Society

The Spinoff’s Worst Jobs Ever: fish oil, shoplifting, trenches, and trance

To finally get to our dream jobs at The Spinoff, our staff have been through some pretty terrible employment.

From flagrant sexism to gagging on fur balls from beard clippings, we at The Spinoff were exploited and used by our former employers.

But now you don’t have to suffer the indignity that we endured, because this June, skate, surf, and snowboard clothing company Volcom is giving 15 people from around the world the chance to make their passion their profession. The prize is a trip to Austin, Texas to work on your dream job and $5000 cash; that’s $5000 more than The Spinoff’s Don Rowe got paid for his summer job. Enter the competition today so you don’t have to spend two months stripping half the Waikato’s wallpaper for no pay, or nine hours every day unpacking boxes in a freezing windowless room.

Madeleine Chapman – Staff writer

In the summer break of my first year at Auckland Uni, I got my first full-time job, working at an ice cream factory. From 7am to 4pm, my task was to unbox and sort whatever had been delivered to the factory floor. Deliveries were either plastic containers, plastic lids, 10kg bags of hokey pokey and crushed cookies, or 20L sacks of flavoured syrups that served as great weight training. It was a beautiful summer (apparently) but the room I worked in was windowless and had to be kept chilled because the ice cream was being made next door. It was always a fun surprise finding out what the weather had been like that day as I left to go home. Sometimes I’d be called into the packing room to put boxes together or to stand at the conveyor belt and make sure that thousands of ice cream tubs didn’t clog up the shrink-wrap machine. It was the definition of mindless work but also very stressful because you couldn’t stop for a second until the machines stopped. The machines were loud so everyone wore ear muffs but weren’t allowed to listen to music in case of an alarm. I did a lot of self-reflection and got very pale that summer. But now I’m very good at taping and untaping cardboard boxes so it wasn’t all bad.

Alex Casey – TV editor

My first job was at a small hairdressing place: washing, sweeping and generally being around hair for $8 an hour, three hours every Saturday morning. The people who worked there were lovely, but the big problem was dealing with all the goddamn hair. Sartre was wrong: hell isn’t other people, it’s other people’s hair. I would frequently, silently dry retch over the basins when washing out perm solution. I pulled endless globs of rancid hair from the drains like a horror film. I inhaled so many beard trimmings I won’t be surprised if I have a gerbil-sized hairball wedged in my lungs forever. The sinks were shoddy and would frequently leak down people’s necks, so I once had to blow-dry an elderly woman’s back for about half an hour, dry-retching all the way. Still, can’t put a price on 24 bucks.

Kerryanne Nelson – General manager

I once had an interview for a job with a lady who said to me, “I know I’m not supposed to ask you this, but when are you planning on getting pregnant? Because I don’t want someone who’s going to go on maternity leave anytime soon.” Clearly there were alarm bells from the start, but I was in London and needed to pay my excruciatingly high rent so I took the job. Cool move. Another highlight was the day she told me that I needed to remove the nail polish from my nails as it had chipped slightly and we were meeting with some of the company bosses. She literally handed me the nail polish remover and stood there and watched me take it off. When we went into the meeting the bosses were wearing jeans, t-shirts and Crocs.

Don Rowe – Staff writer

About six months before I started at The Spinoff I spent several weeks drainlaying through a period of intense thunderstorms. One afternoon, shin-deep in clay mud like something out of Flanders Fields, I watched the foreman and his pneumonia get into their truck and drive away, lightning streaking above the retirement village we were building. That was the second worst job I’ve had. Far, far more hazardous to both mood and health were the two months I spent painting the most rundown state houses in the government’s Waikato portfolio. From Ngaruawahia to Forest Lake, Huntly to Hamilton, we scraped half a century worth of ciggy-stained wallpaper from sagging walls, sanded the space behind the fridge and generally got stuck into the residences of people who just didn’t give a shit anymore, and hadn’t for the past twenty years. Then, at the end of the contract, we got screwed by the contractor and ended up with a total of $0 for our time, thank you very much, just in time for Christmas. Happy days.

Henry Oliver – Music editor

My first proper job was stacking shelves at 277 Woolworths at night. I was 17, living on K Road and making a minimum of $120 a week, $80 of which covered my rent. It was lonely, repetitive and depressing. In the break room there were Polaroid photos of the shoplifters holding what they got caught with. Their names were scrawled at the bottom in vivid. Mostly high school kids with cans of V and pensioners with cat food or cheap cuts of steak. I wondered why they didn’t steal nicer meat. A shoplifting friend of mine told me you get the same punishment for shoplifting anything up to $500. Someone should tell these old men, I thought. The photos were beautiful and sad in a way that appealed to me.

I listened to my Walkman the whole time. When they told me I couldn’t listen to my Walkman anymore I quit the next day and called in sick for the next two weeks. The boss threatened to withhold my last pay cheque if I never came back, so I worked my last shift, listening to my friend’s bFM show on my Walkman. He played a song for me: The Dead Kennedys’ ‘Take This Job And Shove It’.

The lonely supermarket aisle where Walkmans are banned and hope is out of stock.

Emily Writes – Spinoff Parents editor

My first job was at the fish bar at Woolworths. I was 15. My hands used to get cut up cleaning the fish machine and the fish oil would get into my hands. I was 15 and I smelled like fish all the time. It was not a good time. I hate fish.

I also worked at the Bunny Bar where I had to dress up as a bunny. But the bar got sued by Playboy and was shut down. Fish Bar was still worse than the Bunny Bar.

José Barbosa – Staff producer

My first job was working in a Kiwifruit grading shed during harvest time. It was fine, but I was so useless at it they kept on moving me around different jobs. I was a box packer one day, but was so slow kiwifruit piled up around me like discarded peanut shells on the floor of a bar. I got moved to grading which required watching scores of kiwifruit go past on the conveyor belt and picking out the non-export grade fruit (basically the fruit that looked bung), but I let so many scarred and degenerate fruit through they moved me again. And so on and so on.

And then the kiwifruit market imploded and I never had to work in a kiwifruit orchard ever again.

José Barbosa has been linked to the collapse of the kiwifruit market.

Simon Day – Partnerships editor

I scored my worst job when I moved to Melbourne for the summer holidays and was desperately broke and in need of work quickly. I found myself selling energy plans door to door for one of the large Australian electricity providers. After three days of unpaid training, on the morning of my first day we gathered in the main office in the central city where loud trance music was used to motivate the sellers who charged around the room hi fiving and shouting. It was very cultish. Each team would then jump in a van and head to the city’s outer suburbs – motivational trance loud on the stereo again. It was then my job to go out into the neighbourhood and manipulate struggling, and often confused, families to switch energy providers by gently implying if they didn’t, their power would be cut off. That was my first and last day as an energy salesman.

Sam Brooks – Staff writer

For five terrifying hours when I was 17 I worked as a potato picker about an hour south of Auckland. I wanted to get money for a PS4. I was put into a combine harvester with four strangers while we went around a field for five hours. I have the softest hands of any person I know, and I did not cope. I ended up calling my mother to come and pick me up that afternoon.


What’s your ‘this’? Your passion, that thing you wish you could do full time. This June, Volcom is searching the Earth to find 15 people who are ready to make their passion their paycheque.

Applying is easy; we’ve thrown out the traditional job application and replaced it with the simple question, “What’s your ‘this’ and what would it mean to you to put #ThisFirst?”

Enter now for the chance to prioritise your passion by letting Volcom give you that extra push that will allow you to spend six weeks focusing on your ‘this’ while also getting paid.

The Spinoff Longform Fund is dedicated to facilitating investigative journalism. Our focus is on supporting in-depth reporting on important New Zealand stories. Your donation will help us sustain this most resource-intensive form of journalism, ensuring that the most complex and important stories still get told.