Everyone wants to avoid the grossest jobs in America, especially with shows out there like Dirty Jobs, which highlight some of the most undesirable work ever. Garbage collection? Exterminator? Uh, no thanks. Unfortunately for you recent grads, the job market is still weak, and the scramble to find a job in your field is in full swing. But remember, whatever you find, whether it be a summer job or another internship at a sought-after company, it could be worse. Much worse.
Sitting at my desk at my summer job as a receptionist, I get to listen to jackhammers tearing up the building’s front steps just 20 feet away. Having to talk, and think, over the noise has almost given me daily migraines, but at least I’m not the one wielding the power tools.
“My first job after college was working on a deconstruction crew that was remodeling the dorm I lived in freshman year,” said attorney Matt Landers, Luther College ‘03. Matt removed tile in bathrooms, ripped up shower floors, and knocked down walls and ceilings. “For 2 weeks straight my job was to jackhammer the floors of the showers out in the basement bathrooms. The humid Iowa summer air was a constant 95 degrees and I was covered in protective gear and lost lots of weight sweating. After an 8-hour day of running a jackhammer, my entire body hurt and felt like it was still shaking. I'd be covered in dust, and my ears would be ringing from the sound of the jackhammer in the enclosed space. I'll never look at dorm room bathrooms the same.”
Apparently, even volunteer work has its setbacks. I remember volunteering at an animal shelter and having to clean up a sick German shepherd’s excrements, and participating in a highway cleanup, and learning the bizarre things people throw out their car windows. Not the most glamorous work by any means.
“I was doing some volunteer work (at Goodwill),” said Hope Pruett, a Colorado State University sophomore. “I was told to take the clothes people left in the changing rooms back out to their proper place in the store. On my very first day I encountered a terrible mess some inconsiderate woman had left behind on the floor of one of the stalls. Apparently it was her time of the month; she had bled through her panties and jeans. She must have bought (or just walked out with) a new pair of pants from the store. I was shocked, and asked the manager what to do. She seemed surprised too and told me to throw the jeans out back. She didn't give me any gloves or sanitizer, which I realize was pretty irresponsible on her part. Nonetheless, I took the soaked clothes and hurriedly ran them out to the trash compactor. Then I washed my hands like crazy!”
Dealing with more than just a huge mess, senior at Colorado State University Chris Huber dealt with inadequate safety gear while working in a factory that made grinding wheels used in industrial manufacturing after his freshman year. Thin cloth and heat-resistant gloves were all that protected him when he placed molds into kilns as hot as 900 degrees, and a face mask was all that protected him from inhaling diamond powder, which can cause emphysema.
“The level of danger working here was very serious and it’s somewhat surprising that I still have all of my fingers and toes,” said Huber. “I was one of the only workers to not be given steel toed boots because I was a temporary worker, which meant the risk of crushing my feet with a dropped mold was very real. I burned every square inch of my arms and hands, I crushed my fingers on molds, and even though I was given a respiratory device I know I still inhaled some level of diamond dust while working there.”
With most dirty jobs, there is some amount of dignity and respect that can come with making it out of your worst job ever alive. Imagine, however, being despised for eight hours a day, five days a week. I’m not talking about politicians, either (I’m pretty sure that’s a 24/7 job, anyway). I’m referring to the annoying people on the other end of your phone trying to sell you obscure products that you would never use. Telemarketing is likely one of the worst jobs that doesn’t involve anything smelly.
“I feel that telemarketers are really annoying and now that I am one I know that they have to do it or they can get in trouble,” said Aurora Community College student Jessica Lynch. “I feel bad because I annoy people all day. I call people and renew magazine subscriptions to stupid magazines no one reads and conduct really long surveys that no one wants to sit through. I’m given a script, so I really don’t even know anything about what it is I’m selling.” As if making other people uncomfortable was not enough of a reason to dislike her job, Lynch has had plenty of awkward moments herself. “One day a good 50 percent of the people I called were deceased, and I would talk to their husband or wife. When they told me, I would say ‘Oh, I’m so sorry…do you want the magazine?’ I felt so horrible. And, because I don’t want to pay thirty dollars for my own headset, I have to use ones that are broken and no one can hear me so I have to scream into the headset. I’m so annoying.”
So during your cheerless pursuit of a job that can turn into a career, don’t give up hope just yet. For some, having to temporarily work for your dad until you find a “real” job is still better than other things you could do.
What to do in an awful workplace situation
How do you deal with a job that is below the standards that you originally set for yourself? Patricia Morgan gives HC some advice on dealing with a bad job from her book, From Woe to Wow: How Resilient Women Succeed at Work.
How to: Say No, Yes or It Depends to an Unreasonable Request from your Employer
- Give yourself time to consider the request— “I’d like to think about it.”
- Repeat the request before saying, “Thank you for asking but no.”
- Offer an alternative—“No, but what I will do is . . .”
- Suggest that someone else is better suited to do the task.
- When appropriate, explain why you are saying no—“I say no because . . .”
- State the conditions you require to meet a request—“I will after I finish this assignment.”
- Explain what is not good for your group, team or company—“The most effective use of my time is . . .”
- Show you care—“I hear you are in a bind and I wish I could do more but . . .”
How to: Get Familiar with Protective Laws
Realize you have the right to:
- Be free of all isms—sexism, racism, ageism.
- Refuse responsibility or blame for the actions and decisions of others.
- Ask for guidance and support.
- Say, “I quit.”
- Be treated with respect and dignity.
- Confront those who treat you with disrespect or abusive language or behavior.
Tell the truth about:
- Those who treat you disrespectfully or abusively.
- Situations that put your safety at risk.
- Problems that affect your productivity or work satisfaction.
How to: Quit or Resign
- Have a backup opportunity before putting yourself in financial crisis.
- Check out the job market before taking action.
- Ask for letters of reference if possible before moving on.
- Speak to management or assert yourself before resigning.
- If possible, avoid burning bridges.
- Avoid blaming or finger-pointing.
- Frame your resignation as a decision to move onto a more challenging, better-fit or higher-level position.
- If you feel out of integrity because you have not taken action about a workplace injustice, address it before you walk out the door.
Information about Patricia Morgan’s book can be found on her website.
Matt Landers, Luther College 2003
Hope Pruett, Colorado State University 2013
Chris Huber, Colorado State University 2010
Jessica Lynch, Aurora Community College 2011
Patricia Morgan, Resiliency at work and home expert, speaker and author