Hope - We all started somewhere - stories from the bottom rung


It's easy to forget while being bombarded with images of success and achievement via social media that things might not always have been that way. For most of us at our careers and jobs straight out of Uni began with more humble beginnings. We all started from a place that you might find yourself in at the moment...the bottom.

It's especially relevant at the moment as we enter national lockdown for 2021 to remember that everyone started somewhere and our careers initially didn't move as quickly as we would have liked. Our entry-level jobs weren't particularly dynamic but the important thing is we kept going and with talent, drive and ambition created a positive result.

So to demonstrate that we all started on the bottom rung, from unloading vans to unblocking toilets here are some of our worst jobs after graduation.

Name: David Blatcher

Job Title: Custom Service Executive

Date of Employment: 2006

Role Entailed:

The company was a small, but growing online retailer selling imported electronics. It was my job to handle returns and complaints. I had to tell customers how to return their products, maintain records of every return case and arrange repairs and replacements - while hopefully keeping customers happy (or as happy as possible).

Why was it your worst job?

My main target was to minimise the cost to the company, not maximise customer happiness. Company policy was that nothing would be refunded or replaced unless it was returned within seven days. Sending things back for repair under manufacturer's warranty could take a long time, especially with imported goods.

Customers got often very upset (to put it mildly) when told that if something broke we would not immediately send them a new one and/or refund all their money without question. My managers rather optimistically believed that as long as I sent people regular emails informing them of progress on the repair (there was often none), all our customers would remain perfectly happy and post positive reviews about us. In fact, they tended to yell at me down the phone, send legally threatening emails that I had no training in responding to and occasionally show up unannounced at our offices demanding to speak with me.

I was the company's lightning rod.

The incident I remember most was being told I had "ruined Christmas" after working past 9pm for the third night in a row.

Were there any positives?

I learned a great deal about front line customer service(conflict management?) and keeping a cool head in a crisis. It put me in good stead for future roles.

Location: East London
Contract time: 09:00 - 18:00
How long did it last: 9 months
What did it lead to: A few months of temping before finding another job.
Could you do it again if you had to: Not for long

How do you think about it on reflection:

It was a demoralising job that took a pretty heavy toll emotionally, but on reflection that may have been because I took it all so personally and didn't ask for help. I don't know if they would have helped, but I don't think I ever really told my manager how bad it was until I was already leaving.

Name: Reece Nicol

Job Title: Lorry Loading and Warehouse attendant

Date of Employment: 2005

Role Entailed:

I left university with no real direction, plan or calling and signed up with a local agency that would place you in temporary work. I was keen to see a few different sectors and industries before making my mind up with where to start my career. I had spent all my life in education and wanted to see different bits of the real working world, roles I didn't even know existed.

The role was essentially manual labour in a warehouse throughout the night. We had to move stock around as well as load and unload lorries as they came in.

Why was it your worst job?

It was dark, cold, dirty and surprisingly a real lack of comradery. I was aware of the hours and was prepared for the cold but had the false expectation that there would be a team environment. I think that the staff churn was so high and they had so many different faces working, that management and team leaders just ignored everyone else.

I got paid minimum wage and the "staff room" had the vibe of an out of towner sitting in a local pub.

Were there any positives?

It allowed me to search for more relevant and inspirational opportunities during the day as well as earn some money to keep me ticking over while back at home.

Location: Kent (South East)
Contract time: 23:00 - 07:00
How long did it last: 1 week
What did it lead to: An entry level job with a London borough that was bursting with structure, benefits and culture.
Could you do it again if you had to: no

How do you think about it on reflection:

It was an experience and character building, giving me exposure to the distribution and logistics industry. It also gave me an insight into how relationships in the workplace can be.

Name: Gerry Wyatt

Job Title: Office Finance Executive

Date of Employment: 1996

Role Entailed:

I was employed as a Finance Executive for a small 5 person Internet Consultancy in the very early days of the web - it was my second job after Uni. Directly after University I worked in Boots Pharmacy in Gatwick Airport. The role was advertised as the person who was to manage / track the company's expenses to ensure that things like travel, entertainment and accommodation and subsistence were reported on accurately and reliably. In order to do that the four employees within the business would dump their receipts on my desk usually 4h before they required them to be submitted and I'd sort them into their various categories and understand who had personally spent what and advise on payments accordingly.

Why was it your worst job?

The MD was a low functioning drug addict. Who was extremely unpredictable and didn't mind resorting to humiliation and raging in order to get their point across. There were regular visits from the bailiffs relating to unpaid bills or 'borrowed' office equipment which was never returned. At one point a Special Branch of the Met Police paid us a visit as the company I was working for pointed a webcam on the front door of an unwitting senior politician who lived next door - as a publicity stunt. I unwittingly became the MDs PA which extended to cleaning, food shopping and drug collection. The 'office' was occasionally also his home....which led to further complications. Conditions were awful. We occupied the second floor of a residential block in Victoria which wasn't supposed to be used as business premises - the residents hated us - City of Westminster Council / Landlord regularly tried to get the company removed.

I got paid £9,000 per annum - £750 a month with cheque and I had to sort all my own tax arrangements.

I was young and didn't know any better. I thought it was normal.

Were there any positives?

The company had access to lots of web hardware and software which enables me to learn Photoshop and HTML afterwork. I taught myself enough to find another job.

Location: Victoria London
Contract time: 09:00 - 18:00
How long did it last: 11 months
What did it lead to: A job with a reputable web company where I was involved in creating websites for MTV Europe, Sony Playstation and The Daily Telegraph.
Could you do it again if you had to: no
Benefis: none

How do you think about it on reflection:

It was a stepping stone to something else and gave me some exposure to the initial workings of the web when the industry was in its infancy.

Name: Erin O Sullivan

Job Title: Account Executive (Advertising Sales) - London

Date of Employment: 2016 - 2017

Role Entailed:

I was employed as a Account Executive for a small 8 person recruitment advertising start up company. They had been in very early stages of what was set to be the next 'CV library' for roles in London as part of a branch of their recruitment agency.

Throughout university I had a number of part-time roles - the worst being I had actually worked in the local fish and chip shop saving for a big move from Ireland to London where I felt there would be more opportunity for me.

(We all start somewhere, ey? I still make the best fish supper in Co. Cork, i'm sure of it!)

This exec role was my first 'adulting hard' kind of opportunity and the role was advertised as being 'the first point of contact' for incoming sales enquiries along with reaching out to prospective clients/accounts to introduce the platform we were trying to create.

Why was it your worst job?

Looking back I would consider this role to be my worst job in that it felt like a really unsupportive and lonely place to work. I soon realised this when I was shown my desk in the office and I had a dark corner facing a blank stone wall in an open plan office where nobody spoke to each other. Literally no noise, no buzz, people barely looked up from their screens when you'd enter.

The atmosphere didn't exactly scream 'welcome, let's work together to achieve our goal'

I was thrown in to the deep end (which I had prepared myself for and was up for the challenge) but knowing what I know now and looking back, my previous manager didn't have much concern for my settling in or training/ development in any capacity. This person would email me asking for a daily task update at the end of the day whilst being sat 4 desks away from me in the same room. No daily, weekly or monthly catch ups or support on offer. None of it was what I had expected my first office based graduate role to be but I worked hard to change that. I spoke to different members of different teams within the parent company, I got to know people. I made sure they knew who I was and what I was there to do.

I tried to make the best of a bad situation but I did dread going in there each day.Huge sign of unhappiness in your role and I'd imagine a lot of readers will have felt this at some point.

Were there any positives?

I sparked friendships with some of the girls in the office building I was based in, who taught me skills I still use to this day. One of them actually pointed me in the direction for an advertised role in a similar field which I immediately applied for and landed. (hint - it's the one i'm in now so i'd consider that a positive!)

Location: North West London
Contract time: 08:30 - 17:30
How long did it last: 12 months
What did it lead to: Luckily enough my experience there lead me to my current job in which I've been in now for 4 years and am hugely passionate about - very similar field of work which to my advantage I found my feet in quite quickly, but there's no comparison the difference that a healthy, friendly and supportive work environment can do for your job motivation and satisfaction.
Could you do it again if you had to: I don't think so.
Benefits: None but they did have a 'dress down friday' which they claimed was a benefit but I soon learned that 'dress for your day' seemed to be the norm in our industry.

How do you think about it on reflection:

It was an eye opener to how lonely it can be starting out in the big bad world as a young graduate with unsupportive co-workers and colleagues and has definitely taught me to prioritise working relationships. You'll probably hear this a lot in your job searching but with a new job it isn't always about the earning potential that role will get you. That shouldn't be your main priority. If i can impart any advice it's - Prioritise the people. They'll be the ones that you spend on average 1,538 hours per year with. Make sure they're great.

Name: Chris Wareham

Job Title: Software Engineer

Date of Employment: 1999

Role Entailed:

It was two years into my career, and I was recruited by the biggest company in the the first dot com boom. I was tasked with maintaining the financial section of their European websites, taking over from the first programmer the company had employed in the UK. This responsibility was rapidly replaced by an order from the US head office to entirely replace the European system with the American one.

Why was it your worst job?

On my first day there was no computer and no desk. The company was expanding fast, but had none of the usual IT support people, project managers or clerical staff. I had to take a trip to Tottenham Court Road, then full of computer shops, to buy the parts to build a computer. I then worked sat on a stool from the canteen with a narrow shelf as a desk until we finally moved to a bigger office.

The code that ran the European system was far from perfect but it was well organised and worked, serving websites in many European languages and currencies with the ability to add more. The US system was hardcoded to only support US English and the US Dollar. It was also a labyrinthine mess that nobody understood in its entirety as it had evolved through continuous bodging by a vast number of people. It turned out my predecessor had already staved off this project once, and he recruited me as his replacement in order to dump the whole thing on someone else.

I was sent to the head office in California with no instructions apart from "make it work". On arrival I found out that I had to pay for the car hire and accommodation out of my own pocket. I also discovered I was on a tourist visa and shouldn't actually be working, so if I was caught out by US immigration I would be in serious trouble. So at the end of the first day I was broke and angry. The following weeks were like living in a Kafka novel - I had one contact, who was forever in meetings and unable to help me. No one else had the time to help and admitted they wouldn't know where to start with converting the system to work outside the US.

On finally getting back to the UK, one of my close friends was knocked off her motorbike and killed. When I asked for a day off to attend the funeral I was told "no". I went anyway and handed in my notice the next day.

Were there any positives?

None whatsoever. The dot com boom companies often claimed to be "fun" places to work. This seemed to entail rolling into the office late morning, working until ten or eleven in the evening and then going out for pizza and drinks. The office environment was "alpha geek", arrogant, really misogynistic and many of the US staff were frankly xenophobic. The pay was average, but everyone seemed to believe they were going to become millionaires from the stock options (the bubble burst about a year after I left, making the stock options worthless).

Location: Kensington, London
Contract time: Not specified in the job description, and despite repeated requests I never saw a formal contract document.
How long did it last: 6 months.
What did it lead to: Working as a programmer for a scientific publishing company.
Could you do it again if you had to: Hell no.
Benefits: Stock options at the end of each year.

How do you think about it on reflection:

I taught me to be much more selective about future employers by asking questions about management, processes and office culture at interviews.