6 best life lessons we learned from our first jobs

We asked the team at kununu’s Boston office what lessons they learned from their first jobs and what career advice they’d offer new employees.

Photo: Ethan via Flickr

My first summer job after starting college was as a fast food worker/drive-thru attendant, and more than once I felt like I was dragging myself out of bed for a paycheck. And while at the time I rolled my eyes at spending all day boxing french-fries and having to wear a truly embarrassing “Ask Me How I (Lobster) Roll” t-shirt, I now appreciate how time in the service industry taught me to graciously deal with hard-to-please customers and get things done quickly and correctly during a crazy 6:00 pm dinner-rush.

Everyone’s got to start somewhere. Here at kununu, our employees have their fair share of odd and unforgettable first job experiences. No matter how far along you are in your career path, you can always look back at the different points in your career and find some important (chicken) nuggets of wisdom to use in your current position.

We asked the team at kununu’s Boston office what lessons they learned from their first jobs and what career advice they’d offer new employees. Here’s what they shared:

Gain power through positivity

Getting through a tough shift or dealing with a demanding project is all about maintaining a positive and optimistic mindset. Bosses want employees who tackle problems with enthusiasm and grit rather than complaining and breaking down every time they get tripped up by an obstacle. You most likely won’t get to choose your coworkers, schedule, or commute length, but you can always choose how you respond to any non-ideal workplace scenarios that may pop up.

“You can control two things: your work ethic and your attitude.” — Charles Lloyd, Sales at kununu US

kununu’s VP of Marketing, Dan Sirk’s first job was anything but glamorous. As a teenager, he worked hauling manure for a landscaping company. Although the work was tiring (and smelly!) he still thinks everyone should try to find the gold beneath the grime.

“Your job is to learn, grow and develop. See the learning opportunity in everything you’re asked to do – even the administrative grunt work and you’ll get the most out of every task.” — Dan Sirk, Marketing at kununu US

Seize every opportunity

A former barista, our PR Director believes in seeing every job, even when it’s not in your field, as an opportunity to learn new skills and gain experience. She views her first gig as not just as “pouring coffee” but as a pathway to valuable people skills.

“Though you might be doing things like inventory, dishwashing or running a cash register, all of that becomes transferable skills that you can use in future jobs. When I was 18, I never imagined that getting used to working with people (taking orders, etc) would make me more comfortable doing cold calls or calling reporters live to pitch a story. I’m thankful I experienced it all, because it makes me more confident in what I can do today.” — Sofia Coon, Public Relations at kununu US

Prove your worth

When you’re the new person at a company it’s your responsibility to show your employer what you can offer them and why you deserve to be there. Early on, it’s important to maintain a reliable and composed image in the office that makes people feel that you can be trusted with important responsibilities.

“Nobody cares about you. You have to earn the right to do business with people by adding value to them and their organizations.” — Tim Song, Business Development at kununu US

When you’re given a thousand new tasks to finish by the end of the week, your first concern shouldn’t be ‘How am I going to get all of this done?!’ Instead, you should take a deep breath, look over the list, and ask yourself “What things are the most important to helping the company meet our goals?” and start there.

“I learned how to prioritize my work based on what will add the most value.” — Tedi Schipcka, Business Strategist at kununu US

Keep your cool

If you’ve ever worked behind the counter of a coffee shop or manned a mall kiosk, you’ve known the struggle of dealing with hard-to-please customers. People skills are a huge part of any job, and its important to know how to deal with all kinds of people. As a former brand ambassador for a soymilk company and a bartender at a sports bar, kununu’s Linda Le Phan definitely understands the importance of keeping a smile on your face and remaining calm and collected when dealing with demanding customers.

“Since most of my first jobs were in the food service/restaurant industry, my most important early lessons about the workplace were about dealing with difficult people, staying patient and composed even when things are literally spinning out of control, and multitasking. Some people think that waiting tables or serving customers is easy, but it is not – it gives you lessons that are incredibly useful in any work setting.” — Linda Le Phan, Content Marketing at kununu US

“Put the customer above everything else, and keep them happy,” advises our Marketing, Product and Business Development leader Aaron Prebluda, whose first work environment was in the kitchen of a bustling restaurant.

“Make sure you are properly on-boarded and have context around what it is that you are doing in your role. Come with enthusiasm and ask a lot of questions.” — Aaron Prebluda, Marketing, Product, and Business Development at kununu US

Connect and collaborate

Starting any new job is a scary experience. Whether you were hired to fill a recently created company position or are taking over the role of an old worker, it can be awkward trying to fit in with an office where everyone already seems to know each other. One of the easiest ways to feel more comfortable during your first few weeks is by working closely with coworkers and integrating yourself into their team.

Networking isn’t just important during the job search. You need to learn to continue networking throughout every phase of your career.

“Help wherever and whenever you can while still staying productive.” — Ted Cooke, Digital Marketing at kununu US

Cooke advises all new employees to find a balance between being protective with their time and forming business partnerships.

“Those collaborative relationships fueled by support and accomplishment are priceless and timeless,” he said.

Enjoy the ride

At the end of the day, kununu employees understand that work should be inspiring and engaging. If you’re dedicating 40+ hours each week of your life to something you should be active, excited, and curious about the new lessons your job can offer.

“Worklife is endless learning. Don’t plan your career – live your life and enjoy it. Everything else will follow if you do what you have fun doing than just because you are good at it.” — Moritz Kothe, CEO at kununu

So whether you’re bussing tables, mowing lawns, or selling sweaters, remember that it’s not the job title that matters, it’s what you make of it.

This article first appeared on Kununu.