So you’ve landed your first job. Now what? (Besides enjoying the extra cash in your pocket, of course.) No, you’re probably not going to scoop ice cream, nanny, stock shelves, or fold tee shirts for the rest of your life, but these jobs are great for building skills that will serve you well throughout your career. Look for opportunities to practice these assets -- they’re good things to highlight on a resume.
Need first job ideas? Check out our list of great first jobs for high school students.
Whether you’re scooping ice cream on the beach, folding tee shirts at the mall, or answering phones at an office, your first job -- and every job thereafter -- is going to require you to work with other people. So even if you learn nothing else from your very first foray into being an employee, you should practice working with others to get things done. The good news is, this will likely happen whether you’re intentional about it or not -- so lean into it and learn how to be an asset to the group mission.
Eventually, when you’re getting ready to land a second or third job, you’re going to have to supply professional references, and one of them will probably come from a manager your first job. No matter what kind of job you’re after, every employer is going to want to know if you’re reliable. Show up on time -- or early -- clean up after yourself, go the extra mile, and don’t quit on the spot.
Coachability and asking for feedback
It’s your first job -- nobody expects you to have all the answers. In fact, you were probably hired because your employer thought you could learn to wait tables, wash dishes, or stock grocery shelves like the establishment says you should, not because you already do those things. Ask for feedback and learn to incorporate it -- that’s the key to being coachable. And that’s an asset that will serve you well into your career, even after you transition into management.
The system of organization you set up for work during your first few jobs is going to be the system that sticks with you for your career. So take the opportunity to learn how to build systems and processes that maximize your time. Fast-paced restaurant and bartending jobs, retail work during the holidays, and assistant positions often are particularly good at teaching you to be efficient.
Being tasked with chopping garnish before dinner service or folding a rack of tee shirts before the store closes gives you a chance to practice getting things done on a deadline, a crucial skill for any job you take in the future. Hone your sense of urgency and work on always completing your work quickly, correctly, and ahead of schedule.
Read a handful of job descriptions, and you’ll clock that most of them list good communication skills as a qualification. Being able to articulate yourself is something you can learn -- and a first job can help you do that. Customer-facing positions, like waiting tables or selling jeans, often help you hone a service-friendly tone and style. Jobs that operate under time pressure, like working a kitchen line, help you learn how to make points quickly. Both styles will serve you well throughout your career.
You’re going to make mistakes in your career. A lot of them. You’re also going to take the blame for mistakes you didn’t make, deal with emotional managers, be a sounding board for irate customers, and have difficult conversations with co-workers. Coming out of those experience and moving forward requires resilience, which you can begin to build in a first job. Shake off bad days, take feedback, and prove to yourself you can learn from your mistakes. Your future self will thank you for your thick skin.
Attention to detail
Even if you think you’re more of a big picture person, you’re going to succeed in your career by being meticulous about the details of what you’re supposed to accomplish. So learning to be attentive to the details of your work is a good thing to pick up at your first job. Tune into what’s happening around you, make a list of tasks you need to accomplish and run through them, and ask teammates for feedback on details you might be missing.
Going above and beyond
Half the battle might be showing up, but it’s the employees who go above and beyond the call of duty who really get ahead. Sometimes that’s as simple as leaving your station a little cleaner than what’s expected, or stepping up to help a new employee learn the ropes. Sometimes it’s helping an overwhelmed co-worker tackle their tasks. And sometimes it really is as easy as just showing up -- specifically when you’re not required but really needed. Go above and beyond consistently, and you might even be rewarded with a promotion, something that looks good on your resume as you move forward.