getting a good job that so far no one has shown much interest in hiring you for — then you need a new plan. At that point, it’s not really about what you want (a job where you can advance, higher pay, time off, etc.); it’s about what you need. And needs, by definition, trump wants.

And in that case, it’s not unreasonable to consider a lower-wage job as part of your plan for meeting your needs. Money is money, after all, and if you need it, there’s no point in snubbing a perfectly good source of it.

What do other people think?

P.S. Whoops, one more thing — about that feeling that you’re “not good enough to work in a bakery” because they didn’t call you back. That’s not the right way to look at this. Most jobs have multiple applicants for one slot. When one person gets hired to fill that one slot, that doesn’t mean that everyone else who applied “wasn’t good enough.” It means that the employer had one slot, and they’re only hiring one person for it, so as a result, many qualified people will be rejected; that’s the case for every job opening. You can’t take it personally or as a reflection on you. It has nothing to do with you — it’s just math.

{ 226 comments… read them below }

  1. Heather P.*

    I agree with AAM. I think we need more specifics about the OP’s particular circumstances in order to provide useful feedback. I can certainly relate to how to OP is feeling.

  2. Blinx*

    My philosophy? I wouldn’t want to take a job away from someone who needs a minimum wage job because that’s all they qualify for. If you are aiming for a job that will provide a better wage/benefits/future, hold out for that as long as you can.

    I do realize, though, that circumstances lead us all to do things we’d rather not. If your job search goes on long enough where you really do need to take ANY job, then go ahead and take the lower paying job. Hopefully you will be able to find one with hours that will let you still go on interviews.

    1. Heather P.*

      Yeah, I would agree. I’m just curious as to what the OP’s qualifications are in general.

    2. AA*

      I suppose it varies by job market, but is it really that hard to get a food service job that we need to save them for the ones who really need them? I still see help wanted signs at retail and food service places around here, and know someone in another part of the country who lost her waitress job and had a new one the next week.

      1. Sharon*

        All the minimum-wage places that I’ve worked are “always accepting applications!!!” regardless of whether there are any openings because they turnover rate is outrageous so they need a constant pool of apps to keep the place staffed.

        A lot of retail and food service jobs don’t start anyone at full-time positions, so even if you DO get a job, it’s only ~25 hours a week. That’s $181.25 a week (before taxes) at the federal minimum wage. Yikes!

        1. Rana*

          Plus a lot of waiter-type jobs pay below minimum wage, because the expectation is that you’ll make up the difference with tips, which isn’t always borne out in reality.

          1. quix*

            And this despite the fact they’re legality obligated to make up the difference between pay and minimum wage if one exists. You’re most likely to get fired or retaliated against via shifts if you insist on it, though.

            1. Server*

              Wow! I’ve worked a few tipped jobs and my employer always made good on keeping us at minimum wage. The name of the game was always to try to keep all your tips off credit cards so it would look lik e you earned $0/hour in tips, thus obligating the employer to pay you an additional $2/hour for your shift that night. On a 5-hour shift if you could manage to earn less than $10 in credit card tips, you banked an extra $10 in wages on top of your cash tips!

                1. Server*

                  You could certainly call it that. But the managers were the ones signing off on our declaration of “no cash tips” every night at the end of our shift when they obviously knew we weren’t getting stiffed by every single table/delivery. So the employer was complicit in the theft. Sometimes when you’re paying people crap wages to do stressful and often crappy work, you pick your battles and play loose with the rules because it slows the turnover.

                2. Hilary*

                  I find this area of the industry incredibly confusing (disclaimer: I’ve never worked as a server).

                  A good friend of mine told me she hates receiving credit card tips because her employer would often be late on producing them and doctor the amounts so she received less than she was supposed to.

                  There is also a large number of restaurants that “tip-out” to other staff, taking tips from the servers and distributing them to other staff or taking a cut for the restaurant. I believe there was a big court case about this in British Columbia.

                  I don’t always tip (if you don’t do your job, I’m not going to pay you extra for poor service) but if I receive great service I make sure to tip in cash to make sure the person receiving it is the person who actually did the work (I’ll also tip directly to the kitchen if I’m happy with the food)

                3. Wilton Businessman*

                  In addition to being unethical, it is also illegal. You are stealing from the employer as well as the US Government.

                4. Sara*

                  I’m afraid i dont’ understand, what is unethical/illegal?

                  from what’s been said it sounds like the employer is stealing from the employee…no?

      2. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        Actually, when I was doing hiring for a fast food place in early 2009 to early 2011, like right in the worst of the recession, we’d review hundreds of resumes for every open position. They’re always collecting resumes and often replacing due to high turnover, yes, but you’re still looking at 100 applicants for an open position every month or two, at least where I worked (and I got the impression from others in the “industry” that most other low-wage work in the area was the same, pretty hard to get.

      3. Liz*

        It is really that hard to get a food service job, or any unskilled work.

        Unskilled means pretty much anyone can learn to do the work reliably, or at least feel like it is a possibility. And in an economy where there are, literally, six job seekers for every job opening, then a LOT of people will apply for that low-skill job. It is the one job that everyone can try to fall back on.

        Employers, meanwhile, don’t want a bunch of PhDs stocking shelves. They want someone who will show up reliably and continue to show up for as long as possible. The market gives them the chance to be picky about supposedly over-qualified people who might not have the right skillset anyway. They aren’t just sitting around waiting for the gift of an anthropology masters degree holder to walk in and offer to do data entry.

        1. Chris*

          There in lies my problem. I am not a degree holder of any sort, but I do have many years of experience in retail management, and managing people in general (which goes all the way back to my military service). The problem in my small town is that there is such an over-population of either highschool students who can only work part time and don’t mind if it’s minimum wage or people trying to play the unemployment/government money game, thus taking something every once in a while to keep them eligible, that for those of us who need the job and plan to stick around a little longer, it forces us to the bottom of the pile of applications. even as a veteran i can’t get a job because they would rather hire and fire on a month to month basis rather than invest in someone they can keep. it’s really getting to the point of being depressing.

    3. Long Time Admin*

      My advice? Take a minimum wage job where you can get an employee discount for the necessities of life – places like The World’s Largest Retailer or one of their competitors, not some place more “fun” like Radio Shack, Best Buy, or Barnes & Noble. When I was between jobs, I worked at Waldenbooks (hard work for someone with arthritis and scoliosis, but I loved it), but I also had another temp job and some money in the bank, so I could still keep a roof over my head and food on the table. It would have made more sense if I’d gotten a job at a big box department store or a chain grocery store, but I did OK for those few months anyway.

  3. Jeff*

    It’s a hard job market to be picky from what I’ve seen. It seems like it’s starting to loosen up a bit, but holding out for that right job could still be many months away. So I think AAM is right, OP really needs to see where everything fits right now. If you can live at home, don’t have any huge financial obligations, and can afford to live without an income for awhile, then absolutely, hold out for that better paying job. Otherwise, I think you have to be open to anything and know that it’s not a permanent solution. I have a masters degree, and right now I’m working part-time at a non-profit where I’m making barely more than minimum wage. I’ve been very close to getting full-time jobs that actually use my degree more effectively, but because of the job market, those jobs haven’t worked out because of how competitive everything is. Make lemonade out of lemons for right now; this job market is not permanent.

    1. Carmen*

      When you say, “if you can live at home”, you mean “live with your parents”, right? Please don’t assume that everyone trying to hold out for jobs related to their education and experience are inexperienced youngsters who can live with their parents. My “home” is where I live. I haven’t lived in my parents’ home for 20 years.

      1. Anonymous*

        A lot of people have been forced to move in with family in recent years, including people who have lived on their own for 10+ years. It’s becoming a lot more common right now, so many people are struggling.

      2. Zed*

        Not everyone who lives “at home”/with family is an “inexperienced youngster,” either.

        Jeff’s point was that having the option of living with family means you can be pickier. If you have rent to make and bills to pay, you will likely need ANY job, not just a job related to your education and experience.

  4. AA*

    Yes, it’s mildly frustrating that the OP wrote this and didn’t include any facts about why he is qualified for any job.

    Unfortunately, I come down on the side of the get-the-minimum-wage job haters, since I relate this post to a situation a family member is in. My family member’s BF had an office job once. He wasn’t there that long and was laid off in the 2009 recession. He got a retail job during the holidays, after several months of looking, and got on F/T later. After a year, he quit. You know, because he’s too good for retail. He doesn’t have a college degree or any other business, technical, or trade skills. He lives with his single mom, and he’s 27, so I do think it’s ridiculous that he won’t take a minimum wage job. After almost a year, he finally got a temp job in a warehouse, so I doubt it’s paying much more than his retail job was.

    Maybe the OP is one of those with a PhD and years of relevant job experience who’s just having bad luck recently, but if the situation is anything like the one I outlined, it’s hard to understand the attitude.

  5. bemo12*

    I have a feeling that the OP is using “minimum wage” in the context of low paying, when they are not really the same thing. There was a column a few weeks back about a woman who was thrilled with a $10 an hour job because it would give her experience and help her in the future.

    I think that you should decide what your field is and take anything in that field, no matter how low paying it is. In order to get experience, especially if whoever is supporting you now could continue to help you out, while you are getting your feet wet.

    If money is an issue NOW, though, I would recommend waiting tables. It is a HARD job, but you can make decent money doing it and almost always have a good bit of free time during the weekdays to job hunt, based on restaurant schedules. It’s something often overlooked, but it can be a life save in the interim.

    1. Sdhr*

      Good advice re waiting tables. Is it easy to get that kind of work without specific experience?

      1. Carmen*

        It’s so funny (in a sad kind of funny) that people still think that waiting tables is some sort of job you can just pick up to do in lean times. Waiting tables has very specific skill sets that not just anyone can do, or pick up easily.

        It is NOT easy to get that kind of work without specific experience.

          1. Laura*

            It’s not.

            Most restaurant managers would never put someone with no experience on the floor. You start out as a hostess and develop the skill-set on a smaller scale first. It is not an easy job, and you earn every little penny you make at least ten times over.

            Waiting tables is a lot harder than a typical retail job and requires strong memory, personable attitude, physical stamina, and sense of sanitation.

            1. KellyK*

              I got a summer job as a waitress once, with no previous experience waiting tables. Yeah, that lasted three days. (Largely the manager’s fault for wanting someone with experience but not bothering to read my application to see that I didn’t have any.)

              But, yes, it’s a hard job that you can’t pick up just like that.

            2. LMW*

              Seriously! I was out to eat with friends yesterday, and I can tell you, I cannot do what our server did–all the specials and types of tea she had to memorize, and then carrying it all to the table–I would have dropped that stuff all over the place. Not to mention having the intuitive people knowledge that really good service people have–when to stop back to the table and when to just step back and give customers space.
              I worked in food service in high school. Never again. It’s really hard!
              Some of the best coworkers I’ve ever had though.

            3. joseph*

              Laura is UNBELIEVABLY correct. I can do almost anything and am very dextrous, people-oriented and
              can multi-task. STILL…. there is nothing comparable to how hard it is to wait tables. I have the utmost respect for a good waiter/waitress.

              Thanks Laura for your comments. And everyone else. I’m 47 and am interviewing for a low paying job with a non-profit in two days. I actually cried a bit, feeling sorry for myself, thinking, I can’t believe I’ve ended up here. But, should they offer, I’m going to take it. I hate credit card debt more than I hate taking something that’ll take up my time.

              I only hope it won’t be a problem interviewing with a higher paying employer should I be called in for an interview on one of those 100s of jobs I’ve recently applied for. I almost always get whatever job I interview for so I have hope (about getting a high paying job in my field). Thanks for reading.

              I appreciate all the people’s

        1. bemo12*

          That’s not true. Many fast-casual (TGI Fridays/Ruby Tuesday) restaurants prefer workers with little to know experience because they have intense training programs and they want to teach you to do things their way.

          I used to be a hiring manager at Ruby Tuesday and before that worked at TGI Fridays and I know that’s really policy, though most people do end up starting as hosts, which is still good money since they get a percentage of the tips.

          1. Server*

            Exactly my experience–your best bet getting in with no experience is going to be a corporate chain like Ruby Tuesday or Shenanigan’s where the tips are going to be average, and you’ll probably start as a host/ess until you know the menu and atmosphere. They’re willing to train because they’re so branding-conscious that they train even people with prior experience to do it their Special Way.

            If you do that long enough you might be able to get your foot in the door at an independent place that doesn’t have the corporate budget for training, where the tips might be better.

            Another option to break into the industry is to try working at a banquet/catering staffing agency. It’s usually an independent contractor sort of arrangement – you pay for training (or attend unpaid) and you pay to buy your own uniform, etc. The staffing agency gets booked to cater events and they’ll offer the events to people on their roster, usually going down the list by seniority. If you’re lucky enough to get called a few times, you’ll end up getting called all the time, and eventually you’ll have enough transferrable experience in serving that independent restaurants will consider hiring you.

            1. Anonymous*

              Restaurants, even chains, are not inclined to hire people over a certain age who don’t look (or fit) the part and have no hospitality experience. They’ll take young ones putting themselves through school – that’s understood, and because they’re young, beautiful and energetic, they’ll get the tips. They’ll take experienced hands who understand the business. What could they get out of a 30-something office worker? Also: from starting as a host/ess to making enough to even approach the median wage – getting enough experience to be trusted with an evening shift, or moving into fine dining – takes about two years. (It’s an actual career for a lot of people.) If you’re a non-standard applicant wanting to ultimately draw from non-hospitality experience, that’s a long time to get to making ends meet.

    2. Kelly*

      Yes, I found this strange as well, and am always surprised that some people do not seem to realize how much the pay in wage jobs often differs. I earned 9.25 an hour plus 1% commission working retail for a department store over the holidays, and I make 9.00 an hour evenings at another retail store now. I could have made more – they offered me sales lead but I didn’t want increased hours since I have a day job.

      You really do just have to seek out the retail and food service jobs that pay more. Although I don’t know anyone who has been able to pick up a server position at a restaurant without hostess experience or other restaurant training in my town, there are some fairly well-compensated retail jobs out there. The minimum wage is 7.25, so two dollars or more makes a BIG impact on income.

      1. Katie*

        While I was working at an unpaid internship, I took a job working at Lowe’s over the summer. I was expecting to work just above minimum wage, but they actually came close to matching the wage I had been earning as a teller at a bank. Which was $10,42, for working as a cashier at Lowe’s. I thought that was pretty darn good for a summer job.

      2. Liz T*

        Fresh out of high school I worked a retail job that started me at $8.50 an hour–and this was 12 years ago, when that was even further above minimum wage.

        All of which is academic, though–I would have to really suck it up in order to go back to that job.

      3. LMW*

        I worked at Nordstrom’s one summer in college. It paid base rate plus commission…and I was in Men’s Furnishings in Palo Alto in 2000. Tons of men with lots of money to spend and no idea how to pick out a tie. Commission heaven. I think I averaged $20 an hour. Plus it was a fantastic learning experience–I learned how to work with several types of managers, how to be really good at customer service (which is valuable in ANY position), and how to deal with many different types of coworkers, including slackers and commission sharks.
        It took me years to make that wage in a professional job.

  6. Laurie B.*

    I agree with AAM on this. Also don’t rule out Retail and Fast Food because there are actually A LOT of opportunities for degree holders to advance in those fields. I’ve known several people in both industries who worked their way up from minimum wage grunt to the corporate offices of their respective companies.

    1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      This. I worked fast food for two years after college, and found it very engaging! Especially when I was able to take on a supervisory position and start using some of what I was learning here on AAM. When I got my “big break” for an office job in another city, I was actually considering becoming a store manager, which is an actual salaried position with benefits and everything in most food places.

      If you’re willing to dig in to the work and change you’re perspective, crap jobs can be very rewarding!

  7. Jamie*

    I think the situation is pretty cut and dried. If you have enough of your own resources to support yourself while you wait then of course it’s no one else’s business and you should wait as long as you like, no guilt.

    If anyone else is helping support you, and they aren’t happy about doing so then you owe them more than gratitude – you owe it to them to take whatever you can to lessen the burden.

    Something to keep in mind is that a lot of these higher paying jobs you’d prefer require a lot more than 40 hours per week. Also a lot of minimum wage jobs in retail and food service aren’t strictly 9-5. So you can work for 40 (if you’re lucky enough to find min wage that’s full time) and volunteer or intern in your spare time.

    You could end up waiting a very long time for the perfect situation – so I would consider how your choices are impacting others in addition to yourself.

  8. Vicki*

    I’m “lucky” in that I’m unemployed because my job was eliminated. Which means I’m on unemployment. My minimum wage job (according to the California EDD) is “looking for work”. That’s what the EDD calls Unemployment Insurance – being paid to look for work full time.

    (Did you know that, if you’re on CA Unemployment, you are not permitted to take a vacation? You can take a weekend, but come Monday, you need to be back at your “job” which is Looking For Fulltime Work.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Am I right in thinking that you can take a vacation, but you won’t receive UI for that week? Or does taking a week off get you kicked out entirely?

      1. mh_76*

        Depends, state by state. In MA, it doesn’t matter where you are so long as you have 3 work-search activities per week (could be something as simple as updating resume or LinkedIn or Monster…or talking to other people that you meet or already know about job search stuff while on vaca…but other states vary) and legally reside in MA. The only people who have to log their work-search activities are people who were radomly selected and people who are on Extended Benefits (beyond the first 36 weeks of UI).

        Also, if you work full-time (30+ hours) for a week, you cannot file for that week but can file again for the following week if you’ll be working < 30 hours. If you miss 2+ weeks of filing for weekly benefits (I think it's 2), you have to call in or go see the UI rep to get your claim re-activated. The dollar amount & balance left in your UI account don't decrease during the weeks missed.

        Confused yet? :)

        1. fposte*

          Also, in some places, if your hours are cut back substantially, you can file for partial unemployment.

          1. mh_76*

            Yep…and in MA (I think) and FL, seasonal employees (teachers, others) can file for UI in their off-months. My SIL’s brother in FL is a tradesman (welder, I think) whose company shuts down for some reason for a couple of months each year and he files for UI then.

      2. Rana*

        Based on my experience (about ten years ago, so it may have changed), you had to show proof of job searching on a weekly basis, and, yes, if you missed a week, they could very well cancel it.

      3. Blinx*

        In my state, you have to answer several questions each week when you file your claim. One is something like “were you available for work”. And, true, for extended benefits, you must apply for X number of jobs a week and prove your search activities. With a cell phone and access to the web, both are doable from remote locations. There is some discussion on this topic on an unemployment board, when someone asked if they could leave the country for a week and still collect.

        I took a 4 day vacation this summer, and had a phone interview in the middle of it. I was available to drive back if needed, and I completed all my requirements in the part of the week when I was at home. So I don’t see why you can’t take a vacation.

        1. mh_76*

          MA has a few questions too, one of which is those. The others are (if I remember correctly) has your residence address changed and have you looked for work. I figured that so long as I could get back into town for anything in-person that I could be out of state. I don’t recall ever having to cut a visit short to return here for anything other than the time that my home alarm went off (turns out a sensor fell off of my window).

        2. Jamie*

          I’ve been curious about this forever, but never asked…how do you prove you’re applying to jobs?

          What if it’s an employer that doesn’t send email acknowledgments of applications received? I know people drop off harcopy applications all the time, as well, but I’ve never been called by an agency (back when I filled in for HR) to see if so and so really applied…so what’s to stop people from writing names of random businesses on a sheet and claiming they applied?

          1. some1*

            When I was on unemployment (Dec 2011-March 2012), I did not have to tell them where I applied or for how many jobs. I had to answer whether I looked for work, did I turn work down, and was available to work.

          2. Blinx*

            In PA, they have an online database that you can sign onto and perform job searches. You can also use the system to apply for jobs and have it track all of your search activities. It can send an email and cover letter for you, through the system. But I like to have more control, and email direct from my computer, or apply through the company’s website.

            The database allows you to enter in all prospective employee contact info. (You could also skip the database and just put all the info on a paper form.) Not sure what they do with all of the info, though. I imagine if they didn’t think you were serious in your job hunt, they could do a spot check with some employers, based on the info you provided.

            I di not have to do any of the tracking until my first 6 months were up, and I went onto extended benefits.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        I’m on UI in Missouri, and one of the questions they ask online is “Were you available all of the hours and days for the type of work you are seeking?” Admin/clerical? Sure. I’ve traveled out of town a couple of times, but I take my computer with me. As long as I have Internet access, I can do work remotely. I’ve applied for jobs that way also even though I was physically 1200 miles away.

  9. EngineerGirl*

    I fully agree with AAM. Taking a job also demonstrates work ethic. That will give you am edge in later competition.

    When you need to pay the bills , you take the less desirable jobs and share expenses with room mates. That is how it is. And who knows? Being out in the work force may expand your network to get the better job!

    1. Carmen*

      Sure, it might demonstrate having a good work ethic to some employers. And other employers will see it as “hmmm, this person was working at a job not even remotely related to their education or experience. Obviously they don’t take their field seriously.”

      And: not everyone lives with roommates.

      1. B*

        Most employers I meet, realize with these times people take what they can get even if it is not related to their education or experience. The difference is also being able to “spin” it. Meaning that “you learned a new skill”, “showed growth and potential”, etc.

        1. S.L. Albert*

          This. I managed to get a finance job when the majority of my work experience for the past three years was working at a tourist establishment and training horses. Did I learn a lot about finance? No. Did I learn about multitasking, teamwork, and how to work on a commission? Yes. The trick is not to say you flipped burgers or worked a register, but what you learned from it. Learning customer service skills? Learning time management/multitasking? That’s what you bring up in the interview.

        2. Liz*

          Most employers I meet conclude the opposite: If someone is really good at a particular field, he or she will not have to take a survival job.

          Working low-wage has both a negative halo effect that makes your entire candidacy look worse, and it exhausts you while teaching you to interact with your superiors in a way that will preclude white collar work.

          I know a lot of people who say this about employers “they understand” but I suspect these are not white collar employers, or they are in the Midwest or something. I have literally never worked with one manager who didn’t say something snotty about people who apply with minimum wage jobs on a resume, even if it is just a passing, “I wonder why he didn’t know to leave that off.”

          They also freak out over employment gaps, but that seems a little more explainable.

          Also, I have NEVER seen a manager or hiring committee give anyone not VERY entry level any credit or a boost for working a minimum wage job.

          1. Jamie*

            “I know a lot of people who say this about employers “they understand” but I suspect these are not white collar employers, or they are in the Midwest or something.”

            What does this mean?

          2. OP*

            Well, what’s worse? an employment gap or a job not in your field? And oh God forbid, if you have both! This is what concerned me but since I’ve never owrked in corporate, I wasn’t sure if it was a valid concern or not.

            I mean it makes sense, if an employer would think you’re a loser for having a min wage job, you really don’t want to work with them but it seems like in this kind of economy job seekers with little relevant experience can’t afford to be picky or have standards.

      2. Kelly*

        Certainly everyone is not a recent graduate vagrant (I am), but lots of people who have been independent for decades and own their own homes have taken to renting out rooms. I suppose in those cases you could call them “tenants”, but the word roommates is often used.

        I know a number of people in my age group, especially grad students, renting rooms from homeowners in that situation. It does help to defray costs, especially if someone loses a job.

        1. fposte*

          It seems to be much more common in Britain than in the US–people speak casually of their “lodgers,” which is a word that puts you in the nineteenth century in the U.S.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          I’m a homeowner and I can tell you this absolutely would not work for me. My house is too small, for one thing. For another, I have the worst luck with roommates ever. Seriously, I’d rather scoop poop for a living than ask a stranger to move in and share expenses.

          1. Hilary*

            I have to agree with you here.

            Also, there are risks to consider when letting someone live in your home, and, depending on how many people you already have living there, it may be illegal depending on zoning laws. (Some by-laws don’t let you have a renter)

      3. EngineerGirl*

        Working is better than not working. It shows that they take work seriously. Also, you can work part time (up to 32 hours a week) and they don’t have to pay you benefits. That leaves time for job searching or whatever else. In fact, that is how I got through college – working 24-32 hours a week and taking a 3/4 school load.

        I’m not sure about the room mate thingy. If you can’t afford to live on your own, you get room mates. That’s what all of us did when we started working because we just couldn’t afford the cost of living in Silicon Valley.

      4. Anonymous*

        This has been my experience. The market is such that you’re not getting credit for work ethic and moxie anymore. If it’s not directly related to the job you’re applying for, most managers could not possibly care less.

  10. Cassie*

    My mom went through something similar to the OP. She used to own/run a small business but due to the economy and such, wanted to switch to a governmental office job. Our county has good job training programs which she took advantage of. The county also has some volunteer positions or part-time work that is offered as part of the training/development programs.

    She spent a few years doing this, all the while applying for “real” full-time positions. Meanwhile, her sister kept telling her to get a job at McDonalds or a supermarket. My mom was around 59 years old at the time – she didn’t have any experience working in a food service or retail environment. She looks her age (let’s face it, retail and food service establishments sometimes hire for appearances). So it was frustrating for her to have her sister berate her for being lazy and not applying for just any job.

    Everyone’s circumstances are different. Sometimes people try to be helpful with some “tough love” but all it does is wear down on your soul. I went the opposite route, telling my mom that I would support her financially and she didn’t *need* to find a job. I knew my mom would personally feel like she needed to be gainfully employed, but I didn’t want her to be stressed out just because the job offers weren’t pouring in.

    1. Jamie*

      I think it’s awesome that you’re willing to support your mom while she finds what she’s looking for. I this case it’s no one else’s business what she is or isn’t doing.

      But sometimes family members are happy to help out of necessity but not indefinitely. Sometimes there is a real financial burden on helping someone out with their bills. For parents sometimes there’s a very real fear of a medical situation with an adult child without benefits – that can wipe them out financially.

    2. Suzanne*

      Cassie, I hear you! I was out of work for about six months in 2009. I have a master’s degree (which I rarely put on my resume any more) but was continuously turned down for retail minimum wage jobs. The best was my rejection for a seasonal position at a very well known department store: “Your skill set does not meet our needs.” That was one of the most depressing days in my life…
      Walm**t wouldn’t hire me either.

      So, to one and all. Before you start berating people who are jobless for being lazy and not willing to work anywhere, keep in mind that employers have a hand in this, too. They far too often won’t hire those over 50 with college degrees and lots of experience for those minimum wage jobs.

  11. CK*

    I can totally relate to the OP’s feelings, and I spent a year in that rut. I still don’t know how I got so lucky to finally have a friend refer me into my current job, that’s how low my expectations and esteem dropped.

    When the OP says MINIMUM WAGE, I do not take it as exaggerated. I take it to mean a minimum-wage job that has no room for advancement, offers little in terms of skill building, doesn’t cover bills and leaves you with little or VERY unpredictable free time.
    (so it’s hard to develop on your own or go job hunting simultaneously)

    Repeated rejections weigh on you; when they’re from jobs you feel more than qualified for, no amount of mathematical rationalising can ever seem to take the full sting out.
    And to maybe add a detail that the OP didn’t explicitly say, after a certain age, there comes the added pressure of feeling like you fall short, making you more frustrated for not being where you think you ought to be.

    To me, he or she seems to want a fair shot at developing themselves and their career.
    It would have helped if he/she had specified any particular fields of interest, but even failing that, I would suggest trying to find help in your job hunting. I was plenty qualified, just terrible at actually finding an opportunity, and I suspect this is just one of many people in the same boat.

    1. Jamie*

      “Repeated rejections weigh on you; when they’re from jobs you feel more than qualified for, no amount of mathematical rationalising can ever seem to take the full sting out”

      This is in response to the above comment and not necessarily the OP as qualifications weren’t stated in the post.

      Suzanne Lucas (Evil HR Lady) did a great column on this I’ve liked here before. You can be qualified for higher level jobs, but that doesn’t mean you’re overqualified for lower level positions.

      I would be woefully unqualified to work in a bakery, or wait tables as another commenter mentioned unthread. If I were hiring for a cleaning service someone’s PhD in math doesn’t make them overqualified for a position on a cleaning crew. Those skills are irrelevant and good hiring managers hire for relevant skills.

  12. OP #2*

    Thanks for the comments guys.

    For those who ask for more details: I am a female and I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in 2009; I intend to go back to school in the near future for either another bachelors or a masters. I’ve been working on and off since college. My longest job was during my last two years of college and it was an easy, low-skill, not very difficult job. I had other priorities at the time and this job fit those priorities.

    In my last semester of college, I found a contract job but that was terminated prematurely. At that time I was also pregnant and after having worked/full time school for two years, I decided to stay home for a while and enjoy my time at home. That got old after about 2 months so I started looking again.

    In 2010, I had two part time jobs (not at the same time), one was for the US census and another one was retail.

    In 2011, I started volunteering and that actually led to a job which led to the job I got this year. (they’re seasonal tax positions). After that volunteer/work stint, my spouse and I were planning on moving out of the country, so I didn’t search but those plans fell through, and I went back to searching.

    So since 2009, I’ve had about 13-14 months of work experience total. Since last year, I’ve wanted to get a job where I can settle down and stay. I know my work history may be turning employers off but there’s nothing I can do about the past.

    My personal situation, which I don’t want to get into too much–I am married and right now my bills are barely covered. I want to be able to pay rent and expenses….just enough so I can live alone without relying on anyone else.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Don’t get a second bachelors; it’s unlikely to make you more competitive as a job candidate, and it’s likely to raise questions about why you have two bachelors. And only get a masters if it’s necessary for the field you want to go into; otherwise you’re likely to end up less hireable (in different ways) and with additional debt. More on that here — read the comments too:

      It sounds like you should consider minimum wage or other low-paying jobs, because (a) you want more money coming in, (b) your professional background is a challenging one in a tight job market like this one, and (c) you probably need to establish a steadier work history in order to appeal to employers in the future. Not the most positive answer, I realize, but it’s the one most likely to take you where it sounds like you’d like to go.

      1. Lexy*

        Except! (of course, there’s always an except)
        If you want to go into a field that requires a SPECIFIC bachelors that is not what you originally got. e.g. you were a philosophy major and have decided you’d like to become a CPA. You can’t get any decent accounting position without an accounting major (with some exceptions obviously). I’m sure there are other fields like this.

        But otherwise, yeah, another BA is not going to make you any more desirable.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes! Just make sure that this is really true for whatever line of work you’re thinking of — i.e., don’t decide you need a degree in poli sci to work in that field (or even that getting that degree will make it easier to get that work); make sure it’s something like accounting where it’s truly required.

        2. Jamie*

          Yep, don’t discount the exceptions. In your accounting example lack of an accounting degree will keep you from cerrtian certifications and limit you to a certain level.

          But ou can get in without one as a staff accountant or AP/AR clerk for example and a lot of companies will pay for the additional education if you need it down the road.

          In the accounting world there are ways of getting in without owing into more debt.

          1. OP*

            I’ve tried applying for those positions, but majority of the job listings I see all want YEARS of experience, be it book keeping, AP/AR, etc. I might be looking in the wrong places? I’m looking at Craigslist, Monster, Accountemps etc. Even places that don’t ask for experience have turned me down in favor of someone with experience. It’s the ever present conundrum–how can I get experience if no one is willing to hire me?

            1. Jennifer*

              These days, you don’t. I haven’t gotten so much as an interview for any jobs that I haven’t already done before.

              1. mh_76*

                There’s an infinite loop in this crappy job market: need the job? -> need verbatim experience for x years for this thing and y years for that thing and… -> to get that experience, need the job -> etc. It’s not just happening to new grads either but also to those of us in our 30’s and beyond. The ironic thing is when a “recruiter” in his/her first ever job says that my resume isn’t a fit for the opportunity….and the recruiter has how much prior recruiting experience? How much business experience? Yep, you guessed it, zero. Argh.

            2. Kelly*

              Here’s how I’ve successfully found accounting jobs. Send resumes to firms listed on the state CPA society’s web site (had to be a member to access this resource), College Central’s Alumni Central, be friendly and keep connections with your university, meet other alumni, Careerbuilder, and company’s websites.

              I literally googled “large employers in ________” and checked local chambers of commerce’s websites to identify potential employers. 3 companies contacted even forwarded my resume to a colleague who was seeking an employee. Hope this helps.

              1. Jamie*

                This is good advice – membership in a professional association can give you access to business listings…but can be pricey and for some of them you need to be employed to even get a membership.

                So I guess what I’m saying is that if you have professional memberships and lose your job, don’t let them lapse.

                But something else to keep in mind that often Office Manager positions will have lower level accounting functions. AR/AP, etc. Believe me, a lot of accounting departments will steal you away from admin responsibilities if you have the aptitude and interest in the accounting end.

        3. Noelle*

          Lexy – Do you work in accounting? I have an analyst job in finance but no degree in accounting. I was thinking about taking community college classes to get a CPA, but do you think that would be worthwhile or is a BS in accounting necessary?

      2. OP*

        Actually it is accounting!

        I was an English major and econ minor. After graduation, I had a few positions (volunteer and paid) doing taxes and I enjoyed it and that’s the area I want to grow in, but I don’t think I’m qualified for even bookkeeping/assistant accounting positions (well I may be qualified, based on what I see in job postings, but I’m not getting much responses from those).

        I am going for a bachelor rather than a masters because it will take less time and I’ll still be qualified to sit for the CPA exam (provided the requirements don’t change in the next year or so!). Bachelors will take a year, masters will take longer and most decent programs want you to already have work experience in that field.

        1. Lexy*

          Many schools also have a post-bac degree program specifically for people like you entering accounting. I would try to find out the reputation of the program because they can vary widely. But at my school post-bac students were just as likely to find good jobs (including big-4/nat’l firms) as BS students.

        2. Cassie*

          Are you required to have a BA in accounting in order to sit for the CPA exam, or just a BA/BS degree (in anything)? I did a quick search on Google and for California (at least), it doesn’t look like a degree in accounting is required. Of course, you will have to have x credits/units of accounting courses, but the degree doesn’t have to be in accounting.

          1. Lexy*

            You aren’t required to have the degree (in most states) but the required coursework makes up the degree requirements (or most of them) for most accounting programs. The difference is usually that you don’t “need” the general business requirements for a degree vs. a certificate.

        3. Kelly*

          Most employers (in my area at least) want a Bacherlor’s in Accounting or Finance to hire an accounting professional. Some will take a candidate with a degree in another field, as long as they have 24-30 credits in accounting.

          Maybe via networking you can find a position as an accounting clerk or bookkeeper as suggested above? What about an accounting firm since you have experience preparing taxes? Some firms hire seasonal personnel for tax season. This can be a great way to build your network and gain recent experience.

          And if you are going for the CPA exam, please be aware of the 150-credit hour rule and if your state has enacted this regulation. More info is available throught NASBA.org or your state board of accountancy’s website.

          Good luck!

    2. Sdhr*

      I’m curious if minimum wage will cover childcare, what your spouse had to say about your taking a minimum wage job, etc. the fact is that once you are married these become joint decisions.

      I think AAM is correct. You need to show some stability in employment. Another poster commented that some retail and fast food positions lead to management, etc. That is good advice, as well. Those positions don’t need to be dead end.

      1. OP*

        I don’t have any children and don’t plan to in the next several years (I had a miscarriage that time). My husband….well….he’ll be ok in any case.

    3. human*

      You know what, the thing that jumped out at me in your letter was you saying you do not want a job where you will be mistreated.

      I think this is totally legitimate. You do not have any kind of a moral duty to take a job where you will be mistreated, and if these minimum wage jobs you’re passing by are that kind of job, well, they are not “perfectly good” sources of income, are they?

      So if you’re not going to starve or be homeless, then yeah, wait until you can find a job where you won’t be mistreated. I, random internet stranger, hereby give you permission, and you can tell anybody that doesn’t like it that I said they can go suck it. :-)

  13. fposte*

    I remember at one point in my early job searching I decided to open up my hunt to fields beyond the one I was interested in (artsy non-profity stuff) and still couldn’t get hired. I wailed to a friend, “I finally decided to sell out and nobody will buy me!”

    Your secret, never-before-admitted fact that you didn’t even get the kind of job you don’t want reminded me of this, OP. While there are a lot of components to your situation and people are addressing them, I’m focusing on this bit–that it looks to me like minimum wage carries a lot of emotional freight to you, and that that isn’t making the situation any easier. Is it maybe a part of your identity that you’re somebody who *used* to work at that kind of job? I’m struck by the fact that you apparently didn’t want to tell anybody that you were again looking for work in that area.

    I mean, there’s stuff you probably consciously know–that low-paid jobs aren’t necessarily unskilled, that job hires are competitive in all walks, and that having higher-paid experience doesn’t automatically make you a stronger candidate at a lower-paid position. But that doesn’t really seem to translate into your emotional understanding of the situation, and I’m wondering if you were able to be more pragmatic about lower-paid work if it wouldn’t be quite such an impossibility. (I mean, I get that minimum wage isn’t enough to pay for rent in some places, but neither is being unemployed, right? So that’s a bit of a red herring.)

    I’m not saying what you should or shouldn’t do, but I think if you can undo the self-message that minimum wage is somehow a sign of your failure to progress, it might be easier to make that decision.

  14. A Bug!*

    It all comes down to your own priorities. There are consequences for any choice you make, and as long as you’re the only one who has to face those consequences (i.e. your choice isn’t going to cause hardship for someone else), then you should be able to make that choice freely and without answering to anyone else.

    So, should you take a minimum wage job? From my perspective, some money coming in is better than no money coming in, and nothing’s stopping you from continuing to look for better work in the meantime. But that’s my perspective, as informed by my own priorities (financial security and a desire to avoid being a burden on others).

    You need to figure out what your priorities are and that will guide your search for employment.

    1. Ed*

      I am in my 40’s. worked my way up to lower/mid level management. Now unemployed and applying to wide net of industries. Retail, Restaurant, Sales, Office support. Guess what? No luck so far for 4 months.

      Also, it appears that a majority of employers are using these HRIS web portals. You know, Taleo, ADP, Xenaa, etc. waste an hour or two for even an $8-$10 an hour job with them. They ask you questions and ask background information that are for higher level and higher paying jobs. Then you get the auto email response that basically says to the extent, “After reviewing your qualifications, we regret to inform you that we have decided to look for others more qualified for our position.” This for someone to work at a retail store! And the employers want to know why so many people are angry and ticked off!

      Also, Walmart announced the 100,000 veterans that they will be hiring. This does sound good for Public Relations. However, are these all 40 hour work weeks? Are there benefits such as vacation, sick days, health insurance, dental insurance? The reality is that a vast majority of these jobs are part time with 31 hours or less so as to not have to pay benefits. I pray everyday that I will be able to provide for myself and family. It’s so hard to look at your kids and worry what the hell you are going to do to provide for them. So don’t say ” get whatever job you can”. I’ve been applying & interviewed. They are (1) worried you will not stay once a better job comes. (2) concerned that you will not fit in nor perform the job well because of your résumé, age, etc. (3) how much did you earn in the past? How much are you looking for now? What is the minimum pay you will need/take for this job?

      When you get to these questions, my experience so far has been, ” I’m not getting this job either!” I can say that as a former manager that conducted interviews, when I would see gaps, change in career path or even those that had to exit the “labor force” for family reasons, upper management would almost always turn them down. Best of luck to everyone out there.

  15. B*

    OP it sounds like you need some income. With your concern about a full-time job, and having time to interview, I would suggest a part-time job, retail, minimum wage, etc. In this scenario This you will have a bit of extra income, show full-time positions you were not sitting on your hands (I know you are not, however, many of them may see it that way) while having the flexibility to interview.

  16. Lexy*

    Hmmm… OP, it sounds like taking at least a part-time job that pays anything and holding on to it for a while would be good for you specifically.

    However as a tale of NOT taking whatever you can get let me share my own story.

    I was laid off in ’08 and looked pretty hard for similar work for about 6 months. I decided to finish my bachelors (I had dropped out a few years before) and get on track to get my CPA. I continued looking for work but it now had to help me get a job once I finished school. I didn’t want to take *any* job because I knew I needed specific experience and also flexibility to work around my class/exam schedule and the ability to do an internship hopefully.

    I was eventually able to find a campus job that used my accounting education and helped me get my (paid) internship which helped me get my big 4 offer. There’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with working at Claire’s, but it wouldn’t have done much for me professionally (keep in mind that I was 26 and had 5 years of full-time professional work history already) and the inflexibility of scheduling/etc. would have hurt my prospects.

  17. Faith*

    I took a temporary job working on the overnight shift for a store remodel at Target the summer after I graduated with my MA degree. I had started as a PhD candidate in English and, after four years of hating my life/my field, came to the conclusion that I needed to change careers. I did not have the luxury of hanging around waiting for a good job – I also had a resume that was totally unimpressive to any ‘real world’ employer. So I took the ‘temporary’ job rationalizing to myself that by the time the remodel ended I’d have a ‘real’ job.

    I didn’t. I was hired on permanently on the shelf-stocking team. So during the holiday season of 2010 I, with my BA from a top-50 liberal arts college and my MA degree, was getting ready for work by remembering my boxcutter and my name tag.

    Working there was one of the better career decisions I have ever made – really. The alternative may have been to become an adjunct instructor somewhere – a choice that, I assure you, offers even LESS dignity and opportunity for advancement than does a minimum wage job at McDonald’s. Instead I committed to the career change, knowing that having ANY work experience was better than having none. I also decided I would always be at work on time, not call in sick, and take every opportunity to learn new things – which I did. In January I got promoted to the Presentation team (visual merchandising) and in February 2011 I got a real part-time office job as a legal assistant as well as a freelance book-review writing gig.

    In April 2012 I had an interview for a pinch-me amazing paid internship at a university whose name you would definitely recognize and when they asked me the ‘describe a time you resolved a conflict with a coworker’ question do you know what experience I drew on? Target. That job, believe it or not, taught me some extremely valuable things about functioning in the work world and I would have missed out on that if I had turned my nose up at low-wage employment.

    (By the way – I landed that internship, with AAM’s help! I had training last week and my first official day is tomorrow).

    1. Sdhr*

      Great story. Some people just always “land on their feet”. I have a feeling you are one of those people. Maybe it’s the glass half full approach to life?

      1. Faith*

        Thank you! That is a huge compliment. Believe me, I did not feel ‘glass half full’ when I was putting refried beans on a shelf at 3 am. It was one of the darkest periods of my life and I don’t mean to suggest it was all sunshine and roses. It was a grind. But it meant that I could show that I was currently employed on my resume and I think that made a difference in getting my law office job. I also had an awesome support system – my family and my husband believed in me, and that made it way easier.

        For the OP – I worked retail this summer to pay the bills and hardly ever saw my husband because I was working a closing shift. My particular store was DESPERATE for closers in my department. It’s kind of a crappy shift to work because you’re working when most of the world is home from work. But for you that may actually be a benefit – make some money and have mornings free for interviews while also not having to deal with your husband. At my store you could change your availability after 90 days, so you might be able to stay while you go to school. Does working retail suck? Yeah, it does suck – it sucks a LOT. Does it suck more than not having any money and being stuck in an unsatisfying marriage? That’s something only you can answer.

  18. Anon...*

    “It has nothing to do with you — it’s just math”
    Thank you for this Alison – I think I’m going to pick a nice font, nice and large, print it out several copies for myself and put it up on my wall, my mirror, my fridge.. well, you get idea. I’m thinking that will help me remember a very important part of the equation!

  19. Steve G*

    I used to be like the OP then gave it up.

    I left a professional job and moved back to NY to my parents, to the Hamptons, thinking I’d find a job in the city and move in a few months. Well, that took a year to play out.

    so after a few months of interviews and nothing biting (2007 recession had already begun), I started looking for “min wage” work. Well, there is a whole class of people who guard those jobs for “their” people. Very hard to break into many of those jobs. Any job in a restaurant, for example, required a few years of restaurant experience. Everyone was guarding their turf.

    I eventually gave in and took a retail job for 6 months until I got a “real” job again.

    1. Kelly*

      In my city, my experience with restaurant work is that it really is better compensated than other wage jobs. At least in my state, servers make minimum wage + tips. So it’s markedly better than other minimum wage jobs and you have to work your way up by starting with the dishes or host/hostess gigs – which sometimes pay slightly more hourly but end up being a lot less since they don’t get tips.

      1. Steve G*

        Hi, true, I just felt like the places in the Hamptons exaggerated the basic qualifications. Of course, now that I think about, it was because I was unqualified to do waitstaffing, and to be a buss boy would have been at that point in my career obviously too low paying. But I was mentioning this to more mention a similar experience where someone was working too hard just to get a minimum (which meant anywhere from $11-15/hr here) paying job, that they sometimes think it isnt worth it.

        1. moss*

          Being a busboy is actually pretty good money. You get the regular minimum wage PLUS the servers tip you out at the end of the evening (usually 10% of their tips). And you don’t have to kiss as much ass as servers do.

  20. GeekChic*

    I agree with much of what AAM and the other commenters have said. My only addition is to be careful to not be too narrow when looking at what you “contribute” to a relationship when you are not working. There is, in my opinion, entirely too much focus on salary when the notion of contributing to a relationship or “being a burden” on others is raised.

    My story as an example: I’m the sole breadwinner in my marriage. My husband stays at home and is the house-spouse. He does all the cooking, cleaning, making of appointments, tending to the house, etc. It is an enormous relief to have him doing all of this work. He used to work outside the home and we quickly realized it was better (both economically and otherwise) for me to be the sole breadwinner.

    We are equal contributors to the relationship. We just contribute differently. My husband likes to joke that we have the stereotypical 1950s relationship – just with the gender roles reversed. People used to harass my husband to get a job but that has ceased since we pointed out that a) it was none of their business and b) it was sexist (did people in the 1950s assume housewives weren’t “contributing”?)

    1. Jamie*

      ITA. I was a SAHM for years and never for a second felt like a burden to my husband – it was a deliberate choice we made and it worked for our family.

      But it is a luxury when the sole breadwinner makes a comfortable enough living that this is an option. When one income doesn’t stretch far enough to cover the bills it’s a different dynamic.

      But I can’t agree with you more about the fact if pure self supporting outsiders who aren’t contributing financially should keep their opinions to themselves. It only becomes someone elses business when they have to pay to support those decisions.

    2. OP*

      That makes alot of sense…..except I want out of the marriage. I/we have issues but I’m not comfortable going into too many details. If I was to feel like I wasn’t a terrible burden on my spouse I don’t think I’d be so desperate in my job search (I know from this question I don’t seem desperate enough, but the job search + marital issues have made it a very emotional experience for me–more so than it has to be.)

      For the record, he makes a decent living and he could afford to support me too, but just doesn’t, or rather when he does, I’m made to feel like a terrible failure in life. Earlier this year, my savings ran out because I had been supporting myself while I was working (When I started working he cut me off). I needed $$ to pay my bills and it was an incredibly ugly and degrading experience to ask him to help me and I don’t think this has any place in any healthy marriage. I come from a culture where men are supposed to take care of women–I realize many may not agree with this but I ask that no one judge me for it either.

      I fully agree with you that in a good relationship, partners contribute equally–but nothing I do is considered a contribution.

      1. fposte*

        I can certainly see that you wouldn’t want to stay in that situation.

        If you’re looking at going back to school anyway, I would strongly suggest you look at 1) any and all financial aid available and 2) sharing housing. If you’re going to pursue your accounting study on-campus, you’re likely to be in an area where there’s a lot of shared rentals available. You may also find yourself in a milieu where there’s a more practical approach to whatever people are working at to pay the rent while they study, which is no bad thing.

      2. fposte*

        And also, OP, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry that so many things are conspiring to give you a rocky time right now. Job hunting is hard enough when the rest of your life is stable and supportive. I hope things improve for you.

      3. EngineerGirl*

        When I started working he cut me off. Uh-Oh. I get it. Just an FYI, I had a friend in a similar situation. In her case she got pregant as a teen, had 2 kids with her druggie boyfriend/husband. At one point realized “this is stupid”, put herself through school (with him trying to prevent it), moved with the kids out of state, and divorced him. She is one of the top-ranked engineers around today. So yes, this goal is absolutely possible. It just needs to be done in little steps, so don’t get overwhelmed by the task. Work each issue as it comes, and when setbacks come work those too.

  21. OP*

    oh boy…I didn’t mean to turn this into a post about my marital issues. wish I could edit that post now. But in any case, everything siad here makes alot of sense…and I’m going to start looking for min wage jobs as well as what I’m already looking for….jsut to get myself out of the house.

    1. H*

      Unfortunately it is part and parcel of the issue since it affects how a job will affect you! Job hunting is tied to a lot more than is immediately obvious at face value.

    2. Tel*

      Getting a job outside, even if it is part time, may be very helpful. You may feel more in control of your life, a have a bit of spending money, meet more people. You should still look towards continuing your education but this minimum wage job may actually help distract you and give you some relief.

  22. nyxalinth*

    I’ve had people ask me “Well, why don’t you just swallow your pride and work retail/fast food?”

    It isn’t that easy. My last retail job was 15 years ago (most places want recent experience from what I have seen, and this coupled with me having office and call center jobs makes them think I’ll leave soon as something else opens up) and here in Denver, if you aren’t Hispanic or a college kid, forget it!

    I’ve applied at many of these places many times. I have the right experience. But i can’t get in because my background shows too many better paying jobs.

    1. Jennifer*

      Yeah, this is what I was thinking. At some point, I think all of us are going to be forced to go after minimum wage work–but if you don’t have a resume full of minimum wage work and better jobs on your actual resume, then you won’t be able to even get that. Sure, you can make a dummy resume without your college degree on it, but if you haven’t waited tables, who’s going to give you a job waiting tables?

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Plus, many of those jobs are part-time, which doesn’t give enough hours (usually around 25 tops) and pay to make ends meet and still have time to job hunt. I figured out using a salary calculator that I would have to make at least $18 an hour at 25 hours just to pay all my bills at post-recession rates! No part-time job is going to pay that!

      2. Tel*

        You actually start by working in the kitchen doing anything. That’s how my husband did. He started as a busboy, got moved to waiting, went to do something else later on. At the same place, one of the dishwashers was eventually promoted to kitchen prep, now he is a cook.

        Btw, my husband had a bachelor’s degree in X and ended with the busboy stint because he couldn’t get anything else. And he was older. But someone figured it was worth giving him a chance. He was very responsible and that’s how he kept getting more hours and got moved to waiting tables, which paid significantly more. Some of the servers he worked with has started with catering and banquet companies. These are a lot easier to get hired with because employment is haphazard (are you available to come in this weekend and cater suddenly for an event? Okay, bring a black jacket. It’ll be at least 5 hours).

        There is no right ‘way’ to get such jobs, but you can get them. However, it is a fallacy to think they’re easy. :)

      3. Tel*

        Hey OP,

        Not everyone has it figured it out in their 20s. I did some low-paying and pretty shitty jobs in my twenties. I did meet some great people and some of them went out to have really good jobs. Networking, yay!

        At some points, I felt really bad because many of my classmates had their office, their nice new car and lots of money and we were the same age. But I let it go. Job situations change quite a bit and now that I am in my thirties, I’m one of the person’s in a very stable work situation. I’m middle management and I work with a great team. But it didn’t happen over night. I had to go back to school to update my schools and I accumulated some debt. I’m paying it off now and things are pretty fine, but it was sucky for a while. I’m talking 2-3 years, not months.

  23. nyxalinth*

    Oh, needed to add if you aren’t Hispanic or a college kid, forget working fast food here in Denver. I’ve been blown off every single time, despitr all their ads saying “No experience necessary”. Plus a friend (no longer working for them) at a McDonalds told me her manager never hires white people who apply. The woman finally got busted for it last year for discrimination and fired.

  24. OP*

    One reason that I’m really resistant to getting a min wage/low skill/retail/food service job is that my last job was actually really amazing.

    I had autonomy, I was in charge of people, I had flexibility (somewhat) in my timings; most of all I was allowed to make decisions, however small they were, it was still “my call.”

    This was my first job ever that I actually enjoyed going in every single day–even though there were hiccups with coworkers, my manager etc, there wasn’t a single day where I felt like not wanting to go in. Comparing that with my prior jobs, where I was micromanaged, had to ask permission to use the bathroom (!!), felt like blwoing off/walking away, dreading to go in every single day etc….this was a dream job. I now knew what it meant to actually want to work and do well at your job–before that a job had always been just a paycheck to me and something to get through.

    So there’s this big fear of, once I’ve experienced what it’s like to have a good job, I don’t know how I can go back to working on an extremely low level. I don’t kno whow many can relate?

    1. Anonymous*

      I can completely relate. Actually in more ways than one in this situation. I had to get the part-time retail job because I needed to pay bills, food, etc. does it completely cover…nope. I does it give me the flexibility to interview…yup. Was it a last resort and a bit swallowing of the pride…yup.
      All I can say is that it sucks right now and I have experience.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I know this might sound simplistic, but I think it comes down to getting really clear on what you want the most right now: money or a good job with autonomy. If you realize that making money is what you want the most right now, you might be wiling to put up with lack of autonomy. (And conversely, if you realize that you don’t want money more than a good job with autonomy, that might push you in another direction.)

    3. Rana*

      It might also help to think of it as a way to gain autonomy in other areas of your life, because from what you said above, you’re dealing with a lot of that sort of stuff at home, where you can’t easily get away from it at the end of the day, and where you’re not even being paid to put up with it.

    4. OP*

      That makes sense guys. I guess all this time I’ve been thinking more alnog the lines of quality over quantity so to speak, and if I have to wait a little longer to find it, so be it, because I’ve worked these kinds of jobs before and I know how they can just wear you out and make you feel like crap on a daily basis; I feel like this being home any way so might as well make a little bit of $$ doing it.

      1. Kelly*

        OP, I really feel for your situation, because I’m also a recent graduate who has gone looking for part-time work to cobble together. I’m getting turned down by positions in the 9-5 office realm that I have done before and originally wouldn’t have considered (receptionist gigs, etc). Through a weird twist I’d been working as a teacher and dept head at a high school for the past year and a half, so losing that autonomy hurts a little.

        BUT! I have recommendations about part-time retail/service jobs. There is a TON of variety, and this is the time of year when a lot of places lose their summer workers when they go back to school and have schedule changes, so everyone is hiring. Maybe apply to a bunch of retail work positions, but be discriminating!

        There is a more significant range than many people imagine in what different stores offer employees for an hourly wage. I just took a job with a slightly lower wage, partly because I could tell from my interview and meeting her team that this manager highly values and respects her employees. You know how Allison is always saying that an interview goes both ways? It does in wage jobs too! So apply to a bunch of places. And ask questions about their management – if you’ve been treated poorly before you will probably know the warning signs when you hear them.

        Another thing to keep in mind with not hearing back from places, is that retail sometimes works a little more old school. While that advice about following up in person is super dated for office/professional jobs, checking back after applying to meet the manager and make sure they’ve received the application has gotten me a lot of interviews. You can demonstrate that you are personable, which is something those jobs tend to look for, and that you follow through.

        Sorry, I’m starting to feel like an expert in this – but it REALLY doesn’t have to be so bleak.

        1. NicoleW*

          I like this post. There are lots of types of low wage jobs – and I can sympathize with hating retail!

          I found I was completely not cut out for the part-time retail (children’s clothing store) I worked in. I hated folding clothes and tidying the store, but I liked working the register okay. On the other end of the spectrum, I loved working at a concessions stand in a sports arena. That was better paid, more autonomy, and I knew the owner (3rd party vendor) – total stand up guy. I even became a manager – so there was a good deal of math/accounting/inventory each event. I liked knowing what to prep each day, when our busy times would be, and when we’d close the stand. The only downside was that there weren’t events every day and there were almost zero events in the summer.
          If I needed a minimum wage job now, I think I’d try to be a cashier at Target, maybe some kind of food service.

          Another thing, if you love sports or concerts, maybe try to be an usher. If you live near a major sports venue, like hockey or basketball, their seasons are starting now.

          Good luck, OP!

  25. Anonymous*

    I recently took a minimum wage job in fast food out of necessity. I’m a college grad trying to find work in my chosen field and would be happy to accept a minimum wage job in that field if I could get it, but no luck so far.

    If there had been ANY other way for me to pay the bills, I would have opted not to work in my current job since it’s slowly destroying my soul – the past few days I spent my lunch break crying in the back office. Sadly, minimum wage jobs in retail or food service can really get to you if you’re sensitive. And nothing will make you lose faith in humanity faster. So I totally get where the OP is coming from.

    (P.S. I am, of course, looking for other work but it’s tough.)

    1. Sdhr*

      Do you think it’s different for you now than if you were doing this job while in college or high school? I only ask because I’ve worked both fast food and retail management and didn’t lose my faith in humanity. Sometimes working in corporate America makes me lose my faith in humanity…..but that’s anger story.

      Anyway, maybe it’s just that you (and OP) need perspective. You are both in your twenties, I would guess, and there is enormous pressure to make the right decisions and plan your career and have it all figured out. I remember how hard that was for me and the economy was good when I was that age. Remember this is not forever and every single day you can learn something. Read about the poster above who worked a remodel at Target.

      With decades behind me, I can tell you that this isn’t the only time you will feel demoralized. You may have a dream job and lose it because the company is bought or the budget is cut. You may be thisclose to getting an awesome job offer and the company decides to reorg. You may love your boss but she may get fired. You may have people working for you that are no good but you are stuck with them. It goes on. Make the best of what your working life throws at you.

      1. OP*

        I’m in my late 20s and I feel like my life is going nowhere; the people I went to school with–and even younger–seem to be settled in their careers/families (of course I know everyone has their struggles and I don’t claim that they have easy lives) and everywhere I go I hear that THIS is the time to settle down and that it gets difficult as I get older. Each day feels like time is lost or wasted. Like someone else said, finding a job is hard enough when everything else in your life is stable and people are supportive, but when the people closest to you make you feel like a failure, thinking with a clear and positive attitude can feel like a challenge on some days. I know the future won’t be all rosy either (not that i’m implying you said that) but right now it would be nice to see things going well for a change

        1. fposte*

          It’s kind of like how when you’re really dragged down with the flu or a cold and you just can’t believe you won’t always feel this bad. But I really think you won’t always feel this bad. (And honestly, any time you feel like settling down is the right time to settle down. It’s not a time-limited possibility.)

          I also think that you might check out some sliding-scale counseling services, if you’re not already seeing somebody. (That’s another advantage of a university connection–it often involves access to such service.) To have somebody who’s there to be on Team You, as Captain Awkward says, and to help you sort things out could be really helpful now. And do as much as you can to take care of yourself generally–see friends, pet kittens or puppies, make sure you go for a walk or go for a run or do something physical, because that’s really important in keeping mentally resilient.

        2. LMW*

          That’s a really common feeling to have in your late 20s! Especially when things aren’t going right in your career or personal life or both and it seems like life is roses for everyone around you.

        3. DawnSpringHR*

          “I’m in my late 20s and I feel like my life is going nowhere; the people I went to school with–and even younger–seem to be settled in their careers/families”

          I can completely relate to this feeling! Does it help to know that the late 20s are a rough transition time for *many* people? Lots of marriages/divorces/babies/career changes/returns to school/going on walkabout . . . It’s like a bunch of us wake up and say ‘what am I doing with my life?’ and then proceed to go out and change huge portions.

          I can say this: don’t let other’s timeframes dictate yours. (ugh, I wish I could think of a more elegant way to phrase that.) Your role in the world is unique, and how you navigate life will be unlike anyone else. You are not wasting time if you don’t know which direction to go in, or have only crappy options to choose from.

    2. Anonymous*

      I absolutely agree. Some people are honey badgers and don’t care, but if you’re a thoughtful and sensitive type and/or the type who wants to do even the lowest job spectacularly, the people will destroy your soul. They lie and cheat and steal. They involve their kids in the lying and cheating. They jeer at your gay coworker and proclaim that they won’t let a black cashier help them. They ask for impossible things and when you tell them that no, you can’t start a “tab” at a retail store just because their card declined, they ask for your name and you know corporate won’t care what you have to say about it.

      Even if things change and I get a better job, I’ve seen things that make me so sad inside that I don’t know if I even want to live in a world where every third person has the capability of demanding that someone be fired over a coupon.

      1. Kelly*

        I have had really, really bad hourly wage retail/service jobs that sound like your description. And I’ve had really good, respectful workplaces that cared about their employees in the same sorts of jobs. I don’t know what the proportion of bad to good managers is in other fields, but I really do think this is something that just varies. Some people on here make hourly wage jobs sound like the 8th circle of hell – I just wonder if they are really that unique? Have I just been lucky?

        1. Anonymous*

          For me it’s not my boss (who’s neither great nor horrible) nor my co-workers (who I like just fine). It’s the customers. I’ve had hourly min wage jobs outside of customer service that I’ve loved – in fact, the entry level position for the career path I’d like to pursue is minimum wage (but with lots of OT) and I would kill to be able to do it. I’m just not cut out for customer service.

  26. MA*

    Just to clear up – in MA teachers cannot get UE during the summerbifnthey have reassurance of a job in the following school year.

    In MA you MUST have a Master’s degree to teach in the public schools, so it can be worth it to get an MA, if I did not get one, I would be unemployed right now!! Not sure if other states require a MA to be a public school teacher though.

    Just wanted to clear that up.

    And, if you are really good at your min wage job, you tend to move up fast, so I see min wage jobs as a great way to start out!

  27. Yet Another Jeff*

    To Anonymous @ 8:17 PM (and to the OP if applicable): Next time you can finagle a day off from the crummy job, go to every temp agency in your vicinity, take their placement/skills tests & get your name on their rolls. If you’re in contact with several temp agencies on an ongoing basis, they’ll probably be able to keep you busy – and usually at more than minimum wage, assuming you have even an elementary baseline of office skills. You probably won’t be at any one place long enough to get into a soul-destroying funk; once the agencies realize you’re reliable and conscientious, you’ll get more and better assignments; and there’s at least a chance that a temp gig could turn into a full-time job. That’s how I survived the early and mid 1990’s in southern CA after the aerospace/defense industry (and my job of 11 years) evaporated. When we moved to the Seattle area, I repeated the process & wound up fairly quickly with a permanent job that I still have.

    1. K.*

      once the agencies realize you’re reliable and conscientious, you’ll get more and better assignments
      This is definitely true. I’ve temped, and I started by saying “I don’t care what it is, I’ll do it.” That got me the reputation as someone who would work, and that led to a job with a new client of theirs that I kicked ass at (which made the temp agency look great), and that almost (sigh) led to something permanent. And temping can pay decently, depending on what you’re doing.

    2. mh_76*

      Depends. I’ve talked to countless agencies, taken the tests over and over, sometimes more than once at the same agency (granted a year or more apart), and none of those found me any work at all. One agency has found me multiple jobs but the pay stunk and the jobs weren’t even entry-level…but I need to eat. Another agency found me 2 jobs but has since gone under. The large agencies have been zero help.

      But do go through the process anyway because it does somehow work for some people and worst-case scenario, at least you’re going throug the motions that might work with the next recruiter…or the next…or…

    3. OP*

      So I guess this is the best time to ask and this might sound stupid but….how do you actually GO to recruiters? I mean I hear that they all want you to submit a resume online. If you went into their buliding armed with a resume, would they be willing to take you on as clients??? I’m assuming that’s not how it works is it?

      I have never gotten a job through temp agencies, mostly because some of them just have the strangest requirements….like one entry level office job wanted someone who had experience filing papers in a filing cabinet. I mean…..how difficult is that? WHY do I need 3 years of filing papers experience to file papers? I mean I”m not refusing to go to temp agencies by any means, but I’m never sure how to work with them. Some say keep in touch, and I email twice a month but those emails go ignored.

      1. K.*

        Google “temp agency [city where you live],” or go to Yelp or Glassdoor and see what agencies have been reviewed favorably. If you’re looking for agencies that recruit for specific fields like accounting, Google “accounting staffing agency [city where you live]”. Go to their websites and call them, saying you’re interested in registering with their agency. They’ll tell you to apply online or email them your resume; do so, and then call back in a day or two to follow up – ask if you can come in and speak with someone. I’ve never heard of the drop-in approach working, but I don’t know everything.

        Once you’re registered (and you should register with all the agencies you can find), the results are going to be mixed. I talked to someone today who found his permanent, in-his-field, at a highly desirable company job through an agency that I and others have described, often, as useless – he is literally the only person I know who has gotten any kind of work there, or who has even spoken to his recruiter again after the initial meeting. So you never know. But you really won’t know unless you apply.

        And once you’re registered, persistence is key. I would call my agencies first thing in the morning and tell them I was available. You want to stay on their radar.

      2. Yet Another Jeff*

        Hi, OP – Start with your local Yellow Pages (either online or dead-tree version) & look for “Employment Services: Employment Agencies, Temporary Jobs.” Call several of them & ask for appointments to come in to take their skills tests and see if they have anything on hand that you might be a “fit” for. Bring a resume when you go to the appointment & be prepared to fill out a standard-type job app. Once you’re on their list, and unless they say otherwise, check in with them *daily* – I used to do so with a phone call; email wasn’t in universal use yet in the early 1990s. Try to establish a rapport with at least one person from each agency’s placement staff; if you’re trying your luck with several agencies, eventually you’ll establish a mutually beneficial relationship with one or two of them. Back in the day, I wound up on a first-name basis with the two placement staffers at an agency in San Bernardino, CA; it got to the point where some of their clients they’d placed me at would request me by name whenever they had another need down the road.

        1. K.*

          In my opinion you should definitely check in via phone; a phone call is harder to ignore than an email.

          1. Just Another Jeff*

            Thanks for mentioning that, K – it’s been about 15 years since I was pounding the temp trail, so more recent experience can only add to this conversation!

        2. OP*

          Thank you K and Yet Another Jeff. I’ve looked up several recruiting agencies in my city, and am looking for the contact information of other staffing agencies I’ve been in touch with in the past; I may need to re-register and send them updated information. I’ve been combing through AAM archives all weekend for tips on fixing up my resume and cover letter(s). I’m actually already registered with what’s considered one of the top agencies in the country–unfortunately 2 months have passed since I was in last contact with him which looks so bad on my part..

          1. mh_76*

            Also set up a profile on monster.com or indeed.com. I have a summary version of my resume on there (was getting contacted about too many things that didn’t interest me at all so I yanked the full resume) but it’s up to you whether you put your full resume up or just a summary. Recruiters are all over those sites looking for resumes. Be careful, though, because some are not legit* and if you’re in an area that has lots of agencies/recruiters, there’s no reason to talk to any that aren’t local unless you’re planning to move. The not-legit ones are pretty easy to spot because they are usually not local, their emails look like pre-fab junk and usually have mis-spellings & bad grammar, and sound too good to be true (anything that sounds TGTBT probably is).

            *I’d be happy to put up in the comments some samples of the not-legit emails that I get from “recruiters” that I think are probably scams.

          2. Anonymous*

            Yelp is a good resource for temp agency reviews, but a lot of them are either really good or really bad. I think you would have better luck just asking around. Verbal references are usually a little more valid than internet ones. People who have axes to grind (e.g – “They were terrible! I signed up with them and they had the audacity to offer me a two week part time office gig that paid 10 an hour! I’ve got 50+ years experience and a PhD in rocket science! How dare they!”) usually post.

      3. Rana*

        Also, don’t worry about those odd requirements; my experience has been that if you have basic language and math skills (that is, you can put files away in proper alphabetical order and you can add, subtract, multiply and divide) that alone puts you ahead of a lot of other would-be temps. Add in computer skills, flexibility in scheduling, and you’re desirable.

        The possible exception would be if it’s a temp agency specializing in a particular skill set; I’ve seen some that focus on placing graphic designers and IT people, for example, or ones that specialize in sales personnel. But you can usually tell if it’s that kind by visiting their web site.

        As for getting on their rosters, some want you to apply online and then set up an appointment; others are happy to take you as you walk in. I myself generally called ahead, asked when a good time was to come in, and showed up with several copies of my resume, dressed as for an interview. Expect to spend a few hours taking tests to determine your skills, too.

        Afterward when they say “keep in touch” my experience has been that means “call them each morning when they open to see if they have anything available that day.” And if you don’t have a cell phone, get one, so you’re not stuck waiting by the phone all day. Some of my better assignments came at the very last minute.

        1. Jamie*

          I don’t know about the scarcity of the basic skills, that was OT my experience. However, I can vouch for our last point.

          If you’re available on super short notice every so often you can clean up. I remember getting $19 an hour to man the reception desk at a retirement home because I was available with no notice.

          Get up each morning and shower, get ready so you are ready to toss on business clothes and shoot out the door.

          Now, I temped 2005-2007 and the first stint of 14 months here were only three days which I wasn’t working – multiple long term assignments and a lot of filler jobs in between. I had a great relationship with my agent at the agency and she told me that it comes down to availability and reliability. It doesn’t matter how competent you are, they won’t trust sending you to one of their important clients if you don’t have a reputation for showing up.

          I’ve never called to check in, so I don’t know how that works. Maybe things have changed.

          Temping can be slow going at first – but building up good feedback and a reputation can help. There may not be enough work for constant employment now, but the better your reputation with the agency you will be at the top of the pile for the good assignments.

      4. Lisa*

        I was unemployed for 2 years, and it was because of staffing agencies that I am now a regular employee again (through one of the positions!). I graduated as a public relations major, worked at a marketing agency, began unemployment, and now I’m in web development and it’s a MUCH better fit for me… I would NEVER have known this without staffing agencies, which gave me the experience I need to start applying to web dev positions on my own when I choose.
        Don’t see them as a place to “file papers.” The first job they give you might be that, but it’s really just to see if you’re the kind of person who shows up to work on time, looks professional, etc. The ones I’ve worked with (in the DC area), interviewed me for what skills I have, where I see myself heading, what positions would NOT be suitable to me, etc. In the end, I now have solid work experience and the gap of unemployment is being pushed further down on my resume. Also, the pay is usually better than minimum wage. My lowest-paid job through a staffing agency was $15/hr. and you’ll get benefits (when they kick in varies per company).
        Always maintain open, honest communication with your managers and don’t be afraid to take some positions that, although they seem a little too far out of your intended career path, may put you in a better position later on (varied experience, seeing both sides of an industry, communication skills with a variety of teams…). They have been my saving grace: I also didn’t want to work min wage because I thought I’d get stuck there. Best of luck to you! You WILL make it through!

        1. Suzanne*

          I used a temp agency once and I spent the next nine months in worker hell. At least 2/3 of the group I started with called the temp agency and asked to be re-assigned and were all told that there weren’t any other positions and that they had a contract with the company. I swear, I still have nightmares about that job.

          I’d try one again if necessary, but not the one I went through.

        2. Jamie*

          “Don’t see them as a place to “file papers.” The first job they give you might be that, but it’s really just to see if you’re the kind of person who shows up to work on time, looks professional, etc.”

          This is absolutely right. Temp agencies are going to give the good assignments to their known commodities – there is a little bit of dues paying but it’s not long. Just show you’re willing to do the less glamorous assignments willingly and well to earn trust.

          Also, this is one area where I wouldn’t recommend calling out sick unless it’s 100% unavoidable. They are skittish about unreliability and if you accept an assignment it’s not like a regular job – you should move heaven and earth to make sure you don’t miss any time. The exception will be long term assignments where you’re technically a temp, but are working more like a regular employee. Be very cautious, even then.

          If you need time between assignments, that’s usually fine – but when contracted for an assignment just showing up 100% of the time will put you ahead of a lot of your competition.

          1. OP*

            Oh I didn’t mean to imply taht a job “just filing papers” is beneath me–I meant that even a job that required mostly filing papers was asking for years of experience, which I didn’t have, and that was what frustrated me about my experience with one staffing agency. I would just like any job in an office and I know I’ll be willing to work hard and do my best at it.

  28. Anonymous*

    I can understand the OP’s concern about a minimum wage job taking up too much of her time to search for a better one, because that’s the situation I’m in. I applied to all the retail/food places in the area and jumped at the chance to work at a retailer. It was supposed to pay my bills while I searched for a professional job where I could put my degree to use. That was a year ago.

    It started out around 15 hours a week, and then because I’m reliable and immediately caught on to the hardest job (returns/help counter), they started giving me more. Not 40, because God forbid I be eligible for…you know, anything. But 30-37 1/2. I have bare minimum expenses and it’s still a struggle.

    And I’m exhausted. I’m on my feet or running around all day. I can’t afford to buy good food so I live on Ramen and sandwiches, or baked goods if people bring them into work, so I’m always low on energy from eating crappy food.

    My schedule is erratic so I can’t set aside specific days or times for interviews. I’ve had a couple offers but they were very rigid on what days/times they had available and I would have had to call out “sick” to do it. (A great benefit of having a specialty in retail is that there isn’t anyone else who can cover your shift because they’re already scheduled the max that week). Since those interviews sounded perfunctory–I’m not a stellar candidate and there was no preliminary phone interview, so it sounded like they were just doing screening interviews–I couldn’t justify the risk.

    I had to cut back on my volunteering because I never know what days I’ll be available any given week. I do still help out at one place because she understands my schedule. But honestly, sometimes I have to drag myself in there. I hate my job so much that I live for my days off when I get to tackle the two million things on my to-do list that I can’t get done on days I work because a) if I do them before work, I might burn out later in the day and b) I can’t do them when I get home because I’m too tired to move. Or I apply for jobs. I never have downtime to read or just be me.

    If the OP has a spouse supporting her and does not HAVE to work, I’d absolutely encourage her to use her time volunteering or on an internship. Everyone’s situation is different, but yes, sometimes getting any job just to have one can trap you in a vicious cycle. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to break out of it, and if I had a choice like the OP does, I know what I’d do.

    1. Anonymous*

      Another poster made the cold/flu analogy where when you feel horrible, it seems like you’ll always feel that way, but it will pass. It sounds like your job is weighing on you physically and emotionally. I know how difficult it is for a hard worker to take time off but I suggest taking the occasional sick/personal day and shelling your interviews on those days (if you’re lucky to get multiple, squeeze them in in one day). I hope our situation works out and that you find something you enjoy!

    2. Louis*

      The OP says she want’s to end the mariage.

      Unless your spouse is doing something very wrong to you (I’m thinking abuse / violence), I personnally don’t think it’s very ethical to stay in the relationship let him cover for all your expense while you get all setup and then dump him.

      I don’t know all the details so it’s hard to comment, but I want to end a relationship, I end the relationship. I don’t pretend everything is all and good till i’m in a better position to leave.

      “Thanks for paying for rent the last 6 month honey… btw I got this great new job and I’m leaving you”

      Of course some situation might justify this behavior, but most of the time. I’ts not working , just get out.

      1. OP*

        that’s an…interesting perspective…I haven’t looked at it that way :/

        However, I would prefer to not discus my marital issues here–I would like to try my best to keep my personal and professional life seperate as I can. But thanks for the comment.

  29. JessB*

    I’m working as a temp (in mostly admin jobs) while I look for work in the field I’m qualified in (librarian). A lot of the skills are transferrable, and I can make a case that I’m getting experience and using some of my skills.

    On occasion I have applied for jobs that are not in my field, while I was studying, and for those jobs, I have tailored my resume and cover letter very carefully to highlight why I am suited for that job. I’m lucky in that I have experience in the food service industry that I can bring to the fore when talking about why I am a good fit for the job.

  30. ConsideringRetail&FoodService*

    Like the OP, I’ve been very reluctant to apply for retail/food service both for reasons of pride and also not wanting the work to interfere with my search for a “real” job. But it’s been months of fruitless job-searching and even though I can live rent-free at my parents for as long as I need to, I’m starting to look for part-time retail positions. I want to take classes part-time next semester, so I will need something to keep me afloat then, and I also think I can gain valuable skills in such a customer-facing job. But I hear out-of-work white collar workers talk like they could have a retail or food service position with the snap of their fingers if they were only willing to “lower themselves” and I wonder how easy it actually is. Some of the replies have touched on this, but retail/food service is come with their own skill set and it’s generally not something a university education prepares you for.

    If I were a store manager, I would not hire myself for a retail position. So what are us who are caught between being underqualified for a professional position and a weird combination of overqualified/underqualified (overqualified for having a BA or MA, underqualified because of not having worked in retail/food service before) supposed to do?

    1. Rana*

      I ended up freelancing, myself. But I don’t recommend it unless you’ve got the resources to get through several years being paid pretty much nothing while you build up your client base.

    2. Lisa*

      Same advice as above: apply to every relevant staffing agency in your area. Note that some are better than others: some agencies are “temp agencies,” so you’d maybe show up at a place for a few days. Some places are “staffing agencies,” and you’re more like a contractor. You should ask when you interview with them what kind of positions they fill and for how long is the typical assignment. Either way, I’d still work with both. Temp agencies have a larger volume of work while staffing agencies will have better assignments. Keep in touch with your managers/POC at each agency to keep your name on their radar. Good luck!

  31. Out of touch*

    Are temp agencies a tough go nowadays as well? I did that when I was in OP’s spot, but that was in 1982. (terrible job market then too.)

    1. LMW*

      Actually, temp employment is on a roll right now because employers are reluctant to commit to regular employees.
      OP, consider emphasizing your accounting background–that might get your some better paying opportunities. And in most cases it’s best to fill out the applications online, then go visit in person. And if you can angle yourself towards more professional-type agencies (Experis, Accountemps, etc.), you’ll probably land a better gig. Also, if you’re flexible and willing to work short gigs on short notice–and then dazzle when your do. I work in the industry, and we actually keep hearing that it’s hard for our recruiters to find people with the right level of experience for temp jobs who are reliable. A basic level of professionalism is totally absent in most people who apply for these jobs.
      One thing you can do when you go in is ask what skill they most need that they can’t find right now, then see if that is something you can quickly acquire through an online course.

  32. Lisa*

    Hey, OP.

    Are you in an abusive marriage? From some of your responses, it sounds like you are. Read this:


    There are organizations that can help you if your need is to leave an abusive relationship. Housing assistance and job placement help are likely available. I am a Victim Advocate and I help domestic violence survivors find both of these things. If you are just you, no kids, no pets, there’s an awful lot of help available. Please don’t feel ashamed to consider that option if you are being abused. When that weight is off of your shoulders, you will likely come across much better in job interviews. Employers seem to shy away from people who are so downtrodden at home that they feel miserable even during an interview.

    If this is just incompatibility and an unhappy marriage, I apologize for being presumptuous, but my radar pinged the instant you mentioned being married–BEFORE the post about your spouse being unkind to you when you lost your job. Please consider whether or not your best option is simply to GET OUT by any means possible. Emotional abusers often eventually become physical and/or sexual abusers.

  33. Rachel B*

    I agree with AAM. I also think it matters who you may meet during your low-paying job. After the crash, my sweetie took a job as a receptionist/mail delivery person for an office center. He met loads of small business owners, doctors ad lawyers who rented office space there. He was pleasant and charming, even though he was way overqualified for the $11/hour job (Masters degree, ran ESL schools in Taiwan, etc). His connections there helped him secure a great “real” job in Development.

    Obviously, fast food may not offer the same type of network, but you never know who you may meet and impress by being competent and polite.

  34. Katie*

    I agree with AAM completely. It depends if there are kids involved or you are relying on someone else to foot the bill (and they were pushing you to get a job).

  35. Anonymous*

    I remember thinking along the lines when I graduated a couple of years ago. I didn’t want to work in retail. A fellow graduate had taken a job in a supermarket, and all I can think of was that I never wanted to land there. Unfortunately, that’s where it came to. I’m still there, but I have also started to put my foot into my field as things started to open up a little more since the downfall of the economy. Just as a quick background – when things get rough in my field, the alternative for companies is to make entry-level positions volunteer positions (or college internships) or to eliminate them entirely.

    So yes, I do work about $2-3 above minimum wage with hours that vary from week to week. That latter half usually has to do with my coworkers who seem to want to really work some weeks and not so much the others. My company is financially strapped, constantly threatening to close stores. There is a union which keeps people at their levels unless you have some ridiculous amount of years under your belt and can play the seniority card. And I still work there. I try to find the positives, and I also use it as motivation to keep me searching for other jobs. I have even so much as given myself a timeline for when I want to get out of there.

    You have to do what you have to – even if that means getting a retail/food service industry job. And, with all due respect to the OP, I have an issue with some of your reasons as to why you don’t want a minimum wage job; in my opinion, and maybe it’s due to my bias that I have described here, but to many people, this is a “real” job. It is to me. I take it seriously. I do my best. It is my income. So while you say you’re not acting entitled, I think you are trying to fool yourself. I don’t mean to sound mean, but it’s the reality of the world right now. You might just have to take one.

    1. Anonymous*

      Silver lining: This may not apply to your supermarket, but I think there are some grocery stores with employee discounts of some sort. Nothing like cutting food costs to make that minimum wage go further!

    2. OP*

      My sincerest apologies–I don’t mean to disrepsect anyone. I never meant that low-wage jobs are “fake” or that they shouldn’t be taken seriously. I know there are many hardworking people who take their job seriously. Like I said in my original letter I respect everyone who can make an honest living. Again my apologies.

      1. RW*

        OP, I don’t think you are disrespecting anyone. Minimum wage jobs, in my opinion, do not get enough money for the difficulty and intensity of the work they require. That alone is enough of a reason to avoid getting one, if possible.

        I respect minimum wage workers–that’s why I believe they should get paid a LIVING WAGE–which for most cities is quite a bit higher than the legal minimum wage.

        1. Jamie*

          This gets very sticky from a financial standpoint.

          Yes, as a human being I would love for everyone to make a comfortable living. However, all positions add a certain amount of value. If you pay people more per hour than their contribution is worth to the company then everyone will be out of a job. That is just not sustainable.

          Companies should pay a fair market wage, but unfortunately for many low wage workers the market wage for this labor is less because it’s unskilled/low skilled and easily learned by someone else. If you increase the minimum wage beyond what makes financial sense you the result will be some people getting slightly more per hour, and many others facing long term unemployment because there just won’t be as many jobs out there.

          The truth is the best way to argue for more money is to be as non-fungible as possible. A scarcer (by comparison to the average) skill set and work product will be worth more than the best efforts in the world at a task most people can be taught to do.

      2. Tel*

        Hey OP,

        Not everyone has it figured it out in their 20s. I did some low-paying and pretty shitty jobs in my twenties. I did meet some great people and some of them went out to have really good jobs. Networking, yay!

        At some points, I felt really bad because many of my classmates had their office, their nice new car and lots of money and we were the same age. But I let it go. Job situations change quite a bit and now that I am in my thirties, I’m one of the person’s in a very stable work situation. I’m middle management and I work with a great team. But it didn’t happen over night. I had to go back to school to update my schools and I accumulated some debt. I’m paying it off now and things are pretty fine, but it was sucky for a while. I’m talking 2-3 years, not months.

  36. RW*

    I was very interested in this post because I ask myself every day if I should be applying for minimum wage jobs in addition to jobs in my field. I graduated with a master’s degree in social work in May and have no experience other than the internships through my school. I have suffered from depression for about 15 years, with varying degrees of severity, so I didn’t work an actual job while I was in school–it was hard enough to have the energy to do the work I already had, and I felt too insecure to ask my profs if they needed an assistant to help with research or with teaching undergrad classes (especially after I contacted one prof, got told he didn’t need help, and then a few months later another classmate got the gig).

    I also consider myself to have physical limitations because I am 4’10” and not able to lift people (for a CNA job) or heavy loads–though I probably could if I worked out A LOT for awhile. So many jobs are not an option.

    Currently I am mostly interviewing for part-time jobs that I think I would actually like and trying to build my skills through volunteer work, which is also a good way to meet people in my field in my area. I REALLY hope this is the right approach, but, of course, being depressed leads me to be uncertain and sometimes pessimistic.

    1. Victor*

      I disagree. Grades and academics are far more important than meager level work experience. One big note: how much more successful is practically everyone who declines entering the workforce to spend another 2-3 years getting a masters degree than those who graduate with bachelors?

      An impressive transcript is a terrible thing to spring up against experienced but undereducated individuals. It shows that you have a knack to learn quickly and grasp the job easier, so managers will hire you. Anybody here sides for minimum wage jobs? That’s proof that academic performance is better.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Wait, what? Talk to tons of people who went to grad school in the last few years, still can’t get a job, and now have loan debt on top of that.

        Most savvy hiring managers value work experience over graduate degrees (with the exception of a few fields that require the graduate degree).

        1. Victor*

          Work experience in a minimum wage job means nothing. Anyone could work most minimum wage jobs. Although a few grad students couldn’t find jobs, a ton more undergraduate students cannot find jobs in their corresponding degrees they earned. When you are pursuing the most competitive degrees its better to show that you mastered the knowledge associated with the careers that pertain to it rather than work a low wage job. And why argue? Both of them serve their own purposes. Compare apples to bananas while we’re at it.

  37. TheSnarkyB*

    Wow. I found the tone of this letter really disheartening. Despite your caveats, you still used the term “real job,” which can get rude/offensive/just sad pretty quickly, as well as saying you “weren’t good enough for a bakery.” (Do you have experience in a bakery?)
    Then I scrolled down and saw that this already has 128 comments and I smiled :)
    Honestly, I don’t know what they say yet but the fact that that smile was so automatic means- I missed my little AAM community this weekend! Hello friends :)

  38. A.M.B.*

    I highly recommend signing up with a staffing agency. They can be a lifesaver. They pay higher than minimum wage, you get to do “real” work, and there are a lot of employers who search for full-time workers directly, or through a temp-to-perm arrangement. The best part? It is completely understood that you may be looking for work elsewhere and you can leave at any time (tactfully and without burning bridges, of course).

    1. nyxalinth*

      This. Most agencies are pretty good to work with, just keep in mind they serve their client, and not the employees.

      The only troubles I’ve had were some screw-ups (one sent me to a place that had no idea of who I was or why I was there, and the woman at the agency was out of the office all week, no one else could help and one where the firm had sent me some tests through the agency, but the link didn’t work, and all attempts with the woman at the agency failed to generate any help on this–again, out of the office, no one else could help).

      Some agencies place fake ads, too. well, not really fake: it’s ads for older jobs already filled, or jobs “of the sort we get often” in order to get people to sign up. BananaTwo (name disguised so someone from their company doesn’t come in here and start ranting) is infamous for this.

      I sound terribly negative here, I know, it’s just some things I’ve experienced. I’ve also had some great seasonal call center work for agencies, that I loved.

  39. Camellia*

    Admitting that I know absolutely zero about this, you mentioned doing taxes and liking it, so can you leverage that in any way with private accounting firms or even the national chains like H&R Block?

    1. OP*

      I am actually very much against the national chains for a few reasons.

      When I was looking for work last year, I took a course with one of them and I don’t think it helped me very much at all (that’s not why I don’t like them though); I also didn’t like their advertising techniques (that’s one reason [valid or not] that I don’t like them).

      Ideally I would love to get a job at a private accounting firm (any size!) and work for them during the tax season and do other things for them during the rest of the year. The problem with doing taxes is that unless you’re a full fledged tax accountant/tax attorney, you’re not likely to be employed after April 15th. to be a tax accountant…you need a degree in accounting which is what I intend to do in the future.

      1. fposte*

        On the one hand, that’s a reasonable position about the national chains. On the other hand, it may not be a position that holds more value for you than achieving financial independence.

        I still feel like you’ve got a bit of an ideal in your head of where you are and what you should be doing, and you’re talking about options really only in accordance with that ideal–the dream job, the apartment on your own. And while heaven knows I don’t know what’s right or possible for you, I think you’re cutting off options if you don’t think about the advantages other kinds of existences might provide you right now–that, for instance, a couple of years with a friendly roommate and a job where you get to build your job history and sit down at the same time may be a lot more gratifying than where you are now.

        1. OP*

          I probably do. I mean that’s my ideal work situation–but I know I can’t wait around forever for an ideal. As much as I’d like to separate my professional and nonprofessional life, I know some issues from the latter are crossing over into the former (i.e., not wanting to settle because I’m not good enough for anything better). Just a matter of the heart catching up to the head :-)

          1. Jamie*

            I hope you take your own advice and separate the personal from the professional as this will make it a lot easier.

            Remember that when you commit to a job your not signing up for forever. Your only obligation is to do the best job you can for a reasonable period of time and then give proper notice when you leave for something else. That it’s transitory is built into the equation when it comes to work – in a way that it just isn’t when it comes to marriage.

            Besides – this is where the dating/relationship analogy falls apart when drawing correlations between that and the workplace. People need jobs, we need income…and if the ideal isn’t available we need to get the best we can at the time and hope to move up later. People don’t need a relationship, strictly speaking. If something doesn’t work out in a marriage or relationship you don’t need to find a replacement right away. You can afford to (and should) take the approach that nothing is better than a less than perfect fit.

            But with jobs? It’s always a less than perfect fit – at least at the beginning.

            I, like many people, have been through a divorce and the instability of the transition is really scary. But it’s part of the process and the healing comes from moving from the “what if” to the “what’s next” stage.

          2. Janelle*

            Hi OP,

            Are you aware that it is possible to complete an accounting degree online? I was in a position similar to yours three years ago and very depressed. I decided to start a pet sitting company because I could find zero work at any level. I was not prepared for how much hard work it was – twelve hour days often, and seven days a week. After two years I thought I was going to lose my mind.

            I wanted to finish the occupational therapy degree I had started and put many years into, but just couldn’t swing it. So I started to look into online programs for careers that were in great demand. I found out that there is a constant need for teachers of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility instructors and that these programs can be completed almost entirely online. That is what I’m working on now and believe me, it puts my job in a much different perspective. Since I really want this degree I now see my work as a very useful means to an end (don’t get me wrong, I LOVE animals, it’s just exhausting and there are zero days off!)

            Here are a few programs that offer online accounting degrees:

            Marywood University – Scranton, PA
            Penn State University
            Colorado State University
            Indiana Wesleyan University

  40. Wayne Schofield*

    I absolutely hate this statement “how can I get experience if no one is willing to hire me?”.

    There are millions upon millions of people who have been in the same situation and it usually means you chose to go to a party while others were volunteering or taking on an internship.

    Sure, the market is tough out there, but not exposing yourself to your field when you are in college usually means a difficult transition.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It also sometimes means the person’s financial situation required them to work jobs outside of their field during school rather than interning or volunteering.

      1. Wayne Schofield*

        You make a good point. I guess I come from a different world. My daughter just graduated with a 3.4, held down 2 jobs of 30 hours a week and an internship for the better part of her college career. I’m looking through rose colored glasses because she is probably the exception.

        I don’t live high on a hill and don’t look down on anyone. I’m the guy who through trash to put myself through college and paid for 95% of it myself. I also had a job through college and had trouble finding my first “real” job in broadcasting back in the mid 80’s when it was a difficult economy, but I had the support of my family.

        Its just offensive to me that anyone who has trouble finding a job, in any economy, uses the “how do I get experience…blah, blah excuse”. And for centuries before you, millions upon millions of people have found a way.

    2. OP*

      I think this is quite presumptuous and judgmental. not everyone was off partying or being unproductive in college. Not everyone is in a position to volunteer/intern, and let’s face it–some just don’t know the value of it. I certainly didn’t. I know if I had the same access to the information I do now when I was in college (2004 and onwards) my work life may have been very very different. Alas, we can’t change the past but we can always improve right now.

    3. Doug*

      I too find your claim, Mr. Schofield, to be presumptuous and even borderline arrogant. What about the people who do have internships, volunteer hours and on-campus jobs or teaching tenures and STILL have a tough time finding entry-level work?

    4. fposte*

      The OP is talking about volunteering, and she’s not talking about wanting to go to a party, so I’m not sure where you’re going with this.

  41. Anonymous*

    Try tempting instead of a minimum wage job.

    I found it difficult to get a minimum wage job once employers know that you have graduated with a bachelor’s.

  42. A DM*

    I worked in retail in college and ended up promoting to Store Manager after I graduated. After a year or two I decided to get a “real” job related to my degree. I did and didn’t like it so much! I ended up getting laid off when the big dot-com bust happened and decided to go back to retail. I am now a DM for a retail company, love my job, totally use my degree in communications and have a great work-life balance.

    The key in finding a starting point is to do some research – which companies are known for promoting from within, which are great to their employees and which have a product/brand you’d be proud to represent. And if your interest lies in accounting or marketing, etc how close are you to their “home office.” I know my company promotes from the “field” into the home office all the time. What starts as a minimum wage job can absolutely become a career!

  43. Cassie*

    Something that hasn’t (I don’t think) been suggested is city or county career centers. The closer you are to a large metropolitan area, the better – my sister was able to get job training from the county she lived in (she has a BA in humanities, but wanted to get into accounting). From there, she went on to an accounting position within the county. Or you could start off at a clerical title, work on your accounting courses in the meantime, and then venture towards an accounting position.

    A government position might not be what you are interested in (esp if you want to be a CPA), but it could be a starting off point. Most entry-level positions are exam-based and have minimal experience requirements (volunteer work could count).

  44. NewReader*

    Lots of really good comments here. OP, I am glad you asked your question because I am learning!

    A few things to add—

    I worked in a grocery store for several years. The employees did not get a discount. None. So you might want to discretely check around before applying, if you go this route.
    Do not be discouraged about not getting the bakery job. Yes, it is much more involved than it looks.
    Check out:
    (The site make me laugh so hard my sides ache. I like to look at this site after a bad day at work. )
    Personal experience: If a customer came in after normal bakery hours, to special order a cake, half the non-bakery staff would hide. No one wanted to write on cakes. And do those fancy borders and flowers? yikes.
    Tell yourself you got lucky on that one.

    Negative people and their negative comments will absolutely pull a person down. I try to challenge myself with a question: “Why do Negative Nellie’s remarks resonate with me?” Part of the answer is because I feel let down, no support from Nellie. The other part of the answer usually has something to do with I have not clearly defined my goals in some manner.
    Here is the “psychology”- If I have a targeted goal, even short term goal, no one (I mean NO ONE) is going to be able to cut me. I just smile to myself and think “Nellie is not getting this one.”
    Nellie does not need to know/understand if I have a workable plan. But I sure as heck need to know my plan will work.

    I hope you do not consider me too forward here– but it sounded to me like the college environment suited you, it comforted you some how. It seems to draw you in a way… I could be mistaken. But my thought is- how about looking for an entry level anything job at a near by college?
    At one point, I seriously considered a boring job at a college simply because I could get a free education. Most of us can do anything IF we promise ourselves it is only for a while.

    1. OP*

      “Here is the “psychology”- If I have a targeted goal, even short term goal, no one (I mean NO ONE) is going to be able to cut me. I just smile to myself and think “Nellie is not getting this one.”
      Nellie does not need to know/understand if I have a workable plan. But I sure as heck need to know my plan will work.”

      THIS WORKS!!!!! So just a small update: after reading the post and comments here I decided to just suck it up and look for (almost) everything. I started applying to stores that I’d like to work in (Staples, Express, gyms etc) all the while still applying for office assistant/receptionist jobs (in the past I had been applying for bookkeeping/accounting-assistant/office assistant positions only).

      For now I kind of have something in the works, but I’m not too sure yet and I don’t want to jinx it; everybody whom I’ve told has told me to not do it for various reasons but I haven’t let those comments deter me (if I had come across something like this maybe a month ago, I wouldn’t have even considered it). FWIW they all have perfectly valid reasons for why I shouldn’t take this job…but at this point, I don’t really care. I will take it if it works out.

      Also, I applied to go back to school. I still have some time before I find out if I’m accepted or not, so I’m less vested in looking for a permanent position now; also tax season is approaching and it shouldn’t be too difficult for me to volunteer/find part time work. I have some goals for what i want out of going back to school (that I think are very realistic).

  45. Bruce Heilbrunn*

    If you have the skills to work at a higher level then the minimum wage. It’s not any easier to get a minimum wage job then it is to get a higher level job that uses your skills. There is a lot of competition for minimum wage jobs. I’ve been in the job market and received no interviews applying for minimum wage jobs. The only interviews I’ve received are applying for jobs that match my skills and experience.

    1. OP*

      In my last two weeks of searching, I think this is somewhat true–you don’t just magically walk into a shop and get a job….they’re not going to just hire you because you’re overqualified (well not that I thought this way…..but the assumption usually is that it’s much easier to get a min wage job)…. also, many retail corps have incredibly long and precise online applications that often ask for a social security #, so they end up taking just as much time as applyign for something in your own level would. at one store, there were 50-60 questions pertaining to my personality!!!

  46. mike*

    last job i had was paying me minimum wage. after the 90 day period it would raise to 11 an hour. 2 months after full-time working at minimum wage they laid me off. They just wanted all hands on deck for the Rush. That was THE LAST minimum wage job that i will ever settle for.

  47. Dawn*

    Well explained :now send it to the President and Hr Depts. anywhere! We all need to work for a:
    SUSTAINABLE WAGE- HELLO! Two people working minimum wage can barely make it, depending on expenses where you live.
    Its just not ok. There will always be people whom will have to work min wage, or the multibillion $ companies would not be so!
    And now with the gas expense one cannot afford to work very far from home if not making at least $16 an hour depending on the round trip. People are paying $400 + a month just in gas to travel to work! Insane!!!
    We also need more rural and small town factories where people can walk to work if need be! It seems you always have to travel 50+ miles one way to get jobs yet if you do not make enough to pay that gas expense you cannot do so! Its like do I pay for gas or rent?
    The other issues are: most jobs are becoming part-time, so you have to hope to have a flex- schedule to work 2 jobs!
    I agree hold no job opening personal.
    Too many people -not enough jobs is all…

  48. AssHat*

    If anyone bothered to read the job statistics there are literally not enough job for all those who are looking.

    That is all.

  49. karol*

    I am a Pole
    I’ll take every work
    I am here alone
    I have no home
    parents requiring care
    eastern europe
    cheap work
    no one cares about these people
    ,, Rat Race,,

    the realities of the labor market
    work for
    employment agencies
    learning time
    or work
    who earns unemployment????
    I worked in several agencies
    I know situations
    Where can I complain?
    application for employment agencies????
    it is difficult to find work later

  50. Erin*

    I agree. I’ve worked a food-service job for three years. I am 24 years old, get treated like I’m 12 at that job, bitched at constantly for stupid shit like not filling up the napkin dispenser to the very tip top, etc. Granted this is a “good” minimum wage job because I get good hours and $8.95 an hour and they are pretty nice to me albeit annoying and always on about stupid shit..but I agree with what you are saying. I wasted my parents’ money on a college degree and wasted six years of my life for nothing. I am sick of hearing that people who don’t want to degrade themselves by working food service for the rest of their lives think they are better than the rest of people.

  51. Janelle*

    Also wanted to add that you would be amazed just how empowering it is to take charge of your own destiny when previously you felt like you were begging others for a job. There are many excellent ways to at least supplement your income which will help brighten your morale and increase your sense of self-efficacy. Here are. Few examples of jobs you can do with just a little self-promotion:

    Tutor for high school/college kids
    Term paper typist/proofreader
    Virtual assistant (go through an agency or advertise your services directly)
    Nanny (through agency is easier to obtain)
    Security guard (don’t laugh, the night shift helped put me through college!)
    Personal organizer
    Dog walker or pet sitter (if you do this purchase pet sitting insurance – dog sitting requires much fewer hours and is more lucrative)
    Crafter/artist for your own Etsy store front (it won’t make you rich but its a fun and creative way to make money
    Housekeeper (for individuals, not agencies)
    Bookkeeping (does not require accounting degree but some knowledge of accounting crucial).

    There are many, many possibilities. You will find that as you get busy with whatever gap job(s) you choose that you will meet a wide variety of people, you will begin to feel like there is hope for positive change and most importantly, your creative juices will begin to flow and you will think your own way out of your temporary bad situation. Best of luck to you! Just remember that many, many others have pulled themselves out of bad ruts and you can too. Just never stop trying different things Neil you find the right answer.

  52. Miis*

    As a baker and former manager at a bakery, I’d just like to point out that I wouldn’t hire someone with OP’s attitude. It’s insulting that she feels like she should be a shoe-in to a position we consider a skill and a privilege – and we do make more than minimum wage.

    I completely understand not wanting to work a crappy, soul-sucking job; I think everyone should be able to have a dignified and fulfilling profession. And OP’s totally right that other people shouldn’t make her guilty about her career choice. But at the same time , I don’t understand why she thinks that she should be able to land a better job than everyone else: no mention of particular credentials, education, skills, or even a hardworking attitude.

    Myself, I’m paying my way through school, and I know I’ll be on the crappy end of the workforce again when I graduate, but that’s how it works. All of the people who came before me with the same credentials as me had to work their way up, too, and they deserve the cushy jobs for all their hard work and perseverance. I can’t wait for the day when I can rest on my own laurels.

  53. Uggggg*

    I completely agree! Ugggggg a bakery? Who wants to smell like bread all day!

    I would never work minimum wage. Think about it, you go to work, make what? $200 a day or so? What does that buy? Really?

    You cant afford to buy a decent outfit, you can barely even pay for a decent dinner!

    I just dont see the point in working minimum wage. At the very least you destroy all social value that you had, and for what? You would spend more money just getting ready and going to work than what it paid!

  54. Chris*

    OP, I know it’s been almost two years since this piece was published. I hope everything is much better for you these days. Now, my two cents: I went off of more minimum wage jobs than I can even begin to count in my early 20s. I worked at White Castle (my first “real” job) right out of school, and left just two weeks short of my first year anniversary there in the midst of severe problems I had with management there. I spent until 2007 jumping around from job to job (I was living in southeast Michigan at that point), as I could never find anything that remotely offered up the hope of full-time employment – it was always a matter of being at the mercy of certain times of the year – spring, fall and the Thanksgiving season through Christmas season. Living where I did certainly didn’t help matters either, as each time the factories in the area would shut down for extensive periods of time (or go belly up completely – very common sight in Port Huron and the western suburbs of Detroit) – I’d get let go as business dried up for long stretches at a time. I count between 2005 and 2007 alone the following jobs: Liberty Tax (standing outside all day in subzero weather in a Lady Liberty costume – not an experience I’d ever do again), Subway (laid off after two months and never called back in again), Kmart (let go after the spring sales rush ended), Tim Hortons (hired for a brief period in the summer and let go after Ford shut down operations with several local plants for months on end – we got hit hard by this), Labor Ready along with two other major temp agencies (rarely got assignments due to the lack of manufacturing work and construction work available out there), Toys R’ Us (Christmas season of late 2005 to first week or two of January) and Family Dollar (Christmas season of 2006 to early part of 2007).

    I finally got sick of it and having no luck at finding full-time work, so I went off to Job Corps. Big mistake. I got a certification as a security officer, alright, but never was able to even get any hands-on practice with local employers – we kept changing instructors all the time. I ended up trying college for the first time at GRCC, and had to resort to a part-time work study position. It wasn’t enough, and even as I applied at every last place I could think of (and see endless rejections pile up), I simply couldn’t keep up with the bills and ended up homeless. Out went the job and out the door went my efforts in college, as survival became my only focus.

    I ended up growing a brain and leaving Michigan in late 2009, and first went to North Carolina. Again, no luck with the job market there, aside from a brief stint as a Salvation Army bell ringer, and an attempt to raise money for myself by cleaning windows for some local businesses, but that got swept away by local homeless guys who offered to do the same job for less…and were given it. I moved to Colorado over 4 years ago after too much frustration with the Midwest and the East Coast in particular.

    Since moving here, nothing really spectacular has happened. I’ve still kept up with my employment search for something full time with nothing to really show for it. I ended up going back to college at PPCC, and again resorted to work-study employment. I’ve been stuck there almost since September of 2010, and as far as my degree goes…I’m barely keeping up on classes. I admit I failed the math portion of the Accuplacer test I took to get into PPCC (none of my earned credits from GRCC or the test results transferred over or were even honored), and I’m stuck at a crossroads – there’s a fee to retake the Accuplacer itself, and to be honest I’m at a stage where college seems no longer worth it – $20 is a lot that could be used towards bills to someone who’s struggling to gasp for air, and while I do want the degree, it’s a choice between going back in to take a math test (just to take even a basic math class) I’d likely fail at again, or keeping a roof over my head.

    I ended up taking up volunteer work with a haunted house that’s well-regarded where I live, doing security almost every season in the hopes that someone will come through and recognize that, and hopefully make an offer I can’t refuse. I tried for employment once as a deputy with the sheriff’s office here, as well – I couldn’t make it past the oral board phase, and I’m not going to lie here – it was discouraging as hell. The one time I did get lucky on a full-time job was when I was hired by Xerox late last year, but I quit 3 months into my stay there, having been involved in a battle for nearly 2 months over a ton of unpaid hours the company still has yet to even redress (the state refuses to intervene in the fight there), among a host of other things that made the job barely tolerable. As the old saying goes: if it’s an environment where you find yourself harboring violent thoughts towards management every day, it’s not worth it sticking around. I walked out a few days before New Year’s Eve over 5 months ago, and ended up going back to work-study employment a few weeks later – I had no luck with the local temp agencies (no experience for all of the jobs they had there).

    Ever since then I’ve been struggling to stay afloat on an hourly rate that pays $9.50 an hour for maybe 18 hours a week, while I’m left shelling out $300 a month for my half of rent (my other half is in the same boat as I am with respect to work), $55 a month for phone and the rest of my pay being sunk into transportation around town (I live in a city whose employers are openly hostile to people who ride the bus), food on the table and laundry once every few weeks if I can afford it. Top that off with college courses that never seem to end, resorting to selling your own body fluids for cash at a plasma center to help make ends meet, a job that literally allows for no time off for illness or interviews unless you want to lose out on money (I lost nearly three days to a recent illness that had me down and out in bed for the whole time – I’m short on my half of the rent by $100 as of this writing because of that), and tons of sleeplessness combined with stress due to mounting financial problems…all while I see a future that I have little hope in, and no offers at all from even the very places that pay minimum wage…even after repeated phone calls to try and see where things were at. A friend of mine started up a business and brought me aboard recently, but even with that I don’t have much hope, as it may be months, if not a year, before I see a pay day from that, if ever.

    I’m reluctant in light of my past experiences with retail and fast food to even return there, because I know the pay will not help things at all, and given the tendency of employers to demand more experience for jobs anyone with a brain can do (this has been my personal experience on the job market the last 4 years), I do sympathize with you on this situation, OP. I really do. I can only hope you found a way, as I’m feeling the same exact pinch you mentioned in numerous comments. I don’t exactly have family I can turn to, either – none of them have even the room to let me crash, and the added issue is that they all live in Michigan, the one state I swore I’d never go back to thanks to all of my experiences there. If you’re a person who can afford to do it, hold out for the better opportunity if you can do so. I’m stuck in that exact vicious cycle a number of the others on this thread mentioned, and it sucks to no end, even as you know you can do a job you’re applying for and have relevant experience to boot.

  55. ryan*

    Hi, i am in the same situation .. i live alone i have morgage and car , i have no trade or anything but i ma a semi skilled engineer/labourer etc.
    i dont think down on any one working for the min wage.
    for the last 3-4 years i can only get agency work and the longest contract ive had is 12 weeks, its getting beyond a joke, but ive always been on a slighty ok wage 8-10 per hour.

    recently all these 2 -3 1 week 0 hour contract and min wage jobs are fkn beyond a joke IMO.

    I f i take a minwage job ok yes, i can keep a roof over my head andpay the bills and get some food for teh cuboard but thats as far as i goes, i could nver buy my slef a pair of trainers or save up to go on holiday or anything.. so why do we ALL work , we want to be be to live a little .. i just refuse to bust my gut for 40+ hours per week for fkn 6.50 an hour …

  56. Victor*

    minimum wage jobs are almost more trouble than they are worth. Basically, any job that has to do with cashier or food service MAY be demanding, but the skill level they require is minimal, as the name “minimum wage” suggests. Now is a minimum wage job better than no job? Depends how much spare time you have and what you could do with that time. If you have brighter prospects than making $8.50 an hour, go for it. If you happen to have a load of free time on your back, why not go to work?

  57. Kendal R.*

    I currently work a minimum wage job in retail. After I got my degree, I realized that getting the job I want (and am still searching for) isn’t exactly a walk in the park. So, I figured, what the heck? I’ll get a part time gig and look for another job in my free time. Well, after a year and a half of being told I wasn’t qualified for even the most basic entry level jobs that dealt with my college major, I took a full time retail job.
    I would never suggest it in a million years. I had talked myself into believing that I’d work my 40 hours and use my free time to do productive things, maybe get another part time job to fill in the financial gray space (How can I afford rent, utilities, gas, food, insurance, student loans, etc on a full time minimum wage job? I can’t). To my surprise, my company told me that I couldn’t limit my availability (I have to be available all days of the week, all hours as a full timer) and to boot, even though I’m considered full time I am only guaranteed 28 hours a week, never to hit or go over 40. I’m so tired due to my ridiculous schedule (some days I start in the pre-dawn hours, others I do over nights. There are even some weeks where I close one night and am expected to be happy and chipper at 3 a.m. the next morning). I’m so exhausted by my schedule that when my brain can actually function and has had steady sleep, all I want to do is nothing.
    In short, I thought retail would allow me freedom to pursue my other interests like music, language, and art… and of course job searching. But, because of the vast limitations of my needing to always be available, I can’t even take a one night a week class.
    Talk about not being worth it.
    Rude customers, poor pay, and ridiculous hours does not a happy girl make.

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