A couple of months ago I was asked by my friends of at TheLadders to share some lessons learned from my first job. TheLadders is a career platform that can help with of your job search needs such as listings, salary info and even more advice, so be sure to check them out. As I started to think of the lessons learned, I realized I had so many and I was excited to share. Then the more I thought about it, it was hard to pick just one job. Truthfully I feel like I have had several “first” jobs, some were part-time and others were full-time. From the age of 16-26, I worked two jobs (queues Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money”. So I’ve learned a LOT of lessons over the years, but here’s my top seven:
- Organization is KEY
My first experience at making my own money came at 12 or 13 as a babysitter. I had my own little business and a few steady customers. Being my own boss taught me a lot about how important organization is. It was important to me, that the parents knew I took my job serious, so I had them fill out emergency contact forms and just basic info that I should know about their child(ren). This job really sparked my entrepreneurial fire that I still have ‘til this day. It’s also the reason I’m big on forms, contracts, taking notes and organization now.
- Don’t take it personal.
- Don’t be too proud to take a job that you feel “isn’t in your job description” or is beneath you.
My first official job working for someone else was at McDonald’s. My cousin TJ always came to stay with us for the summer and she was determined to get a job. She applied at McDonald’s and was hired right away. My dad encouraged me to apply and I turned my nose up thinking “Eww I can’t work at McDonald’s. I’m too good for that.” Fast forward a week or two to when my cousin got her first paycheck and had money to spend. I had nothing. Guess what I did. Applied and started working at McDonald’s. #lessonlearned
I ended up being a really good cashier and not so good fry girl (I wanted to eat all the fries). Since I was a quick and efficient cashier, they moved me to drive-thru. I was in HEAVEN. For me it was the best position to have because you were always busy and I love staying busy at work. The busier I am, the less bored I will be and the more productive I am. The McDonald’s that I worked in was in a ritzy neighborhood. Very wealthy area. Often times, people were snotty or had this “air” about them like they were better than me. I learned to not take things personally. I had a job to do and as long as I did it well, that’s all that mattered.
I’ve taken that “don’t take it personal” attitude with me throughout my career. I’m all about business and really try to keep personal feelings out of business. It’s something that other people have noticed in me, as well, and that makes me feel good about myself. Always try to be friendly in business, but when it’s time to get down to it, keep it about the business first.
- Build relationships. Network.
- Work ethic stays with you. Habits are hard to break.
When I moved to Maryland, I entered the government contracting field. Contracting is 90-95% about WHO you know. I started as an Administrative Assistant and worked my way up to an Editorial Assistant at my first company. I was friendly with all the senior staff including one of the co-owners named Alicia. Alicia and I always worked late hours putting together proposals for new business. But after four years at the company, I decided I wanted to change career paths.
For two years I worked in the mortgage industry (told you I had a LOT of first jobs). One day I get an email from an editor I worked with in the past. She says, “Hey Alicia has been looking for you. She reached out to me asking about you.” I connected with Alicia who was now the COO of a government consulting company. She says “I’m working with this great new company and I thought about you and really want you to come join the company. I’ve been trying to find you for months.” This job offer came at the PERFECT time because I had been looking to get out of the mortgage industry.
I ended up accepting the job with Alicia and started in the field that I am currently and love as an event planner. I am no longer a government contractor, but I still get paid to do something I truly enjoy. All this was possible by the relationships and impressions I made in the past. I was a hard worker, who stayed calm under pressure, especially during those late nights when we were under tight deadlines to turn around a proposal. Alicia observed all of this and because of that offered me a great job and opportunity to learn a new job and get into a new career path. Alicia was also one of those executives who was NOT afraid to get her hands dirty. She copied, filed and faxed documents if necessary. On the nights where I was in the office late with her, she even went to pick me up dinner. This just reinforced #3 for me.
- Be compassionate and friendly.
Keep things about business, does not mean, “Be a Bitch!” I worked as a Pharmacy Technician for three years and encountered all types of people and families that frequented the pharmacy. Sometimes it would be older people, picking up 10 different prescriptions that they took all in one day. Other times, it might be a customer who had to pay over $1,000 a month for one prescription. Each customer had a different story and situation. So I always greeted each one with a smile and took an interest in our regulars. I remember one of the regular’s wife died of cancer and he returned to the pharmacy after her death to thank us for always being kind and understanding. A smile can go a long way. You never know whose day you might improve.
- Stay calm under pressure.
This might be hard for some people, but I learned early on the necessity of calmness. I worked as a Customer Service Representative at a bank. Now, you and I both know that ONE major thing that people will definitely get upset over (myself included) is when you mess with their money. So I often took calls where people were irate, rude and very upset. Remaining calm was key. Two irate people won’t solve problems.
This calmness also helped as I mentioned before when I worked under tight deadlines preparing proposals. My calmness often helped the group relax a little bit. It’s not always easy to be calm, sometimes you need to take a break from things. Take a break or a 5-10 minute walk and get some fresh air.
These lessons have been super important to me throughout my career and I still use all of them now. Just when I thought I was done summing my lessons up, I thought of one more.
8. Learn when to say “No” and when to be direct.
I am always the girl who wants to help other people. Early in my career, I mastered Word, Excel and PowerPoint. So in any office I worked in, everyone knew me as the expert in those programs. I would often get calls saying “Hey can you help me with this?” or “Can you show me how to do…” and I always said yes. BUT, sometimes you have to say NO, because if you are always helping other people, then you get behind in your work.
Also, there are times when you have to “be mean/direct/forceful”. For instance, when I worked in the mortgage industry, I had the opportunity to work with mortgage brokers. I have a million and one, not-so-nice things to say about brokers. If I had to sum them up in a few words, I would say, “They are pushy, bossy, irritating and related to Satan.” No lie. It’s the only time in my career that my boss gave us permission to yell back or be forceful with someone. So there are times when you have to be Ms./Mr. Tough Guy and be forceful and direct with people. Choose your battles wisely.
So have you guys learned any great lessons from your first job or during your career?