Did you have some early gigs that may not seem relevant to your career path – but that maybe taught you something or made you stronger in some way that makes them worth mentioning in your resume?
I had some jobs as a kid and at Uni that were enormously important in my own work evolution – but it never occurred to me to evaluate them or mention them. Maybe I should have done – they taught me some valuable lessons.
Here are some, with lessons learned.
Manual laborer. An old established printing firm hired me to move a huge store of printed paper from an upper storeroom to a warehouse at the other end of the printing floor below. Manual work – enormously heavy boxes to lug – vast sharp edged metal shelving systems to be dismantled moved and rebuilt. There were time clocks and 5 minute breaks for “hand-washing. I covered for the reprobates I worked with while they snuck out for nooners.
“No you may not rejigger the conveyer belt to go the other way” But the boxes were heavy – and that belt came up through the floor from right where they had to get to. So I put the boxes on it to force it downwards against the gears – it didn’t move. So I sat on it and slowly down it went – the combined weight of me and the boxes did the trick. I kept my head low through the hole in the floor and then as the belt accelerated I had a split second to jump off before everything (me included) got chewed up in the rollers at the bottom. It worked and I did this routine over and over again for days – no-one stopped me. It was so much quicker and easier than schlepping each box down the stairs and wheeling it all the way past all the presses – and it had that slight edge of danger!
One day we were told not to report tomorrow as Robert Maxwell, the owner of the parent company, was to visit. The following day we came back in and all the hitherto repulsive mens rooms had been whitewashed for him.
What I learned: That people don’t always follow the rules. That whitewash does exactly that. That there may well be a better way to get the job done and don’t be put off when they tell you have to do it their way – because maybe they won’t stop you.
Air defense development. I worked one summer at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, a defense research facility sited on an airfield near London. There was a chilling security briefing from an intimidating white-maned senior officer: “I have my men in the newsagent, at the barber, everywhere – if you are talking, I will hear of it.” He named a spy who had just been jailed for 25 years: “he got off easy.” Scary stuff. We were developing a system to [redacted][redacted]. My immediate superior was constantly whining that he couldn’t put his publications on his resume because even their titles were classified Top Secret.
What I learned: you could flash a folded 10 shilling note at the gate guards and they thought it was your ID card. That every airplane engine has its own distinctive and identifiable sound. That you should look left and right before you drive across the active runway to get to your hut-office. That you could develop amazing things that no-one had imagined possible.
Computer coder. One summer I worked for an electrical engineering company with big defense contracts. I thought I wanted to be “in computers.” They had me writing code for twenty-three decimal places of trigonometric functions – for Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers in Europe. Punching holes in tape week in and week out. Boy was that boring. I hope someone checked it! But they let me stay at night and I kept on punching tape. But now I was figuring out what to punch to have the machine output simple illustrations. They thought I was nuts. It wasn’t the tape punching that was boring.
What I learned: If you are bored you can come up with new and exciting applications for the tools you’re given.
Bell hop. Then there was the hotel hall porter gig I had while I was an undergrad. I wore a red jacket with brass buttons. I learned how to work guests for tips. I learned how to price – since I (ahem) made up my own prices for the room service I delivered. (Amazing what you can get people to pay for a glass of orange juice!) The place was a zoo; an insulated world of guests, live-in staff: upstairs, downstairs and well below ground. It had its own pecking order and politics and machinations.
What I learned: Every aspect of this job had a lesson that prepared me for corporate America! (I wrote and read a piece about it for BBC Radio that was requested by listeners to be repeated as a highlight of the week – though I never named the hotel! Memo to self – do not throw away good work – I have no record of the script nor do I have a tape. Another thing I learned.)
So think about your early gigs and what they taught you. Do these lessons apply to what you are doing now – or what you want to do? Should these experiences be a part of your story? They are surely a part of who you are.