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How working odd jobs prepares you for your career

Published by Angie Douglas on 10 Jul 2019

I’m an advocate of working while in high school and college. The skills you learn on the job are as important as those you learn in school. You learn about taxes, the value of a dollar, and how to work with coworkers and customers. You don’t need to work in as many fields as I did in my day, but the more you do, the more you are prepared for real adulthood and for a career.

with paid tax prep
                  I didn’t hold the sign but I did work a season at HR Block in college.

Newspaper route
I delivered papers in the afternoons (thank goodness, as I was not a morning person). After school, I would ride my bike over to the local newspaper distribution center and pick up a stack of newspapers, rubber bands and plastic bags (I grew up in the rainy Northwest). I would then roll and stuff the newspapers, fill my bag, and set off on my route. This was not television — you did not throw papers onto porches. Most of the houses had boxes that the newspaper had to be placed into or they were left nicely on the front mat (otherwise, you would get complaints). I collected each month’s subscription fee and remitted this to the distributor. I was also in charge of collecting any past due amounts.

Skills learned: 
I learned responsibility, how to memorize a route, navigation, billing, and collections. Being an independent contractor, I also learned it’s hard to get a substitute so taking vacation and taking a sick day is not a given. This biggest lesson I learned is that you need the right tools for the job. The first time you flip over your handlebars after your newspaper bag catches in the front tire you know there must be a better way.

Day Care
One of my first full-time jobs out of high school was working in a Montessori Day Care. At the time I thought a career in early childhood education was going to be my career path. After babysitting on weekends in junior high and high school I thought this would be a perfect fit. From 8 am sharp until 5 pm (or when the last child was picked up for the day, always after 5 due to traffic) I was co-responsible for a room of fourteen children ranging from the age of 12 to 18 months. They needed to be fed, changed, put down for naps, entertained and kept out of trouble.

Skills learned: 
Do you want to learn how to work independently and work hard? Do you also want to test your patience and stamina? A job in early education may be for you. Having seven toddlers that need to be fed, diapered and entertained for eight hours straight will either kill you or teach you patience and what a hard day’s work is. You will also be desensitized to a mess and chaos. You will learn to be nice even when you don’t feel like it (who could yell at a baby?). This is the ultimate way to learn to be nice to the customer.

I spent two summers in high school working on a construction site building high-end townhomes. As the only high school kid on site, I was the official gofer. Go for this; go for that. Does every unit need to be vacuumed after electrical is finished and after drywall? Do the hundred new garbage cans need a company logo? Does it take four hours on the phone on hold to reach the waste department? Any job that could be thrown my way was. The hours were also brutal. I am not a morning person. Spending your summers getting up at 5 am is a lesson in itself.

Skills learned:
If you are worried about working in a clean comfortable environment, then look no further than construction. You will never again complain about the facilities after using a honey bucket with a team full of construction workers. When it’s hot, you are hot. When it’s cold you are cold. When it’s wet…you get the picture. Spend a summer or two working at a construction site and that desk job and a college degree look more desirable. I will never complain if the heat is on a little too hot or the building is slow to turn on the air conditioning in the summer. I learned fortitude during my summers of construction.

Food Service
I spent a year of high school making and delivering pizzas. It was a small town and an independently owned shop. What that means is the owner worked every day and had one or two high school kids helping during the busy time. This also meant that I was able to learn all facets of the business. I helped with keeping items in stock, I prepared and baked pizza, I worked the cash register, I cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms, and I also made deliveries.

Skills learned:
Customer service! People really don’t like when their food isn’t what they expected, or it is cold or took too long to get ready. This job teaches you to let rudeness roll off your shoulders. You also learn that it only takes one angry person to ruin your day. Always ask for some sort of compensation for using your personal car for work. The tips I received for a delivery did not cover gas or wear and tear on my car. Even though I am no longer in food service, I have a greater appreciation for those that are and what they do every day. I am slower to be mad when things are not right and a much bigger tipper.

I also held jobs in retail sales and tourism while putting myself through college. These jobs reinforced all the skills I had been learning along the way. It taught me that the skills you learn in one area serve you in the next. It honestly doesn’t matter where you work, just having an actual job will help you in the long run. So don’t take out massive student loans to fund extras while in school, go get a job!

What was your most unusual odd job? What did you learn?

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