Why Smart People Use Umbrellas When It Rains

Why Smart People Use Umbrellas When It Rains

by Kerry Scott on 16 December 2009


I’m always amazed at how questions from readers go in streaks.

A few weeks ago, I had a flurry of relocation questions.  Now, suddenly, I have a bunch of people who are asking some variation on this theme:

I’ve been out of work for months.  I have a job offer, but it’s not in my field (or the pay sucks, or it’s a step down from my old job, or whatever).  I was considering taking it, because I need money and I have no other prospects, but career experts keep telling me that it will ruin my resume and I’ll never work again.  What should I do?

First, you should require those “career experts” to pay your bills for a couple of months, as penance for giving you such crappy advice.  Next, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does having money suck more or less than not having money?
  2. Does sitting on my ass watching The Real Housewives of Orange County marathons make me a more attractive candidate than going to work, even if the work is un-glamorous or “beneath me?”
  3. Would I ever want to work for someone so stupid that she thought it would be better to spend months watching the aforementioned The Real Housewives of Orange County marathons instead of earning a living somewhere?

Then, assuming you’re not an idiot and the position being offered is not “ho” or “crack dealer,” TAKE THE JOB.

I call these jobs umbrella jobs.  That’s because when you’re caught in a downpour, and someone offers you an umbrella, you take it.   You don’t lament the fact that it’s not a designer umbrella, or it doesn’t match your shoes, or it’s a color you hate.  You take it, and you open it, and the rain stays off of you.  Then, when you get home and out of the rain, you get your own (better) umbrella…or, maybe, you find out that you actually really like that umbrella they gave you after all.  It happens.

Let me tell you about the two times I’ve taken an umbrella job:

When I first moved to Milwaukee from Los Angeles in 1992, I came with no job lined up. I got here on a Friday, and when the Sunday paper came out, I went through it and cut out all of the administrative assistant ads and taped them to index cards. Then I typed out cover letters for each one of them on my trusty electric typewriter, on my fancy cream colored paper. Then I paired them up with the resumes I’d had printed at the print shop, and walked them to the post office to mail. Kids, this is how we did things back in the day.

When I got home, I found that there was one more little cut out classified ad on the floor below my desk. I was tired, and I’d just typed out 32 cover letters by hand, and I’d already mailed the whole stack…so I debated whether it was worth bothering with #33. The ad didn’t look like much, and the pay was really low. Then I remembered I was alone in a strange town, with rent to pay on my first apartment and no money left after paying for the move. So I typed up one more letter, sealed the envelope, and went back to the post office.

I ended up getting the job from that ad. It sucked. In fact, it sucked so badly that I would have quit the very first week if it wasn’t for the fact that the intern who also worked there was hot. I endured that crappy job for several months for the sake of that intern…who is now my husband (and still a hottie).  I still have the index card with the ad.  It’s in a box somewhere with my notes from boys in 10th grade and my yearbooks and the “I Voted” sticker from my first election.

About four years later, I moved to Washington, DC with a degree in political science and a vague idea that I was going to work on Capitol Hill or at the White House or something.  Again, I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t have a job lined up.  I’d never been east of Chicago before this.

I took a job with a temp agency.  They sent me on a three-week stint as an executive assistant at the phone company (an assignment that irked me, because I’d worked my way through college as an executive assistant, and I thought now that I was a college graduate, the world should recognize my brilliance.  I was an idiot.).  The three weeks turned into a couple of months, and one day, I overheard a couple of managers in the copy room complaining about having to drive downstate to help conduct interviews on college campuses.  I volunteered to go with them and help out.  I had a great time.  I volunteered to do more on-campus interviews.  That was the start of my career in human resources (a path I’ve never regretted for a minute, even though I’m changing directions now).

Now, your umbrella job may not lead to a spouse or career…but it will almost certainly lead to a paycheck.  Paychecks are your friends.  If you’re in a position to be picky, well, more power to you.  But if you’re wavering because some idiot told you that earning a paycheck was a bad thing…nope.  That’s a load of crap.  Don’t listen to ‘em.

Photo by Tatters

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Melissa December 16, 2009 at 9:17 am

I love your term “umbrella jobs.” You do what you need to do to get through.

As it turned out for me, my umbrella jobs also led to a career and a spouse, so maybe it happens more than you think!
.-= Melissa´s last blog ..The Power of “Thank You” (and a Giveaway) =-.

Sara December 16, 2009 at 10:10 am

Classic line, “kids this is how we did things back in the day”! Just recently I read of a child running up to a pay phone at Disneyland and said, “what’s dat?” Sheesh.

Going to miss your humor, are you sure there isn’t something else you can blog about??!? Please?

And on a note about taking an umbrella job, if you put the effort into applying and you make it to the end, and then suddenly realize the job is not what you expected, then don’t bother. BUT if you’ve done all the work you can to snag a job and need the money, don’t be a fool. I’ve taken 2 of these jobs too, and out of necessity, and that necessity paid the bills.

Thebe December 16, 2009 at 11:16 am

In 1993, I was a broke college graduate substitute teaching in Michigan. Summer was coming and I was about to lose my apartment. There were no other jobs. Then I heard of a part-time, low-paying obit and court reporter at a newspaper near my mother’s mobile home. I didn’t want to, but I mailed off a resume and clips from my college paper and the editor called me and hired me. So I lived with my mom again and worked there for six months. In that six months I found a new career, a spouse and some lifelong friends. It was one of the best jobs I ever had.

Clare December 16, 2009 at 12:53 pm

There is so much snobbery about “survival” jobs / “umbrella” jobs – generally from those sitting nice and cushty. If you need to earn money, take the job and worry about how it looks on your CV / resume afterwards.

I’m very sorry that you’re going to stop blogging here too. Your posts are a breath of fresh air. Best of luck in your next move…
.-= Clare´s last blog ..4 ways to find out if the company fits =-.

class factotum December 16, 2009 at 5:22 pm

I read one of Barbara Ehrenreich’s screeds about how how The Man is screwing everyone who is not making six figures. She wrote something about how it is especially demeaning for a maid to have to wash a floor on her knees. That’s how you get a floor clean, Barbara.

Her attitude annoyed the heck out of me. There is no shame in honest work. What was demeaning about cleaning houses? I clean my own house and do not feel demeaned doing it. I would be a kick-ass maid. My grandmother was a maid before she got married. She helped support her family during the Depression. On the other side of the family, my great-great aunt was not just a maid but she was the head housekeeper of a big Milwaukee mansion.

I was a temp secretary while I looked for permanent work after I got out of the Peace Corps. I worked at Macy’s as a clerk after I was laid off several years ago. A little hard to swallow to go to $9 an hour after a really good salary, but it was honest work and nothing to be ashamed of. I have a lot more respect for people who will work at any job rather than take unemployment than I do for someone who sits around and moans about how unfair life is. Take the job and pay the bills.
.-= class factotum´s last blog ..Wisconsin 101: Wisconsin nice, #53 =-.

Jane December 16, 2009 at 8:25 pm

I really, really think you misread Ehrenreich, cf. She’s a big fan of honest work; she just thinks that it should earn honest pay that allows one food and shelter. What she objects to isn’t cleaning floors, it’s that the company policy is that the employee needs to be seen on their knees to be perceived as doing a good job, even though there are other, less physically demanding ways of getting the floor clean (and even cleaner than most cleaning service protocols).

I’d say the only argument against an umbrella job (great term) is if it’s so exhausting it drains you of your energy to use it as a springboard to something else, and you’re in a reasonable position to wait longer for something else. Otherwise, it’s a good boost: financially, psychologically, and flexibility-logically!

Stephanie McDonald December 17, 2009 at 8:17 am

The timing of this post amazes me, as always.

I just withdrew my name from consideration for an umbrella position. I’m being laid off next week and I had the option to apply for an Executive Assistant job for the VP of the department I used to recruit for. He’s a wonderful man who I would have loved to work for, and that’s why I did what I did. I know in a few months when a great recruiting gig comes along, I will leave. And leave him in a terrible state. He can’t train the new Admin, he doesn’t even know what she does. There is someone out there who would LOVE that job. It’s not me.

Now, in two months when severance runs out, come see me at Target. I’ll be on Isle 9.

class factotum December 17, 2009 at 8:38 am

Jane, you may well be right. And I would love to know how to get my floor clean without getting on my hands and knees because after scrubbing the tub and the shower walls, it is my most despised household task.

But I do think that not every job should pay enough to support a person. Some jobs just aren’t worth that. I earned $3.25 an hour as a lifeguard in high school and college. Should that kind of job pay more than minimum wage? Should cleaning houses pay more than a few bucks an hour? I am a big fan of letting the market determine what a job is worth. If you want to make more money, up your skills and your value.

But that’s a discussion for another place, not here. :)
.-= class factotum´s last blog ..Chats du jour: In the merde =-.

teresahrgirl December 17, 2009 at 10:40 am

I would also suggest that if the job is for a “ho” make sure it’s the “bottom bitch” position. Cause I hear that’s the top of the field.

Emma December 18, 2009 at 5:49 am

Well worded advice! I too, have taken an umbrella job and have no regrets whatsoever. Not only do you need to survive, you also need mental stimulation and the dynamics of having a job allows you to find new challenges.

HR Minion December 18, 2009 at 4:16 pm

The job market sucks and there is no shame in umbrella jobs. Hell, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last 3 months. Money is money.
.-= HR Minion´s last blog ..You call that onboarding? =-.

Carla December 21, 2009 at 1:27 am

I know what there is to be ashamed about. I worked at a bakery, painted units for a former landlord (in exchange for rent) and freelanced as a bar tender for private parties (though I had zero experience). It was a lot of fun and it paid some bills.

Lise December 23, 2009 at 9:14 am

Glad I’m not the only one watching trashy Bravo reality shows in my semi-employment. Usually I’m knitting while watching, say, Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, but I’m not sure that redeems it much.

I probably qualify as having taken some “umbrella jobs” in the six months since I’ve been laid off. The two web development contracts probably count as that, if only because they’re contract work, not full-time employment. But I’ve learned so much from them, and I hope they’ll serve as a foot in the door as I attempt to transition from market research to web development.
.-= Lise´s last blog ..Imagining Downsizing =-.

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