Five dead end jobs you should (maybe) want anyway

The central question for any job is, “What is it doing for me?” It could be a dead end for someone else, but valuable experience and leverage for you. Perhaps you’re thinking: How can that be? The pay is lousy, advancement is nil, and I won’t learn anything useful! Never take a dead end job just because it’s there. Take the job when it is a stepping stone to something better for you, not necessarily for the world at large.

Here’s a true example: Once, a woman really, really wanted to be a successful novelist, but she didn’t know any publishers, agents, or famous authors who would put in a word for her in a highly competitive job market. So, because she lived near the airport, she volunteered for a lowly job: to pick up and drop off writers who were guest speakers at conferences. Many were starved for conversation, and she asked them discreetly what they thought it really takes to make it in that industry. She learned a lot that she would never find out in writing classes (because the instructors were not bestselling authors and didn’t know those things themselves). She adjusted her strategy. She made contacts. And she got contracts.
So, bearing that in mind, let’s look again at why you don’t want a dead end job forever, but maybe should take one, for now:

1. The pay is lousy! But what if you are getting paid to get needed experience, while you study for a certificate or entrance exam on your own time? Let’s see: You want all that and a major league ball salary too? We rarely say this here, but for once we will: Lower your expectations. Forget the ball salary just now. For now, get paid while you learn, instead of always paying someone else.

2. Advancement is nil! Yes, but wait a minute: If your reason for taking the job is to get experience while qualifying for a more promising place on the career ladder, you don’t want to be pressured into competing for advancement in that workplace anyway. Getting promoted to “assistant supervisor in charge of dispute resolution” may be the last thing you need. Of course, you could learn a few useful things there, but don’t stay long.

3. I won’t learn anything useful! Well, that is your fault, not anyone else’s. Only take a “dead end” job that pays you to learn something useful for a subsequent career.

Here are some examples of how this works:

1. Security guard ($24,000 – $35,000; English, literacy): Mostly, a boring job punctuated by short episodes of uproar when, for example, an intruder or gang of shoplifters is spotted. But if you are at all interested in criminal law, law enforcement, forensics, or any similar field, you can gain valuable experience while you study.

2. Waitstaff ($12,000 – $25,000; English, literacy): Waiting tables is a chore, and maybe the tips are not worth it. But if you have an idea for a themed restaurant, you can earn money while taking a certificate or degree in hospitality management. See how your ideas test out in the real world. Maybe work your way up to restaurant manager and continue to learn the things you can’t learn in school and make contacts and getting paid to do a good job.

3. Medical aide (high school certificate, $31,000 – $44,000): If you think you’d like to be a nurse, doctor, or other medical worker, you could get paid to work, providing active care in a hospital. You’ll do the grungy or risky jobs, like lifting patients, or restraining difficult ones. Speaking a foreign language can be a major asset in urban areas. Keep your ears open, and you will learn how hospitals really work.

4. School bus driver ($16,000 – $25,000, bus driver’s licence): If you think you’d like to be a teacher, this career (guaranteed regular daytime hours) will help you see whether you can work with children or teens, and you can probably study on the side.

5. Lab technician ($28,000 – $53,000, high school certificate): If you would like a career in science or medicine, this is a great way to earn while you learn basic lab procedures. While other students struggle, you will know exactly what to do.
Sometimes, you don’t really know an industry until you do a dead end job in it, and then you have a huge advantage over people who have always been “in management.” But never tell them that. Just benefit quietly from your experience.

The best ideas in the world.© 2011