I may have cast aside the workaday life to be a writer, but I can’t deny the value of the minimum wage jobs I worked for 8 years through high school and college before I knew that I would do that. With encouragement from a Wisconsin Lutheran upbringing that demanded loyalty and work ethic, I learned to extract the value from even the crummiest of jobs, and I keep these lessons with me in a less straightforward career.
Hustle (from Fast Food Cashiering/Cooking) Regardless of the work I am doing, a sense of urgency is not only useful, but surprisingly unique. Arriving to a meeting on time, capitalizing on my time in the office, and offering a timely response to queries help keep my business moving and keep clients happy. In a fast food restaurant, you’ll be buried if you can’t satisfy the customer quickly enough with the correct order. In the over-saturated freelance writing market, you’ll be forgotten.
Customer Service (from Retail Cashiering) Knowing how to create a welcoming environment is vital for building a base of customers — whether those are blog readers or grocery store patrons. Years of training and experience behind the counter at various retail stores in the Midwest taught me how to cater to customers’ needs and answer to their complaints. It also taught me one of the most valuable lessons I know: Let it go. You can’t go home angry about a cranky customer, or you’ll never have a chance to be happy.
Phone skills (from Call Center Interviewing) Simple and straightforward as it seems, knowing how to introduce yourself over the phone, leave a clear and informative voicemail, wrap up a long conversation, etc. is often overlooked. With so much of my work now relying on making contacts and connecting with sources and subjects, the ability to communicate comfortably and effectively over the phone has come in handy.
Organization + Leadership (from Hosting) In the middle of a rush of customers needing to be seated and a phone ringing off the hook, a hostess, who appears insignificant in the culture of the restaurant, can make or break the night. I learned how to quickly take control of a leaderless crew in the midst of chaos, how to remain strategic and speedy and keep smiling at customers. The experience has helped me know when to take the lead, and how to create order when an organization or project is on the edge of a crisis.
Publicity (from Student Org. Positions) I owe the majority of my marketing knowledge to my years as an employee of and a volunteer for student organizations at UW – Madison. From grassroots publicity efforts to number-crunching data collection, I learned a lot about how to spread awareness of events and issues to the masses. (Whether in college or not, I highly recommend volunteering with local non-profits for the diversity of work experience you can gain — not to mention the feel-good, do-gooder element.)
What lessons have you taken from the jobs that you couldn’t wait to leave behind?
(Photo Credit: Flickr’s Chris Gold)