Most people got their first job by randomly applying to a job or they had someone to refer them because they knew someone who was hiring. My mom told me about the my first job. It was at a grocery store, The Red Food Store, which was later renamed to Bi-lo. I was sixteen years old and I had no idea of the how the process worked or what to expect. I applied because my mother told me that they were hiring and the store was located not too far from where we lived. We shopped there regularly, so it made sense for me to work with a company that I was familiar with. I filled out the paper application and turned it to one of the managers. To my surprise, I received a call from the store manager a week later. Maybe it was nervousness or excitement, but I thought I had gotten the job. It was only the call to schedule an interview. As a result of not asking clarifying questions, I went in dressed as an employee. The job was for the position of Bag Boy, which was later changed to Courtesy Clerk.
The manager looked at how I was dressed and could tell that I was trying to look like an employee. Maybe he was impressed or maybe he just laughed at my ignorance. I had never had a job or a job interview and the amount of nervousness fell over me like I was caught in the rain. He looked at my application and saw a lot of empty spaces where employment history should be. He confirmed that this would be my first job and proceeded to ask me about school. I was going into my sophomore year when the school year was to begin in the upcoming fall. He asked about extracurricular activities and how he would be flexible with the schedule if I needed, but I needed to communicate what I needed and not wait until the last minute to request time off.
Clearly based on the title of this post, I got the job. Let’s review some of the things that I should have done differently. I did not identify what my must haves were. I did not practice or prepare for the interview. I did not research the company outside of shopping there. During this time of my life, a resume was not required and based on my age, all of the employment applications were done on paper and not electronically. My aim is not to dump on my sixteen year old self, but rather to share the steps that I should have taken so that you do not make the same mistakes.
What must haves do you have at that age? Here are a few that would have been good to know. My hours that I am available to work since I did not have a car or my own form of transportation to and from the store. I did not take into account for travel time to get to work from school or my availability to work on the weekends. Sundays was a regular day to attend church and I knew that I could not miss church service, but all of these things escaped me during the interview. This is bad considering that my mother brought me to the interview. Okay, I was unprepared to answer questions that were based on my needs. I did not practice answering interview questions. I did not know what time the store opened or closed. I did not have any idea of the pay or how much was the minimum wage. I was clueless is an understatement. Preparation is the most important step in the job search.
Another important part of the process is to take inventory of any skills and experiences that you possess. Yes, even at this age there are skills that have been discovered while interacting with family, friends, class mates, or church members. Personality traits like being a people person, being a quick learner, enjoy helping others, prefer working alone, crunching numbers, etc. are things that must be taken into account when deciding a prospective position or field. Figure out how you can best use those skills for an employer. Once you have identified those skills, you should begin to think about the type of environment that will fit your personality too.
As a sixteen year old, you may not be fully aware of your transferable skills. If not, there are personality and job assessments that you can take for free to help you to identify your skills and figure out what industry you should begin to explore. Some may say that getting a first job doesn’t require a great deal of research and that you should just get the first job that you can to gain some work experience. I strongly disagree with this logic. I followed this logic and it lead me to continue to seek any job without placing my best attributes where I could make the most use of them. Imagine being an artist and you are only allowed to stock the paint cans instead of using the paint supplies. Is this how you want to use your skills? This is what I did, but I was fortunate enough to use my attributes. I was one of the lucky ones. I got my start in a grocery store and went on to have a 20-year career in retail. I acquired more skills, went to college, and completed more personal development over time. I was lucky that my career went the way that it did, but could it have gone even better if I had taken the time to discover more of my talents and chart a course where I wanted my career to go. I often wonder this myself, but I know for a fact that you can take advantage of this new information to further your personal development and career aspirations.
Most job search sites will provide a free career assessment. Visit Indeed.com, CareerBuilder.com, or conduct a Google search for a free career assessment. Once you can confirm your top skills and the industry that will allow your skills and personality to mesh, then you can focus on finding an employer that meets your needs. Networking is often overlooked when looking for a job. Consult your family and friends, they have an idea of what jobs have an opening as well as if you would be a good fit for it. Family and friends can re-enforce your career assessment results in some cases because they know you. My mom referred me to my first job and she knew me better than anyone else. You should not turn your nose up at a free network for job openings.
Next, research the employer or employers who may be a match. Visiting websites like Glassdoorjobs.com, Indeed.com, and LinkedIn.com will provide reviews of both current and former employers as well as reviews of the CEO and management staff. This will help you decide if the company is a fit for you. Don’t forget to research the employer’s reputation. Are there any pending lawsuits, news releases of financial instability, lay-offs, or shut downs? You don’t want to walk into a job blindly only to be down-sized or have your job offer rescinded.
My advice for my younger self or for you to not make the same mistakes that I did would be to know your skill set. Understand what your strengths are and identify where they can be used. Another take-a-way is to identify weaknesses so that a balanced skill set can be achieved. Yes, work on weaknesses at an earlier age to better your long-term opportunities for success. The phrase jack of all trades and master of none comes to mind. It is not a bad thing to become well-rounded in several areas or to begin to develop your skill set as you obtain more work experience over time. The earlier you understand your goals for your career, then the better you will begin to prepare yourself for it. Only apply for jobs where you want to work. Keep this same mindset as you gain your experience and increase your value as a worker.
Do not forget to create a network of contacts that can lead you to better job opportunities. Your network is a lot like a camp fire. In order to keep the fire going, then you must stoke the fire and add to it periodically. No job is forever and it is inevitable that you will change your job at some point. It is a great practice to keep fostering your relationships within your network and do not forget about family and friends. Pick out your prospective employers and research them thoroughly. Remember that employers require background checks, credit checks, and drug testing, but employees rarely look for company reviews, check their financial reports, and future outlooks of their employers. Treat your employer how they treat their employees. Check their social media, Google search them, check out the building and how they maintain it, and look at their stock if it’s publicly traded. You can learn a lot about an employer just by looking at them. Ensure that you like what you see and ensure that you can envision yourself working there. This is all great advice, whether you are 16 years old or 40 years old. Start now, prepare with purpose, and get the jobs that you want every time you aspire for a new job.
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