30-Something Worries: A Job History

There is a lot to do when looking for a new job, and staying mentally focused has been at the top of the list.

It’s been a few weeks since I learned I was laid off. My spirits are still up, and although there are moments when I oscillate between fear and a feeling that I’m not doing enough, I’m generally motivated.

There is a lot to do when looking for a new job, and staying mentally focused has been at the top of the list. But I’ve also been thinking a lot about my past, specifically my previous jobs and how I got them, and the motivations (or lack thereof) of my past job hunts. Below I’ve documented almost every job I’ve had, and how I got them, if for no other reason than to document my learnings through the years.

The Early Days — High School Through College

My first real paying job was either in 11th or 12th grade, working at the hospital in my hometown. My dad worked there as a maintenance mechanic and got me a job in the hospital kitchen, where I would help clean dishes and deliver food to patients. I probably earned minimum wage—something like $6.50 at the time—and worked between 10 to 20 hours a week. I remember walking into the basement kitchen, the smell of humid and hot dishwashers, dirty plates, and food.

I recall an instance when I took a plate into a room and gave it to a patient who gave me a strange look. When I walked out, I realized that the room had a quarantine sign on it. Whatever was in there, I thankfully didn’t catch it.

After my first year of college, I got a summer job working for a family friend who owned an automotive repair shop. I learned to change oil, and, after a fortuitous string of events, got the alternator on my own car fixed for a decent price.

My third job was related to my second, and the same family friend helped me get a job the next summer working for CarQuest. I drove a truck in Palm Springs during the summer, delivering car parts to various auto shops in the area. I enjoyed driving the Ford Ranger all over town, listening to the radio and thinking about whatever a 19-year-old thinks about. Damn was it hot.

After that summer I landed a job at a coffee shop in my college town. One of my closest friends at the time was working there and got me an interview. I discovered I wasn’t a great interviewer, but I landed the cashier role anyway. Looking back on it, the network had paid off. I don’t remember how long I was there, maybe 6 to 8 months, but I increasingly disliked it. The least favorite part of the job was having to close the shop, which required sweeping up cigarette butts and occasionally telling people to leave so I could hose down the patio.

Post-Graduation: 2005–2007

In the summer of 2005, I graduated and moved to Los Angeles to pursue my music career with my bandmate. Our goal was to write music, get a full band together, and make it big. Los Angeles was the place to do it, or so we thought. As the summer rolled on I was looking for work on Craigslist and found it extremely difficult to land anything. Everyone wanted some sort of experience that I didn’t have. I was trying to make it in music, and any other career choice seemed unfathomable. I just needed something to pay the bills.

I eventually hit a winner when I got hired to work in the L.A. casinos as a third-party banker. What is that you ask? I basically had a box full of chips that I used to bank the table games, mainly Blackjack and Pai Gow, because in L.A., the house cannot have an advantage (like in Vegas). The house only rents the seat out to players, who pay $1 for each hand. My job was to bank the table, and make sure the players and the dealer were not cheating, since it was my company’s money on the line.

I found the job exciting at first, until I got to see the sad regulars who would come in and blow their money away. These gambling addicts came in all shapes and sizes, including an elementary school principal who would come in and get wasted. I would work from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. five nights a week. I lasted a good 10 months and then quit after all the human misery wore me down.

And that’s when I discovered the wonderful world of temp jobs, after my roommate introduced me to an agency. I didn’t need to hunt online because I had a whole company who searched for me. It was a perfect match, although I failed miserably at my first gig at a high-end hotel in Beverly Hills. I had to wear a suit each day, and I only had one. It was about 3 sizes too big and I must have looked like the kid in the final scene of BIG.

I got increasingly better with each new assignment, and I became a good administrative assistant. There were some low points: In 2007, I was given an assignment at a media consulting company, and it started out well. They liked me and I liked them. It was all going fine until I found out how crazy the founder was. And by crazy I mean the type of entertainment industry executive who is internally a child. He was perpetually insecure, angry and emotional, and explosive. It came to a head when he lost his shit about a salad I had picked up for his lunch. The problem: The avocado was sliced, not chopped.

The Law Office: 2007–2014

The next position the agency found me was much better, even during its low points. I became an executive assistant at a law office. I found myself working around 30 or so lawyers, and I quickly realized I did not want a career in law. But the work was interesting at first, and my boss was not only a great lawyer but pretty entertaining as well. To top it off, he was not crazy.

About a year later my music career had come to a point where I could see the writing on the wall. I started to really look around and take stock of my options. As life would have it, the Great Recession hit in 2009.

I was laid off from the law office in January of that year and didn’t find anything for six months; no temp jobs were available. I decided to take a trip to Romania to visit family for a couple of months, and when I got back I had a voicemail from the law office, asking me if I wanted to come back. With no other options available, I accepted, and a job that should have lasted maybe a couple of years turned into a seven-year position.

It wasn’t that I didn’t do anything during that time. I took advantage of the fact that there wasn’t always much to do. I got involved with my wife’s photography business, and applied and got into business school. I got married, and started business school in the fall of 2012. Oh, and I became a dad at the end of that first school year (almost forgot that little note).

The Transition: 2014-Present

My first priority after school started was to find a new job. But as I began to look at my options, I realized I didn’t have many marketable skills. I had plenty of administrative experience, but that was a world I was aching to leave behind. I was also a business school student and a new father, and looking for work was a full-time job in itself.

I resolved to focus on just getting to another job with the skills I did have, namely writing, communication, and some web experience. For almost two years I searched, networked, sought advice, and generally tried to keep my confidence up. In my low moments I felt stuck, sometimes angry, and sometimes wondered if all my work would ever amount to anything, or if I needed a new strategy.

And then it happened: My efforts paid off. I heard about a content opportunity from a person I had connected with on LinkedIn a year earlier at a fireside chat. She worked at a startup that I was a fan of and I got the job after interviewing with the editors on the team. It was an ideal situation for me: high energy, smart people, a close team, and a lot of challenging work.

It was the best job I’ve had to date, but as I wrote about in my last column, all good things come to an end at some point.

And that about brings me to my current job search. After more than three years of networking and connecting with people I like and respect, I’m taking my new business degree and the last couple of years of experience for a test drive. I’m treating this like a sales job, and the product I’m selling is me. This is by no means easy because the traditional idea of sales is one I have no desire to be a part of. But I have learned enough to finally understand that “selling” goes hand in hand with doing things for others, offering help, and being proactive. My goal is to make a sincere positive contribution in any situation I’m in, and that’s something I’m comfortable talking about.

I got some golden advice from a friend I met for dinner last week. He has been doing business development for a number of years for multiple startups. I asked him how he develops the relationships that lead to a sell. “I find out what they need done the next week and I do it for them on Sunday,” he told me. “I take their problems off the table so they can sleep better at night.” It’s advice that has already paid off in my search.

How long will it take to get to my next job? Definitely not as long as last time. But if the old sales adage holds true, I might have to reach out to 100 people to make one sale.

This article is the fifth in a series.

Mircea Vlaicu lived in Los Angeles with his wife and son. He was a content marketer at a big tech company, runs a wedding photography business with his wife, and recently earned his MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management. You can, but don’t have to, follow him on Twitter: @MirceaVlaicu


30-Something Worries: Will I Survive Another Layoff?

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