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Naomi: How you can benefit from ‘stepping stone’ jobs

By Naomi 01 Jan 0001
Barista makes coffee in a busy, warm cafe.

I have always known I wanted to write for a living.

My favourite subject at high school was English, and while the term ‘word limit’ is still a difficult concept for me to fathom, I have always enjoyed crafting words into evocative sentences that make the reader dream, think, laugh, cry or be inspired.

When it came to choosing a career path, it was a coin-flip between whether I would be a novelist or a journalist. I knew I could always be both (a goal I am still holding onto and working towards) but in the end, I chose to study and work towards a career in the communication and media field.

I knew the journalism arena was competitive. Like in The Devil Wears Prada, I fully understood that at the start of my career I would have to earn my stripes by getting coffees, working long hours and scrabbling to complete seemingly impossible tasks and meet crazy deadlines, all while being essentially invisible.

However, what never occurred to me is that I might not get a job in the industry at all. I never thought I would have to apply for or accept a job just because I had bills that needed to be paid. But I did have expenses, so I got a few different jobs in a variety of areas. Thankfully, I was able to recognise that while I might not be working in my preferred field, I was still gaining important skills I could apply in my dream career.

One of the first jobs I got while studying at uni was a part-time gig at a local jeweller. By working in retail, particularly in jewellery sales, I was in fact honing my interview skills. Through learning how to ask questions to help a customer find the right piece, I was also discovering the best questions to ask to help uncover a person’s story. One of a writer’s greatest assets is their ability to discover an important story often found only through speaking with people and building a strong rapport in a short space of time.

At another stage during my studies I worked part-time in the pub scene. I took orders for and served food, learned to make cocktails, and perfected the art of pouring a pint, including the infamous Guinness with a shamrock on top.

Now, while those skills have very little to do with being a writer, a bartender also needs to know how to listen, and in the chaos of a loud, busy pub I learned how to distinguish a single voice. This listening skill is vital to a writer because you can’t always choose the conditions in which you interview someone or the location in which a story might break. A phone interview could have reception issues or a protester might be one voice in a sea of thousands and in those circumstances, I know my finely-tuned listening skills, will see me through.

When I finally graduated with my degree, I was eager to try out my newly learned, journalist skills, but there were no industry-related jobs going in the area. As moving wasn’t an option, I again turned my attention to getting any job I could find.

My first out-of-uni job ended up being in the claims department of an insurance call centre. I wasn’t writing award-winning articles or exposés, but I always try to find the positive in a situation and this one had two: writing incident reports was still technically writing and it paid the bills. During my time in that job I dedicated myself to writing the most detailed and accurate incident descriptions the company had even seen.

Most people didn’t think working as a luxury sales consultant in retail, a bartender/waitress in a pub, or a claims consultant at an insurance call centre added anything to my qualifications, but the skills I learnt and developed at each job definitely contributed to the writing career I now have.

If you’re currently working in a job that isn’t in your chosen field but (thankfully) pays the bills, remember you are still developing employability skills that will transfer and contribute to your career success in the long run. And don’t forget the skills you’ve picked up in your uni career! While it may seem like a long journey to the role of your dreams, all of these stepping stone positions are getting you there bit by bit. Find out how to stay resilient in your career journey and weather job knockbacks with these easy but effective tips.