What Did You Learn From Your First Crappy Job That Helped Your Career?

What Did You Learn From Your First Crappy Job That Helped Your Career?

Nearly everyone has experienced that first job that was awful. Not just a job you didn’t enjoy, but one that was underpaid, overworked, and potentially disgusting. The conventional wisdom, though, is that you build skills with those jobs. So, what did you learn?

Most people don’t apply to be a cashier in the hopes of moving up to a six-figure STEM field. While learning how to operate a register or keep track of inventory is useful at the moment, the social skills for dealing with your crummy boss or figuring out how to balance your time between work and school can be more useful in the long run.

We want to hear from you, though. What was your first job? What did you learn there that helped your career over the long run? Did a seemingly-unrelated job end up teaching you something valuable that you might not have otherwise learned?


  • Don’t work a job you’ll be bored at – keeping in mind that what’s boring to one person isn’t to another.

  • That people who pay lip-service to Socialist ideals can be particularly harsh when it comes to demanding long hours from clueless graduates for no extra pay.

  • My first job ever was at a supermarket stacking shelves and loading and unloading the truck.
    I learned how to operate a forklift (awesome things), how to talk like a sales person in my very first attempts, and how to make quantities beer disappear from a ledger without anyone noticing 🙂

    • Forklift license was one of the best things I did when I was younger. I don’t use it in my work anymore but its been a good fall back. When I was made redundant I used it while I was looking for a new career. When I moved cities I used it while looking for work. Its been quite handy to have.

  • 1. Cronyism is alive and well even at the minimum wage uni student level. The boss’ friends get ahead and get all the subjective awards.
    2. Bosses can and do show favouritism. If she wanted to date you, you got the best jobs. If someone she wanted to date showed an interest in you, you got the worst jobs.
    3. If you’re on the homely side, as a woman, you’re going to have a tough time competing in the work world. In retail, I was dinged for looking “frumpy” (in the company UNIFORM) because, guess what, I did have a “European grandma”‘s face even as a 21 year old.

    All of these still ring true 30 years later.

  • It takes a special kind of person to wait tables.

    I’m not that kind, but my respect goes to those who do and can still keep a smile on their face.

  • 1. There are no free lunches
    2. The good looking people always get promoted first regardless of their performance
    3. Money doesn’t come easily. You’ve got to work for every cent.

  • First job wasn’t crappy, got hired as a cadet architect – while I studied at uni – straight out of high school (from work experience). I learned that jobs/careers everyone else thinks are amazing may not be right for you.

  • “Do the hard job first”

    It was true when i was liftng heavy boxes as a teenager. It remains true as a Scientist today.

  • You are not better than the people you work with. No matter how many degrees/side projects that you have, no matter what your previous job was, if you act like you are better than the people you work with (even if you secretly believe you are) you aren’t going to get anywhere. People don’t like an arrogant arsehole.

    No job is beneath you. As a new hire, you are a net loss to any office environment for the first year. So instead of thinking that making the coffee should be the receptionist’s job, take hold of every learning opportunity you can.

  • Good (even great) work performance will get you nothing more than a pat on the head. You need to know how to pretend to be the boss’ best mate.

    Don’t say yes too easily. The more willing you are to help people, the more they will take you for granted. Make it a little bit harder for people to gain your assistance.

    Push back. Don’t be an arsehole, but people can only treat you like a pushover if you let them. This includes your boss.

  • All jobs involve a degree of crap work you hate doing. Learn to get that work done asap (don’t put it off – because you’ll just stew on it & hate your job) and learn to do it as fast as.

    Learn what your boss expects of you, and do it. Bosses need doers. Bosses have the power to delegate their crap work to you whether you like it or not.

    Bosses need solutions not problems. Don’t complain. Suggest better a better way. Ask if the boss can teach you to do something that takes part of their load off.

    Bosses promote those with potential people management skills. Show and tell your boss how you can and do “work with others” to get the job done. If you do your job technically correctly, but alienate others you will never move forward. Even worse is if you do your job technically correctly and show can work with others, means your boss will want you to stay in your job forever. Your unstated job description is to aim at eventually learning your bosses job. Your Boss may not like that, in which case that is the bosses problem because you will then resign for such a job.

    Your boss’s perception of you is his/her reality. Its made up only of what the boss sees and hears of/from you and hears from others. Work on social communications with your boss. This is where most of the bosses perceptions of you will be created.

    All the above needs you to negotiate a balance on boundaries with your boss. Don’t be a “Yes” person as you get taken advantage of and run into the ground. See sockparty’s advice.

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