The gift of a survival job: seven ways you get more than just money


Survival jobs tend to get a bad rap, but they don’t deserve it. Lots of Canadians are doing them. And lots of people are working at skill levels beneath or different from their educational attainment.  Sometimes it’s hard to see the benefits when you’re in the middle of your survival job, so take it from other ISSofBC grads: survival jobs have at least seven amazingly good benefits.

1) Awesome relationships: If the work isn’t too mentally demanding, and in survival jobs that’s usually the case, there’s lots of opportunity for getting to know co-workers. Many former ISSofBC clients have told me they really value the friendships they made during survival job experiences. Aside from friendships, the professional relationships made with supervisors reminded them of their value.

2) Learning: One ISSofBC client, a doctor in her home country, told me about how she enjoyed learning the equipment in her part-time office job. Others clients have described how they refined their sales and persuasion ability in retail jobs. Still others talk about how their English improved. Survival jobs tend to be extremely forgiving when mistakes are made and as a result, the learning potential is enormous.

3) English practice: Lots of people have adequate English, but a survival job can help to expand their ability to communicate smoothly. They also learn cultural favorite topics, like our relentless Canadian interest in talking about weather. Actually experiencing repeated small talk about weather makes newcomers quite good at it and that can help later in job interviews, networking and in professional jobs.

4) Feeling included: In any job, after a while, you start to feel a sense of inclusion and belonging. If you’re not feeling that in a larger, cultural sense, that survival job belonging can really help your self-esteem. Knowing that co-workers or customers are relying on you gives you a feeling of worth that may keep your spirits up during tough times in a lengthy, professional job search.

5) Perks: So you don’t have an expense account and your survival job isn’t flying you around the continent. Well, consider the benefits of smaller privileges. Maybe you get reduced prices on restaurant meals or maybe you get an employee discount on clothes in the store where you work. Some people will resist giving up a survival job and hang on to just a few hours just to keep those perks going.

6) Community contact: If your survival job is in your neighborhood, the work gets you out and in touch with people where you live. Even the humble act of delivering newspapers, which former clients have done, connects you to your “place” in a new way. Engaging with people and with the landscape offers you knowledge you can’t get by just passing through. The satisfaction that comes from feeling a part of a place is not to be discounted.

7) Exercise: Professional jobs often happen at a desk behind a computer. Headaches, back strain and stress are components of many professional jobs. Survival jobs, on the other hand, tend to get you moving. Maybe you are sitting on a carpet with young children and finding out how great that makes your back feel. Maybe you are doing construction work and experiencing a resurgence of your muscles. Maybe you are walking outside a lot more than you have for years and feeling the benefits of fresh air. You might just miss the exercise of a survival job when you have moved back into desk work.

Of course, we are all working to achieve our goals and to be all that we can be. But part of that process may be experiencing the benefits of survival jobs along the way. There are lots of benefits to the work and remembering them can improve your spirits.

Gwen PawlikowskiAbout the Author:
Gwen Pawlikowski is a freelance writer and entrepreneur who has also worked as an ISSofBC employment counsellor with newcomers. She lives in New Westminster and loves the diversity of the Lower Mainland. Please click here for information on ISSofBC’s career services.


39 thoughts on “The gift of a survival job: seven ways you get more than just money”

  1. One of my friends who is an engineer now told me his survival job story. In the first year that he came to Canada he did a survival job which was a physical job, but he still got some new skills and knew something new. Even now, every time he told us his experience, he still remembers almost every details. Some new immigrants have to do survival jobs at the beginning. This blog listed the good things to do a survival job. However, I think people can also get these benefits from other jobs. It’s hard to say it’s good or not to do a survival job, but it can be a part of our lifes and let us get in touch with a new field.

  2. Mostly, I agree with all the opinions mentioned in this Blog .
    The important benefit of taking a survival job, of my experience, is to obtain a sense of confidence with which you would not feel nervous about the new circumstance any more. I still remember the first day when I handed the money I earned as a garden worker to my wife, she smiled and looked happy. She had been worrying about our future all days since we landed, but at that day, I think I have ensured her that we can absolutely live by ourselves here.

  3. I think doing survival job for some reason is good as you guys mentioned on top and for some reason not, Today’s recent immigrant have lower rates of employment ,lower level of earnings and family incom in the past.However many highly educated immigrants also stuk in survival job .
    Survival job take your time ,energy and skills!If you stay in it you may not find a professional one and many other reasons like low level of English, lack of Canadian soft skill and licenses ,etc

  4. Srun
    I have been Canada around four months. I don’t have any survival job yet. Regarding the articles, I’m glad to know about a survival job. Its a good job for a newcomers to earn money to support their life. Beside money, we can practice English with all people, have a new friends, new colleagues come from different country. Its a good way to communicate or exchange culture with other people. We can adapt to a new situation, new culture, in a new social life. Moreover, we can gain experience from this work. Experience is very important in social work. We can say that a survival job is an important basic to get our favorite job in a future.

  5. well, we can found benefits in every event, also for survival job. so how many benefits for survival job this not important. in my opinion, the point is: at first we need to clear which kind of skill we need to promote. than think about how to use the benefits of survival job to promote our self than go to find that kind of job. to promote our self than get better job.

  6. I like this writer who has very good angle to think about survival job. Most of time, people choose the survival job because they can’t find out other better job. They have to accept survival job but living stress. In contrast, this writer use the optimistic attitude to show that doing survival job is not just for money, and people can gain many benefits from it, even doing excise more that working in the office. I have a friend, he was in IT industry in China. When he just landed in Vancouver, he found a job which is in a big flower shop. After he worked several months, he told me that he really enjoyed his work because it is so simple, less stress and better health than before.
    Therefore, I completely agree with those opinion. All the experiences are treasure in life.

  7. I definitely agree with this post. I have been Canada for 17 months, I don’t even think about getting a survival job. The reason is I just focus on my long goal. To be a nurse in Canada, so improving my English in school is the first thing, I believe. Secondly, having two young children is always my excuse. From now on, it’s time to think about having a survival job to change my situation.

  8. The article says some good points of survival jobs, but I think if we, as new comers can find the job which can perform professional skills from previous country, it will be a great. But it sounds like you need to find job for surviving and do not rely on benefits government or study by paying high tution fee and yiu will get a better job.

  9. I agree that a survival job have good benefits other than the minimum money. Right Now, I have a survival job and it is not easy sometime see the other benefits and think to long time. When I talk with another immigrants that live in Canada few years ago, I understand that most of us should start doing this kind of job but it is the beginning to the job that I really want to have. So, even if is difficult some days, I am convinced that it is just the first step.

  10. How amazing! I totally agree with all the benefits that can be obtained from survival jobs. For young people who just graduated from the university or the college, survival jobs may provide them with a sense of self-esteem and also an opportunity of learning how to establish good relationships with their co-workers and supervisors. Recently, one of my good friends kept texting me to complain that her son was depressed all day long since he still could not get any reply for an interview after a lengthy professional job search of more than one year! I tried to comfort her and suggested that her son might try to get a survival job to cheer him up. She phoned me a few days later that her son agreeed to work part-time at the Starbucks. The most important thing is that she found her son looked happier day after day when going to work at Starbucks! The survival job did gain back his sense of worth. Congratulations!

  11. It’s a great article that can be my reference of searching job. I totally agree with opinion of article. I think the most newcomers as me are difficult to look for a professional job in Canada cause of lacking of working experience in Canada or English is not good etc. So survival job or volunteer job could help newcomers in advance accumulates Canadian working experiences and learn a certain degree social interaction in Canada. The most important is that could enhance their self-esteem and confidence in living of Canada in the future.


  12. I can see the benefits of survival job,but all of them are labor job .lower pay and hard.you have no time and energy left to improve your background skill and English..so once you do ti you will do it forever.

  13. I feel be encouraged after reading this blog. It expresses what I want to say but do not know how to say. For accumulating local working experiences or earning money for living some of us have to find survival jobs as the first jobs in Canada. I am sure we will feel depressed and frustrated when we do the survival jobs which do not need to use our brains. We have to work like a robot. Earning money is the only target, no challenge, no self worth.
    This blog encourages me because it will make me treat a survival job with correct attitude. It gives me good reasons to be an optimistic person if I have to do a survival job in a very beginning of my job career in Canada. Even from among a survival job I can find a useful skill to learn, can learn about knowledge even a little, can make friends. As long as I can follow my dream I will find my beautiful future.

  14. I would like to have a survival job. That easy to build friendship with co-workers. At the same time get more chance to practice speaking English. Also the opportunity offer to us to gain the good living experience in BC. Plus the perks can be very good to me if I work at the fashion store. Hahaha

  15. I think we can get a lot of benefits from survival jobs,such as English learning ,social contact,good relationship,exercise and knowledge.I have many work experiences in my first country,but I am short of locals. By the means of survival jobs,I can build up my local experiences and improve English skills.
    I hope to have survival ! How can I get it ?

  16. I agree that survival jobs help newcomers improve their English, meet people, learn about Canadian ways of communicating or operating business. Just being in survival jobs too long damages your self-esteem. You need to find a professional job as soon as you are ready. Or at least the survival job you have shouldn’t be mentally demanding.

  17. We came to Canada.If we want to find an ideal job,it is difficult for us .because of languege.
    but some times we need to know many laber work you dont need speak English,so we feel
    some friends can help you especialy old immigrant ,good frienship is very important,they will
    help you a lot.

  18. I agee with the idea of the author mostly.
    I think the main target is the ineigration into the mainstream, since i made decission to move to Canada so to contact local people to learn their cultural, language, living style…is very important. To get a job is the best way to go for it.

  19. I agree author’s opinion, you can get many benefits from survival jobs not just earn money also include experiences, confidence and good relationship. Sometime you will feel very happy from your jobs ,because clients say “Thank You” to you. I think another good thing is that most of survival jobs are part time and flexible so you can do more things like – learning English, take care children and volunteer, but not just work.

  20. I agree with Gwen! Survival Jobs are great to have an income to cover at least the basics such as rent and food. Doing something – even though it is not my dream job – makes me feel better, confident and productive. Being unemployed for a longer period of time can be frustrating, having a job, any job, can help finding a new job in your field. It also looks better on a resume: employers might have more respect for a job-seeker who is willing to work to support his or her family. Sometimes you can get healthcare benefits while doing a survival job.
    On the other hand, you may be forced to work multiple jobs because of the low wages which can be very tiring. It also limits your time to go for job-hunting for a new job in your profession.
    Hopefully survival jobs are just temporary stops on the way to get your desired job!

  21. I really like this article about survival jobs. I completely agree that a survival job helps to improve English, to meet new people, to get some Canadian experience, and so on. Once i had some survival job in Canada. I
    was working in a warehouse, i made a good relationship with co-workers, i got good money, and also had a wonderful experience there.

  22. I agree that survival jobs provide benefits to the workers, however, the employers probably capture bigger slice in profit sharing. It is because survival job workers are the cheap labor in the market as they usually receive the minimum wages from employers. On the other hand, the employers can also acquire good human assets from those fresh graduates or newcomers who may be professionals in their home countries. As survival jobs are usually labor intensive with only little technical know how required, which in other words, the employees will got less chance to be promoted. Therefore, I always encourage the workers especially for those fresh graduates not to stay long with their survival jobs, which should be regarded as stepping stones for attainment of higher goals. Just believe better prospects are in our hands, and miracles are going to happen with fire burning in our hearts.

  23. According to Maslow theory of 5 needs,Human beings want to realize ,at last,self-actualization needs (the top needs).
    I think to have a survival job is the first step to satisfy Human beings 5needs .
    About the above post ideas, I strongly agree. Because I already have had experienced in very short term survival job and feel all the good aspects of the survival job.
    Let`s remember that Survival jobs bring us more than 7 benefits.
    Awesome relationships,Learning,English practice,feeling included,perks,community contact,exercise can be very good gifts from survival jobs.

    Seok Hwan (Scott Chae)
    gifts from s

  24. I’m working one of the low prices store in Canada and I’ve learn to love the job that I have. For at least I survive from day to day basis of life here. Working in a multi-culturalism environment help me understand the work attitude of every individual that differences are there. Getting to know them, giving respect and giving value of relationship are the benefits that I got. Just enjoy on what you are doing, sometimes you encountered difficulty most especially languages but if you could response in a way that they could understand you, it makes you feel understood. Working in everyday makes you familiarize things, there’s involvement in a corporation. I don’t have perks but to have the privileges to buy stuff in a low price is a big consolation. The work is too physical but to think that I am in the gym working out help me lessen the heavy of work task. Anyway, there’s a benefit to work too physical, it makes you alert and energetic, it makes you too tired but once you get enough rest that would be fine.

  25. I don’t know yet what is my dream job. All I did is just survival jobs. I took all the apportunity that I thought was good. Don’t waste time waiting for the ideal job. By doing survival jobs we can learn manythings, have more friends, earn money and maybe you can find way for what you dream. Doing different things from what we learn sometime make us frustrated and disappointed.

  26. I totally agree that doing a survival job can help newcommer build relationship with other people. It can help them to get into the canadian life from making friends to some canadian. And it can also improve the oral English if you have to speak English druing working. Sometimes we don’t have many chance to practice it.
    As we know, many employer would ask the interviewee wether he have canadian experience. I think it a survival job not only support newcomer’s basic life but also provide a way to get canadian working experience.

  27. I come to canada about 3 years. I feel the importance of English. I can learn a lot of English from survival job. I can know many new friends from survival job. There are lots of benefits to the work and remembering them can improve my spirits.

  28. It’s a good article to show us the benefits of survival jobs. In survival jobs, we have more opportunity to make friends, learn local culture and practise our English speaking, which will make it easy and comfortable to adjust the live in a new place. Meanwhile, we can get some perks in the survival jobs, which is good for our live, and get some exercise during the work time, which is good to our body. I can’t wait to get a job.

  29. Moving without having a job means discovering a new environment and building a professional network. The reality of the job market is that it is easier to get a job if you are currently employed, as a kind of proof you are employable. As a result of this statement, it is important to get a survival job, even if it is quite sad to be obliged to go through this reality.
    First, immigrants can be frustrated by the necessity we can live as a big back step as a comparison of our previous position in our natal country. But the fact is Canadians has to make this step as well; so frustration disappears and it is a good start.
    Plus, survival job can be an excellent way to socialize. I recently experienced the power of the network and the good reputation in the dynamic of getting jobs. By that, I mean people always have a look on the way you work, and if they appreciate it, they can spontaneously come to offer you surprising positions. During the summer, I was working as a wine vendor in Ontario, in the tasting room and also at the market. At the end of the 3 months I got 2 other contracts as an event waitress and … carpenter in training!! I came back home before working on these contracts, but the point is survival jobs can be a window on the professional you are.
    People prefer hire who they know. As a result, we are better to be (well) known! Fortunately, most of survival jobs are about client services, directly in contact with the persons you want them to know you. It is weird to realize that I need to meet an amount of clients in different positions, what I do appreciate, in order to get a job in where I may meet almost no one. The main idea here is that when it is time to compete for a job, your chance are dramatically increased because you have already served the employer in a polite and honest way, whereas he doesn’t know your competitor in person.
    However, we don’t have to forget why we chose this survival job and keep in mind the idea we should leave it sooner or later; even if we finally like the environment. Unless we discover a real good place to stay! I will soon apply on clothes jobs, I know that I really love the event paced environment in shops; and the truth is that I can apply on management position due to my scholarship; which is awesome because it could add a team leading background on my resume. Nevertheless, I want to keep my mind open to the possibility to be happy enough in his beat to allow myself to stay a while on this kind of position. And then, I am questioning: would the survival job be a loss or a gain?
    To conclude, getting a survival job in a kind of forced passage we all have to come through; but keeping in mind the final goal may help to cope the current situation; and even surprise you with finding you enjoying the position.

  30. Although the earnings of survival jobs do not cover even the ordinary expenses of an employee, but the job itself is a good opportunity to increase the level of confidence and to get a better job in future. Most important is survival jobs can extend his/ her English level by its practice in workplace and the clients. Furthermore, this would broaden the vocabulary and better understanding of different attitudes of the people. Sometimes for some of newcomers, it is not so easy to withstand these kinds of jobs and they try to find a job that is related to their skill levels, but under the psychological pressure they convinced themselves to continue on the job to be survived.

  31. A survival job was just what I needed when I was studying at the university in my hometown.
    I was in my twenties, I found it too hard to work full time with a demanding and fast job, where I had to be one step forward, always ready for the unknown or the unplanned.
    After my days at work, I was exhausted. I used to take the bus and go to the university from 7 pm until 10 pm. I was trying to study Public Translation in order to become an Interpreter. I remember I had to concentrate my mind, focus. At that time, the studies required a certain intellectual approach from me that I was not able to obtain; I was too tired.
    I remember thinking that a survival job would be the solution but then life and other responsibilities dragged me in other directions.
    My life now it’s different and I think I could benefit from a survival job. Who knows, maybe this is my time to become an interpreter.

    1. I thought survival jobs are bad before I read this article.I do survival job since I arrived to Canada.I always miss my professional job in China.Now I know the job is important to people .I will enjoy it.

  32. Survival jobs help newcomers get Canadian experience quickly and easily. I agree that survival jobs could have many chances to contact with people and improve English. Blending into local culture and getting life experience in Canada can also help newcomers getting used to their new life.

  33. We can learn a lot from survival job. It makes us know what we need, what is our goal. When I came to Canada, it was not easy for me to find a profession job because I have not native work experience and English was not good, although I have more than 10 years work experience in my homeland. I found a survival job in a supermarket for selling food. Everyday I had to finish a lot of physical work. I did not like that job, but I had to do it. Everyday I thought how to find a new job, what did I need to do? It was that time I decided to improve my English and find a profession job. It was survival job make me clearly know what I should to do.

  34. Great post! I think that survival jobs can really make a difference for us, as immigrants, in embracing your new country. They accelerate our adaptation, develop new skills and act in favor of our mood because give us an excuse to leave our homes and not to be alone. I’d like to add that volunteering is also a good experience to try with (almost) all the benefits listed here.

  35. I have been Canada for 2 years,I absolutely agree the opinion in this article .I did some survival jobs before,like be a food service,housekeeper,this survival jobs improve my English and help me make some friends .

  36. It’s good to know that there are many benefits from survival jobs.
    Work keeps people be inspired, needed and fulfilled themselves. In addition, we can learn more Canadian experience from workplace, too. Furthermore,to make your own living will make you feel feet on the ground. I wish I could have a job very soon.

  37. I was wondering about the the survivel job, and I think that this kind of job isn’t too bad, because you can to learn about your comunity and to know new people. The most important is that you can improve your English e consequently to find new oportunity or who knows new better job.

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