Over the past several years it seems that fewer teens have been working at summer jobs and published research from the Pew Research Center supports this disappointing trend. According to this piece less than a third or 31.3% of teens held a summer job in 2015.
Not only is it disappointing from an economic standpoint but summer jobs present teens with a wonderful opportunity to learn critical life lessons that will serve them well not only in future jobs but in managing their lives outside of work as well.
I was reminded of my summer job recently when a high school friend posted an article the Rochester, NY newspaper ran on Fay’s Drugs, the regional drugstore chain where we once worked. I started in the summer after my junior year of high school but continued to work part-time throughout the school year and came back for 3 summers during college. East Coasters may remember the slogan, “Obviously not your average drug store”. For a trip down memory lane, or if you are just curious as to what Conair Hot Sticks were, check out this old Fay’s commercial from the late 1980s.
Fay’s Drugs may no longer exist but it continues to live on through the lessons the cash register and the stock room taught us, lessons I hope more teens can continue to learn while earning a paycheck.
1. It’s about who you know. How exactly did I get my summer job? I didn’t walk in and fill out an application, or go online to submit one hoping for a callback. Instead Fay’s was a stop on my stepfather’s sales route so he knew the manager. Next thing I knew I had an interview, something other high school classmates of mine were not granted. The store manager asked me only two questions: what were my grades like and when could I start before shaking my hand and saying, “You’re hired.” I will say though that while that connection got me into the door, it was on me to earn the right to stay. I did.
2. Good things will come if you work hard. I started as a cashier but less than three months later I was promoted to working the customer service counter which meant I had to handle returns and film developing. Yeah, I know I just seriously dated myself there. I worked hard, paid attention, saw opportunities to go above and beyond and voila, promotion. That formula has worked for every promotion I have earned since.
3. The customer is always right. Speaking of customers, a quote from the movie “Clerks” comes to mind, “This job would be great if it wasn’t for the f–king customers.” Problem is, the customer is always right so we just had to deal. One of the more memorable customer requests I encountered include processing a return on a plastic Goody hairbrush for an elderly customer. The brush was clearly used and was filled with hair. The reason for the return: the bristles were too hard on her cat. It didn’t matter if it held cathair, mousehair or her own hair, I had to smile and give back her $6.99 plus tax. These days it’s even more important to be at peace with your customers. A bad experience and the next thing you know your company will be the subject of a bad Yelp review or Facebook post which hurts everyone at your job.
4. Your manager really does know more than you. I cannot think of how many times I have been challenged at work and wondered how was I ever going to handle that difficult customer. The good news is, chances are your manager has dealt with the same situation and can be a great resource to you. All you have to do is ask. Sometimes it might not seem this way but they really do want you to succeed. Of course this means you have to put up with their peculiarities. In my case, at Fay’s it meant listening to my assistant manager sing the old Marilyn McCoo song, “You Don’t Have To Be a Star (To Be in My Show)” as he signed off on my returns. Not only did he butcher a song that was considered old even then, he always omitted the word “baby” when he sang it. Anyone who is familiar with that song knows how awkward that is. I am guessing that was the product of management sensitivity training.
5. Learn to say no. If you give a manager an inch they will take a mile. Retail is notorious for calling to get you to work a shift on your day off only to send you home early. Fay’s certainly was no exception. This is becoming more common now with some of the computer scheduling software out there which tries to sync up staffing levels to expected customer demand on a more just-in-time basis. If you want to keep your day off you have to say no.
6. Keep it professional when it comes to relationships in the office. I started over the summer and by winter I was dating one of the stock clerks. After that relationship ended the following summer, another stock clerk asked me out and a security guard started hitting on me during shift. I wasn’t alone. Our store was worse than House 51 on Chicago Fire and some workplaces will be like that. Still, no matter what happened outside the store, inside we all had jobs to do. Customers actually depend on you. They don’t care about the argument you had with your boyfriend or girlfriend the night before.
7. Your coworkers will be the best group of strangers you will ever know. I didn’t really know any of my coworkers when I started even though a couple went to my high school and the same was true for the others that cycled in and out during my summers there. We were a diverse group comprised of different ages and talents yet work was the great equalizer. Sure we had to work together but we discovered we enjoyed hanging out together too. Life has taken each of us in wildly different directions but whenever the topic of our summer job comes up, each of us has good memories and definitely some laughter.
What other life lessons did you learn from your summer jobs?
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