Ten Tips For First-Time Employees

I have been wanting to write a post like this for quite awhile but only got around to putting it together last night. These tips were inspired by my years in the grocery business back when I was in high school and college. You may not agree with all of them. If you have some of your own advice to offer, please leave a comment.

The Customer Comes First

1. Good customer service makes for happy customers. Happy customers come back! Don’t think that because you’re working a minimum wage job that customer service isn’t important. You never know – one of those customers could be your gateway to a better job or career.

Some customers will be rude. Most customers have NO IDEA what goes into performing a job. A restaurant server’s job comes to mind. Lots of customers harrass their server when their order is wrong even though it probably wasn’t the server’s fault. In these instances it’s best to suck it up and move on. Don’t let the experience ruin your day.

2. Learn your customers’ names. I’ll admit that I’m bad at this. However, learning your customers’ names can pay dividends. It makes them feel important and it can be a great networking opportunity for you. While you’re networking, don’t forget your suppliers. I’ve known quite a few people who left mediocre jobs for much better jobs with a supplier.

Working With Your Boss (or “Manager”)

3. Watch your boss and do what they do. I’m not telling you to be a brown-noser. I remember watching one of my managers pick up trash in the parking lot as he brought grocery carts back into the store. So, I made it a point to do the same thing. If it was important to him, it was important to me.

4. When you’re assigned a task or job, learn it well and do it from that day forward without your manager having to remind you. Remember, managers have a lot on their minds and an employee who can be trusted to do a good job will get noticed.

5. Take the initiative. If you’re assigned a task and you finish it early, don’t stand around waiting for another task. Go find out if there’s something else you can be working on. It will make you look good and it will help the time pass quickly. Nothing makes a day longer than standing around doing nothing.

6. Ask for more responsibility. One of the fastest ways to move up in the retail environment is to learn new things. You learn new things by asking for more responsibility. Just remember to be willing to live with the consequences. Once you accept more responsibility, there’s no going back.

7. Learn to adapt to change. Inevitably management will change and you will have to learn to work with a new manager. Don’t ever tell your new manager how your old manager handled things unless the new manager solicits your opinion. Working for different managers can be tough – especially if they have vastly different management styles. My advice is to make them feel welcome and go back and read point #3 again.

Working With Your Co-Workers

8. Don’t call in sick unless you’re really sick. It was amazing to me how many employees would call in sick on a warm Sunday afternoon! Calling in sick when you’re not is not only dishonest, it burdens those who do have to work. It’s a very selfish behavior.

9. Be prepared to take some flak from your co-workers when you do a good job. Some people will work harder than others. The slackers will want the rewards but will not want to put forth the effort. They will be jealous of your success.

Have Some Perspective

10. Finally, put your job in perspective. If you are working part-time in a business you have no interest in making a career, recognize that fact and make preparations to move on. Either go to school to get a better job or change jobs. Don’t feel like you’re stuck in a dead-end job. If, on the other hand, you have no other options, then make the best of it. Learn all you can and have fun. Read the industry publications and learn everything you can about the business.

Those are my thoughts. Notice I didn’t include anything about saving for retirement or investing in the 401(k). That wasn’t the purpose of this post.

Did I miss anything? What advice do you have to offer for first-time employees?

9 thoughts on “Ten Tips For First-Time Employees”

  1. In my last job, I watched my manager a lot, learned to do things the way she did, and asked for more responsibility all the time (mostly because I got bored). From what I could gather, she really liked me, thought I was a great employee. I think she saw me as a young her.

    It helped that we were a two person office.

    But in the end it doesn’t work out. The job just wasn’t right.

  2. I think that this is a great list!

    A suggestion for #11: If you don’t know why or how something related to your job is done – ASK. The nice thing about being new at a job is that there is a certain honeymoon period when you can ask anyone anything and not feel like an idoit.

  3. These seem like they are good tips for a certain kind of person, the kind of person who wants to be the “perfect employee”. That’s fine for people who have that goal, but for people who want their first job to just be a steady paycheck until they go onto a completely different path, I think these tips are more appropriate:

    1. The only good customers are no customers.

    Customers are extremely annoying. They won’t respect you because they think that their age, occupation, and wealth make them a better human being than you. If you can find a job that doesn’t involve random people yelling at you for no reason, go for that instead.

    2. Pretend that customers do not fill you with uncontrollable rage.

    If you have to work with customers, pretend that it’s not the most horrible part of your job. Try to smile while you silently think about burning your workplace to the ground. In fact, try to leave your body completely and transport yourself to a magical world of candy and unicorns.

    Working With Your Boss (or “Powertripping Jerk”)

    3. Avoid your boss.

    Unlike managers who have special or important jobs, like managing the building of the Mars probe at NASA, your boss has little affect on anything remotely significant, and could easily be replaced. To compensate for this, your boss will abuse the very small amount of power given to him. Try to avoid all contact with him.

    4. Only do something when your boss specifically tells you to do it.

    Any work you do that you’re not required to do is wasted effort. Your boss will probably tell you how important being “proactive” is, but that’s just because if you manage yourself he doesn’t have to do his job. Just smile and nod, and continue not doing anything other than the absolute minimum.

    5. Enjoy your breaks.

    Doing nothing + Getting paid for it = Win. Make sure your boss doesn’t see you doing nothing though, because it makes him look bad. “Your employees are just standing around!” his boss would say. Try to look busy, or sneak off to somewhere where your boss won’t see you.

    6. Don’t get tricked into doing more work for the same pay.

    Guess what getting more money and more responsibility is called? Getting a promotion. Guess what getting more responsibility and the same amount of money is called? Getting screwed. Try to avoid saying things like “That wasn’t part of the deal when you hired me”, but definitely don’t volunteer for anything.

    7. Be prepared for everyone you work with to quit or get fired.

    Let’s face it: Your job sucks. Nobody would be working there if they had the choice. If the people you work with are any good, they will move onto something better. If they are completely useless, they will get fired. A lot of them will just get bored and trade one crappy job for another.

    Working With Your Cow Orkers

    8. Call in sick whenever you want.

    One of the perks of being a interchangable faceless peon is that nobody cares if you don’t show up. Yeah everybody else will have to pick up the slack, but you cover for them when they fake being sick.

    9. Be prepared to take some flak from your co-workers when you do a bad job.

    Some people will confuse themselves with your boss, who should be the only one who cares if you do your job or not. They will find it personally offensive that you sit around and avoid doing any work all day while they scurry around trying to impress your boss. They will probably call you a slacker. These people are not your problem.

    Have Some Perspective

    10. Finally, put your job in perspective

    You are doing this job for the money. No other reason. When you apply for grad school, nobody is going to care that you were employee of the month. Therefore you should do as little as possible as long as you still get paid. And what’s the worst that could happen? If you get fired, you can find another similar job without any problems. This placed hired you off the street with no references, so the next one will too. One day you will move on and this will all be a distant, hazy memory.

  4. 1. When you speak with someone, look them in the eye.
    2. Do not spread rumors.
    2a. When you tell someone something, you either think it, know it, or someone told you it. Make sure you make clear which it is. Alot of “facts” are anecdotal.
    3. When you make a mistake, own up to it and do not make the same one again.

  5. C, this is funny; thanks for a good laugh.

    On a serious note, pretty good advice in the post. I’d add that if you are in a job that has anything to do with science or technology, keep your skills current and be aware of new technologies. It is very easy to get stuck doing one thing, become an expert and get comfortable, but then you may find out one day that your skills are outdated and you cannot compete with new college grads. So, learn something new every year. Don’t think that just because you have experience you are better than new graduates – this isn’t always true. They are young, creative and have the latest skills. Make sure so are you. If possible get a job that pays for you to learn new skills; otherwise, there are plenty of free tutorials on the internet.

    Be nice to everyone. You don’t know who is going to be your manager in future.

  6. I’d say there’s a big difference between a “kid job” that one is doing to get some cash for school versus a “career job” that one is intending to use to launch one’s career. Most people are going to put more effort into career jobs than miscellaneous throwaway jobs.

    McJobs aren’t going to inspire most people to heights of passion, but they are good places to develop work habits, and sometimes can lead to more useful things.

    For example, many fast food franchises won’t allow a franchise to be resold to anyone who hasn’t worked a couple of years in fast food at some level.

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