A few months ago, President Obama published an article on LinkedIn about why his first job mattered. In the article, he describes his experience scooping ice cream when he was a teenager. He says, “My first summer job wasn’t exactly glamorous, but it taught me some valuable lessons. Responsibility. Hard work. Balancing a job with friends, family, and school.”
I completely agree with that position, and I think you can learn those same lessons with any job you hold, whether it’s a summer job or a part-time job during the school year. But I think that if you are thoughtful about both the jobs you choose and the way you work at those jobs, you can gain a lot more.
First of all, you’ll learn what you like—and don’t like—about the job. Even with a menial job like scooping ice cream, you can learn whether you enjoy a job where you interact with people regularly or crave some peace and quiet. You learn whether you enjoy physical labor or miss an intellectual challenge. You learn about relationships with co-workers, about working in a large or small organization (think Ben and Jerry’s vs. a mom-and-pop operation), about the kind of boss you want to work with (or become). Every job you have counts as research about the next job you want to find.
Secondly, you are building your resume. Even if none of the skills you develop are ones relevant to your eventual career, you are demonstrating that you know to how hold a job, show up on time, and complete assigned tasks. You may not want or need to go into detail about those specific tasks (everyone knows what a waitress or a barista or a retail clerk is likely to do), but just including that you held the position for however many weeks or months (or years) is a testament to your character.
Finally, every job you have gives you the opportunity to network. Many people believe, and I’m one of them, that the ability to network is crucial to success in your search for a job. With every job you are meeting more people who can give you advice about career choices, introduce you to others who may be able to help you in your job search, and serve as a reference for future jobs. While your supervisor is probably the most likely person to serve as a reference, your co-workers and customers or clients can be important as well. One of my former students worked as a barista during his senior year of college, and as he got to know some of the regular customers, he started reaching out to them about job opportunities. Although none of them had a job for him, one of those customers referred him to a business associate, and that led to my student’s first job after college.