My first job as a boy was delivering newspapers in my hometown of Yankton, South Dakota.
But even though that paper route taught me the importance of hard work and the value of money, I don't consider it my first "real" job.
That title belongs to my gig as a part-time custodian for the pharmacy/retail store at which my father worked. And when I say part time, I mean three hours a week.
In those three hours each Saturday, I would vacuum all the carpet in the store (including the dreaded stairs), clean the employee break room, empty garbage cans and clean the restrooms. That was by far my least favorite task, as the restrooms were open to the public, and they could be quite nasty at times.
Still, the job wasn't too difficult, and it was definitely educational. For example, I learned the importance of being on time (because I wanted to finish work and get on with my Saturday), of managing my money (because I didn't make much, and a trip to the video game arcade was expensive) and dealing with customers. I wasn't actually helping customers, mind you, but I did have to get out of their way while I was cleaning, so that should count.
I was reflecting on this experience the other day as I talked to my oldest daughter, who just landed her first "real" job working at a sandwich shop near our home.
At age 16, she's already wiser than I was as a teen. So I thought I would ask her a few questions about her job hunt and her expectations as she enters the world of work.
Like me as a youngster, my daughter already has some work experience. She has been a popular baby sitter in the neighborhood for years, and she's spent the past couple of years working as an assistant to our other children's piano teacher.
From those experiences, she said she has learned how to work with people who are older than she, and she's learned the importance of reliability.
"(For example), whenever I babysit, I like to try to leave the place cleaner than it was when the parents left," she said. "It's about giving your customer a good experience, because that keeps them coming back, which is good for business."
She said she also learned that some jobs don't always require "nose-to-the-grindstone working away."
"Sometimes for piano, all of the kids would be rehearsing, so I'd just organize some books," she said. "And when you're baby-sitting, the kids fall asleep. ... It is hard work, but there are lags, and you need to learn how to work with those."
This probably sounds familiar to the average resident of Cubeville. I know it did to me. (See, I told you she was wise.)
With those learning experiences behind her, my daughter started applying for jobs several weeks ago at shops and restaurants near our home. Her big break came at the sandwich shop, where her 17- and 18-year-old cousins already work.
The manager was interested in her based in part on her application and glowing references, but also on the good work those cousins have done. (In other words, she's already learning that getting a job can be easier when you know the right people.)
She stopped in for her official job interview last week, and she said it was a bit more informal than she had expected.
"(The manager) kind of told me about the business, and I think that was trying to gauge how I would react," my daughter said. "They do a lot of donations and such, and she emphasized hard work and company values. It was pretty much like a conversation."
She had received some preparation for job interviews through a class in high school, she said, but the only thing she was asked that she actually expected was a question about her strengths and weaknesses.
"For strengths, I said I was hardworking, a quick learner, personable," my daughter said. "For weaknesses, I couldn't think of anything I wanted to say. So I said I get stressed out pretty easily. She asked how I dealt with stress, and I said I channel it into what I'm working on."
Ah, the old "strengths and weaknesses" question. Always a tough one to answer.
But my daughter survived the interview, and she said it wasn't nearly as scary as she thought it would be. Even better, the manager hired her on the spot.
Now she's excited to get to work.
"I'm also nervous, because I feel like I'm going to drop a jug of mayonnaise, and it will explode all over, and then they'll fire me," she said. "I'm nervous about messing up.
"I'm a quick learner, so I'm not too nervous about learning what I need to do. I am a little nervous about dealing with actual customers who come in and order quickly. All the people I've dealt with before were parents of piano students or parents of kids I was watching, so they were all really nice."
Again, she seems to have accurately identified the jitters all of us feel as we prepare to start a new job.
Despite her anxiety, my daughter is ready to earn some money and gain work experience. She's also hoping the job will help her learn to be more independent and to manage her finances.
"I don't have bills yet, so all of the money I have I could potentially just spend," she said, adding that she wants to get better at saving, instead.
"That will help when I actually have bills to pay."
There's that wisdom again.
She really is an outstanding person, a wonderful example to our younger children (and the rest of our family) and the best daughter a father could want. I can't wait to hear about her first days at work, and I hope this experience will help her develop habits that will serve her well in other jobs in the years to come.
I'll follow-up with another column in a few weeks and let you know whether the reality of this first job matches her expectations.
In the meantime, I'd like to hear from you. What was your first "real" job? Did you learn any good (or bad) habits from it that influenced your future work life? How did your first jobs as a teenager help you decide what you wanted to be as an adult? And what advice would you give to my daughter as she enters the working world?
Send me a message with your ideas, and I'll share some of them in a future column.
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