Working it out
Chrissie Swan is this month's Australian Women's Weekly cover star!
Last month, I was lucky enough to interview my foodie hero, Heston Blumenthal. He has a restaurant just west of London called The Fat Duck, which serves up tricky meals such as desserts that look like fried eggs and cakes that are actually chicken liver pâté. He's a clever fellow and his TV show gets a good going over at Chez Chrissie.
I've always liked the cut of his jib, and even more so after doing a little research and finding out that not only is he self-taught and one of only three Britons to achieve Michelin three-star status, he also did his fair share of crappy jobs – including photocopier salesman and debt collector. It cemented my belief that terrible jobs are good for you.
The first ad I ever wrote was five words saying that a new store had opened. I still have it. And it still gives me a thrill
Today, at 38, I have achieved a kind of career nirvana. I work in radio, which works well with my maternal commitments and allows me to talk at length about issues ranging from The Voice to breastfeeding. I adore it. I also work in TV, which means I get to have fun and a free hairdo. But these jobs were a long time coming. Before I got so lucky, I submitted my tax file number to a number of positions, ranging from less than desirable to downright dehumanising. And I'd do them all again. Because they were good for me.
"I'm eternally grateful to whoever it was that gave a friendly 24-year-old with a bad moustache a go" … Chrissie Swan. Photo: Julian Kingma
When I was 19, I deferred from uni and worked full-time in a supermarket deli. Among other things, this involved defrosting boxes of frozen chickens, removing their necks (secreted within the carcass) and rodding them up on giant skewers to be roasted. Rivulets of pale-pink liquid would run down my inner arm and into my undergarments, heating up over the course of my shift and threatening to produce some kind of salmonella stock. The upside of this job is that, to this day, I really know my presswurst from my pariser; the downside is I feel enormous guilt when I ask for thinly sliced anything. Such a hassle.
I've also been a manager of a clothes shop. I loved the 30 per cent discount off everything in-store, but wasn't such a fan of the constant sweeping of mountains of fluff out of changing rooms fogged in foot odour.
I've also arrived at a smoky office block (back when you could smoke at work) and settled in with a dial-up phone to cold-call strangers, selling them window treatments that turned perfectly good houses into soundproof yet inescapable prisons. Now that was a tough gig. I have also been a call-centre rep for a New Zealand electricity company, a mobile DJ and a showground ice-cream seller.
It wasn't until I worked for free, though, that I started achieving my career dreams. While I was studying advertising at uni, the staff made an entire class out of warning us about how hard it was to get a job in the profession we were sinking ourselves into HECS debt to become qualified for. We'd be lucky to get work in a suburban agency writing copy for instruction manuals, let alone an amazing gig with a corner office working on blue-chip accounts, like Darrin on Bewitched.
With a vast history of ordinary jobs, I had only one thing left to do. I contacted a groovy inner-city ad agency and offered my services free. They accepted and I found myself scooting into the agency between lectures and tutes to write press ads for a department store. The first ad I ever wrote was five words saying that a new store had opened. I still have it. And it still gives me a thrill.
I was so enamoured with the industry that I started skipping class so I could talk layouts and fonts and deadlines. Eventually, I quit uni and started a proper paid job as a copywriter for another outfit – but what got me the role was the experience I'd gained at that groovy inner-city agency. I am eternally grateful to whoever it was that gave a friendly 24-year-old with a bad moustache a go. And, wherever possible, I try to return the favour by giving work-experience kids the time of day and considering the whole person, not just the qualification, for a position.
Today's workplaces are so busy and often understaffed. The sad fact is that sometimes it is disruptive to the routine to make room for a young person who just wants a chance. The temptation to throw applications for work experience or internships straight into the bin without even opening them is great.
We might think that there wouldn't be a person alive who'd want to hang out in our office, do the lunch run and photocopy those proposals. But we'd be wrong. My bet is there are loads of 20-somethings who'd be hanging out just to see what your tea room looks like. And if you're one of those 20-somethings wondering how you're going to break into your dream job, wax up your mo and write that letter. Who knows where it will lead you.
Chrissie Swan is the co-host of Mix 101.1's breakfast show in Melbourne and 3pm Pick-Up nationally. She's also on Twitter.
This article first appeared in Sunday Life.