Help Wanted (Update)

Some young people go out and find jobs, and are appreciative of the opportunity. But most don’t, never having the experience of what it means to work, to work for someone, to take orders, to do things they find “unpleasant,” to earn money that fails to meet their expectations of self-worth.

When they finally enter the workforce, they are shocked to find that they aren’t appreciated in the ways they were told they deserve. Their boss doesn’t respect them like their mommies, or their professors. Their opinions, so valid and respected before, are now worthless and unappreciated.  Their superiors are stupid because they don’t do or think as they feel they should.  They are not merely disappointed, but crushed by the failure of employment to meet their great expectations.

The New York Times, as so many others, sees a connection between the misery of young people entering the workplace with the lack of work experience growing up.  It decries the demise of the summer job.

When summer jobs were plentiful, young people gained skills and experiences that made them attractive to future employers. Research has shown that people who fail to find work early in their lives run a risk of being unemployed and underemployed into early adulthood and beyond. The effect is far worse for people in poor, minority communities, where jobs are fewer and unemployment rates are many times the national average.

Of course, the Times’ editorial isn’t directed toward the intrinsic value of work, as much as the call for a government program.

The only solution to youth unemployment is for Congress to reinstate some version of the summer jobs program it abandoned in the late 1990s.

Of course, how to pay for this program is left out of the analysis, under the assumption that the magic will give rise to a robust economy where money will fall from trees to cover the national debt. But then, that’s a different problem than the one raised by the fact that too few young people experience the virtue of work.

One piece of the mess involves the expectation that young people will not merely get a job, but one that is exciting, pleasant, interesting, well-paying and never so taxing as to make their head hurt.  Would it matter to learn that old people worked some peculiar, hard, unpleasant jobs before they achieved the sort of success young people believe themselves entitled to from the outset?

Maybe, so let’s try an experiment:  What jobs did you do that were nasty, weird, hard or particularly unusual, before getting on the path to becoming Master of the Universe.  Mine?

  • “Warm body” at a nuclear reactor
  • Window washer
  • Towel boy at a Times Square sex club
  • Bartender
  • Wells Fargo security guard at a police weapons warehouse
  • Drummer in a rock and roll band
  • Counterman at a deli, where I lost the tips off two fingers cleaning the meat slicer


Update: For reasons I can’t explain, I neglected to mention that I spent two summers as a “horseback riding instructor” at a summer camp, where my primary duty was shoveling the manure out of the stalls in the morning, keeping the trough filled with water, repairing bridles and saddles, and grooming the horses. They were two of the best summers of my life. That Woodstock happened just down the road apiece was a large part of that. They didn’t call it the Summer of Love for nothing.

77 thoughts on “Help Wanted (Update)

  1. Victor Medina

    In order:

    Stockboy at a uniform supply store (only the women were allowed out front to sell)

    Town highway department (cleaning sand from the road, scooping tar for new curbs, picking up bulk). Amusing I also lost pieces of two fingers.

    Dishwasher at a Friendly’s

    Selling clothes at the mall l

    Data entry getting ready for Y2K

    Then my first glorious job out of college, copier salesman.

  2. Paul Beard

    These where all summer jobs.

    Door to door making sure people where enrolled for local elections.
    Shifting “stuff” for the local council when they re-organsised.
    Sorting and burning documents more then 7 years old for the local govt.

    Given they where all for some sort of local government organisation and they all where in 4-6 week periods in summer I guess their was some sort of program back then, I am sure they would be a lot more professional now then give 4 kids the keys to the oldest truck they owned and some basic instructions.

  3. REvers

    Oilfield (a pulling rig for a well service company)
    Asphalt shingle factory (two summers of this, and it was HOT work, 130+ degrees where I stood)
    Custom woodworking mill (I’m still using the desk they let me build for free on my off time in 1978)
    Running the gallon machine in a milk plant (free ice cream on breaks)

  4. Kathleen Casey

    Babysitting. High school. I knew virtually nothing about children but I was asked and did it for one couple on Friday or Saturday nights and then I heard from their friends and friends of their friends and… my (parents’) number got passed around. I didn’t spend a New Years Eve at home. 8:30-5:30 all weekdays the summer before senior year for a working mother.

    Receptionist. Answered the phone. Greet and assist. Typed a weekly payroll report. Typed and mimeographed a monthly newsletter. Stuffed envelops.

    Counter worker at the student union cafeteria.

    Counter worker at a sub shop where I sliced a thumb open.

    Waited on tables.

    Tended bar.

    Line worker at a canning factory where I and other women packed jars of jam and jelly into boxes, 7-3.

  5. Harper Cook

    Paperboy (age 12 until the day before I left for college).
    Valet at a seafood restaurant
    Bar back, then bartender
    Military service, rising through the ranks for 23 years (now a colonel)

  6. Ernest Oellrich

    Mowing lawns

    Working on digging sewers and various other plumbing jobs


    Buoy tender deckie, U.S. Coast Guard

  7. Hastur

    Cashier/Clerk at a grocery store

    Pizza delivery


    Customer service for the auto glass arm of a group of insurance companies

    Check extractor for a bank lockbox.

  8. Mark L

    I actually miss doing some of these things:

    * Laborer on Farm
    * Prep Cook at Mexican Restaurant
    * Stock Boy at Regional Food Bank
    * Freelance Computer Repair for Small Businesses
    * BBS Sysop
    * ISP Technician / Part-Owner
    * Making / Selling Ice Cream
    * Sandwich Artist at Subway
    * Night-shift Website Programmer at Newspaper
    * Programmer for US Army Corps of Engineers
    * DJ & Part-Time Bouncer at 18+ Night Club
    * Asbestos Abatement / Demolition Worker

  9. CLS

    Front Desk Clerk at at Hotel

    Sporting Goods/Toys Clerk at K-Mart

    “First Line” Responder for the Worker’s Compensation Department of a nuclear weapons facility

  10. albeed

    During Middle School and High School
    – Delivered newspapers after school and early morning weekends
    – Answered phone and door and other odd jobs (stuffing envelopes, etc.) in church rectory
    – Worked for Car Dealership during summers (prep of new & used cars, driving and odd jobs (tire changer, minor repairs, etc.)
    – Loaded trucks in a Sears Warehouse during summer (night shift)
    During College – Summers
    – Spot welder on assembly line (summer)
    – Work for city water dept. connecting lines, fixing mains and cleaning sewers (summer)
    – Work for city parks dept. dragging ball diamonds, picking trash, grass cutting (summer)
    – Bartend at nights (legal age was 18 then) while working city jobs
    During College – during school year
    – Automotive emissions testing of car engines on dynamometers
    Serious lack of sleep while working for city departments and bartending at the same time, but left college with engineering degree – debt free and worked for 30+ years reaching Director Level in Regulatory Affairs and now happily retired but doing volunteer work.

  11. the other rob

    I’ve already mentioned working as a day laborer for rock and roll road crews. Other jobs include:

    Setting up and tearing down a record stall at the town market (records are heavy, by the crate load).
    Dishwashing at a caviar restaurant (the chef also made excellent pasta, for the staff).
    Programming a drilling machine at a circuit board factory (where my naive and inquiring young mind was shocked to discover that asking other employees about their jobs was viewed as an attempt at poaching).
    The obligatory bar tending (where I took part of my wages in bar snacks).

    Today, some friends of hours have a 13 year old son. I put what work I can his way and pay him $5 an hour. That’s probably a minimum wage violation (if I were ever to put it on the books) but, realistically, how much is a 13 year old’s labor worth?

  12. Marc Whipple

    Had a newspaper route from 12-16.
    Picked tomatoes from my grandfather’s garden and sold them to restaurants (he planted them and took care of them, me, my sister and my cousins were allowed to pick them and sell them.)
    Cleaning up after school and during the summer at a meat locker. (As in, scrubbing out offal barrels with acid after they’d sat outside all day in July)
    Worked as a bank teller and in an arcade first two summers in college.
    Worked selling high-end knives and scissors in a cutlery store through college and law school.

  13. JAV

    Shopping cart jockey at a mall Target.
    Stripping beds and taking out trash ahead of housekeeping at a hotel. People rent a room and think they’re the Crue on tour.
    Bagel baker.
    Retail drone.
    Starbucks barista. Making drinks and being pleasant to people made it the nicest job I ever had. Piece of cake.

  14. alanlaird

    – warm body dockside for a snorkel tour boat
    – movie theater generalist
    – bookstore
    – construction cleanup
    – hospital lab assistant
    – 4 yrs Army, carto

    I got to empty the snorkel boat’s 55 gallon drum of ‘honey’ every afternoon. I’d almost trade that for sex club towel boy.

  15. dm

    – mower of neighbor’s lawns
    – fryer of chickens at fast food restaurant (super greasy!)
    – armored car courier (learned to hate pennies)
    – plumber’s assistant
    – security guard at construction sites in S. Florida (during summer)

    1. Marc Whipple

      Pennies, I add in a purely venom-inspired aside, are *the worst*. If you’ve worked retail, you hate them, but compared to a bank teller, you hate them in a “Mistake Not” kind of way. I can’t even imagine how much armored car couriers must hate them.

      As a slightly more related aside, while most jobs handling money are easier than, say, shoveling manure, handling large amounts of circulating currency is a much dirtier job than most people might suspect. I would go home at the end of a shift and my fingertips were black. And don’t even get me STARTED on the disgusting places I’ve seen people pull money from…

  16. JR

    Mowed lawns
    Clean out horse stables
    Putt Putt Golf daily cleanup
    Cook at Big Boys
    Food service for the football team
    Watching a general study room so students didn’t trash it.
    Grinding coal samples at a power plant
    Playing keyboards backing up for an Elvis impersonator (The worst part was the people that would say, “You must be so proud working with the king”)
    FOH (Front Of House), Lights for bands (Wait, I still do that on the side)

  17. Patrick Maupin

    It probably goes without saying that I did the usual thing of lawnmowing and landscaping (moving dirt and rocks around) and exterior painting. One of the lawns I mowed was all on a 45 degree angle, and most of them required eagle eyes to avoid launching random projectiles with the blades.

    My grandfather had a small farm near where we lived, with no shortage of work clearing, feeding, moving hay, etc. I think the first time I drove a tractor (for work, not novelty) was when I was 10. The longest time I spent there continuously was the summer he threw his back out — I milked a few cows twice a day for almost 3 months.

    I also learned a lot working at the local school district during the summer at what was, I believe, a federally-funded part-time training program. I worked alongside electricians and plumbers. I crawled inside boilers to remove the scale after it had been softened with hydrochloric acid. I helped to paint a couple of small sewage treatment plants (for schools outside the city limits) with coal tar epoxy. (That stuff I won’t miss — probably shortened my life by 5-10 years.)

    I worked nights in high school at a fabric store, vacuuming, changing fluorescent light bulbs, stocking, cleaning bathrooms, learning that Qiana has no “u” and is capitalized. I got yelled at by one of the managers of an adjoining business when he noticed that I spear-chucked the 8′ fluorescent tubes into the dumpster through its side window because I liked the way they disintegrated where they impacted the far corner. “Don’t you know there is poison gas in those things?” “Why, yes, I do! Do you want it let out late at night when I’m the only one here, or later when some unsuspecting schmuck drops stuff on top of these?”

    Before the fabric store I had a very short stint at an ice cream parlor. When the manager gave me my first paycheck after two weeks, he told me that my services wouldn’t be required any more, and when I asked why, he said it was because I was a little slow. It occurred to me while he was talking that the first cold snap had hit about a week before and business had dropped precipitously, so I said “I see. I’m just now coming up to speed and you’re going to throw all that training away and roll the dice on somebody else.” After an uncomfortable silence, he finally said “I don’t think we’ll be hiring anybody else right now.” I said “I see” and walked out. He called later and offered half my hours, but I declined — it obviously wasn’t going to be a stable gig anyway…

  18. Raccoon Strait

    *There were of course the chores at home that were paid only if one considers an allowance as pay. These consisted of daily, weekly, monthly, and as assigned responsibilities. Sometimes it wasn’t just for allowance, dinner might depend upon completion.

    Then after school and between schools, and sometimes more than one at a time:

    *Paper boy
    *Lawn mowing
    *Driveway shoveling
    *Fast Food Hamburgers
    *Fast Food Pizza
    *Pencil Factory shipping and receiving clerk and machine operator (different kinds depending on need)
    *Temp labor via an agency
    *Lathe operator cutting open used torque converters, reworking the insides then welding them back together for racing.
    *Fast Food Roast Beef
    *Hotel front desk clerk/night auditor/waiter/bartender

    Then career.

  19. Allen Garvin

    I’ve never had any job I didn’t enjoy at the time or fail to make friends at.

    Apart from boring, nonnotable fast food or student jobs, physically unpleasant ones were:

    – hauling hay in the Texas summer as teenager
    – tree and limb cutting business a friend & I started, just out of high school
    – year and half in college spent making furniture in an unair-conditioned, unheated metal shed. But they let me use all the tools after hours, and I got scrap wood for free, so I acquired some woodworking skills
    that remain useful.

    After that, nothing but high tech work since 91.

    I never made more than a couple bucks over minimum wage till my late 20s. But fortunately, college was easy to pay for back then.

  20. Ross

    –McDonalds (Summer job)
    –General maintenance in a pipe making facility attached to a steel mill
    –Painter in a factory being refurbushed
    –Night shift press operator in a factory making oil well drill bits
    –Instrumentation technician in sewage treatment and chemical plants

  21. David M.

    I’m a Millennial in my early twenties, saving up to go to law school.

    Currently, I

    -pour coffee at & occasionally manage a cafe
    -translate papers for professors
    -help people move

    and I used to work as a private tutor, which is easily the worst job I’ve held.

  22. Jim Tyre

    My first, when my age was still single digits, was a year round job.

    A business needed lots of old newspapers. When I was young enough to have a little red wagon, I’d go up and down my block collecting old papers from the neighbors. Packaged them up, sold them for a penny a pound. Not terrible money in 1950s pennies. My pals wanted in on the action, so I franchised. They’d collect the papers from their blocks, get them to me. We’d package them together, split the penny a pound.

    My best, which started when I was still in elementary school, was working as a stockboy at a stereo/record store. At least at first, they paid me in records, which was far more valuable than cash.

  23. KronWel

    In grade school summer job : picked strawberries and green beans (pole green beans) paid by the flat or bucket. High school: move irrigation pipe (lifting long 4 inch diameter metal pipes to drain the water = fun, who needs a gym?) Concession stand at a drive in theater.

    After high school: Still the concession stand at the drive in. Donut maker at a small donut shop, later managing said shop. Various electronic assembly job, parts boy, etc at an electronics manufacturer. Selling Mrs Fields cookies, then managing a Mrs. Fields cookie store. College snack bar concession stand. Tech support in college library. Systems Analyst for a state agency (still at it and hope to retire in a couple of years.)

  24. Craig

    – stocked shelves at my parent’s grocery store, starting at age 5.
    – paperboy
    – clerk in aforementioned grocery store
    – dish washer
    – waiter
    – roofing laborer
    – strawberry picker
    – cleaner of sludge from old diesel tanks
    – photocopier repairman

  25. LTMG

    Here we go, government sponsored summer jobs program that will cost the taxpayers nothing. Change the minimum wage structure as follows: employees under 18, $4 per hour. 18 to 23 with previous working experience or high school diploma, $6.00 per hour. Sadly (sarcasm), such a program will have the knock on effect of not requiring a bevy of government clerks to administer it.

    Jobs before earning my bachelors degree:

    – Dishwasher/bus boy. Great job.
    – TV/radio repair tech. Learned the skills in high school.
    – Plastics fabricator.
    – Mail room clerk.
    – Security guard.
    – Rain gutter installer.
    – National Guard.

  26. Pete

    – paper boy (never shot a dog)
    – full service gas station attendant
    – litter/refuse removal at business park
    – deli counterman (no injuries)
    – line cook
    – chicken killer (poultry processing plant)
    – waiter
    – restaurant assistant manager
    – graduate teaching assistant

    Currently a Program Manager integrating avionics upgrades into fighter/attack aircraft

  27. A HREF

    My summer jobs
    Mowing lawns/washing windows/shoveling dog shit
    Aide to free summertime free lunch program in non-air-conditioned gym in the deep south
    Janitor again
    Rodman in land survey crew (cutting bushes)
    Warehouseman for large department store (this sucked–two injures)
    Washing buses for a company that chartered buses for touring rock and CW stars
    Telemarketer (this really sucked)
    Groundskeeper/warm body for a water filtration plant (one of my duties was every morning go in a spray ammonia on the joints where chloride was mixed with the water. If a vapor appeared I was to pull an alarm, put on a gas mask and get the hell out)
    Rodman in a survey crew again
    I thinks that it.

  28. Jim Majkowski

    Paper boy, caddie, valet parker, bartender, soldier, newspaper circulation gofer, night clerk/auditor.

  29. VPJ

    –Fast food employee
    –Pizza cook when I found out that I sucked at waiting tables
    –Baggage handler
    –Lab technician
    –Part time copy center employee when first “real” job still didn’t quite cover things

  30. Chris Ryan

    Stocker at a bike shop
    McDonalds (beginning of a pattern)
    Burger King
    Exxon Gas Attendant (graveyard shift)
    Cabinet maker (spent whole summer stripping varnish off wood)
    Gopher for a medical instrument company
    Dining Commons for University
    Electronics parts sorter
    Daycare assistant

  31. Arctic_Attorney

    Newspaper delivery (9-10), flyer delivery (11-12), selling snacks at sporting events (12-15), telemarketer (15), subway “sandwich artist” (16-17), metal polisher (16-21), **unable to disclose for legal reasons as Canada has no statute of limitations** (20-23), courier driver (23), telemarketer (24-25), golf course grounds-keeper (27).

    I was never better than any of them, with one exception, and the experience gained from every one one them was and continues to be valuable.

  32. Mike G.

    Courtesy clerk in HS.
    Salesman/clerk at tourist trap in HS
    4 years of military service…USAF
    2 failed attempts at “free’ college with GI Bill
    Assistant to manager of hat factory. (Physically and mentally challenged persons glued trim and doodads on hats and helmets for HS and college marching bands.)
    Recapped bias ply car tires
    Landscaping right of way around Atlanta Airport
    recapping truck tires …different city and company
    Helper in a cabinet shop
    Waiter in Pizza Restaurant
    Groundskeeper at Agnes Scott Women’s college
    Slinging fruit at State Farmer’s Market
    Construction clean-up and cleaning apartments after people moved out or were evicted
    Stripper…I worked in a furniture restoration shop.
    Painter…I’d rather take a beating than paint, even though I’m pretty good at it.

    Finally decided construction would be my career. Been doing it for the last 35 years or so.

  33. SunilR

    Nasty: Changeperson at a Lake Tahoe casino.
    Hard: Bagel kettler, construction laborer, wildland firefighter (ten seasons)
    Unusual: Smokejumper (four of those ten seasons above)

  34. Keith

    Shopping Cart collector at the local supermarket.
    Lawn cutting / snow shoveling depending on the season
    Working for my father’s sign company digging post holes – easily the hardest job ever. Digging through clay on a hot summer day sucks!
    Installing vinyl lettering on trucks & drumming up business at truck stops.
    Working through college at the fundraising office calling alumni for dollars (I’m sure you’re familiar with my ilk). I got to speak to some amazing people, like the guy that designed the navigation system for the Apollo missions. Jobs where I could chat with people were always my favorite.
    EMT for an ambulance company that had a contract with the local mental asylum – getting locked in was probably the scariest part of any job. I just prayed I’d get back out.
    Holidays & weekends at hotels to make money as a waiter or busboy.

    1. Keith

      I must have blocked out those summers working for Six Flags. Pro-tip for enterprising youngsters: just standing near the water rides is not nearly as fun as going on them. And if you think just because you’re 16, you won’t need to lift a raft with your knees, cause it’s just few pounds, you will find out just how mistaken you are.

  35. Robert Beckman

    In order, and I may be missing a few:
    Snail Catcher (yes, people paid me to catch snails in their gardens)
    Slug Catcher (you can’t pick them up by the shell, so I got 2 cents each!)
    Soda Can Collector
    Carpet Layer
    Framer (construction)
    Sweeper at a car shop (to pick up all the gunk the falls/leaks out of cars)
    Popcorn Salesman at a Movie Theater

    And then I turned 18….

  36. j a higginbotham

    – casket sander
    – cinnamon roll and doughnut sugar coater
    – wire holder, transponder raiser, stake pounder (various years including when the Mississippi almost went into the Atchafalaya although i didn’t know that till years later) walking through swamps, mud, snakes, spider webs occasionally for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week

  37. st

    lawn mowing
    baby sitting
    house painting
    appliance repair
    tossing hay bales into truck
    grapes grown and sold to local grocery store
    doughnut fryer/dishwasher 4 AM-noon, door to door vacuum cleaner sales 4-8 PM
    circuit soldering (lead/tin solder)/floor sweep/gofer $2 an hour to start, but paid my college tuition
    nuclear reactor repair/watchman
    technical magazine editor

    Then I graduated. Work was a blast. Half the hours, 10 times the pay.

  38. Noxx

    I can’t do a list, would be nearly impossible to keep straight so I’ll just tell you about a hard and shitty job I had before my career got underway.

    1993, having dropped out of college, I took a job at a printing press as a jogger. The jogger is the fellow who pulls stacks of newsprint off of an enormous Goss C class press and aligns them for stacking. It is hot. It reeks like press ink. It is fast paced and back breaking. I worked this crappy deal from 7pm to 7am on a rotating cycle of 4 on 3 off, 5 on 4 off. I did this for $6.85 an hour.

    It didn’t cover an apartment, I had roommates. In Riverside. My landlord did not want to see my SAT’s or my Mensa card. My landlord wanted money, and we got it by sleeping four guys in a two bedroom walk up.

    It didn’t cover a car. I was driving a 1964 Pontiac Laurentian named “Bob” that was given to me at a Dead show in Oakland. Bob had no rear window, and a sheared transmission linkage. For you turned too hard while backing Bob up, you’d have to crawl underneath and slam a link pin back into place.

    My cell phone cost was zero, because who the hell had a cell phone?

    It didn’t cover health insurance. If I got sick I took fish mox and hoped for the best. If I got injured I made sure to fall off of something at work and see the comp doctor on site.

    Today I own a home. I have a god career. I’m married. My life, in short, did not fall apart because it was hard getting off the ground.

  39. EK

    Late to the party, but still.

    — busboy
    — Subway Sandwich Artist
    — Township Maintenance Department (mowing grassy areas next to sidewalks on township-owned property)
    — Roofer
    — Accountant’s Intern

  40. Richard G. Kopf


    The summer I learned to hate French Canadians involved frying clams at a roadside diner in Maine. It was the best job a 14-year-old could have ever had.

    It taught me something valuable. We are not all alike. Many of us are assholes. Ugly Americans? Nah! Fucking French Canucks. You bet.

    All the best.


  41. DaveL

    -Delivering flyers
    -Corn de-tasseling (farm labor that involved ripping the gonads off unsuspecting plants all day)
    -Assistant computer tech for the local school board over 2 summers.
    -Teller for the student credit union, later manager for that same credit union.
    -Reconnaissance crewman in the army reserves.
    -Quality control assistant in a shop that made cylinder heads.

  42. Pingback: Help Wanted, Women Need Not Apply | Simple Justice

  43. Marc Whipple

    It is interesting how many people had paper routes as children. (My hometown had five paper routes: I delivered three of them.) My understanding is that almost all newspapers which are still delivered are now delivered by adults. Leaving aside that I don’t understand how that can possibly be a positive income situation if you use a car, that really takes a bite out of things that children can use to learn responsibility and the concept that if you want money, you have to work for it. (I did not get an allowance: I was expected to do minor chores as part of the household.)

    1. SHG Post author

      But that raises a number of questions as to how and why this change occurred. Stranger danger? Parents who don’t want little Timmy to work so he has more time to practice violin and study quantum mechanics to get into MIT? Adults who need the money more than kids? The list goes on.

      1. Ken Hagler

        My father had a second job delivering papers in the 1980s (his first job was a government school teacher, which didn’t pay enough to keep my mother in the style to which she was accustomed). I helped him out a few times. This was long before the modern “stranger danger” hysteria–I think it was just because a guy with a pickup truck could deliver papers much more efficiently over a wide area than a kid on a bike.

  44. Ben

    I’m 36, so I’m just on the cusp between Gen X and Millennials, but I definitely feel like I shared the upbringing of the former group more than the latter.

    My first job was babysitting my cousins and some neighborhood kids. I started when I was 11, which would apparently be illegal now.
    Next was caddying at a golf course starting at 12. Lugging around old guys golf clubs for 4 hours paid me 15-20 bucks. It felt like a fortune at the time. Did this for 3 years
    Pumped gas for a year. On good days, they’d let me mount tires, do a couple oil changes, and one time they let me do a brake job.
    Stock-boy at a hardware store. Crappy job but learned what every single tool is called and generally what it’s used for.
    Collating and sorting invoices for my aunt, who was an accountant. I usually did this at night instead of sleeping during junior and senior years of high school. The most mind-numbing job I’ve ever had.
    Worked at Taco Bell for senior year of HS and freshman year of college, starting at the drive thru, moving up to the grill. Burned my hands and arms so many times, I still have the scars. Double-shifts meant 15 hours on my feet. I still feel like this job taught me more about work ethic than anything else I’ve ever done.
    By that point, I started having internships related to my degree, but I still kept retail jobs at clothing stores and a record shop just to pay bills. Occasionally took a shift at the local taco bell just for a check.

    1. DaveL

      Crappy job but learned what every single tool is called and generally what it’s used for.

      Did they send you looking for the left-handed crescent wrench, the 2×4 stretcher, or the Liquid Shim?

  45. Anne Krone

    Camp counselor, lifeguard, paper girl, legal filing clerk, peach picker, gutter cleaner, tree trimmer, waitress, retail clerk, rodent control, electronics technician, electronics QA inspector, cartoonist, calligrapher, math tutor.

  46. Scribbler

    Delurking to add another female voice.
    – clerk/ cashier at an ice & water plant. Sold ice to walk-in customers, took phone orders from commercial customers. Most important job instruction: if you smell ammonia, go outside for a few minutes. If you see a white cloud, run like hell.
    – pit musician for summer stock theater, Brigadoon. French horn.
    – retail clothing store clerk.
    – gas station/convenience store clerk.
    – interned at a recording studio, learned audio engineering. Killed brain cells via soldering fumes while helping to rewire the studio.
    – credit & collections for a waste-hauling company. Also did the mail runs twice per day.
    -collection agency.
    – bar back and then bartender, after I went back to college
    – once I got my degree, started reporting for the local daily newspaper. Beats working for a living.

  47. Kelly

    I started supporting myself financially at 15, when my parents divorced and forgot i existed.
    Burger King, from Soph year of HS until graduation, and where we violated child labor laws because I closed the restaurant on school nights. I worked drive-thru, and had to break down and sterilize the shake machine at the end of every shift. I’d get home around midnight on weeknights (later on weekends), then I’d get up at 4:30 for morning swim practice. I can’t recall a time in HS I didn’t smell like bleach from sterilizing the shake machine, or chlorine from the pool.
    College was funded through all manner of retail clothing sales (remember Benneton? I’m allergic to wool, so all that sweater folding almost killed me.) I also worked doing valet-parking at a popular Italian restaurant on weekends. A lot of the male patrons didn’t want me, a girl, to park their cars, so they’d park on their own and toss me their keys and a $20. That was fine with me.
    Grad school was funded by teaching English 101 at the university, as well as selling all the clothes I bought when I worked retail and got a discount.
    Law school was funded by editing over 1000 footnotes in a book being written by a prof. , and doing hourly work for a family law practitioner that helped me decide I could never do family law.

  48. Erik H.

    Before and through high school:
    Boatyard assistant (lots of bottom scraping)
    Waiter (many summers, both younger and older)
    Retail sales
    carpenter’s helper

    College and thereabouts:
    assistant camp director
    sailing instructor
    carpenter’s helper

    Car salesman
    Telephone tech support
    Lab researcher (lots of this one)
    Tutor and LSAT instructor
    carpenter’s helper
    boatyard worker and other boaty stuff

    Most valuable ones in retrospect were probably the waitstaff jobs.

  49. Jim Tyre

    Update: For reasons I can’t explain, I neglected to mention that I spent two summers as a “horseback riding instructor” at a summer camp, where my primary duty was shoveling the manure out of the stalls in the morning

    Have you forgotten already how to use the poo emoji? We’ve seen you do it, we know you can.

  50. Bryan Sims

    Mow lawns
    Farm hand
    Handler at a cattle stockyard
    Security Guard
    Night Shift Gas Station Attendant
    Spread Asphalt by hand on road crew
    Chemical plant employee
    Security Guard
    Telemarketing for college admissions
    Temp worker for Manpower
    Clerk for Hickory Farms (I did not lose any parts of my fingers in the slicer).

  51. Lee Thompson

    I’m a Millennial, so it’s less Master of the Universe Mine and more Master of Asking Stupid Questions Until I Stop Not Knowing Things. But I digress.

    -Ice cream server/cashier
    -Dry cleaning cashier
    -Band hall assistant (renting out instruments, printing music, setting up rooms, etc.)
    -Cross-country door-to-door salesman (bonus: got arrested during that one–turns out cops dislike wandering salesman)
    -Dormitory maintenance

  52. Dan Gray

    • Lawn mower
    • Fast food worker
    • Waiter at the Olive Garden
    • Dishwasher at a banquet hall
    • Shift Manager at the same banquet hall
    • Hardware instruction manual writer for a medical transcription company

    Nothing glamorous, but it got me through college with enough to buy the occasional case of the finest of light beers.

  53. Jonathan Edelstein

    In rough order:

    * Tire changer/gas pumper (ages 14-15)
    * Fast food cook (ages 15-16)
    * Census taker (age 17, became supervisor at 18)
    * Taxi driver in Yonkers and the Bronx (age 18, intermittently through age 21)
    * Freelance reporter (ages 19-25)
    * Math tutor (ages 19-21)
    * Tax preparer (ages 20-22, seasonal)
    * Army reservist (ages 21-31)
    * Staffer at a Bronx weekly paper (ages 22-23)

    After that, my jobs started having some resemblance to my eventual career.

  54. Adam

    Not a “master of the universe” yet, but if I make it through 1L alright I still have hopes!

    In order:

    -Ticket taker at a youth dance competition
    – clerk for my high school mock trial coach
    – secretary for a doctor
    – stock clerk at a bookstore
    – materials assistant at a college library
    – inventory clerk/oil-changer at a auto repair facility
    – valet at a hotel
    – purchasing agent for the same hotel
    – reservations agent for that same hotel.

  55. Brent W

    In order:
    (13-15) Delivered newspapers, then later advertising leaflets (sorry) to pay for baseball/soccer.
    (15-18) Made cheesesteaks at a fast food restaurant in the mall. In Nebraska, we could start working at 15.
    (18-19) Internship, prepared daily dashboard reports for big wigs at a brokerage.
    (19-20) Internship, created daily dashboard reports for managers at a railroad.
    (20-21) Internship, fixed bugs working for a defense contractor.
    (22+) Worked for the man.

  56. Dragoness Eclectic

    Just saw this, because I read your column during test runs at work, not over the weekend. (But you guess that because of the number of times I reply 3 days late, right?)

    Things I did before becoming the programmer our clients ask for by name:

    – fry cook at a Southern seafood restaurant in the summer–no air conditioning in the kitchen, but big fans and unlimited free soft drinks to keep us from dying of heat stroke.
    – 4 years enlisted in the US Navy, mostly doing data entry in odd parts of the world (Hi, I can personally attest to the truth of “rainy season” in some parts of the world).
    – temp job packing tea on an assembly line. Stuff got everywhere, in spite of breathing masks. I’d be coughing up black crud for days afterwards.
    – temp job assembling vacuum cleaners in a small factory. Got fired because the supervisor was an ex-military NCO who thought boot camp methods were a good way to run things and I disagreed.
    – grad student job working on software with US Soil & Water Conservation Department. Got see a lot of local farms and ranches and learned something about designing ponds and terracing fields to prevent erosion.
    – warehouse clerk at a computer store. (I also cashiered, but that sucked; I prefer slinging boxes 8-4, 5 days a week to random 4-hour shifts any day of the week. I’m more tolerant of tougher physical conditions than I am of irregular schedules)
    – an otherwise mundane programming job working for a local oil industry services company that sent me out to interesting locations, like someone’s ship, or a rice field in the middle of nowhere, to debug software.
    – low-wage programmer job working for a shifty consultant who bounced pay checks, and had some really unpleasant clients. (I quit after the paychecks started bouncing; I just felt sorry for the most unpleasant client, because the guy was so paranoid that everyone was out to rip him off that he couldn’t have had many friends, and that’s just a sad way of looking at the world 24/7).

    I can’t say I hated all or even most of those jobs; they had their interesting moments. The ones that sucked all around, I quit as soon as I could find something else.

    1. Dragoness Eclectic

      p.s. I would have liked the stable job, when I was younger. I like horses, I don’t mind hard work, and horse shit doesn’t smell nearly as bad as human shit.

  57. jill mcmahon

    Beer pourer for company parties at an amusement park.
    McDonald’s- mostly clean up.
    Legal go-fer
    Lab tech for clay mineralogist (XRD, wet chemistry)
    Archeologist- slow and careful ditch digging
    Surveyor/map maker (pre-laser and CAD)

  58. BoCo

    This was a fun exercise. Sort of an anti-resume…

    Bicycle Paper Route (when friends went on vacation – mostly summers. Deliveries, orders and collections)
    Bought stencils and spray paint (when a 10 yr old could still do so) and went door to door in the summer heat in Tucson painting street numbers on curbs..with my 8 yr old brother.
    Painted outdoor signs at offices of an astronomy organization. Age 10
    Repaired office equipment – think Addressographs and the like. Age 11
    Manually updated real estate Multiple Listing Service binders for a realtor friend of the family (12)
    Got certified to officiate soccer games – both youth and adult games (Age 12-17)
    Mowed lawns throughout childhood
    Janitor for a movie theater (graveyard shift) – summer – age 14.
    Electrical assembly and drill press operator at a small manufacturing company (14 – 15)
    Junior code writer and general admin for software development div of a larger company. (15-17)
    Started a company to DJ high school dances. Met girls, made money. (15-17)
    Pizza delivery in addition to programming job – summer after HS graduation (17)
    Door – to Door vacuum sales (3 days – until I figured out it was a scam to get us to sell $2k vacuums on finance contracts to friends and family – all of whom were able to rescind inside the three day window)
    Long John Silvers dishwasher and fry cook – 2 depressing months while looking for something better.

    Worked 40 hours+ a week throughout undergrad at a fancy resort:
    Room Service
    Front Desk
    Night Auditor/Overnight Manager

    Summer Law clerk (1L) small firm – Tucson
    Summer Law clerk – Appellate division – Colorado State public defender
    Chainlink fence installation and general construction laborer – summer (Tucson – ugh) while studying for bar exam
    Associate – PI law firm (3 months – crooked place – quit)
    Contract and Regulatory counsel – Airline industry 1 year.
    Accounting and Finance projects – full time with Retail Computer sales part-time at Computer City (waiting for admission in a new state)
    Litigation and Transactional Associate and Technology Manager – Medium sized law firm
    Career – In-house and law department tech guy

  59. Junior

    First paid employment: Age 11 – picking berries in Nova Scotia to fill little baskets for those too busy to actually pick.
    Construction: general labourer in home renovations – though high school.
    Pumped gas at full serve station. Best part – front row seats for the near weekly robbery of the liquor store across the parking lot.
    Clean up crew at the Central Experimental Farm (Ottawa, Canada) getting rid of failed experiments in the incinerator.
    Tree planter – 100k IKEA feedstock.
    Career – Army Officer.

  60. James Gordon

    Unpaid (helping friends at their job or household chores):
    Shoveling horse manure, loading/unloading hay onto wagons, loading/unloading pumpkins, collecting eggs, mowing in front of bee hives, ditch cleaning, demolition, splitting wood, digging fence post holes, shoveling snow

    Splitting wood, shoveling snow, putting up steel targets at local shooting range competitions, dishwasher, bus boy, deli worker (where I did not lose any fingertips), salad bar attendant, driving disabled people in a golf cart at a concert stadium, delivering boxes of programs for symphony and ballet performances at a performing arts center, repairing gloves, laundromat attendant, applied shrinkwrap as a temp worker, ticket taker at performing arts center

  61. Bruce Godfrey

    Clerk at country market, $2/hour, cash uinpapered unsupervised.
    Cashier, Hardees – gross but I did it for a little while.
    Clerk, gourmet chocolate shop
    Cashier, Brookstone overpriced goods store
    Inventory Specialist, RGIS (climbing over warehouse boxes in the heat to collect the count)
    Deli Clerk (understand the lost fingertips but got lucky)
    Summer Camp English instructor to kids from Spain

  62. MarK M.

    Parking Lot Sweeper
    Batting Cage Boy
    Swimming Pool Construction Laborer
    Bar Manager
    Car “Flipper”
    LSAT Teacher
    Law Firm Gofer

    Career – Criminal Defense Appellate Work

  63. Dan C

    My favorite was on a crew clearing sewers, storm drains, and catchbasins.

    I will point out however, that this goes both ways. An employer or supervisor is not automatically entitled to your respect — professional comportment in the workplace yes, but not respect.  They are not entitled for an employee to be their buddy, to run their own fiefdom free from professional criticism, or even to be liked. An employer-employee relationship is in some small part founded on an antagonism: that you are bargaining collectively or individually not as an exercise in moral improvement or education in virtue: notionally, at least, you are bargaining in a marketplace to execute work for a wage, and to do that in terms of some agreed-upon hours, benefits, and conditions within the framework of applicable law and industry standards.

    As with the employee, for an employer / supervisor / foreman — an employee’s trust and respect is to be *earned*

    An employee is not required to tolerate wage theft, or time theft, theft of their tips, or the payment of a subminimal wage if applicable. Employees are not obligated to tolerate racial or sexual discrimination, or an unsafe work environment. As everyone here knows, a workplace free from obvious hazard to life or limb is the employer’s duty.

    Employees are not obligated to keep quiet to each other about how much is on their check; their right to discuss wages, schedules, conditions, and benefits and to organize for the improvement of same is protected under law.

    Employees are not required to submit to arbitrary contract violations or to be party to violations of the law, and should be free from retaliation.

    An employee is not unreasonable to expect that his or her employer will be knowledgeable in and uphold industry best practices in but not limited to health and safety, and that the employer will uphold fairly and in good faith any guidelines laid out in the company handbook, should one exist (why doesn’t one exist?). An employee should be able to expect that he or she has clear and fair avenues to pursue investigation and recourse for breaches of those guidelines, a contract if they have one, or the law. And for a reputable employer worthy of one’s respect that “recourse” will not be to call the employee a crybaby and tell them to get in line or get another job. It will not be to fire the squeaky wheel, paper over the problem and protect themselves from liability; it will be to vigorously pursue and remediate the issue and make institutional changes to prevent it from happening again.

    An employee is not unreasonable in the expectation that he or she will not be required to do work outside their agreed-upon job description or hours without consultation, have duties added or changed arbitrarily, or be asked to do tasks or operate equipment for which they are not trained. And so on.

    These are not quibbles. Wage theft is absolutely endemic, especially among low-wage workers, to the tune of billions of dollars per year in the USA. Nearly 40% of working women report being subjected to sexual harassment, assault, or rape in the workplace. This is again, especially the case among low-wage workers. Depending on your region of interest, 50-60% construction sites will, on inspection, show OSHA violations.

    This is not about your boss being nice to you or holding your hand; its about a working world where you have to worry about being raped, groped, stolen from, poisoned, maimed, or killed.

    We’re not even getting into the like. The multi-state criminal conspiracies to hold workers in effective slavery through debt bondage or the foreign college students in the USA on summer visas to, ahem, further their education and cultural knowledge through virtuous work, who get stuck in ripoff company housing under sweatshop conditions.

    That this should be the case is indicative not merely of individual moral failings, but a pervasive and entrenched gross difference in power between employers and employees and willingness on the part of employers to not merely offer a hard-knocks real world degree in Real Life, but to break the law.

    I am unsurprised that young adults make mistakes, that they’d make life choices like trying to make it in the Bay area on $12/hr with the belief that Yelp wouldn’t can them for yakking about it on Twitter. I am unsurprised that young adults are sophmoric.

    But if the real grown adults with their MBAs and JDs and MDs and HR departments and general contractors’ licenses and moral schooling in real tough gritty jobs can’t seem to run a working world free from gross and pervasive lawbreaking — let alone true one where professional deportment is the unfailing norm — what did we learn that’s worth bragging on? What have we built?

    If we want respect for the working world, we first need need to build a working world worthy of respect.

      1. Dan C

        I suppose that does go on. Short version: the lesson of tough, unpleasant jobs is that bosses are not your friends. Log your own hours, total up your checks, watch your back, don’t trust anything they say, if it ain’t safe and they won’t fix it break it for good when no-one’s looking — and don’t ever let him get you alone in the storeroom.

  64. Dennis Murphy

    * Salmon purseiner in SE Alaska (caught 50,000 fish)
    * Burns guard at St. Francis Hotel in SF (where part of The Conversation was filmed)
    * Apartment manager
    * house painter
    * Door to door sales for Fuller Brush (Janet Joplin was on our route; she bought a brush from my brother in law)
    * Carrot cannery in Ferndale, WA
    * paper boy
    * Washed pots and pans at sorority (where former Miss America was member)
    * trained non-lawyer judges for American Academy of Judicial Education
    * Alcohol tax inspector for ATF

  65. Frank

    Laborer in the Youth Conservation Corps (Delaware Water Gap NRA)

    Fast Food Employee (Frankfurters)

    Army Basic Training

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