A little more than 25 years ago, at age 15, armed with my crisp, new worker’s permit and a racing heart, I stepped through the doors of a local pizza place and got my first real job. Dennis took a chance on me, and I became just another “counter girl” at a local pizza place called Noble Roman’s. I answered the phone, folded empty pizza boxes, rung up pick-up orders and stocked the salad bar.
The place was filled with teenagers, although I was one of the youngest in that motley crew. I wasn’t sure where I fit among them: Rockers, all. Smokers, most. 70s hippie kids, some. I worked there for a total of five years, so really, this is where I grew up.
But I Digress… I loved them all. They made me laugh (oftentimes at myself), and collectively they made work my favorite place to be. Some were better friends to me than others. I fell in and out of love with one or two of them, but each of them was what you’d call “good people.”
I’d never worked so hard as I did during those five years. Nor had I ever been so happy. To work hard. To be a part of something.
I couldn’t have guessed at the time, but that little job got my foot in the door of a marketing career that has spanned two decades and now a business of my own.
Since the age of 15, I had worked in restaurants – It’s all I knew. So, at age 20, when I decided it was time to get a “real” job, I thought I needed office experience. I applied with a temp firm and went to work in a few temporary positions, learning the ropes of working in an office. After about six months of this, I crafted a meticulous resume, sweating over the formatting, the right paper, every single word. When it was as close to perfect as I could get it, I began my search for a full-time position.
What I didn’t realize is that it wasn’t the elegant paper with its nice formatting and perfect sentence structure, or even my office experience, that drove the HR Director of a global manufacturing company to pull my resume out of the thick stack of hopefuls one day and call me for an interview.
What caught his eye was my five years at Noble Romans. Turns out that the HR Director spent his teen and college years working at a local pizza restaurant, too.
So when he saw my experience, he knew what my skill set was before I did, and realized the potential in me.
So what were those valuable business skills I learned behind the counter?
- Keep a smile on your face, no matter how stressed out you are. No matter how busy, how tough the work. Even on the phone, customer can hear it in your voice. And I promise, people will enjoy working with you, be inspired by you, and eventually, work harder for you when you’re the one calling the shots.
- Be a team player. All of us working the dining room looked out for each other’s tables, picked up any slack, and helped each other through the dinner rush every night. If the dining room was calm at the moment but their wasn’t a clean plate in site (happened almost every Friday night), we’d take turns rushing in back to load the dishwasher. If the kitchen was backed up, we washed our hands and threw pies. And if the phones behind the counter were ringing off the hook, we answered them. No job is “below” you when you’re part of a team. You pitch in and get the work done. Period. Nowadays, I don’t just prepare and give presentations to clients, I make the coffee and clean up the conference room, too.
- Think – FAST! The chaos that was those weekend nights required quick thinking. Keeping up with hot orders out of the oven, turning tables quickly to accommodate the line at the door, counting change, and anticipating customer needs were all things I learned how to do at a young age. There’s no time to sit back and think about your next task when everyone’s depending on you to help keep things moving. It was a good skill to learn – and one that came in handy when, years later, I ran an event in the middle of Times Square!
- Ask for the job you want, but continue kicking ass at the job you have. Sure, being a “counter girl” was all right, but what I really wanted was to wait tables and earn tips. I continued serving customers at the counter and answering phones, but offered to help fill waiter orders, ring up their tickets, get them change… anything they needed, I became their go-to gal. So, when, a few months later, a waiter called in sick, the manager turned to me to fill his spot. From then on, I spent my Friday and Saturday nights in the chaos of a little pizza parlor with 18 tables, navigating a line of people out the door who’d wait up to an hour just for a table and a slice of pie. From Administrative Assistant to Vice President and Owner – I continue to work at “kicking ass” every day.
That first job was fast-paced, demanding, fun, hard work. So when that HR Director saw restaurant experience on my resume, it spoke to him. It told him that I was a hard worker, that I could handle pressure, that I knew how to keep a smile on my face.
And he was right.
These are things I carry with me today (that, and my love affair with pizza). I like to think it’s the reason why I stuck to my guns and work in a field in which I am very passionate. I love excitement, I love that every day is different. I love the creativity, the drive.
There is something to be learned at every stop along your career path. Keep your eyes and mind open, and take notes – this is the path to your future!
How did your first job help prepare you for the career you have today?