What your non-career jobs can teach you

Working as a barista can teach you a lot about customer service

Working as a barista can teach you a lot about customer service

As the Leaving Cert exams are getting underway I thought this might be a good topic to discuss.

No doubt most students in the next five years will either be going into the workforce in some form or another, either supporting yourself while you study or raising funds for some globe-trotting. Whatever the reason, there is a lot these starter jobs can teach you that you can carry on into your future career. You might be in the food industry, retail, or manufacturing, but just because you are in a low-level job, this does not mean the job is not worthwhile, this is an opportunity to not only start building practical skills but to also discover what jobs you like and, more importantly, what type of jobs you hate.

My first job was as an office gopher running errands, filing, and cleaning out a very dusty attic.

I spent a few summers doing this and I learned practical skills such as how to write business letters and the importance of proper filing, but I also observed how people related to each other and acted in their roles. There was a clear hierarchy in the office and an office culture that was visible in the way people acted around each other. The appearance of a certain figure could make staff disappear to distant corners of the building while others would bring out the best in their team. This was a practical observation of business culture that I would never have understood in the classroom and something that always stuck in my mind; I never wanted to be the person colleagues ran from.

My next job was in the retail industry, a children’s clothing store.

I quite enjoyed this job, the hours were good and the work was not too difficult. I learned a lot about customer service (a smile and a friendly attitude will get you anything) and I was surprised at how much of a hard worker I was. Whenever I was asked to work, I did. I was never late and I did my job to the best of my ability. I got on well with the other staff and was often left in charge of the store by myself. It was nice that others could put their faith in me.

My job in the food industry taught me the most about customer service.

No longer would a smile and a friendly attitude help you coast through, being a barista, someone’s regular stop throughout their day meant you had to develop a relationship with them, invest part of yourself in their life because they are investing part of their life in your service. Here was where I honed my business personality. I can switch it on and off now quite easily, (see my previous blog post about Business Barbie Brí). No matter what struggles or mood you are in, in the food service industry, especially front of house, you need to slap on that smile and act like everything is perfect otherwise the customer will feel like an inconvenience to you.

I also worked behind the scenes the food industry and while I was good at it (being a foodie and having a love of cooking was a bonus) I found this job took the joy of cooking from me and I didn’t like that. It is just as important to learn what you don’t like doing as a career as much as what you do like doing.

I learned so much more in these jobs, handling money, the best procedures for following up on a customer complaint and other little tips and tricks that have stood to me in my current career. These starter jobs were not just stopgaps on the way to becoming self-employed, but were part of my education and training. Think of this when you are bored some day in what you think is a crappy, meaningless job. It has more worth than you think.