Pursuing Your Career

Gaining Experience: for college and high school students


You know that old adgae, “you can’t get a job without experience but you can’t get experience without a job?” Annoying when you think about it. That very idea frustrates countless young (and even older) job seekers. Then there is the rest of us. We see that adage as something that provides an edge, a way for us to out-compete our competition. What do I mean? I’m glad you asked.

My first official job was as a dishwasher at the Gardenview Restaurant in West Seneca, New York, a job I obtained when I was 16. Yes… I was a professional dishwasher. When I entered college, I was training for a career in Anthropology (field archaeology and socio-cultural anthropology my specialties). As a college student, I maintained my job at the Gardenview (I ultimately worked there two weeks shy of eleven years). How in the world did a job as a dishwasher (then cook) help me prepare for other jobs and how would I be anything but embarrassed to include my Gardenview job on my résumé? Aside from getting meals for free and enough money to pay for my college tuition without ever having to take out a loan as an undergraduate, that position provided ample opportunities to gain important experience. I busted my behind to be the best dishwasher and best cook I could be. My hard work paid off in being trusted to train staff, supervise shift operations, and help coordinate actions restaurant-wide, especially on busy shifts. So, on my résumé, I didn’t just get to write “I washed dishes/served as line cook.” I also could include my supervisory experience, which is a standout quality most employers are desperate to find. So, whether you are a sales associate in a retail chain, a dishwasher at a family restaurant or an employee at a car wash, look for any opportunities to train others, become a supervisor/assistant manager, or to monitor/update a company’s social media accounts. Those skill sets will be diamonds to include on your résumé as they indicate you are an employee that goes above and beyond the call of duty. Yes, gain career-related experience as soon as possible. Until then, shine bright at any job you can get, and you will find that even a dishwashing job can make you a standout candidate for future jobs.

Important Skills Often Obtained From First Jobs:

  • Management/supervisory experience
  • ‘Point of sale’ operations experience
  • Customer service experience
  • Experience as a trainer
  • Research experience
  • Sales experience
  • Inventory management experience
  • Social media programming and/or marketing experience

  • Me with Todd Harrington (center) and the crew. I did find work as a field archaeologist as well as cook while competing my Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology. If such opportunities are available for Anthropology majors, then any majors can find career-related experience. FYI – working over a grill in the summer heat is nothing compared to the direct sunlight while excavating. Photo courtesy of my boss, archaeologist Carolyn Pierce.

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