Wednesday, September 10, 2008

On The Job Experience

There is a lot of talk in the political arena right now talking about "experience". Unless you have had the exact job previously, there is going to be a learning curve.

Harvey Mackay wrote about this recently:
Harvey Mackay's Column This Week

Your first job on any job is to learn

A front-page story in USA Today got me thinking back to my youth and all the lessons I learned in my various summer jobs. The newspaper asked dozens of executives in major corporations about their first jobs and what they learned, as well as how they helped them in their careers.

The unanimous answer was all worked as teens and several of them before age 11. Many talked about hard work and the need to finish college.

Outback Steakhouse founder Tim Gannon said he has yet to meet a successful person who didn't have a great story about starting at the ground floor. "Great success comes from overcoming adversity," he said. "Without desire, you can't get to ambition."

Borders Group CEO George Jones talked about his 17-year-old son Dylan, who has not worked but rather has traveled extensively and visited more than 30 countries. "Travel is a learning experience that benefits kids greatly, and in all fairness to my son, we have made travel a higher priority than his having a job," said the elder Jones.

My parents were much the same. They encouraged me to travel as much as I could, but on my dime. When I was in high school I toured the western United States with two buddies. Then at age 21, we went to Europe and visited 16 countries. I'm still profiting from these trips.

Today's teens should think of every job opportunity as an important building block in life, no matter how menial it seems, according to Chris Kearney, CEO of industrial products giant SPX Corp. "A successful career is built incrementally, one step at a time."

I've always said your first job on any job is to learn. Donald Trump says: "Learn all you can. Try to view your job comprehensively as if it were your own business. Ask yourself: 'What kind of employee would I like to have?' Be that kind of employee."

Growing up, my father insisted there was no substitute for working odd jobs during summer vacations and Christmas holidays. I had a variety of short stints, from setting pins at a bowling alley to delivering newspapers to working at a golf course. In high school, I landed a neat job at a downtown St. Paul men's clothing store.

Now, peddling pants, socks, underwear, ties, hankies and occasionally a shirt or two may not sound like the most glamorous position in the world, but in retrospect, it was a great job. At a young age, I had an opportunity to learn about business, have a boss to report to, show up for work on time, handle money and credit, understand how customers shop and learn a little about the retail clothing industry. My boss, Chris, hammered these principles into my brain bank:

  1. Before you could count to "One-Mississippi," you greeted a customer at the front door with a "million-dollar smile" and said "Hello . . . may I help you!"
  2. Never put more than three ties on the counter. It will only confuse the customer.
  3. Once you get the customer to try on the pants, consider it a done deal.
  4. Never ring up a sale without asking: "What else do you have in mind?" and "Would you like me to introduce you to our best suit salesman?"
  5. Walk the customer to the front door and sometimes even out onto the street and look him in the eye say, "Thanks!" And then say, "Be sure and bring it back if you are not happy with it."
  6. Never, never, never start to lock up if a customer misses closing time by a few minutes.
  7. And, don't come to work in competitor's clothes, even if you are just a young kid peddling men's accessories.

This is the short list. Looking back, probably the greatest plus of the job was, whether I realized it or not, I was polishing my sales skills at a very early age.

When you are young, footloose, and fancy free, you don't have a care in the world. You are always in the "comfort zone." You don't quite realize the responsibility of holding down a legitimate job. Better said, you don't realize the importance of holding down a job legitimately.

Mackay's Moral: What you learn on your first job will last through your last job.

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