After graduating from high school, I was about to embark on a new adventure: going to college. During the summer between high school and college, I got my first job through a family friend.
I lined up a position as a Human Resources Assistant at the college I was going to be attending in the fall. In retrospect, it was great to start working at the college before I started officially attending. I got the chance to make some new friends, explore the campus, and make some money before I joined 36,000 other students that fall semester.
I remember how nervous I was when starting my first job, working alongside a bunch of adults. It was my first real job, and I had some real responsibilities. I was making minimum wage, which is typical for someone of that age—but I remember receiving my first check and thinking that I was rich! It was the first time I was getting paid and had several hundred dollars to my name. It was my first real taste of independence. As I continued working, I started making the transition from completely relying on my parents, to relying on myself. It was a liberating, exciting feeling.
I also felt very lucky that my first job was in an office. I didn’t have to work at McDonalds or the local Target, and I could start learning some marketable administrative skills. During that summer, I started working full-time as I hadn’t started classes yet. As a 17-year old, working 40 hours a week feels like an eternity. I came home exhausted, and my paychecks were gone as quickly as they came. I saved some money, but for the most part, my paychecks went to ice blended mochas, and movie dates with friends.
As I think back on my first job, I am really grateful for several things. Although it was a field I didn’t wish to pursue as a career, it taught me so much.
Playing Well with Others
Starting my first job as an HR assistant was a great lesson in customer service. I learned how to work with a diverse group of people — young, old, American and foreign-born, students, and employees. My position interacted with other employees, and I was often the first face they encountered when coming into the office. I was also responsible for delivering happiness every 2 weeks. Checks were disbursed, and employees would line up to get them. My favorite part of the job was when I handed these out to each employee. You could tell how hard people had worked for that check, and see the excitement on their face once they had the money in their hand.
As an HR assistant you are often privy to confidential issues and employment matters. I took my job seriously and treated everyone with respect, care, and professionalism. The job taught me empathy in the workplace, and also how to deal with different personalities.
It Taught Me Discipline
Working a job and having to be somewhere at a certain time taught me discipline. Although I dreamed of lounging around with friends at the beach all summer, ultimately I was glad to be working. My job responsibilities included filing, organizing, sorting mail, answering phones, updating the employee database and other administrative duties. Certain tasks had deadlines, and I learned how to work quickly under pressure. I learned how to problem solve, and I learned how to deal with difficult situations. Filling out legal forms and being able to explain them plainly were two other handy skills that I picked up.
During this time, I grew as a person and as a professional. My first job gave me the discipline and work ethic that I would take with me to every job since.
Learning About Money
My first job taught me a lot about money. When you start making your own money, it becomes something you start to care about. At first I thought I was rich and making a lot. I also spent a lot of it too. As time went on, I put my paycheck in perspective to things like tuition, eating out, etc. I started to think about things like taxes, and purchases as hours worked. All of a sudden my beloved iced blended mocha seemed crazy expensive. That was thirty minutes of work! I had many financial blunders in the first year of employment, but learned more about managing my money and saving as time went on.
I stayed at that job for three years, or for most of my college career. I learned so many life skills, and made life-long friendships. My boss at the time has been a mentor to me, and we are still friends 10 years later. I think work can teach you many things. Even if it’s not something you want to do your whole life, you can learn from everyone you meet, and acquire new skills at each job. And hey, I know how to fill out an I9 and a W4!