It may just seem like a way to earn a few more bucks, but where you start and what you learn at your first job may impact the rest of your working life.

My First Job: The Sweet Taste of Hamburger Helper Set Me Up for Life

My First Job: The Sweet Taste of Hamburger Helper Set Me Up for Life

CEE Standard: Earning Income

Getting a job is a big step for students and should be taken seriously. Talk with your students about all the important lessons they can learn on their first job and how to be the best employee ever.

Everyone remembers their first job, but your students might not understand the hidden benefits of their first gig.“Hi! Would you like to try some Hamburger Helper today?” I remember the first day of my first job like it was yesterday. At 18, I landed a gig as an in-store demonstrator and my job was to prepare food and drink samples and offer them to shoppers. In other words, I was a “free sample girl.”

Sure, it was a step down from the prestigious full-time internship that I had landed the previous summer at a business credit information company. But I knew the job was only temporary, and I had to start somewhere. Looking back, I learned a lot from that humble little job. It has even helped me find workplace success as an adult.

Leveraging Skills to Earn More

When you get a new job (or your first job, for that matter), you’re excited and overjoyed. You often don’t think about the next step or what your future is going to look like.

At first, I obviously learned how to cook better, but I also learned how to set up displays, approach different people, and conduct myself professionally. Basically, I was acting as my own manager, since there wasn’t one in the store to guide me.

I worked for a sales and marketing company that set up different store events, so while there was a manager in the store, he or she wasn’t my actual boss. I communicated with my bosses mostly online and over the phone since they weren’t always in the area.

After a few months, I realized I wanted to earn more. So I applied for a similar position that offered higher pay and more responsibilities.

I got hired to manage a roadshow and host in-store events four days a week to sell products. I had to take inventory on all the products, store them in a storage unit paid for by the company, and handle the entire event from start to finish. Sure, it was a big responsibility for a 19-year-old, but I welcomed it — and the 73 percent pay increase — so that I could gain even more experience. I would have never landed that roadshow position if I didn’t take my first job as a “free sample girl” seriously.

Speak Up and Promote Yourself

As a kid — and even a teen — I used to be very shy. I’m still not super talkative, but I have realized how being super shy held me back in many ways. My first part-time job doing in-store demonstrations allowed me to break out of my shell and speak up more.

Since my job involved approaching people and asking them to try my product, I had no time to worry about rejection or what people thought about me. After a while, I realized that speaking up wasn’t so bad — it’s all about how you carry yourself. You’ll be surprised by how many people actually want to hear what you have to say.

With my newfound confidence, I started speaking up more often in social situations and trying to build connections with people for work.

I landed more internships in college and got hired on-the-spot at a job fair — all because I wasn’t afraid to speak up and promote myself and my skills.

Be Dependable

Finally, my first part-time job taught me how to be dependable. Since I was the only one from my company working in the store and representing certain brands, there were no co-workers to back me up or compensate for any insecurities I had.

When I ran the roadshow, the company was depending on me to arrive on time and do a good job. I take pride in my work, so naturally it felt great to do well on the job. Dependable people are easy to work with and cause less stress for management.

This can often lead to more work, raises, and better opportunities — all of which I could obtain after landing my first post-college job just two months after graduating.

Choose Your First Job Wisely

Everyone wants a fun job, but as a young person, you already have limited work experience, which puts you at a disadvantage. So start off strong and choose a job that will provide you with lifelong skills and abilities that you can use to advance your career in the future.

Check List

  • What are skills you will learn no matter what job you have?
  • Do you feel comfortable telling employers about the skills you have that would make you a good employee?
  • If you haven’t had a job, what other experiences can you draw on to show the skills you have developed? Have you been a student leader or worked as a volunteer?
  • What does being dependable mean in the context of your first job?
  • What strategies do you need to have to establish yourself as a dependable employee?