Tag Archives: job-hopping

Jobs You Don’t Include on Your CV

17 Jun

I’ve had a few jobs that will never make the cut on my CV. Not because I’m ashamed of them, or because I didn’t get anything out of them, but because they were just ‘filler’ jobs. That is, jobs to fill my wallet for a while until something better came along. I’ve been taught not to include such stopovers on my CV because including them apparently sends the message that I’m just a job-hopper, bouncing casually from one lily-pad desperate for cheap labour to the next.

But really, I picked up quite a few useful things from all the lily-pads I’ve bounced across in my time. In fact, I think that some of the skills I’ve learned, truths I’ve discovered or notes for future reference I’ve… noted… are more valuable than those important looking ones in business suits that stare out self-importantly from my resumé, arms folded across their chests. You know the ones. All those banal phrases like ‘juggling multiple responsibilities’, ‘project management’, ‘interpersonal skills’, ‘fanning the boss with a giant palm leaf and being sure not to scrimp on the peeled grapes’, that sort of stuff. All of those things that everybody has usually mastered by the age of 6 anyway.

So here follows an alternative CV; a list of my stopover lily-pads, and some important things I’ve learned from each one:

1. Waitress/Cashier, 1 month

Lessons learned:

People tend to assume knowledge where it may not exist, and it costs them.

The place: a café that shall remain nameless at Sydney University. The problem: I had never used a cash register that didn’t do the sums for you before.

My manager, quite relaxed in most areas of food service anyway, naturally assumed that I could do the calculations in my head. I didn’t want to embarrass myself by admitting that I usually need my fingers to count things (although apparently I’m fine to admit it here), so I just gave it my best, erring on the side of giving people too much change than too little, and hoped that the amount of staff using the cash register would save me from capture.

I wasn’t even good enough to work out how much I must have been giving away every day. Still, I got paid the stated cash-in-hand amount, so nobody must have noticed. 8 hours at $10.25 an hour is $65.72, right?

Rules and procedures can have blurry edges. If you make sure you’re completing the task as required, you can be silly with the blurry bits, and thereby feel like you’re making a joke out of working where you do, rather than letting it get to you.

The main part of my job description, apart from taking people’s money, was to write their coffee orders on Styrofoam cups and hand them across to the staff who’d graduated to the level of swill maker.

That was the only ‘rule’: write coffee order on cup, hand to swill maker. The kind of repetitive activity that makes you start daydreaming about the life you hoped you would have by now.

To save myself from ennui, I decided to take this rule and stretch it out. Literally. When it was quiet I took to writing essay-length requests that snaked and spiralled and swooped and swerved their way around the Styrofoam cups. Things like, ‘This lovely lady is really hankering for a deliciously frothy cappuccino with an extra shot of coffee inside. Do you think you could do that for her, Bob? I’m sure she’d be very grateful. Oh, and Bob, while you’re at it, would you mind complimenting her on her shoes before she walks away? They’re rather nice shoes and people like being complimented on their footwear. I know. Someone complimented me on my brogues the other day and it filled me with an inner glow for a good 20 minutes. She might come back again, that way. ‘Not only do they make great coffee,’ she will say to all of her friends, ‘But they also throw in free compliments about your shoes.’’

2. Mobile catering staff, 3 months

Lessons learned:

People are more likely to offer money when they’re handing something to you, rather than you handing something to them.

Throughout this job, which involved serving rich people food at various fancy-pants locations around London, I discovered that it was always better to work in the cloakroom than to pour drinks or make the rounds with a plate of canapés. People tip prolifically when they’re handing you their coat. When you’re refilling their Bordeaux or serving them beetroot-cured Scottish salmon on horseradish fritters, on the other hand, they barely acknowledge your existence.

 Don’t waste money on a wedding cake.

We catered a wedding once, and instead of forking out for the traditional tiered marzipan monstrosity, the bride asked each of her 15 bridesmaids to bring a home-made cake instead. It was fantastic; all of these crazy creations started showing up, some of them sagging in the middle, some of them drowning in fluorescent green icing, some of them hosting Lego-man re-enactments of medieval battles, some of them studded with multicoloured pipe-cleaners twisted into love-hearts, some of them shaped like fire-breathing dragons and some of them just lovingly dusted with icing sugar.

That’s what I want.

3. English teacher, 1 month

Lessons learned:

3 hours is a lot longer in a classroom than it is in your head

So when I first arrived in Brussels I took a job teaching English over the summer. It was 3 hours a day (9am-12pm), 5 days a week, and the day before I started, I sat down to work out my first lesson plan. I should mention that I have absolutely no teaching qualifications whatsoever, and this probably explains why I thought that getting all the kids to introduce themselves would take 15 minutes. Oh yes, I was very liberal with my time sprinkler. Talking about our favourite things would take 10 minutes, playing the ‘Guess What I Am’ game with pictures of carrots and bananas stuck to our foreheads would certainly take at least 20 minutes, and discussing the local flora and fauna where we’re from would take about 20 minutes, too.

Foolish, foolish! I thought I’d come prepared with a bountiful basket of games to keep the kids’ eyes sparkling for 3 hours, but it turned out that I’d used up every last conversation starter within the first hour. And then I was faced with a class full of increasingly bored and insolent 10 year olds, including a Hungarian boy called Bruno who started swinging back in his chair to bang his head repeatedly against the wall, wailing ‘aaaaaaah, aaaaaaaah, aaaaaaah’ louder and louder before turning to punch his younger brother in the arm and then tackle him to the floor.

Of course after that I panicked, went into overdrive, and prepared enough to potentially cover a 24-hour lesson every day. And, while looking for time-eating ideas, I picked up a new skill (or, more accurately, re-learned an old one). Which is:

How to make an origami frog that jumps

It’s pretty easy, actually. And it keeps kids occupied for a good half an hour or more, especially if you ask them to decorate them and then have races with them across the tables afterwards.

4. ‘Client Advisor’ for a luxury brand, 3 months

Lessons learned:

People can react to the exact same problem in completely different ways

Okay, so ‘Client Advisor’ was the official job title, but that was just a euphemism for ‘Call Centre Wench’. The job involved answering phone calls from the UK’s rich folk, or wannabe rich folk, so that they could check whether a certain store had that £750 pair of shoes in their size, order £11,000 worth of goods in 7 minutes, or enquire about the repair of their £6000 handbag.

The main issue we hapless call-centre wenches (and he-wenches) had to contend with was that, since luxury brands have this gloss of being smooth and flawless, customers naturally expected the company to actually run that way. Not so. The company procedure for exchanges and refunds, for example, was only slightly less complicated than the invasion of Normandy.

After handling 50+ calls a day, I swiftly discovered that, although the company could be counted on to cock-up consistently, callers’ criticisms of carbon-copy cock-ups could be like chalk and cauliflower.

One person would say, ‘Oh no, that’s no good! I’m so disappointed. But these things happen, I guess. What do you think you could do to help me? I’d really appreciate anything you might be able to do.’

And another in an identical situation would say, ‘WHAT?! What are you saying to me? Oh, I just cannot BELIEVE this! This is sheer and blatant incompetence! I DEMAND compensation! Put your manager on the phone right now. What? He’s not there? Well what are YOU going to DO about it then? I’m not hanging up until this is fixed. I’m a busy woman, you know. I don’t have time for this. You’d better tell me what you’re going to do about it right this instant or I’m going to contact the press and talk to everyone I know until this company is unmasked as the satanic cesspool it really is. Come on, ANSWER ME!’

This isn’t even an exaggeration. Well, I don’t think anyone ever used the exact phrase ‘satanic cesspool’, but I did have one woman who interspersed her tirade with my name until I felt like I was sinking into one. Which leads to my next lesson:

How to not take it personally when people are yelling at you

It’s really difficult to distance yourself from a problem (that you did not create) when someone attaches your name to it. Like this: ‘We are living in the 21st century, aren’t we SARAH? Why is this company so incompetent, SARAH? Don’t tell me ‘I understand your frustration’, SARAH; you don’t understand ANYTHING!’

I’ve always had a problem with accepting responsibility for things that aren’t my fault, but somehow, after this gargantuan torrent of abuse (to which I could not effectively fight back, since I believed that doing so would lead to me being given my marching orders), it was easier for me to take everything with a grain of pepper.

I’d had a few horribly abusive phone calls before this banshee came along, but the overblownness of her abuse really helped to solidify my sense of indignation. The thing about this job was that practically nothing was ever my or my co-wenches’ fault. We weren’t causing problems; we were solving them. But then, people who are having a crisis with their handbag don’t like being told, ‘It’s not my fault’, so I learned that the best approach was to become a frozen lake. That is, to keep my feeling fishes safe underneath, and let the people with more dollars than sense tear long scratches into the surface with their ice-skates.


So there you have it. My alternative CV. Provided you have a cash register that does the sums for you, would you hire me?