What was your first paying job and what did you learn from it? This is one of my favorite questions to ask job candidates. I do not enjoy torturing people that may be experiencing some anxiety. However, I believe that you can learn a lot about a person based on their response to this question. Some will focus solely on the job title or responsibilities. Others focus more on their reasons for seeking a job during that time. A few will begin the story at the end and focus on how the job ended. Interestingly, the majority of the candidates that I’ve asked this question do not answer the second part of the question: “What did you learn?”
The second question is only answered in hindsight as that is how most lessons are learned. You have an experience and, if you survive it, you are given the opportunity to reflect on it, in hindsight. You can only answer this question if you consider this a learning experience worth revisiting.
My First Job and What I Learned, in hindsight
I was offered my first job at age 15 (and a half). I was a cashier at a local grocery store. I confess that I do not “light up” like a Christmas tree when I reflect on my experience, however, it was not a horrible experience. It was a job. At the time, I was seeking a paying job to earn spending money to fund my movie and mall excursions. It was a summer job and I did not have any long term plans or goals in the food service industry. However, in hindsight, I learned a few things:
1. Small errors can have big consequences.
A penny here. A penny there. At the end of your shift, your register was reconciled. I am not sure how they reconcile cash registers today, as this was in the … it was a long time ago. At the end of your shift, your supervisor “balanced” your register, similar to how you would balance a checkbook. Checks were counted. Cash. Coupons. If the register did not balance, everything was recounted. You could be there all night. The register had to balance and if it did not an explanation was required. If you spent your day, making small accounting errors, you were faced with a huge problem at the end of your shift.
2. Anticipate the bottlenecks.
It was better to ask for help, such as bagging support, in advance. While waiting on customers, it was not wise to ask for bagging assistance AFTER you’d already scanned $500 worth of groceries. If you waited until the very last minute, the bagger could be helping another cashier or performing another function on the other side of the store. You learned quickly that upon noticing the big cart of groceries coming thru your line, you should ask for help immediately or be faced with a long line of angry customers waiting for you to finish bagging $500 in groceries alone.
3. Multitasking slows you down. Always.
Everything is completed slower while multitasking. You could not reasonably scan grocery items while performing other tasks. Unless you had the luxury of having a customer that had time to wait while you scan, chat, scan, chat, scan, chat… Also focusing on a single task allows find your flow or state of effortless concentration.
4. Look up.
To avoid having your boss to receive complaints regarding rudeness, you had to look up, greet the customer and muster a smile before tackling the job. This made the day progress more quickly and you were more relaxed while performing your duties. Looking up also allowed you to notice the big cart of groceries entering your line, in advance.
5. People will complain. Deal.
Even if you were excellent at your job duties, some miserable soul would find something to complain about. Anything. Everything. Nothing. The wrath was always temporary. You only had to endure it without losing your cool, do your work, then move on to the next customer (who was hopefully in a much better mood).
6. Price Check.
Don’t know the answer? Ask someone who does.
In hindsight, these are critical lessons; I wish I would’ve learned them at 15 (and a half). What was your first paying job and what did you learn from it?