How Your Boring First Job Can Prepare You For Leadership


There Are Advantages To Starting At the Bottom Of the Totem Pole

Everyone has a first job. The first real job before you finally break in to your field. Maybe you have a few first real jobs. Or maybe you were that lucky one who landed their career right off the bat. If you were, this still might apply to you.

It’s the grunt jobs that always shed more light on what we take for granted. Like having a nice desk or decent office chair, or an hour long lunch break, or casual Fridays. The first job where you’re on your own—footing your own bills, paying your own rent, dictating your own bedtime—is probably where you will learn the most.

Sure, you’ll learn how to follow a monthly budget (after failing twice and borrowing money from your parents an embarrassing three times), how to haul yourself out of bed (after sleeping through two alarms. Twice.), and how to cook your own meals AND clean up the kitchen (maybe not), but you’ll also learn how to work.

These first jobs will instill valuable skills that, when cultivated, are the foundation for developing strong leadership skills and a strong work ethic, two keys to unlocking doors to success.

1. Let the Customer Be Right

There are a few rare, shining instances when the customer might actually be right, but often it’s simply a misunderstanding and it’s your job to judge how to proceed.

Will you lose a sale if you correct their mistake? When do you just let it go for the sake of business? How do you gracefully inform the customer and maintain their business?

These skills can’t be taught in classroom. They’re the kind of situation that you just get thrown into, like a toddler into the deep end of the pool on a hot summer day. Your first few tries are going to be rough brutal. Painfully, awkwardly brutal.

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But after the first five, you’ll start to get the hang of it. And you’ll use those decision making and judgement skills to know when to push and when to let it go.

You’ll get to know the older couple who come to your café every Tuesday sit at the exact same table and order the exact same thing every day. The prices have gone up over the years, but they pay the same price they always have for their coffee: a dollar a cup. But they spend way more money on the weekends when they bring their grandkids in for treats.

Worth it to make them cough up an extra fifty cents to potentially lose two long-term customers? Probably not.

2. Multitask or Die

Not only does almost every job description list multitasking as a requirement, you won’t survive even the lowliest job without it.

Your ability to multitask can mean the difference between jobs completed and happy customers or a chaotic workplace. Without multitasking, projects would take forever, lines would be longer, and everyone would be more irritable than they already are.

It takes a certain amount of grace and finesse to effortlessly pull off multitasking, but regardless of how smooth you make it look, it’s a skill that you’ll use forever (so you’ve got plenty of time to develop your strategy).

Being able to juggle multiple tasks and eventually projects is a valuable skill set that everyone says they have but only a few can successfully execute with grace.

3. Sharing Is Caring

Teamwork is crucial to success, probably even more than multitasking. Teamwork encourages the sharing of ideas, the development of effective communication, and teaches us how to prioritize.

Sure, some tasks require a certain amount of independence or are simple enough to complete on your own, but the majority of workplace success depends on peoples’ ability to work together and communicate effectively.

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Most positions you’ll apply for are team-based: project manager, designer, mobile strategy, product development… none of these are solo positions and it would be ridiculous for them to developed to be so.

A business that doesn’t utilize team-based work in some form is a business that probably won’t be around for very long.

4. How To Take a Vacation

This might sound ridiculous, but that first job you have on your own will really make you appreciate those 24 hours of earned PTO you finally get to take after getting through the busy season.

When your vacation morphs from MTV Spring Break to three days of decompressing from work, earning that PTO becomes that much sweeter.

Sure, you might use that decompression vacation to go out and party still, but you’ll appreciate that time off, that time to wear what you want, wake up when you want, go where you want that much more once you realize how much of your energy you pour in to your dedication at work.


We learn a lot from our first jobs on our own as adults, but rarely do we realize how large of an impact they have on us as business owners or our future careers. What you learned from flipping burgers could help you rise in to a leadership role in your career field.

Image: iStockphoto

About The Author

Laura Whitener is the managing editor of Firmology, technology focused news and insight for small business owners and online entrepreneurs. Laura graduated from DePaul’s notable Master of Writing and Publishing program in Chicago. She survives on coffee, apples, and Pandora.

When she isn’t editing or writing, Laura enjoys knitting, adding to her massive book collection, and culinary adventures.

You can find Laura on Twitter and LinkedIn.