Home > 2014 > Personal Finance

How I Worked 7 Jobs in 1 Year

Advertiser Disclosure Comments 0 Comments

Last year, I had seven different jobs in the span of nine months. I have now amassed a small stack of W-2s, and my 2013 federal tax return is beginning to reveal a strangely foreshortened image of my first year in New York.

I graduated from college in 2011, and by the following summer I’d been unemployed and living at my mother’s house for nearly a year. I was John, Who Lives at Home. As my standards for postgraduate success slowly sank and my resume started to stale, following a four-month stint as a completely unqualified middle-school Spanish tutor, I thought about interning again (internships, of course, being extra credit for the middle class). I managed to secure a spot for the fall at a small book publisher in Manhattan.

My mother — eager to see me somewhere other than her living room sofa — generously agreed to front me a few months’ rent so I could take the internship while looking for a part-time job, without running through all $600 of my life’s savings.

Off the Couch

Job #0: Intern, August 2012 to January 2013
Pay: $0/hr plus monthly unlimited MetroCard, 20 hrs/wk

My sole compensation as an intern — aside from Valuable Experience and Professional Connections — was a monthly subway pass. This meant, at least, that I wouldn’t have to spend money to make money at my real job, once I found one; I just had to spend 20 hours a week at a computer.

I found a cheap, one-month sublet, moved in, and after a week of buttered pasta and frantic searching, a friend of a friend got me a job as a host at a tony restaurant on the Upper East Side.

Job #1: Restaurant host, August 2012 to April 2013
Pay: $15/hr plus coat check, 15 hrs/wk, net take-home: $186/wk

This was my first restaurant job, and it turned out to be a fairly safe place to start; after a month I was sure a polite child could have done my job equally well, if not better, but I was glad to have the work instead.

I coordinated seating, hung people’s coats and placed takeout orders. More than that, though, I listened to old, rich people gripe through 6 p.m. meals that cost twice my weekly income, then leave half their food untouched. Occasionally there was something worth intercepting between the bussers and the trash, but most nights I went home to spaghetti, alone on the couch after midnight. If I was lucky, I’d make enough in coat check, at least, to buy a bottle of wine on my way to the train.

Job #2: Freelance copy editor, December 2012 to present
Pay: $3.75/2,000 characters (including spaces) of edited text, projects vary

The book publisher I was interning with specialized in international fiction in translation. In December, they offered me a freelance gig, copy editing the English translation of a French novel. The book was around 400 pages and just over 600,000 characters, which worked out to about $1,125 (taxes to be determined). It took four weeks, and getting paid took another two, but it was the most money I’d ever earned at once. Subsequent projects have varied, but they still throw me a bone every other month or so.

Bookstore Nirvana

Job #3: Bookseller, December 2012 to January 2013
Pay: $10/hr, ~40 hrs, net take-home: ~$8/hr

Also in December, and also through my internship, I was hired for some odd holiday shifts at a bookstore in Soho. I probably worked 40 hours between December and mid-January, but it wasn’t nothing, and it allowed me to splurge on a few Christmas gifts without skipping groceries.

Compared to the restaurant, the bookstore was Club Med. No one was hungry, or angry, and everyone wore glasses and sweaters and never raised their voices. When the holidays were over, I practically begged to stay on, stopping in every week to see whether any booksellers had been squished by a train or had left to join the clergy. No such luck.

Jobs 1 through 3 took me through the holidays into the new year — on one day I worked at all three, on top of my internship—and my internship was set to end in late January. I’d been applying and interviewing anywhere I could in publishing — the desperate terminus of the unpaid internship I’d borrowed money to take — to no avail. Since the bookstore wouldn’t have me, I was staring down interminable months of lonely pasta dinners, hanging coats for mean old white ladies.

It might have been romantic, in a starving artist sort of way, but starving is depressing, and would have been a let-down at best for the investment of time and money I made to get here in the first place. And all for what?  was the question I couldn’t avoid, squatting on the 14th Street platform waiting for a Q train home to Brooklyn.

As it happened, I would have been lucky for interminable months. At the beginning of February my hosting hours were cut to one five-hour shift per week, to the tune of $65. Job #2’s payouts were large, but too far between and slow in arriving. Now that my internship had ended, my schedule was more flexible, but at my new pay rate I would barely clear $250 in a month.

Job #4: Restaurant host (II), February 2013
Pay: $14/hr, 8–15 hrs/wk, net take-home: $90–$168/wk

My manager, feeling guilty, gave my number to a friend of hers in need of a host at a restaurant downtown, and I was hired on arrival. I was still earning almost double minimum wage on paper, but what began as a promising 12 to 15 hours a week quickly dwindled to eight in a late-winter restaurant slump, and I was still well below where I’d been with just one hosting job three nights a week.

One night I asked whether there might be a way for me to work more hours, maybe training to become a waiter, and not twenty minutes later I was in an apron bussing tables.

The Worst Busboy in Town

Job #5: Busser, March 2013
Pay: $5/hr plus tips, 24–28 hrs/wk, net take-home: $277–$420/wk

I was, without question, the worst busboy in the city of New York. I was forever dropping silverware in the dining room, and worked exactly one night without breaking a wine glass. I could maneuver a water pitcher between even the fattest of heads, but my arms were too skinny or round or something to reliably balance the trendily huge New American cuisine plates on which everything was served. Ultimately, the head busser started just following me around the restaurant, doing half my job and all of his. I was pathetic, and beyond help.

In spite of my general incompetence, the job solved a number of my problems: I was making Enough Money, which is a relative concept, but I was making rent and I wasn’t hungry—or, no hungrier than usual. Polishing silverware in the seven-foot basement had a kind of Down and Out in London and Paris quality, but one that is romantic only well after the fact. I was not George Orwell; I was just a boy in the basement, breaking wine glasses.

I narrowed my now-constant job search to finding a better part-time job, or at least one I might be better at doing. Being bad at a bad job was defeating, and more than ever I questioned the basic point of living in New York, or trying so hard to. I’d been switching up my weekly dinner menu by substituting rice and beans for pasta, and vice versa, and I hadn’t the time or money to actually enjoy any of the perks of city living. Lonely walks in half-deserted city streets can have a certain charm — a charm not unlike that of the Orwellian busboy — but it doesn’t last.

Job #6: Bookseller (II), April 2013 to June 2013
Pay: $10/hr, 22 hrs/wk, net take-home: $187

In late March, God smiled. After more than a month of shopping myself around to bookstores in the city — still swooning from over my last bookstore post — one came through with a few shifts a week. The day I got the news, I gave my two weeks’ at the restaurant where I’d been bussing, and started work April 2.

It didn’t take much to rationalize the pay cut to myself. I’d be able to live and work primarily in Brooklyn, and my new manager had promised me an increase in hours soon. Between hosting and bookselling I was clearing my floor of $200 a week, and my freelance pay continued to burble in, such that by the middle of May I felt steady enough on my feet to let go of the hosting job and be in Brooklyn full-time.

Job #6a: Bookseller/manager, June 2013 to August 2013
Pay: $12/hr, 40 hrs/wk, net take-home: $370/wk

In June I became full time in my full-time-Brooklyn lifestyle, and things were rosy. I biked to work, I upped my coffee intake, and never worked later than 10 p.m. I was settled in more ways than I’d been all year. As I acclimated to my new job and its attendant money, I started to ease slowly out of the tightfisted habits that came with living paycheck to paycheck. I bought cereal and went for drinks with my co-workers; I was able to start saving some of what I made. I bought new pants for the first time in a year and a half — and nearly returned them. I didn’t agonize over impulse-buying a cup of coffee, or an extra slice of pizza.

Job #7: Copy editor, September 2013 to present
Pay: $38k/yr plus benefits, 40 hrs/wk, net take-home: $479/wk

In August, I was offered a full-time position as a copy editor at a nonprofit in Manhattan — full-time, plus benefits. It was the Holy Grail I’d been chasing since the previous August. This was the job I’d imagined from my sofa of unemployment, and again, later, from my basement of broken glasses.

It’s not lost on me that I make only slightly more now, freelance notwithstanding, than I did as a busboy in almost half the time. The numbers don’t lie, but they can’t convey the intangibles—chief among them health insurance, coffee breaks, and sitting—that were admittedly a considerable piece of my quest for a desk.

I don’t — or don’t any longer — hold a romantic view of struggle, economic or otherwise, in New York or elsewhere. I don’t believe that a month of bussing tables has made me patron saint of the 99%. For all its confusion, my experience has been rather tidy. But tidy or otherwise, it’s an experience I’m glad to have had, and would be equally glad not to repeat.

My small pile of IRS forms has reduced the past 12 months to digits and commas and numbered fields, with predictable dryness, the fine-print totals standing in for days and weeks of striving and self-doubt now mostly indistinguishable from one another. Hindsight blurs the same lines, for better and worse, and a year becomes an object lesson rather than a haunting ordeal; the past arranges itself along lines of logic that seem to have been there from the start. Set down in legal black and white, each dollar earned is a tiny victory, one more sandbag heaped against financial entropy. And next year will be the same, and the year after, if perhaps in fewer forms.

This post originally appeared in The Billfold.

More from The Billfold:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team