Having to squeeze into a tight uniform for one of my first jobs taught me an important life-long business lesson.
We live in an age where people want to get to the top as quickly as possible, so they can share their career successes on their Facebook, LinkedIn, and of course if you’re in procurement, Procurious profiles.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that the great leaders we see today had to start somewhere too. And it wasn’t always in a garage with a group of geeky friends, coming up with the next technology breakthrough!
In a recent internet trend, people shared posts with the hashtag #FirstSevenJobs, documenting their career paths over the years. Sheryl Sandberg added her seven-jobs list to the mix:
The hashtag originated with singer-songwriter Marian Call, then Twitter users, including celebrities Stephen Colbert, Buzz Aldrin, Regina Spektor and Lin-Manuel Miranda, shared their first seven jobs, which included gigs from washing dishes to nude modelling (yikes!).
Walk Down Memory Lane
Whether or not you think other people’s first seven jobs are of any interest or value, I wanted to prompt everyone in procurement to reflect on some of the important career lessons they have learned.
If you like, you can stop reading here now and take time out to reflect on your own career journey, rather than reading mine!
My first seven jobs (if I remember correctly!) were car washer, delicatessen assistant, waitress, waitress, waitress, and secretary.
Here are five business (and hopefully humorous!) lessons I learned from my first job in a delicatessen.
1. The Big Squeeze to be on Time
My uniform was the price for punctuality in my delicatessen job. If you were there late you got the last choice. In my case on one shift, this meant a uniform at least two sizes too small.
With my chest busting out of the uniform and my long legs protruding from the short skirt, I got a lot of unwanted attention that shift. Not to mention when I also slipped in a pile of hot chicken fat on the floor and went head over heels.
The embarrassment alone was enough to make sure I always got to work early enough to have my choice of uniforms.
Today one of my many personal flaws is punctuality. Whilst my ambition to squeeze as many productive things into a day as I can, my ability to deliver on time doesn’t match.
Procurious team member Kalem McCarthy studied music. In his interview with me he shared a valuable piece of advice he learned from one of his conductors – “Early is on time, on time is being late.” So being ready 10 minutes before practice began was actually being “on time”.
I couldn’t agree more. Being settled, ready with all your equipment to hand at the time of the meeting “kick off” makes a strong impression, and definitely leads to more productive use of everyone’s time.
2. The Cross-Eyed Customer
Now let’s get out of the orchestra pit and get back to my Deli thirty years ago.
Every week I would have a charming cross-eyed man come in. And (unfortunately) every week I would look over my shoulder thinking he was looking at someone else. Every week I would get mad at myself for forgetting this particular customer.
There’s no doubt about it. Working in hospitality teaches you a lot about people and really improves your communication skills, particularly dispute resolution.
One of my favourite characters in the movie ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel‘, Monsieur Gustave H., says that an angry customer is just someone who is afraid of not getting what they want.
At a time when procurement is talking a lot about business partnering and stakeholder engagement, I thought this was a worthwhile lesson to share.
Every customer is unique in both their personality and their needs – some for the better, some for the worse. But as our customers, we need to remember their needs, and for them cater as best we can.
3. The Holy Trinity – Your Boss, Your Team and You
On my first day in the Deli, my new boss came up behind me and whispered, “It’s time to go on your break”. I instantly knew my enthusiastic response “no, I’m OK, I don’t need a break” was not the answer she was looking for.
I’m not sure if I was meant to be part of a union, but that was certainly the way it felt. It was very clear that I didn’t have an option, my break was to be utilised right at that point!
As a young buck, I remember sitting in the break room bored out of my brain waiting to get back to work. I love working! But it was an important lesson learned early, because it turned out to be the same when I worked in manufacturing. You had to follow the team rules, norms, and work “rituals”, and respect the culture, and, of course, the hierarchy (aka the boss).
As most of you working in large corporates understand, it doesn’t pay to ever step too far out of line. It’s a tough line you walk – balancing being the intrapraneur, but not rocking the boat too much!
4. The Folding Stuff
I will never forget that first small yellow pay packet that had $13 rattling around in it. The fact that I’m remembering actually getting cash in my pay packet is something that really makes me feel old. That really doesn’t happen much any more…does it??
But I guess that reminds me, still, how hard it is to come by money! When you compare what you earn with the hours you put in, it’s not a strong return!
So, watch your pennies, and invest wisely. Utilise all those great negotiation and cost saving skills you’re learning in procurement, and apply them to your personal life.
5. Your Network Will Get You Your Next Job
Hey, you’d be disappointed if I didn’t raise this point, wouldn’t you?!
If you look back at your career, I bet (like me) your earliest jobs were found through your network. Someone you had worked with, or worked for, recommended you to someone, who then offered you a job.
The best way to get your next great job, is to do a great job in the job you’re in! Everyone notices talent. Someone in your network will recommend you to someone in their network. The dots will connect!
Just keep doing your job well and building your network.
Why not tell us what your first three jobs were? And also, what have you learned over your career that has stayed with you?
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