“Menial” jobs

On a coffee run with a co-worker this morning, the subject of past jobs came up. We were going back and forth about jobs we had as teenagers and undergrads.

She used to work as a barista at a coffee shop on the West Coast, and I had just about every serving job there was in restaurants back home in Hershey, Pa.

But it got me to thinking about basic skills, and especially customer service. I think that serving in restaurants throughout high school and undergrad helped me to foster a better understanding about customer service. And while a lot of the skills I acquired through serving in restaurants aren’t that marketable on a professional resume, I do have some tangential skills I took away from the experience.

What are some of the jobs you had as a high school or college student? Do you still carry some of those skills with you today?

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Allison Primack

I definitely still use skills that I learned from working in a coffee shop not only at my workplace, but also at school and in everyday life. First and foremost is patience, and how to calmly deal with peers that you may not see eye-to-eye with. Just because you don’t understand their perspective immediately doesn’t mean that they are “wrong”. I also learned the importance of having a good attitude. As cliche as it is smiles are contagious, and your day can instantly be better just by going into it with the right mindset.

Stephen Peteritas

I think this is the problem with today’s workforce. It’s a misconception that “customer service jobs” like a server or a barista are lower level tasks that aren’t necessary or applicable at higher level jobs when in actually customer service becomes more important the higher up the chain you move.

Gigi Bryant

I have a daughter in college who works part time at the local YMCA. She signs up new members, does walk throughs, and greets customers. Through this she is learning valuable skills that she will use for the rest of her life. Verbal communication skills are essential in the work place. Active listening, responding to inquiries, and assisting internal and external customers are major keys to a successful career. There is a lot of competition for jobs; many of the applicants will have formal education. I believe that those with some type of customer service experience on top of their education will do very well.

David Reinbold

I couldn’t agree more, Gigi. I began working as a server when I was 16, and worked different serving jobs up until I completed my undergraduate degree in May 2010. I also worked several professional internships. My mother applauded my efforts because I was making really good money, and at the same time, doing work that kept me grounded. Waiting tables requires patience, a good attitude, listening skills and tremendous amounts of diplomacy.

Joseph T. Abbott

David, I think the development of those customer service skills are critical at the becoming an adult age, because they are adaptable to so many grown up situations, and help destroy the myths (wrongful perceptions) about those in the customer service world. From my first couple jobs: cleaning locker rooms and tending bar at a cricket club, groundkeeping on campus, after hours cleaning banks, I learned patience, responsibility for someone other than myself, that my work is a reflection of me and the company I worked for, and most importantly I learned to respect those who had done the work before me and those who were responsible to answer for my shortcomings (mistakes). Definite lesson in humility. One skill that gets overlooked is the ability to actively listen, which can be practiced often, so that passing comments, as well as direct statements, have meaning, value and context which can be applied outside the specific situation.

Paul Homan

I certainly have honed my customer service skills from jobs as in the service industry. I think it is important to note that being good at customer service also makes you a better customer. This is an important often overlooked skill. You want vendors eager to do a great job for you and go that extra mile if you need it. Sometimes people complain that they always get horrible customer service, but quite simply it might be that they aren’t being very good customers. You get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.

Susan Thomas

@David, To wait tables is hard work. (I have done it). I applaud you. While some people might think the work is menial, the skills one acquires are definitely valuable and transferrable. All knowlege is valuable.

David Reinbold

I think you make an excellent point, Paul. When you’re looking at a situation with experience from both sides (as a customer and somebody who has worked in that position) you tend to have a better understanding. Some of the skills I acquired in less-than stellar jobs also taught me the importance of patience, which I carried with me into journalism and beyond. I’m quite thankful that I worked in the service industry for so long. There is such a basic awareness for customer service that is so important, and service industry jobs provide a crash course in those basic skills.

Paul Homan

I agree Susan, waiting tables is incredibly difficult. Beyond customer service, I think it can be a really great way to learn how to multitask and prioritize effectively.

I agree David, patience with other people is SOOOO important. Especially in a government, when often you are met with bureaucratic red tape that you have to cut your way through ever so gently and slowly.

I am so glad you put this discussion up here. Service industry jobs are not seen as valuable as they really are in preparing you for higher paying, some might say higher level employment.

Dannielle Blumenthal

Good discussion, work is meaningful if you make it that way. Parenting is the most meaningful “job” there is IMO and totally unpaid. Plus you get spit up on, cried at, and work a 24 hour shift. And that’s just in your first year!

James E. Evans, MISM, CSM

I use to be a dj (disc jockey). I worked for nightclubs and with a “dj for hire” company. In both cases, I learned how to be comfortable in front of people. Whether you’re in a dj booth or announcing the newly married couple; all eyes are on the dj. It has helped me to stand in front of my colleagues and maintain my composure; especially when things don’t go as planned.

Allison Primack

@Paul, I completely agree about being good about customer service makes you a better customer. I always found that people who were also in customer service always tipped me a lot better when I did a good job than those who weren’t! I always keep that in mind when I’m tipping now. 🙂

Mindy Giberstone

Scooping ice cream. Serving pizza. Dog walking…..

Beyond customer service, it was great to learn how to to be a worker with a safety net back at home. How do you talk with co-workers? Your boss? What do you wear to work everyday? How do you talk on the phone?

I worry that today’s teens find it harder and harder to get jobs and are delaying their entry into the workforce. And they are missing out on valuable life skills training.

Craig Sellars

I agree completely.

My retail experience stretched into 10 years until after I completed my degree and included gas stations, restaurants, grocery stores, bars, arcades, retail outlets and coffee shops. It gave me a good long look at customer service at all levels from frontline to management. Although I never wish to return to that world myself, there were many take aways I will use for life. Conflict management, tactical communication and professional face (ie thick skin, patience and cool head) are three things I took away.

Despite the importance of the three above, the respect for every person and the job they do to make my world a little better was the biggest thing. The tag ‘professional’ is one that is earned through actions. It is a way to work, regardless of the tasks, paycheque or title.