We here at MEL believe there’s value in working a terrible job. That’s why, instead of writing about how people obtained and thrived at their dream gig, we’ve set out to hear about the worst jobs people have ever worked. Our last installment came from a man who had the unenviable task of installing cable in rich people’s homes. And our latest comes from Jillian Silverman, whose experience selling shoes at a large, brand-name department store was akin to being recruited into a cult.
Jillian Silverman, 22, Petaluma, California
Current Job: Restaurant pastry chef
Worst Job Ever: Shoe saleswoman at a mall department store
How I got in
I was on a mad hunt for a job. I was living in a house in Santa Rosa, California, with a couple other students, and in desperate need of some money, so I went to the mall and went store-to-store, dropping off resumes and filling out applications. If the store didn’t have an in-person application, then I’d apply online, from my laptop, in the food court.
When I got to a well-known department store, they directed me to a kiosk where I filled out an application. A few days later, I got an email asking me for an interview.
“I know you applied for cashier, but we really need people to work the floor in the shoe department,” the regional manager told me in an interview. Maybe they didn’t think I was qualified to be a cashier. That’s when doubt started creeping in about the job. But I’d had other crappy jobs — selling newspapers door-to-door, working customer service at a retail store — and figured, What’s the worst that could happen?
When I realized it was going to suck
Orientation was the next week, and oh my god, was it creepy. The guy who gave the presentation — I had never seen such a dead-inside, plastic smile, like a kiddie pageant contest with petroleum jelly in their cheeks. And he didn’t blink quite enough. It was cult-like how he talked about the store. “It isn’t just a company — it’s a historical presence, a social concept, an economic force.”
The woman I interviewed with instructed me to spend the first half of my shifts completing the online training. But a few shifts in, my immediate manager got mad at me over it and told me to stop doing training and work the floor instead.
I later realized she did it so she could take my commissions. You can only finalize sales if you’ve completed the training. But I would have to call my manager over every time a customer wanted to buy something, and she would get credited with the sale and make a commission. This went on for several weeks. And every time I brought it up with her, I was told, “We’ll get you set up soon.” And she never followed through.
How I got out
Two months into the job, I noticed a female customer had been in the bathroom for hours, and when I went to check on her, I noticed she was passed out with a needle in her arm. I rushed out of the bathroom and called our security team. In that time, the woman came to and exited the store, but she left behind parts of the needle she had used. Security called me back and was furious that I was making a big deal over a needle.
The next day, I got called into the manager’s office and was forced to resign for wasting security’s time. I said, “Fine.” I was two weeks away from putting in my two weeks’ notice, anyway.
The most important thing I took away from that job was that I need to stand up for myself more, have higher standards for myself and be more assertive. I was at such a low point in terms of self-respect when I worked there that I let management mistreat me.
I’m now working as a pastry chef at a French restaurant in Petaluma. I was talking to my boss the other day, and I said, “I really want to be here.” It’s more than just a job for me; it feels like a career. And I’m really happy to be able to say that.