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All in a day's work

Published: Saturday, 18 September 2004   Category: Career Advice

Helen McNutt has been pursuing the graduate career dream that has seen her take up 18 jobs in two years

You go to university. You graduate. You take a year out to travel. You return. You start a well paid job related to your degree ... or at least that's how it's meant to go.

When so many of us are sold the same career story it's no surprise that when it doesn't happen that way we wonder what we're doing wrong. And all of a sudden it's October. Although it feels like you only graduated yesterday you realise it's actually been four months. You also realise that all your uni friends seem to have high flying jobs, or teaching posts in remote African villages. At the very least they have a clear idea of what they want to do. You have none of these things and panic sets in.

I know how it feels. Last year I was a 25-year -old graduate looking for my eighteenth job. I'd resigned from my relatively comfortable sales job in order to find work that I loved. After five weeks of utter confusion about what I wanted to do, and increasing desperation, I convinced myself that I was completely rubbish and I couldn't see myself as anything other than totally broke, unemployed and utterly miserable.

Then I made a more positive step. I went back to my old job - but as a temp. I promised myself it would only be for a week. And of course, six months later I was still there - doing my old job but getting paid a lot less to do it.

When I finally quit (for the second time) there was no job waiting for me, but at least this time I knew what I wanted to do, which was to become a freelance writer. But I also reflected on the number of jobs I'd had so far - it was at least some comfort to realise that I'd been in this position 17 times before and somehow those jobs had kept on coming.

I've been an editor, a call centre operative, a waitress, a PA, a wetsuit hander-outer, a sales executive, a logistics consultant and a full-time photocopier. I have taught the ex-girlfriend of a Beach Boy how to ride in California (and been utterly shocked as this elegant granny complained that the saddle hurt her fanny, before realising fanny is American for bum), presented a live radio show in Sydney, washed dishes for Hare Krishnas and sold advertising space to charities.

I have left my dream job to go to Australia and left my second dream job to come back home again. I have been sacked from two jobs, both on the same day (I failed to turn up after drinking a bottle of tequila with my boyfriend and running off to Gretna Green to get married).

I have worked for all types of businesses - from huge multinationals to one-man organisations and within these, some of my bosses have been psychos while others have become my closest friends. My colleagues have included Persians, Mexicans, Americans, horses, dogs and a drugged up Kiwi who thought he was Merlin.

My career has certainly been varied and has taken me all over the world. My conclusion? Periods of unemployment and time spent temping or 'McJobbing' are just another part of your career path. There's a tendency to see your lack of wonderful job as a disastrous crash in your employment history. As a graduate, there can be so much pressure to be successful and find a well-paid, fulfilling job now, that even the most balanced of us can temporarily lose faith.

I finally have a job I love, but while I was looking for it I felt like the only person ever to be without one; the only one who was demoralised by the steady trickle of rejection letters. And here's my second point. It is so important to remember, throughout all the trials and tribulations of unemployment, crap employment and under-employment, that until you make your mind up, your current position is only temporary and it will change. Of course, it won't change until you want it to and that means you have to take steps to discover what you really do want. So get your head straight and get that job - or just relax, kick back and enjoy the easy life for a while.

Job-hopping tips

1. Write a list of the 10 things you want in a job - if a job offers less than seven, only take it as a stepping stone.

2. It's always best to take a job that has room for growth. I know a TV executive who started by making the tea at Granada.

3. Be prepared to answer the question 'What have you been doing for the past two years?' Sell your job-hopping positively.

4. Try before you buy. Don't take the job as an experiment - talk to real people who are already doing the job before you commit.

5. Get someone with commercial experience to help translate all your educational experience into meaningful work terms such as research, managing information, working in teams, making presentations.

6. Before taking yet another job ask yourself, "Am I taking this out of fear of not having a job, or is it really something I can learn from and have fun with?"

7. Try to pick up extra skills from every job you do, such as typing, speaking a new language or being in a leadership position.

8. To give yourself some financial stability, set up a flexible pension or long-term savings plan, even if you're just paying in a tiny amount every week.

9. A seeming lack of career focus can make some employers edgy, so rather than listing 'teacher, bartender and dancer' group them together as time spent as 'cultural advancement personnel'.

10. If you do want to settle into one job and can't decide which, write down what your favourite aspects were from each previous job and notice any similarities

Source: Saturday September 18, 2004
The Guardian

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