You’ve been trying hard to find a part-time job, and I’m sorry it hasn’t happened yet. You’re still at the beginning stage when you have to leave the ‘Experience’ section blank on applications, but it won’t be long before someone smart takes a chance on you and you’re launched.
I was 15 when I landed my first job at McDonald’s restaurant in Boulder. The uniforms at that time were blue polyester with matching pointed hats. Unfortunately, the only pants they had on hand were a size XXL. I had to secure the elastic with a large safety pin, which gave the pants a nice bunchy, balloony effect.
In all my working years I never had a more high stress, pressure-filled work situation than McDonald’s. I still wake up sometimes in a cold sweat hearing an angry customer shout, “I said NO PICKLES!”
Beginning jobs are a rite of passage. They often feel menial, but early jobs shape and prepare us in ways we can’t always fathom at the time. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to work at a wide variety of early occupations like I did. Here are some of the work experiences I hope you have.
7 Great Jobs to Have Early in Your Career
1. I hope you have the opportunity to work in a restaurant serving others. (Unfortunately, this may require wearing a themed uniform… and possibly, matching headwear.) For the rest of your days you’ll have compassion for restaurant employees, and you’ll be empathetic when your order is wrong or the service seems slow.
2. I hope you get to have a sales job—maybe peddling something intangible like memberships at a tanning salon. You’ll learn how to handle rejection, which is a very handy life skill. You’ll discover that it’s listening, not talking, that makes the sale. You’ll also have compassion for the eager man at the front of the grocery store who asks if you’d like to buy a newspaper subscription.
3. I hope you have the opportunity to work on an assembly line, as I did when I worked 10-hour shifts stapling fiberglass to foam cores at the Kryptonics skateboard factory. That experience will remind you of the hands that make the things you own. You’ll always appreciate the true, human cost of a manufactured item.
4. I hope you have a cleaning job, like emptying grease fryers at a chain seafood restaurant or scrubbing down bathrooms at a football stadium. Then you’ll know the satisfaction of making something look clean and shiny, along with the disappointing reality that everything clean gets dirty again. You’ll never take the garbage collector for granted, or overlook the quiet worker mopping the floor in the airport bathroom.
5. I hope you have a job where your work is critiqued—perhaps something like writing, graphic design or photographing toddlers for the mall portrait studio. Being able to accept constructive feedback will help you do better work. You’ll quickly learn to recognize unconstructive criticism, too.
6. I hope you have a job in customer service, like working in a cable company’s bill collections call center. Handling customer complaints all day will make you tough. Going forward you’ll know first-hand that customer support reps are people, too, and you’ll always treat them with respect.
7. I hope you have a job managing a group of people—maybe a position like assistant manager of an all-night Waffle House. Then you’ll understand the myriad challenges of being responsible for your team’s success while simultaneously meeting a company’s objectives. You’ll learn to reward the person with a great attitude, which is a highly valuable trait in any employee. You’ll develop a deeper appreciation for the truly great bosses and leaders.
Yesterday you put in another application, and I’m proud of your perseverance. When the door opens, I know you’ll approach your first job with dedication and hard work. And who knows? Facing the inevitable challenges and overcoming the obstacles might be the very experiences that lead you to do great things and make the world a better place.
I can’t wait to see where you land.
How About You?
What was your first job? What was the toughest work you ever did? Did you learn any lessons early in your career path that continue to influence you today?
I’d love to hear your stories and thoughts, either as a comment on this post or at mail @ elizacross . com.
P.S. You might enjoy this fascinating true story from 1965, “When the U.S. Government Tried to Replace Migrant Farm Workers with High School Students.”