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Jobstacles: Is it possible to have too many jobs?

Ashley Williams Jun 7, 2013
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Drake Elliot says it’s not so bad being a pizza delivery driver. The salary is $8 an hour plus tips, and the job comes with a few perks.

“You’re above a civilian slightly,” says Elliot. “Like, I can double-park in the middle of the street, hold up my pizza bag and be like, ‘It’s okay ma’am, I’m a pizza delivery driver. I’m just doing my job.'”

Though only 20-years-old, the Santa Barbara, Calif. community college student has already had his fair share of jobs. “I’ve been an administrative assistant. I’ve worked as an intern at a graphic design company. I’ve been a janitor. I’ve been a counselor at a skateboard camp. I’ve worked as a painter. I’ve worked doing carpentry.”

And that’s not even counting the jobs that Elliot doesn’t put on his resume, like when he tried laying tiles for a home remodel.

“I had absolutely no idea what I was doing,” Elliot recalls. He broke half of the tiles in the home and was fired the same day.

With so few jobs available to people his age, Elliot says he’ll try anything. Ultimately, he wants to be a therapist, but in the meantime, he’s just trying to build skills and figure out what he’s good at. Occasional failure? It’s actually part of his plan.

Bonnie Bell, a career coach in Oakland, Calif., says, “I think it could be a very good strategy for some people to just try a whole bunch of stuff and see what works.” Bell says it’s not necessarily a red flag to have lots of short-term jobs on your resume. “It could be a conglomerate of experience that you get two weeks here, two weeks there. Somebody could brag about, in an interview eventually, I’ve had 12 jobs and out of that I’ve found …”

It’s all about what they learn from their experience, says Bell. Young people have to turn their job history into a narrative that makes sense. So after 10 different jobs, what can you say you’ve learned?

Ben Knudtson had the opposite problem last summer. He had just graduated high school and had zero job experience. Playing guitar wasn’t paying the bills, so he applied to coffee shops, record stores, retail — basically anything. Knudtson kept striking out, until he saw a flyer.

“It said like, ‘Need a job fast? Love the environment? Call this number’,” Knudtson remembers.

So he called and two days later, he got a job canvassing, or fundraising on the street. But Knudtson says, most people walking down the street didn’t have the time or inclination to stop and talk. Canvassers face constant rejection while trying to meet a daily quota to keep their jobs. Knudtson lasted a month before quitting. According to one sociologist’s study, most canvassers only survive two weeks.

Canvassing is one of the few jobs teens can get that doesn’t require previous experience. But is such a short term job really worth it?

“Two weeks of that experience is much better than two weeks of doing nothing,” Bell says. “You have to learn to think on your feet. You have to engage people.”

Those skills that are essential to any job. Knudtson says the canvassing job wasn’t a total waste, he made a couple hundred bucks and put it on his resume … emphasizing the customer service and people skills he acquired.

A year later, Knudtson has three jobs he likes better than canvassing — one even lets him explore his passion for guitar rock at a music magazine.  


This story is part of our series Jobstacles, from Youth Radio‘s New Options Desk, which reports on young adults finding work.

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