Owner | Career Consultant | Coach
I'm not sure how or when this happened, but a lot of young people today are resistant to the idea that his or her first job be in fast-food, retail, or some other lower paying job. They believe these are "dead-end jobs." They think there is no future there and no clear connection to any sort of future career they are interested in. Unfortunately, employer's like McDonald's and Walmart have a bad reputation for something that is untrue. Sure, a lot of these types of jobs pay minimum wage or slightly more, but they pay so much more for the person working there than any wage or salary could ever provide.
Let me give you an example of one of the best interviews I ever had as a Recruiter. It was with a young man who had worked at McDonald's a few years ago. As I was asking him questions, many of his answers turned to experiences he had at McDonald's. "Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer." He had the perfect example of from his time at the cash register. "Tell me about a time when you discovered a better method to doing something." That reminded him of a time when he figured out a good way to take in inventory in the kitchen.
So was this young man's experience at McDonald's a dead-end? Hardly! But it takes the right frame of mind to understand this. So today we'll talk about all the good things you can gain from those entry-level jobs that others think are a waste.
What All Employers are Looking For
Every single hiring manager I've ever worked with tell me the same thing when I ask them what they are looking for. First they give me a few technical things they need that are specific to the job they are hiring for, but most of what I write down are basic skills.
They want someone who is reliable: Trust in your employee is essential. They need someone shows up on time and never "no-call/no-shows" on them. Speaking from an HR standpoint, one of the biggest culprits that managers write up employees on is tardiness. This is especially true when the job depends on people being available during business hours for customers.
They want someone who has a good work-ethic: Being a slacker will get you nowhere fast at work. Employers want a person who will do their duties without complaint and will work on them until they are finished. Having a team with several complainers drives down morale and drives managers crazy.
They want someone who can find ways to make the business better: The two biggest things employers are looking for when hiring is how a candidate can potentially make them money or save them money. Because of this, they need someone who is a problem solver, not just a problem finder. No process or system is perfect; there are always ways to improve. But sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective to find it. All employers want someone who can speak up and make suggestions.
They want someone who is able and willing to learn: No one comes into a job knowing everything they need know to do the job well. You'll probably have to learn new processes and procedures, new computer programs, and so on. It behooves you to discuss how you learned something complex so that an employer can see that you are able to take on the challenging learning curve you'll likely face in their job.
They want someone who has good communication skills: How you are able to communicate with the business' customers and others on the team is a reflection of the company and the manager. No one wants to hire someone who is unclear or unfocused in their writing or speech. It causes confusion and generally creates more problems than it solves.
They want someone with good customer service skills: Even when the job does not work directly with customers, these skills are vital as almost all jobs require your handling your internal relationships professionally.
They want someone who can manage their time well: Deadlines are a regular part of business and employees need to learn how to prioritize their work effectively so that they are able to complete the most important items on time or ahead of schedule.
They want someone with basic computer skills: Unless you desire to work in IT, which requires a great deal more experience in working with more complicated programs and systems, most of what you need to know in terms of computer and software skills before you take any other job is Microsoft. However, many times, you'll need to learn some other programs unique to either the industry or company once you're starting the job.
The "Dead-End Job" is Your Best Training Ground for These Skills
Why do I say this? Because those employers with entry-level jobs that people scoff at, are willing to take a chance on someone without any experience. Most of these businesses have created a science out of on-the-job training. They want to make sure the customer experience is a good one, so they will hammer on those skills until you are up to their standard.
Everyone who has every eaten at a fast-food restaurant can see the difference between a good employee and a bad one. The good employees are the ones with a smile on their face as you approach the counter. They tell you their name and ask how they can help you. They listen intently to your order or complaint. They are expeditious in getting you what you need. They handle the influx of people that walk in during lunch or during a school field trip stop by stepping up their efforts without being frazzled. They are the ones willing to work with a dissatisfied customer to see how they can help, not arguing, but trying to find a solution that will work for the customer and the business. They have learned a lot of things quickly so that they can be more useful. They are the employees who ask their manager for more responsibilities when they want more challenge. Usually, within a year, they are the assistant manager or shift supervisor who train the new employees and get them on track to being successful.
These are the people that every employer wants! By taking this "dead-end job," and being positive in your outlook on it, you are really accepting a stepping-stone to next phase in your career.
These jobs won't give you all the technical skills that you may need for your next job. You'll have to acquire those by other means. But they certainly give you the basic skills you need for any job you might seek in the future. Additionally, they give you a track record that you can speak to in your interview, just like the young man I interviewed a few years ago.
Don't Hide It, Brag About It
If you're considering whether or not to include your experience at a fast-food restaurant or retailer, I'd say to include it. But don't just write the company name, job title, dates of employment, and a few of your duties. My suggestion is to really give the employer the highlights of everything you learned and accomplished while you were there.
Why? Because it's refreshing and different. It shows you have a different outlook on work. It shows that you take pride in everything you do, not just the jobs with a more glamorous title. It indicates that you view all jobs as important and integral to society. It demonstrates that you see the big picture of your career. This is what employers want to see when they look at a resume. They want to learn about you and what drives you. By showing that you believe there are no small roles, only small actors, they know they are getting someone who is perfect for their team.
So no, there are no "dead-end jobs," there are only steps in your career path. Onward and upward!
At RockIt Career Consultation Services, our mission is to help you discover your true strengths and use these strengths to set your course to something more rewarding and exciting in your career.
We will guide you on what job or career best suits you and then help you market yourself through your resume, your networking strategies, your interview skills, and your negotiation to ensure that you are doing something you love and are maximizing your earning potential. Throughout, we will be there to keep you motivated and determined.
We'd love to help you launch your career and encourage you to learn more about the services we can provide you on your path to a more prosperous future. With our help, you will become the applicant every company wants to hire!