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take this job and shovel it
lessons in un-padding a resume
by adam kraemer (@DryWryBred)
5.11.09
humor


For reasons not particularly germane to this column, I recently found myself updating my resume. I have officially worked in enough jobs in New York City to finally remove the remaining vestiges of my former life in Boston.

That's right. Working as an assistant at the Kennedy School of Government (a job that actually resulted in my temporarily losing large patches of hair, I might add) is finally off the bottom of the resume. Which is actually a good thing, since I'm pretty sure the overwhelming majority of my time at KSG was spent taking out library books by the dozens and living in a constant state of panic - neither of which is a skill I hope to have to utilize again.

However, I will say this, on the page, working at an institution as prestigious as Harvard looked good. I was a glorified receptionist, but the job looked good.

There have been, however, jobs that never made the resume. Not because they were illegal; don't worry, mom. But because they either were so short-lived as to not really qualify, or because the job description was less impressive than having no job at all, or because I was so awful at it that I never wanted to take the chance of having my former employers asked about me.

If you haven't figured it out by now, there's a list coming up. Without much further ado, here are the top five jobs I've held that never made it on to my resume. You may notice that not one of them is a retail position. This is mostly because I have never held a retail position. Would you want to walk into Benetton and be sold clothes by the 14-year-old me? I didn't think so. In no particular order:

1) Library assistant.
I spent four hours every afternoon one summer reshelving library books at the Elkins Park (Pennsylvania) Free Library.

That's it. Reshelving books. Not computer stuff. Not organizing book sales. Not even stamping library cards (if that's a thing that happens at libraries; I don't remember). No, I shelved books. For hours at a time.

I have since forgotten everything I apparently knew about the Dewey Decimal System.

Obviously, whoever hired me recognized that I had all the requisite qualifications for the position: at least one working eye, enough body strength to push a wooden cart, and the mental acuity necessary to put numbers in order. I think on my days off they hired a tall third-grader to fill in for me.

2) Substitute teacher for a religious school.
I think this lasted two weeks, mostly by my choice.

As many of my former campers would likely tell you if asked, I'm not really a "kid person." I've gotten better as I've gotten older, but when I was 15, they scared the bejeezus out of me.

Basically, it's like this. Remember how you generally treated substitute teachers in school? Some combination of disdain and pity, right? Now remember how seriously you took Sunday School. I don't know how it works in non-Jewish religions, but I know that we all felt that Sunday School occupied some position on the importance continuum just slightly lower than knowing the name of the store where your mom used to buy your underwear. Now combine those. Obviously, substitute Sunday School teachers get a lot of respect.

After two weeks of not even being able to get the good kids to stop talking, I never went back.

3) Computer tutor.
No, not because it rhymes.

Amazingly, this job was even more short-lived than the previous one on the list.

The year after graduation, my freshman/sophomore-year college roommate, Justin, had an idea to start a company teaching the basics of computer use to people who were pretty much totally computer illiterate. This usually meant older generations - those who hadn't grown up with word processors or double-clicking or terms like "word processors" and "double-clicking."

It was an excellent idea, really. Mr. Jones, let's say, is given a computer by his children (this was 1997, by the way) and he doesn't know the first thing about what any of it means or does. He's never used e-mail. He doesn't know who Microsoft is. He hasn't experienced the blue screen of death. And he's scared. But he knows it's the "wave of the future," and he wants to be able to tell his boss, "Yes, I know how to use WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3."

So this is where we would come in: recent college graduates who understand, fundamentally, how to load up a program, what a drop-down menu is, and what to do in the face of the blue screen of death. For $50/hr (I think), we'd drive to your house and demonstrate the basics of this weird new operating system called "Windows." I suggested that for another $50 we'd also show them where we hid all their icons at the end of the hour, but Justin nixed that idea.

Except that I sucked at it. I think Mr. Jones was more confused about his computer after our lesson than he was before I showed up. Again, I was young and had more or less learned all this stuff by trial and error as well as basic intuition, so I was totally unprepared to actually teach any of it. "Lesson plan? No need. I've got all the knowledge in my head. I'll just tell him all of it. That won't overwhelm him in the slightest."

I'm not sure how long Justin ran that service, but I know I was never asked to do it again. Nor, I might add, did I volunteer. I will also state, for the record, that I did not hit on Mr. Jones' wife. No matter what she said.

4) Piano teacher.
Actually, this is a new one. I currently have one student. In truth, I'm just pimping out my column as free advertising. Contact me via this Web site if you're interested in taking lessons. Friends get a reduced fee.

Still, it's not on my resume. Yet.

5) Construction worker.
Again, not because of the reason you may think. I never listed construction worker on my resume, not because I felt it was beneath me to do so, but because I was so appallingly awful at it.

The same summer I was working at the library, I would spend every morning, from 6 am to noon, working at a construction site for a building designed by Lance R. Kraemer Associates (my father's an architect). So, yeah. Construction in the morning, change out of my work clothes, shelve books in the afternoon. There's nothing schizophrenic about that schedule, at all.

My parents had arranged to get me the job because, "we want you to see the alternative of going to college." Obviously, they knew I would love working with my hands.

As I said, though, I was terrible. It was the summer between my junior and senior years (I think), and I was not the specimen of physical perfection with which you are all familiar today. So, of course, the first job they gave me was hauling gravel in a wheelbarrow. "There's no way the architect's kid could fuck up hauling gravel, right?" Except that I couldn't haul a lot of gravel. Hell, I probably can't do so now. At 5'6", I simply can't pick a wheelbarrow that high off the ground. After four days, and very little headway, I was replaced and set to a task that didn't require brute strength or the use of my shoulders and legs at all.

I was shown a long piece of PVC piping and handed a tub of something and a yellow string tied around a rock. "You're going to put this piping together using this glue. Every time you add a new piece, run this string through it, so we can just tie the electrical cables to one end and pull it through." Simple, right? Not for Adam "Murphy's Law" Kraemer. Briefly:
  • I had a hard time fitting each piece of the piping together. (See "brute strength.")
  • After finally gluing all of the straight lengths to each other, I discovered that I had this now-100-foot tube facing the wrong way. The elbow piece that needed to fit on the end of it actually needed to fit on the far end of it.
  • It had rained the night before.
  • In the process of trying to turn the tubing around, the middle separated because I hadn't fit those pieces together right, the two guys who were helping me wound up dropping their ends, and the yellow line I'd been snaking through the pipes snapped because it was wet from the rainstorm the night before.
In three days, I had succeeded solely in making the job harder for them. Though as my friend Paul once commented about a wholly different matter, "Why do it right when you can do it twice?"

I was removed from the PVC piping project.

My third and final job was to paint a wall with bituminous waterproofing, aka, tar. The building was set into a hillside, so the part of the wall that would meet the land once the building was complete had to be painted with tar, pretty much to seal it from seeping ground water. You can guess what happened next.

No, actually I hate to disappoint you, but I actually did pretty well at this one. So far. The building is only 21 years old, so we still have some time before I can breathe totally easy. Dad, you know which building I'm talking about. If it does spring a leak, my bad.

Regardless, while my father is still friends with the contractors who hired me (or at least he was prior to the publishing of this column), it just made a lot more sense to me, even at the time, not to open that particular can of worms. Key Achievements: cost construction company unnecessary time and money due to near total inability on my part to do anything remotely useful. "Thank you, Mr. Kraemer. We won't be in touch."

Anyway, there's the list. You'll note there's no mention of service industry jobs. That's because, like retail, I've never had one. I mean really, harder job: rolling a wheelbarrow or carrying a large tray of food? I rest my case.

Looking back, I have to thank my lucky stars that I did discover my calling and finally figured out what I'm good at. Adam Kraemer: Editor/Writer. Oh, and piano teacher. Seriously, call me.


ABOUT ADAM KRAEMER

A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.

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COMMENTS

lucy lediaev
5.11.09 @ 1:34p

Adam, I can relate to this column. Here are jobs I don't put on my resume:
*Mail clerk for insurance company
*Piece work packer of fishing worms
*Mother's helper/baby sitter
*24 hours as an employment recruiter (I hate selling and cold calling)
*Retail clerk at WT Grant
*Long distance telephone operator
*Manager/teacher/speaker for local Transcendental Meditation center

I'm really glad that most companies only want jobs 10 years back on a resume. I've been working since I was 11 and I'm now 65, so there are a lot of jobs I don't feature on my resume. I'm currently in the job I've held longest (almost 13 years), and I will retire from this job next February. (Of course, I plan to work part-time at jobs of my choosing. Who knows what I'll do next?)

robert melos
5.11.09 @ 10:51p

I'll trade you construction worker for convenience store clerk. At least construction worker is kind of cool in a butch fantasy sort of way. The Clerks fantasy was a nightmare. And now I need another job, ASAP.

adam kraemer
5.12.09 @ 9:14a

Robert - I'm in the same boat, as of Friday. I love this economy.

dr. jay gross
5.12.09 @ 10:36a

"Jobs don't require a resume".....Any occupation that pays less than $100,000 a year won't be had with a resume that lists dishwasher, stock clerk, bubble-gum scraper or any other menial attempt at making a living.

There is ONE very big mistake made by people looking for a job that is lucrative and rewarding - they answer ads. (on-line or in printed form) If you really want to find a rewarding and sustaining occupation, learn what your talents are (or could be) and visit businesses that conform to your idea of a stimulating and non-boring time spent working.

The very best job is one that feels like a hobby or something you wouldn't normally consider 'work'. Find something that erases the Monday blues. If you know you're good at doing something.....go find where you can do it.

Finally, if you can't find a job or don't work well with a boss (or others), invent a job, develop a way to make money that suits you. If everyone was the same, jobs would be unfilled....nobody would want to do them. Be your own boss....be afraid....and then succeed.

adam kraemer
5.12.09 @ 1:12p

I've found recruiters and headhunters are imminently useful. They actually know what jobs are available and if you get past their first line of defense, many companies are more willing to consider you than if you just sent your resume on your own.

[edited]

lucy lediaev
5.12.09 @ 3:23p

Jay, your comments are salient if the person looking for a job has a substantial job history. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there with talents but no proof of those talents in the form of formal work experience. Given those conditions, it's very hard for new college grads--especially liberal arts majors--to get even one foot in the door.

When I interview young people fresh out of college, I'd rather see a menial jobs held while in high school and college than no job history at all. If they are applying for junior writing jobs, if they lack formal, work-related writing, I encourage them to submit writing assignments completed for class assignments.

tim lockwood
5.15.09 @ 4:25a

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people out there with talents but no proof of those talents in the form of formal work experience.

Bingo. How does one take a resume full of bleh and find a new shiny thing that one loves? My resume is full of big-box and department-store retail, restaurant, and a smidgen of office stuff which translates into more of the same, if that's what interests me.

But what if it doesn't? How does one quantify the fact on a resume that I was the one always looking for innovative ways of doing things that weren't stupid and time-consuming like the current way, which means I would be awesome as a creative director for something or other? Or that I was the one who always wound up showing my co-workers how things were done, which means I would be great as a tutor? Or that my time as an intake clerk at a welfare office watching people's behavior as they reacted to my routine questions might make me great as an assistant at a small detective agency?

Resumes, according to their conventional design, only require that you state where you worked, when, and what your job duties were. Too bad, because I think the more interesting thing to know about would be what sort of career lessons, or life lessons, they learned from that job (i.e., "I learned that I needed to be a better listener," "I become very frustrated if I'm not allowed a fair degree of creative control," "I learned that I enjoy occupations that allow me to puzzle out a solution on my own," etc.). As someone who has hired people, I think having that sort of thing on a resume would be very revealing and helpful to the hiring process.

adam kraemer
5.15.09 @ 8:20a

Actually, Tim, your resume better say more than that. Under every entry on mine is a section titled "Key Achievements." That's what employers are looking for, at least in the fields in which I work. It might not be "got good at being able to tell if people were lying," but at least it's "created five initiatives to increase productivity."

tim lockwood
5.15.09 @ 3:33p

Oh sure, mine has that sort of thing too, although it is somewhat limited by the fact that most of my work has been in fields that don't encourage anything more than "do the freakin' job already" (gotta love being one of the low guys on a big corporate totem pole). But still and all, for a person who may be looking to jump out of a career rut that he has dug for himself while he didn't even realize he was holding a shovel, "learned how to deal with a functionally insane co-worker without injury" says a lot more about me than "increased sales by 11% over the course of two quarters."

Hell, I may just update my resume to include this stuff anyway. The creativity factor alone may win me a few points over the competition.

adam kraemer
5.15.09 @ 4:57p

Actually, I love that idea.

adam kraemer
6.3.09 @ 11:10a

In case anyone wanted an update, I started a new job this past Monday. Total days unemployed: 22.



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