I was at the University of Denver’s campus last week, meeting with students. I talked about my career path and its many turns. Looking back, the turns that seemed the most discouraging were always the ones that took me the farthest and turned out the best. I took a lot of chances with many of my career decisions, and I also ended up taking a few jobs because I had to.
One of the discussions that came up with the students had to do with advice the soon-to-be grads had been given by career advisors. The advice was to omit commonplace jobs from their resumes that had nothing to do with the financial careers they were seeking. The students had been advised not to list lawn mowing, for instance.
I disagree. Some of my best experience came early in life, waiting tables. I look for restaurant work on younger people’s resumes, because I know from first-hand experience that if you have ever waited tables, you understand the equation between customer satisfaction and your compensation. It doesn’t matter if the burger is cold because you wasted time, or because the cook did, you are accountable for it to the customer, and the customer won’t give you much of a tip if you don’t figure that out. Working in a stock room, bagging groceries, or sweeping floors in a movie theater all have a direct connection in the work-to-make-money link.
Some of my toughest lessons were as a car-hop for an A&W restaurant. The car-hop had to carry loaded trays of root beer and food out to cars and stick them on the windows. This made for some very exciting moments, when the tray wasn’t quite latched onto the window or, my favorite, when someone rolled their window down by accident after the tray was on it. They make the car-hops pay for any of those cute glass root beer mugs that don’t come back with the tray, so every trip out to the car was a mental exercise, to memorize the number of mugs I delivered. Once there was a car full of guys who ordered more and more root beers, to confuse me on the mug count. They finally flipped the little light to show they were ready to pull out. They were suddenly in a hurry, and I did a quick count. I knew a mug was missing. They denied it. I reached in and took the keys out of the ignition. They produced the mug. It was not as easy being a car hop as it looked. My first salary was ten cents an hour—I am not kidding. We were supposed to make all of our money in tips. Maybe that’s where I got the idea for our sales directors’ compensation, which is very much commission-based.
I had another job as an elf at JC Penney during the holidays. That was an over-rated job if I’ve ever seen one. It looks fun, but you have no idea what people expect of elves. I was once handed a little kid, and the mom said “he’s about to throw up!” Boy, did he. People leave their kids at the elf hut and go down the mall for cocktails for a few hours. Some people bring their gifts from all over the mall to the elf and try to talk their way into free gift wrap. JC Penney is a very nice, family-oriented department store and I learned a lot about customer service and doing my best no matter what. My elf outfit was not sexy; it was dorky. The worst disappointment of all from elfing was that the guys would come by all the time, see me in the dorky tunic with pointy toed slippers, and walk right past me to the ice fairy princess who tended Santa’s throne.
Not every college student lands a wonderful internship that looks good on a resume. What matters is that you work, no matter what the job, so that you’re getting experience. You might not think those experiences matter, but they all come into play someday. I like to see experience on a resume, it tells me you’d rather be working to build your maturity, common sense, and character than sitting around doing nothing.