Tales of a Disgruntled Graduate: A View from the Front Lines of the Post-College Job Hunt

Temporary Work: Alphabetizing Your Future

To get your foot in the door without stubbing your toe, you may have luck with a staffing agency.  It’s a pretty cushy setup if you think about it: You sit at home all day, watching sappy Lifetime movies and reruns of M*A*S*H while someone else is working hard to get your resume out to people who actually want to hire you.  Then you can stop watching sappy Lifetime movies and reruns of M*A*S*H, and get out into the workforce to do more worthwhile things with your time.

Like alphabetize.

That’s right.  My first temp job was two full days—that’s 16 hours—of alphabetizing donation cards for a non-profit organization.  (I knew I went to college for a reason.)  At first it went well.  After all, I generally enjoy the alphabet and even tend toward a greater-than-average enjoyment of sorting activities.  But, I discovered, I did not like shuffling papers around for eight hours a day: It dried out my hands and left them dirty with ink.

And, I began to resent pesky surnames like “McCarthy,” “McCartny,” and “McCarty.”  That and the “St.” So-and-so’s.  Do they go first in the S’s, as an abbreviation?  Do they go under “Sa,” since they’re actually “Saints,” or should they be put in with the Steiner, Stevens, and Stubbs crowd?  After five or six hours, not only did I start to question my grasp on the alphabet, but I found it difficult to care.  I longed for a melodramatic made-for-TV movie.

At least my temporary co-workers were nice.  They were very concerned about my health and well-being on the job, and one woman kept insisting I change my work station to be more “ergonomically correct.”

“If the table is too high,” she said, “I’m sure we can find another one for you.  It’s no trouble.”

“Thanks,” I said with a shrug.  “This one’s fine.”  DeRosia…DeSantis--

“I just don’t want you to think you can’t ask,” she persisted.  “Most people don’t like to ask for things, even if it’d be helpful.  And you know you can take a break if you need to, right?”

“I’m really ok,” I said, trying to sound grateful but firm.  It wasn’t exactly strenuous work.

Overall it wasn’t a terrible experience.  Even if it wasn’t the great joy I’d hoped alphabetizing for 16 hours would be, those were 16 paid hours, and that beats M*A*S*H any day.  Still, I appreciate the humor of a site I ran across recently, Not My Desk, which is devoted to the front lines of temp work.  (Anyone who’s been a temp, I think, can relate.)  The site’s author, Christopher Livingston, shares on-the-job stories, a gallery of ridiculous memos he’s received over the years, and a Field Guide of flippant advice on what to bring, how to dress, and how to deal with the stress of the temp’s perpetual first day on the job.

While it may not be an ideal employment situation—and may even turn out to be a disaster in some cases—temping could help you weasel your way into the workforce without going through the whole application and interview process.  And, if they like you, they might even ask you to stay.

All that just for knowing the alphabet.

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