Every Job I’ve Had: Public Housing, Ivy League Conferences, and a Lit Mag With Barfing Dogs
by R. Lindsey
Part-time Temporary Administrative Assistant (2008):
My first post-college job began in late January, about a month after I graduated from college and returned to my parents’ house in suburban Connecticut. I had been offered a position to stay on for spring semester at my on-campus job at the financial aid office, but at the pay rate of $7.25 per hour it didn’t seem entirely doable, even with dirt cheap southern Wisconsin pricing. I slept until noon in my childhood bedroom for a few weeks and wondered if my first-year advisor who had told me I’d end up working at Wal-Mart with a creative writing degree was right. Sick of watching me lay around, my mother, who works in public housing, announced that there was a temp position available at another housing authority a few towns over. I emailed the woman my resume and interviewed within a few days. Their assistant was having another baby, and they were thrilled with the fact that I knew how to use Excel. I worked three days a week in the town hall basement, shuffling papers and learning how to print on letterhead. There were only two other people in the office, and both of them praised me daily for completing basic tasks and arriving to work on time. One day the director asked me to come in on a day I wasn’t supposed to work, and I agreed. Somehow I didn’t set an alarm for the next morning, though, and I woke two hours after I was supposed to be in the office. I called to see if they still wanted me to come in and was told promptly that I was not to return at all. Three months later it came out in the paper that the same director who’d fired me had embezzled $163,000 of Section 8 money, which made me feel wildly better about being fired from my very first post-college job.
Assistant Summer Housing Manager (2008):
The summer prior to my last semester of college I had worked as a Guest Services Representative in the Conference Services department of an ivy league university that I did not attend. It was a sweet job that paid $12.00 per hour, came with a free apartment, and required very little of me. I had gotten that job through my friend Molly who had worked there the previous summer, and she had gotten it because she has the sort of family members that know people. It was the director’s first year in the program, so at the end of the summer she asked for written suggestions on how the program could be improved. I wrote a seven page essay about how things could be run more smoothly, which led to a phone call the following February asking me to run Summer Session housing. I loved that job, and I was good at that job, but I was hellbent on moving to Chicago, so when the director wanted to hire me on full time at the end of the summer I declined. I recently saw the job she had wanted to hire me for posted on the university’s website, and it started at $52,000. That was not something I knew at the time, and also I was 22, and stupid.
Executive Assistant/Office and Personnel Manager (2008–2010):
After several weeks in Chicago and despite the awkward black blazer I’d purchased at Old Navy, I had zero job prospects. I was staying with my friend Emily who had just started an AmeriCorps VISTA position at a legal non-profit. One day she came home and told me that she might have a lead for me — the non-profit was looking for someone to help with bookkeeping for 10 hours per week. I hadn’t taken a math class since junior year of high school, but I sent my resume in anyway. I was interviewed at a huge conference table first by the budget manager, Dawn, then the executive director.
They conferred directly afterwards while I sat sweating in the conference room. After five or so minutes Dawn came in to tell me that I hadn’t seemed assertive enough and the director was not interested in hiring me. I was trying not to cry as the elevator doors closed when Dawn stuck her foot in the door and told me she’d convinced the director and that I was starting now. She handed me a hundred dollar bill, put me back in the elevator, and told me to go buy cantaloupe for an attorney’s going away party.
They had conveniently fired the Administrative Director that same morning, and by November, I had replaced her at a savings of $20,000 and the cost of my knowing very little about how to actually do my job. Learning what I was doing came easier than navigating what turned out to be a wildly toxic work environment, and when Dawn walked out a year and a half later, I was quick on her heels.
Associate/Assistant/Managing Editor (unpaid) (2009–2012):
My friend Monica, who I’d met at a rooftop party on the first day of my second year in Chicago and who became my instant and constant companion, worked for an independent lit mag run by one of her former professors. The combination of my interest in the magazine and my previous experience with my college’s fiction journal led to my working there for two and a half years under various titles and accomplishing not nearly as much as I wanted to due to the magazine being both broke and terribly disorganized. Both Monica and I stopped working there when the editor moved in with one of his 19 year-old students and we couldn’t get anything done at the editorial meetings because the dog they’d just adopted kept barfing on the floor.
College Counseling Assistant/AmeriCorps Member (2010 -2011):
After a year at my non-profit job, I began the job search over but it was 2009, the economy was garbage, and nothing stuck. After another year, the office had grown even more toxic, and the idea of staying was unbearable. My roommate, who to this day is still the best thing I’ve found on Craigslist, had done a two-year stint with an educational AmeriCorps program, and despite the very little money it paid, it began to sound more appealing than my current situation. She was still close with the program manager but by the time I’d applied the program was filled. The program began in September, but in late August someone dropped out. The program manager reached out to me, my roommate guided me through the interview questions she knew they would ask me, and the next thing I knew I was in a room full of optimistic 22-year-olds wondering what I’d done. I was placed at a charter school in a Latino neighborhood and opted to focus my energy into helping seniors through the college application process. Although it was an incredibly hard year for me, I both figured out a lot about myself and figured out what I wanted to do career-wise.
Program Assistant (2011–2014):
Partly because I had no idea what else to do and partly because every job I wanted strongly suggested an advanced degree, I enrolled in grad school the following fall. My program is an educational counseling program with a focus on college student development. As soon as I got my campus internet login information I bee-lined to the student employment job board, where I applied for two graduate level positions. I interviewed for both on the same day, botching the morning interview when I was asked for an on-the-spot writing sample on a subject I’d failed to thoroughly investigate and rambling about critical service and white privilege in relation to my AmeriCorps position in the second. I figured I’d either aced or totally missed the boat on that second interview, but within two weeks I was starting as the Program Assistant for a community-based work-study program for undergraduate students, a program that I’m running until June when I graduate. When I had to hire students I saw that almost 100 people had applied for the position I’d gotten. I felt wildly pleased by both this and the fact that this was the first job I’d gotten that wasn’t somehow through knowing someone.
Graduate Intern Advisor (2013–2014):
Because it’s counseling-based, my graduate program requires a year-long clinical internship. After sending out a few feelers that were actually just dead ends, I landed an interview at a federal TRiO Student Support Service office, a program designed to support first-generation and low-income students to persist in college, which happened to be exactly what I wanted to do. I showed up to my interview only to be told that I was an hour late and that I would not be seen. After a healthy bout of hysterical sobbing in my career adviser’s office, I figured out that the calendar invite I’d received was off because my laptop thought I was still on the East Coast. I explained the situation in a carefully-worded email, and managed to not bring it up or nervously over-explain during my interview. I’ll be here until June as well, and despite what feels like a solid job and educational history, I’m terrified about the future.
R. Lindsey almost has her Master of Education degree. At the moment, she lives in Chicago.