Worst job ever

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[Conor Friedersdorf]

What's yours? I share after the jump.

My worst jobs all came through a temp agency I worked at during high school and college summers. The lowlights:

An eight week stint at Quiksilver in the accounts payable department, where I was given a large stack of carbon paper invoices and asked to separate the white, pink and yellow copies into piles for eight hours a day.

Six weeks at Mazda Motors of America, where I answered phones at the 1 800 number customers called when their cars broke down.

“Zoom zoom,” I’d greet callers.

My supervisor never told me to say that, but I found caricaturing the summer job helped to make its degrading moments more palatable. So many callers were primed to “tear me a new one,” as we say in the business. Thankfully I devised a strategy to check their tirades:

Me: “Zoom zoom! This is Mazda.”

Customer: “My Miata just broke down for the fifth time!”

Me: “Yelling at me makes some Mazda owners feel better, sir. Go ahead.”

The Preemptive Theory of Customer Service worked nine times out of ten.

A 3 day stint at a refinance company. One month they botched a bunch of paperwork, missed deadlines and failed to lock in a couple dozen homeowners at the lower interest rate they expected to begin paying. I was hired to call these homeowners and explain to them that contrary to the company's assurances they hadn't refinanced.

As I look back at these utterly mindless jobs, I find it interesting that all paid a higher hourly wage than my first stint as a journalist at an 80,000 circulation newspaper.

As a beat reporter for a city of 100,000 plus people I was basically responsible for ferreting out what they needed to know about their municipal government as citizens in a democracy. In one case my reporting uncovered misbehavior on the part of the City Council, which was violating California's open meeting laws. I was routinely the only one looking into contracts with municipal employees worth many millions of dollars.

Of course, my reporter job was infinitely more fun and rewarding than any of my temp jobs, but one reason local newspapers are so poorly written is that its scribes are paid less than the people who separate carbon paper into three piles.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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