When Every Experience Matters

posted on September 24, 2012 in Professional/Career Development

Michelle and I met up at a great restaurant in McPherson Square. She was able

to take a few minutes from her shift to sit down and speak with me. Michelle has

been waiting tables at this restaurant for almost a year. She is from the Midwest

and came to DC with two months of savings and a car packed with her belongings

determined to start her career in international affairs, which she has an MA in.

“This is a pretty nice place, you must do pretty well here.”
“I’m able to pay my bills, but I work weird hours and some nights I miss catching the
last train.”
“That’s annoying. What is your ideal career?”
“I studied international development but I heard about this great agency within
the Department of Health and Human Services that was exactly what I hoped to do
when I was studying.”
“Cool! Did a friend or professor let you know about it?”
“No, one of the regulars at this restaurant told me about the position after we had a
conversation. He wanted to know more about me and was astonished I didn’t have
a job in my field after all the education and experiences I had.”
“A lot of folks in our field are either unemployed or under-employed. So did the
customer work at this agency?”
“No, he works for the State Department, but he heard about this department when
he was doing interagency work.”
“How far along are you with the application process?”
Michelle beamed at me. “I got it earlier this week!”
“Congratulations! Wow, what’s the next step?”
“I have to go through the background check and security clearance processes, but
it’s pretty much all done!”
“That’s great to hear! You must be happy to leave the service industry behind and
start your career.”
“Actually, this job gave me my shot. As a waitress, not only did I hear about this
agency I had no prior knowledge of, I also would never have met the customer from
the State Department who gave me the boost of self-confidence to apply.”
Michelle’s experience demonstrates service industry jobs provide you with the
opportunity to establish useful connections.
“It sounds like you got a lot out of this waitressing job.”
“Yes. I have become a great multi-tasker, a great listener, a great communicator and
I’m able read what people want.”
“Was this the only job you were looking at?”
“No. Since the beginning of May, I applied to 45 jobs until I got this one.”
“Wow, what inspired that streak?”
“I was dealing with some bratty interns and I promised myself I was not going to be
pushed around and let myself be treated like garbage. I knew what I was capable of
and I knew what I was worth.”
“It sounds like you were at a low place before you got the wherewithal to move
yourself out of that situation.”
“Yes, and I only got this job after applying for it a second time. Persistence is the key
for anyone in this job market.”
“Do you have any tips for young professionals and would you recommend the
service industry?”
“I kept a career spreadsheet of what, where and when I applied to. Had it not
been for the waitressing experience, I would not have gotten this job. I matured
professionally and learned what I could and could not put up with. Being a server is
seen as menial and low. You take it at first and then realize you are better than this
but you have to go out and prove it.”
“But you also get to meet interesting people like the customer from State?”
“Yes, but you have to not only ask for help but show that you deserve to be helped.
I got the job I wanted through hard work, not through someone I knew. He might
have brought the agency to my attention but I attended the job fair that the agency
was attending and I applied twice for the job. So while you do meet interesting
people as a waitress, you still have to prove to the clientele that you are worthy.”
“How did you prepare for your interview?”
“I got to the interview 45 minutes early because I was really excited. I sat in the
bathroom stall and thought of the countless times that I was treated badly when
people thought they were better than me. I was mad going into the interview
thinking that I was not going to be denied. I’m done being mediocre, I worked hard
in school for a reason, to have an enriching career.”
“It looks like you are on your way to having that enriching career. Congratulations
again and thank you for sharing your experiences.”