Under-the-table pizza cook, fall of 2007:
The first thing anyone teaches you about getting hired is it’s who you know. That’s kind of how I got my first job. A friend of mine worked at a small pizzeria that was named after both the owner and the owner’s son. This friend was also errant; two weeks after I’d dropped off a resume (why??????), I got a call from the owner telling me that my friend hadn’t shown up to work and asking would I be interested in covering his shift?
Making pizzas is actually pretty easy, and I was only responsible for part of it — spreading the cheese, arranging the toppings, spinning each pizza halfway through its cook time in the oven. There were two of us and we worked like a factory line. I was always paid in cash. Soon, I started working the front counter. Answering the phone seemed like a big deal and I learned not to cross my arms when waiting tables. About 10 weeks after starting, I requested a few days off to go to the state BETA convention for a high-achieving and club-minded teens (why??????). I never got another shift. I was always paid in cash.
Zaxby’s fry cook, September 2008-January 2009:
In my experience, all Zaxby’s are managed the same way — each franchise owner hires a small cast of managers. I had three. The one who hired me was named Tim Allen. Everyone called him Big Tim and he looked kind of like the actor, if your only mental image of Tim Allen is from the first half of The Santa Claus 2. There was also a Little Tim and a third manager, whose name I’ve forgotten, who was dating one of our cashiers.
Zaxby’s cooks manned four different stations: wings prep, tenders prep, and then a station each for meal and salad prep. The wings station is the easiest. If you’re working wings, you’re probably also doing the dishes. (There is no good way to wield an industrial sprayer.) I was actually pretty bad at this job, which is not something I realized until at least a year later. I had a hard time staying busy and when I just stood there, I felt (and looked like) a waste. After my first three or four months, I heard through the friend who’d gotten me the job in the first place that I was one of the least-liked employees. I added this to the pile of insults Zaxby’s had inflicted on me already. Even better, it was the first one that felt legitimate. When I quit, on a random weekday afternoon just after the New Year, my managers all happened to be working at once. As I walked out the door, the manager I’d told (the third one, not Big or Little Tim) had just started sharing the news.
Front-end supervisor at Ross, June 2010-August 2011:
Managing people at a retail store is really easy. I made sure people took breaks and went on lunch, I made sure all the returns were organized and routinely run back onto the floor; I had a key to all the registers and my employee ID allowed me to knock off $4.99 from a turquoise blouse with a bad hemline. I started in the summer after my freshman year of college, when I realized I wouldn’t have any money to fill my time.
In my interview with the store manager, I said I’d “parted ways” with my two previous employers. My first few months were spent almost exclusively on the floor. I often had four or five hours each night to clean and reshelf/fold my assigned departments. I was good at keeping things neat; I just reduced every part of my job to some motion. In this, my third job, it finally dawned on me to talk to my co-workers. We joked that our Ross was kind of cursed; the manager who hired me left soon after with serious health problems. His replacement, a woman named TAN-ya, didn’t come out of her office for the first several weeks. When I took over the front-end my second and final summer there, I swapped the shoe wall and toy section for checklists but the principle was the same: neaten, smooth, arrange. On my last day, they bought me an ice cream cake.
Red & Black desk editor, August 2011-May 2012:
After two years as a staff writer at my university’s independent student paper, and after a year of very much wanting to be promoted, I was hired as the arts editor. I interviewed with our new editor-in-chief and managing editor. The managing editor had been the arts editor just before me and I was his favorite writer. I could have blown it, but that kind of validation going in is the best kind. The job had an added perk of actually paying me $125/week, enough for me to leave my job at Ross (and its attendant 90-minute commute each weekend, from one end of the metro Atlanta area to the other). In the beginning, I treated all of my writers like I’d treated my cashiers. This wasn’t necessarily a bad idea. I quickly realized I had vision, which is a weird thing to realize, and I relished the certainty I found in that. After my first semester editing, I was rehired for a second.
There are things about The R&B that are like every other newsroom I’ve ever been in: the daily budget meetings, the free pizza on election night, the fickle Diet Coke machines. But there were things about my editorship that were very particular: it was when I met my first boyfriend (our assistant news editor), and at least four of my coworkers then are still some of my best friends. I usually only had to be in the office each afternoon for three, four or five hours, but more than once there I saw the sun rise.
Dressing room attendant at Target, June 2012-September 2012:
I wore a blazer to the job interview, which lasted all afternoon and ended with a drug test. That’s the only other good piece of advice I’ve learned: you can never really overdress. (In a pinch, even style can be self-deprecating.) A large part of my job was answering the store’s main phone line. That voice you’ll hear on the other end if you call any Target in America right now is mine, basically.
Entertainment Weekly intern, January 2013-June 2013:
The process was surprisingly quick: just one Skype interview with the program’s supervisor, an editorial assistant, and his boss, the books editor. Later, my supervisor would tell me that he appreciated my willingness to commute into Atlanta for a previous internship, that it showed dedication. (He grew up in the city, too.) Before the interview, I’d positioned my laptop so that it didn’t face anything insane behind my head. They ended up asking about all the movie posters on my wall.
The offer email came two weeks later, after I’d just spent the entire day at an interview for another job in Georgia, arranged after the paper came scouting at The R&B. But interning for EW had been a dream of mine for a very long time; it seemed absurd that I even had the opportunity to turn it down. So I drove up to New Jersey through a snowstorm in the Virginia mountains and bussed it for a few weeks before finding a two-bedroom on 33rd Street, a block away from the Empire State Building (and the world’s worst CVS). EW runs two six-month internship programs for post-grads, with a much shorter summer session in between for students. They paid $10/hour and let us work as often as we liked, including after-hours red carpets and into-the-wee-hours TV recapping. There were at least a few weeks where I clocked 50-plus hours. For a few months last spring, I approached a kind of completeness that I’ve since learned doesn’t actually exist in the field. It’s the false dream of the paid, full-time intern.
News producer, August 2013-present:
I spent what seemed like a reasonable amount of my time at EW looking for another job. But there’s never enough time to hunt for media jobs in New York — it’s basically a full-time occupation. Technically, I’m still “waiting to hear back” about a few different positions at HuffPo. The middle of June approached and my roommate flew to Japan and then back to Georgia and my most promising job lead was in Atlanta anyway, so I packed up my suitcases, hand-rolled them 11 blocks to the Port Authority one Saturday, and drove back down the East Coast. I spent two weeks hiding in my parents’ house and then a summer freelancing (cold pitching, like online dating, can be exhilaratingly anonymous) and then I emailed the editor of the paper I’d almost worked at before moving in the first place. My time in New York was appealing to them, which was nice to hear after I felt like the city had just personally rejected me. Six weeks later, I had a job — to which I’ve now added car insurance and a savings account and a cat.
Adam Carlson once worked as a waiter at a Mexican restaurant, but only for the night.