By: Tim Elmore
As I spot “Help Wanted” signs on the windows of many establishments today, I often consider the qualities young job seekers should learn. Too often, young adults don’t take entry-level positions because they feel those jobs are beneath them. I recently reflected on the early experiences I had in my career that taught me lessons I may not have learned otherwise. I submit them here.
- Work a service job.
I know many high school students who ought to be working a part-time job, but they’re not. Their parents won’t let them because they want them to focus on academics. This focus isn’t bad, but there is something about working a service job of waiting tables, lifting boxes, or doing retail customer service that teaches a person to make sacrifices on behalf of consumers who often have bad attitudes. I recall working in a fast-food restaurant and a Baskin Robbins ice cream store learning to serve people with a smile even when I didn’t feel like it. It got me ready for my career, my marriage, and adulthood. Everyone should have one service job.
- Get fired once.
As a teen, I was let go from a job in a country club because I wasn’t good at handling the switchboard. I felt horrible and was down on myself until I recognized that failure at that job didn’t equate to failure in my life. My self-esteem took a blow for a day or two, but I quickly figured out I would have been miserable had I stayed longer and so would everyone else. It was good for me to gain experience being terminated so that I could improve at choosing the right jobs to pursue and to get on with discovering what my gifts were. What’s more, I actually survived the tragedy.
- Have one bad boss.
This may not make sense to young professionals, but I think it’s a positive thing to serve under a bad manager or supervisor. Why? First, it makes you appreciate a good one later, and second, it lets you know what it feels like once you become a manager. The majority of Americans report they’ve served under a poor boss. Approximately 40 percent of people believe they could do a better job than their bosses do. When we endure a poor leader, we learn to make positive changes to our style, even when we’re not in charge. We make changes through personal power, not positional power. We learn how to influence when we’re not in charge.
- Help someone reach their goal.
We are all told to set goals and pursue them. Find your passion. Find your calling. Follow your dream. All good advice, but with one caveat. I believe it’s healthy in the beginning to serve someone else as that person pursues his or her dream—maybe not forever but long enough to taste what it feels like to be part of something bigger and other than yourself. For 20 years, I served under Dr. John C. Maxwell, and his dreams have always been big. It was good for me to
build a sense of loyalty to his goals, and while doing so, I learned to set my own goals. I began my own organization at 43 years old, but I learned to follow before I learned to lead.
- Do small, invisible work.
This could be an overlap with #1 above, but not necessarily. When I’m assigned a task or a job that no one really notices and I learn to do it with excellence because of my own standards, I cross a milestone in my integrity. Early, small tasks are about trust, not talent. Can a supervisor trust you with a seemingly insignificant assignment? Will you be faithful to execute it as if you were being watched by the public? Whether it’s getting coffee for the team or wiping down bathroom sinks or toilets, there is honor in doing any job well. It’s not fun at the time, but the pleasure comes from within. I benefited from embracing a no-job-is-beneath-me attitude.
- Leave a toxic environment.
In the same way, we benefit from being fired from a job that’s not a good fit, I think we benefit when we muster the courage to leave an unhealthy workplace or relationship. Very often, we begin our careers as people-pleasers. We don’t realize the difference between being disciplined to do a task we don’t like and remaining in a job where people guilt us into staying. Courage is a signal of strength and maturity. One rite of passage is being brave enough to leave a job or a person who’s unhealthy, unfit, or toxic. I even recall firing a few customers over the years because they were bad for our team. Life’s too short to get stuck. We don’t have to be victims.
- Volunteer your time and energy.
Along with good starter jobs, I think it’s healthy to work for the pure joy of serving. No remuneration of any kind; just offering our blood, sweat, and tears for a cause you believe is worth serving. I volunteer at homeless shelters, youth camps, and on boards. Each one does something for my soul because the exchange is internal, not external. My pay is satisfaction for the extra mile. I know high schools and colleges that require volunteer service hours for their students. While I love that goal, even this may cloud the motivation of those who serve. The motive could be to check a box and get credit instead of giving of myself to those in need.
- Work side hustles.
We live in the gig economy. Millions of young (and old) people are working a main job while also working gigs on the side—whether Uber, Lyft, phone sales, babysitting, or DoorDash. Here’s what I love about side hustles. They teach grit. They foster ambition. They condition people to take responsibility and to shift mental gears’ when moving from one job to another in a completely different industry. I worked three jobs while in college. My kids both have two to three jobs just to make ends meet and to reach their financial goals. I love their ambition. It’s one gift of a free enterprise system where the young can get ahead with some work ethic.
- Learn to negotiate your value.
Good team members prove their value with their track record, not their words. Then, however, they collect the courage to discuss that track record with their supervisor. I recall beginning on a job at a low compensation rate but asking to meet to explore my salary package after a year. Demonstrating what I’d done to a manager and discussing my value was a priceless experience.
It not only enabled me to recognize my worth but to hear how a supervisor perceived it as well. I’m not good at negotiating; it still feels awkward. However, learning to talk about your worth to a team isn’t arrogant when you approach it with humility and data, not self-absorption.
- Initiate a project.
Before our career is too far along, I believe we should learn to not only follow our leader’s direction, but we should learn to spot something that needs to be done and take initiative to do it before anyone asks us to do so. It could be something outside of our job description, but we identify the benefit of a certain task because we see the larger picture and believe it improves life. Initiative is one of the qualities I look for in interns at Growing Leaders. We teach the Habitude® “Early Birds or Mockingbirds.” Mockingbirds merely emulate what others do; early birds get a jump on the day and initiate. We love to hire early birds.
- Resolve a conflict with a colleague.
Over my career, I’ve learned that regardless of how likable you are, you will run into conflict with people. I have also learned that friends may come and go, but enemies accumulate. Often, the easiest route to take is to just avoid them. The harder response is to seek them out and try to make it right. Offer or ask for forgiveness, make amends, seek a compromise. Ghosting is for cowards. It takes courage to build a bridge to an estranged teammate even if you don’t become best friends afterward. Conflict resolution skills on a job differentiate you from the pack.
Call me old-fashioned, but I think we could use a workforce that practices these skills. Today’s emerging generation will benefit from these timeless lessons if we’ll help them do so.