This was originally published on mitchellearl.com and then as an answer on Quora to the question What’s the Best Advice for Someone Looking for their First Job? Mitchell is Director of Marketing @ Crash – the career launch platform. To learn more, visit Crash.
I got my first real job at age 16 – bagging groceries at the local supermarket.
The experience taught me a lot about business and how to work.
- How easy it is to stand out among peers just by working hard.
- How attitude about work is a personal choice.
- How decisions are made about which items go where and why.
- How a customer’s journey impacts their buying behavior.
But the very last lesson I learned proved to be the most important.
I graduated to stocking shelves several months in. I loved it. Walking up and down a perfectly-faced aisle brought me untold joy. I gained responsibility fast.
Until one day a manager issued a strange request. He asked me to peel date labels off an entire shelf of expired items, then put them back.
This posed my first real ethical dilemma: Should I do what I’m told or what I think is right?
I chose wrong. Afraid of performing poorly at my job, I peeled the labels off.
The decision haunted me the rest of my shift.
So I went back. I took down every item and threw it away.
Then I quit. But I never forgot.
The situation taught me a lot –like:
- Why I should trust my conscience
- Why I should take ownership of my actions
- Why I shouldn’t define myself by my job
- Why it’s important to follow my gut
But still, there’s more than just the takeaways from my first job that I think is important to people out there looking for their first job.
A few other tips I wish I’d known:
Don’t be like everybody else. They may be cool in school, but that doesn’t make them good employees.
Show up early and work harder than anybody else.
You don’t have to apply like everybody else – find some unique way you can provide value to the business, take some actionable steps toward it, then go present it to the hiring manager – this will 10x your odds of getting hired (and earn you some social capital early).
Treat everyone with respect – the secretaries, the difficult customers, the agitating co-workers…everyone.
You’re more than people’s first impression of you. When I first started, one of the administrative ladies treated me pretty poorly – I was just another punk high school kid to her – but I committed to earning her trust and respect by working hard. Eventually, I did. The same thing can work for you.
Forget what other people think. Don’t worry about status when it comes to your first job. Everybody has to start somewhere. When I was working at a grocery store, a lot of people made fun of it. But I had a job and I learned a lot. Everyone is on their own journey – focus on yours and forget about other people’s narration of your story.
This is just a step in your career. If what you’re doing isn’t what you want to be doing, don’t fret. Just work hard and earn a reputation of doing good work. Those two things work wonders for parlaying future opportunities… And in your off hours, don’t stop reaching for what really makes you come alive.
Best of luck.