So, working at BigBoxStore Pharmacy?
March 7, 2013 11:21 AM   Subscribe

So, working at BigBoxStore Pharmacy? ... as a cashier? Possible on-the-job training as a pharmacy tech. Need career advice!

Basically, right now I'm biding my time before this summer, when I have several pretty exciting plans lined up. For the moment, though, I need to work-- I have no savings and I've got bills to pay.

I'm currently working full-time as a bank teller. It's a decent job-- I get to wear my own clothes (no uniform), it's dignified in my tiny community, and my coworkers are friendly. It's in a shady part of town, so we get some interesting clientele (think public urination), but I haven't had to deal with anything outright violent or abusive. Just normal crazy. I'm new enough that I haven't had to deal with referral goals yet (basically sales goals), but will soon-- not something I'm looking forward to.

However, I recently got an offer to work as an OTC cashier at BigBoxStore pharmacy. I've worked at BigBoxStore twice in the past-- the first time as a summer job before I got mono and quit, and the second time for about two days before I went home in a blanket of frustration and shame. Both times you could say were relatively demoralizing, but all in all, it's not a terrible place to work. What you've heard in the news about BigBoxStore's abusive employment practices, while not exaggerated, doesn't always touch the individual worker's life. A lot of friends and family work at this particular store, and they have few complaints.

The first few times I was working strictly as a cashier/floor sales, but this time, as I said, it's an OTC cashier position, which is basically the pharmacy cashier, a step below the real pharm techs, doing cashiering & grunt work. Working at a pharmacy is actually something I've been interested in for awhile-- I considered pharmacy school at one point, and am still interested in health care careers. According to the hiring pharmacist, cashiers can gradually acquire more and more duties and eventually complete training to become pharmacy techs (as in, they're often hired from within). I've wanted to be a pharmacy tech in the past (wanted some exposure to medicine and medical terminology) and I've also considered training to be a medical transcriptionist.

However, this job is definitely not a tech job right off the bat-- and since I have exciting summer plans (one being a short-term internship, the other people a potential long-term job offer), I don't know if I'll be sticking around long enough to get any tech duties. My impulse while writing this paragraph is to switch jobs to the pharmacy-- it's closer, I'll be saving about $200/mo. on gas, it's more related to my interests. I've been a bank teller before and didn't really like it then, don't love it now. Literally all that's keeping me from switching is the shame factor-- I really, REALLY like dressing as myself for work, hate wearing khakis, and I am really sensitive to folks from my past making sly comments about how I "went to college, why am I working at BigBoxStore," &c.

The thing is that I have pretty bad social anxiety, which I mostly manage with medication and (as a skill from past therapy) defeating my negative self-talk. I'm afraid that giving up at the bank is a manifestation of my anxiety, because the job is a long commute and involves mostly working with older people, while I am a mildly awkward young adult. Right now the thought of returning to the bank terrifies me, but I also don't want to make a stupid decision that tramples on my self-esteem just because I'm afraid. On the other hand, why do I hate wearing khakis so much? Is that really a good reason to stick with a difficult job that is not giving me any exposure to other job fields I'm interested in? But to be honest, if I switch jobs, it will be my third job in one year (restaurant, bank, pharmacy), and there's a chance I might be switching again this summer (though to a dream job)-- so four job changes in one year!

Other factors in favor of the pharmacy are that it's 30hrs/wk instead of 40 (at the bank), which sounds like a negative, but due to some family health issues I could use the extra time to give care. The pay is roughly similar (slightly lower), but as I said, transportation costs would decline sharply. I'm not worried about losing benefits, because my health care is taken care of by a state low-income program.

One thing is, if I knew for sure I could take a leave of absence from the pharmacy to attend my summer internship, I would 100% take the pharmacy job. My reasons being that then the long-term prospects seem better to me (want to be a tech!). Right now inertia is kind of telling me to stay at the bank if it's only going to be for three more months, but if I knew it would be for a year, at which point I could be promoted to tech, then yeah, I would do that. Khakis and all.

If you can't tell, I've recently been off my depression/anxiety meds for insurance reasons (back on them now), and have been kind of a mess when it comes to decision making. I kind of need someone to kick me in the pants and say "BigBoxStore isn't that bad" or "what are you thinking, khakis?!?!!!" or "being a pharm tech is hell" or "working at a bank is not that preferable to being a cashier." I just feel lucky to have gotten the bank job (it's a little more competitive, a little more dignified, pays a little more, &c.) after a long period of unemployment and turning it down for a job at BigBoxStore will mean putting up with a lot of confused grunts from family and family friends. But I have nooo interest in staying at the bank in the long-term, or really gaining any career experience from it-- it's not leading me anywhere. My boyfriend says he thinks the pharmacy job sounds like the best choice for me.

I think that the one thing keeping me from making the switch is the leave of absence issue-- how likely does it seem for a new employee (three months in) to get a six week leave of absence for personal reasons which are educational in nature? The program I want to attend is related to public policy, and I got in due to my interest in public health/education policy. There's also the possibility that my summer Dream Job won't work out (it's known to be a volatile place, a high risk/high reward type career) and I'll know very quickly, and in that circumstance I'd definitely like to return at the end of the summer to resume my tech "career path."

I have been a mess lately and asking a lot of job/career related questions, so my apologies. Yesterday I found myself reading a Forbes article about job offers when I realized I was blowing this situation way out of proportion. My main concerns are 1) I quit/switch jobs too often (in the past I've usually stuck with a job for about a year before moving on, while I was a student) and 2) is working at a BigBoxStore going to grind me into dust, and 3) how likely is it that I'll be able to continue this job on into a tech career? If you have specific experience with on-the-job training as a pharm tech at a big retail store, I would really appreciate any insight.

In relation to my anxiety, I feel very flaky and weasely keeping so many jobs and options on the back burner, and I feel like I'm being high-maintenance and unrealistic about what Having a Job entails in the real world. For instance, bouncing around at so many jobs, or completing training and deciding a job isn't for me-- I know these are things that people do, but I have a bit of shame about never really sticking with a job for more than a year or giving my best performance, since in the past I had so many depression-related motivation issues.

As a little background, I went to a good college and have some interest in continuing in academia eventually, but for the moment I am spending time at home with my family and just seeking some financial stability. I am not a very ambitious person, and my career goals mostly revolve around an interest in jobs like copyediting and typing that could eventually become freelance in the event that I choose to have a family. I am pretty content with my current lifestyle.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total)
You may want to make sure you can take that leave of absence, but from what I know from folks who have worked at BigBoxStore, even if they tell you that you can take it, they won't mean it.

I don't know too many retailers, in fact, who would hire someone knowing that they were going to take a 6-week leave of absence after such a short time on the job. Retail jobs are easy to fill, so there's not much incentive to accommodate scheduling requests.
posted by xingcat at 11:33 AM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm afraid that giving up at the bank is a manifestation of my anxiety, because the job is a long commute and involves mostly working with older people

You will not have fewer older people to deal with as a pharmacy cashier - they may not mostly be co-workers, but they will definitely be customers.

I am really sensitive to folks from my past making sly comments about how I "went to college, why am I working at BigBoxStore," &c.

Do what you need to do to get over the shame, because it's completely useless. I used to be embarrassed that I had this fancy BA from an Ivy and I was working as a dining room attendant at a (different) fancy school, or that I was doing fairly low-level office or retail work. Whatever: it's a job, it's experience, it's opportunity. Shame is pointless.

I suggest you go stand in line (or near the line, like you're waiting for someone) at a pharmacy, because if your social anxiety is the kind more likely to be triggered by frustrating encounters with people who are annoyed by one thing or another, you're going to have a lot of these at the pharmacy counter. People will be aggravated that their prescription cost is more than they expected, that their prescription took longer to fill than they like, etc., and they will express this annoyance at you. They will be confused about something about their prescription (cost, color, size of pills, whatever) and ask or rant to you about it.

I don't want to be all "You can't do this!", but don't set yourself up to fail, either. Stretching your abilities and pushing your own boundaries can be a really good thing, but not if you have unrealistic expectations about how far you can really stretch or push.

Lastly, I'd be very surprised if a retail establishment, big box or no, would let a new employee take any kind of leave that wasn't medical in nature (and the law required them to give it to you).
posted by rtha at 12:00 PM on March 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I don't know too many retailers, in fact, who would hire someone knowing that they were going to take a 6-week leave of absence after such a short time on the job. Retail jobs are easy to fill, so there's not much incentive to accommodate scheduling requests.
On the other hand, if you're up front with them about the leave, and you're a good employee, they may be thrilled to have you back in six weeks. Retail jobs turn over quickly so they are probably used to people coming and going, and an employee who cares enough to give notice is better than one that just no-call/no-shows.

My experience is yeesh, fifteen years old, but when I worked fast food in high school, I took months off in the summer to visit family and came back to the same job/hours/wage.
posted by donajo at 12:17 PM on March 7, 2013

When you are a pharmacy cashier you are literally at the front lines of the long standing War between Health Insurance Companies and Human Beings. There is a great deal of frustration and anger and confusion, and you are the one who must deal with it all. Especially if this BigBoxStore's name begins with a "W" and ends with an "almart", I would really advise you stick with your bank job. I know several people who have worked in their Pharmacy department, and it is by all accounts a very tough slog.

If you do really want to get some Pharmacy experience, look around at the independent pharmacies in your area and see if any of them are hiring cashiers.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:29 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're talking about making a job shift for 3 months before you're quitting to go do an internship and a different job? Just stay in your current job, and quit when it is time to go do the internship.

It's not likely that getting a job at Big Box Store will be much more difficult later, after all.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:15 PM on March 7, 2013

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
Thanks, guys. I think the suggestion that I stand in line at a pharmacy or consider the customer base are good, but the thing is, I don't have social anxiety with customers. I'm actually pretty good with customers. My social anxiety is majorly centered around people I deal with on a daily/recurring basis involving peer respect (like classmates or coworkers).

As far as bitchy pharmacy customers go, bank customers are pretty awful-- dealing with homeless people bellowing at you over $75 they deposited in 1976 that was "stolen" from them (and seriously, urinating on the chair they're sitting in right across from you), or little old ladies who ream you out for giving them $100 in 10s instead of 20s, well. I know dealing with sick angry people isn't a lot better, but it's not that much worse. I've been yelled at by very scary big men at my bank job for nothing worse than finding a black mark on their credit report that they clearly already knew about... and bank tellering also requires more of a friendly, conversational "rapport" as part of your ongoing evaluations (there's sooo much phone surveying of customers about whether you use their name enough, make them feel special enough, &c.). I don't mind customer service but it's not my favorite part of the job, I much prefer the basic transactional rhythm/knowledge of the job.

Also writing out this question helped me clarify things: the cons of the bank job are that I have to drive far to get there, I spend a lot of gas money, my time is too occupied for me to do what I moved home to do (caregive), and the job is unpleasant both in the customer service and sales respects. The pharmacy job pays slightly less, but there's no "sales/referral" component, and it will ultimately pay 50-75% more if I stick with it, meaning it could turn into a real career-- while the bank job is basically frozen in time. I'm hoping that getting a few months of pharmacy experience will mean either I can keep my job, or get another pharm job in the future (actually not that easy and I think some experience will give me a leg up in the future). I've been trying to get a pharmacy job for years-- it's actually not as "easy come, easy go" as it seems, even finding a retail job these days is a struggle.

Also, I realize both that a) I used to feel ashamed about working for BigBox, and b) that's something I need to get over, both on a personal level and to survive. The shame I used to feel is something I could feel palpably when I stepped into the store-- when I spent time behind the pharmacy counter for my interviews, I had a much different feeling of curiosity and stimulation. As far as the leave of absence-- I'll have to cross that bridge when I come to it. Thanks, everyone. Any more advice or food for thought is welcome.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:55 PM on March 7, 2013

I work as an overnight manager in Major Pharmacy Chain. I have friends in some of the pharmacies in the area and they tell me that the experience is similar across the whole industry.

Just some general pointers:

-Working in a pharmacy can be extremely stressful. People tend to get angry and aggressive about things that matter to them and nothing matters more to many people than their health. You will be screamed at, you will be cussed at. You will be held personally responsible for any problems in the health care industry. I have had people try to leap across the counter and call the cops on me in my own store before. If you are working the register in the pharmacy, you are going to be the first person anyone sees in the pharmacy and thus you are "the man." This is not a job for someone that does not like stress or working with the public.

-There's not much room for advancement in the industry right now. Across the board, most major pharmacies are cutting back on their tech positions and hours and increasing the workload on the techs that are already on staff. Be prepared for multi-tasking. Your co-workers are likely to be stressed and unhappy.

-You don't get very many breaks working in the pharmacy. When I worked behind the counter we usually got fifteen minutes in 8 hours. This does not comply with legal code, but usually it's so busy there's not really a choice.

-We will not look kindly on you in the future if you skip out after a few months on the job. It takes a few months for anyone to actually get into the full swing of working in a store and then we would lose you as soon as you became useful. Our store doesn't usually re-hire people who quit unless they were truly exceptional or got along with everyone well. I know our store does not grant leave unless you popped out a baby, are disabled or are leaving for school [and there isn't a store within 20 miles of your house and you must work on all breaks and over the summer].

That being said, any time we actually hire a pharmacy tech it's from within the store before we hire anyone outside, so if you're planning on sticking with it being hired can be useful. You could probably even get the store to fund your tech education and pay for your license. If you are truly interested in a career in the industry, this will be a good way to either start it or change your mind.

I sound a bit jaded but, truly, working in the pharmacy can be hell sometimes. It can make 8 hours fly by, but it kills you after a while.
posted by shesaysgo at 3:23 PM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

It is just a few more months. Switching jobs now screws both employers. The bank has already put time and money into training you. Not to mention another job switch increases the chance that a future potential employer (of something you really want) will pass you over.

How you treat pass employers is important to future employers. Even with jobs you feel didn't utilize your talents fully.

I've done a lot of hiring in the past and this sort of job history just screams red flag. Why would an employer want to invest their resources in someone who doesn't give any indication of sticking around long enough to actually become competent at the job?

Stick with the bank. Give them proper notice in regards to your summer plans. And start really doing some soul searching and planning. Think of where you want to be in the future and figure out the steps it will take to get there. Break the steps down and start working it when you return. And be prepared for it to take a while.

Sorry if this sounds harsh but it seems thinking about this from the other side of the coin would be illuminating for you.
posted by cat_link at 10:29 PM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

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