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Archive for Monday, May 22, 2006

Every job pays off through experience, perspective

May 22, 2006

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Q: In a recent article you wrote about a mother who was worried that her college-age daughter was working in a restaurant rather than in a job related to her area of study. I would argue that each job gives us an opportunity to gain experience and perspective. I was in food service for 11 years, as a server and bartender. The experience gave me advantages that my colleagues who went straight to the corporate world don't have. I am currently a new-product development engineer. The skills I learned in the restaurant business have solidly supported my education and knowledge to the point that I am typically selected to interact with customers. - Doug

Dale: We got more detail from Doug on how his old career intersected his new one, including this intriguing notion: "Restaurants are fundamentally manufacturing facilities where a standard product is offered, but commonly modified from the original specs for a specific customer in a service cycle that is typically less than 20 minutes."

Kate: I agree with your premise about jobs, Doug. For example, when I was in college, I was a telephone operator - back when real people did that kind of work. I had to say essentially the same thing over and over and learned to modulate my voice and so on. It was terrific practice for the public speaking I now do all the time.

Dale: But the point in our original piece was not just learning about life and work, but getting a career started. I do volunteer career counseling at a men's center where some of the residents have just been paroled from prison. While many learned important skills from being incarcerated, it's not a boost to a resume. What we're talking about here is getting those first career interviews. An enlightened employer will realize that you learn plenty being a bartender, and some will smile and say, "I was once a bartender myself." Nevertheless, the advantage goes to the applicant who needs the least training, and that's the one with industry experience.

Q: I'm frustrated. I worked for a company that was heaven until my last three months. It went sour due to my new boss. I then found a new job I thought had potential, but it was all talk and no walk. A year later, I found another company. I've been here nine months now. I'm frustrated because the culture is not customer-centric. Before I begin a new search, I need to learn how not to make this same mistake. How do I get a good read on a company? - Phil

Dale: You'll appreciate this principle, Phil: With a great boss there are no bad jobs; with a lousy boss, there are no good ones. So you need to find more than a company; you need to find an ally who shares your standards and wants you to join "circles of helping."

Kate: OK, but the company does matter. One of my clients investigated a possible employer by finding a former employee to talk with about projects and personalities, then she went to association meetings and found suppliers and employees of whom she asked questions that made them think, such as: "Is the company a leader in the field?"

Dale: You aren't just making a living; you're choosing a critical part of your life and the person you'll become - the most important job benefit of all.

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