We were chatting in the office recently (I know, us, chatting, who’d have thought it?!) The topic of discussion was our first jobs and how much they shaped the work ethic and skill sets we’ve subsequently harnessed in our careers, whether or not we realised it at the time.
Now at this point many people might be reflecting on their paper round, adamant that there was nothing positive to be gleaned from those early starts, drizzly mornings and dogs chomping at the letter boxes. But think a little harder and surely the pennies were appreciated, however small the weekly wage. And despite willing the alarm clock to allow you a lie in, or praying for the weather to ease up so you didn’t get drenched, you knew you had a job to do, so you got on and did it to avoid letting anyone down.
Your first job perhaps teaches you more than you think.
Thankfully, mine didn’t involve getting up at the crack of dawn, although mornings are now one of my favourite times of the day.
I worked in a florist in the centre of Huddersfield. I think I was about 14 at the time, and I earned a ‘whopping’ £2.50 an hour. At the end of every Saturday shift, I’d spent my money on clothes before it was time for the bus home. But I didn’t care.
The job gave me a sense of independence – the notion that I had worked hard to treat myself to something without relying on handouts from my parents. And whilst over the years new clothes are further down the pecking order when pay day comes around, I think the sooner you earn your own wage, the sooner you appreciate the value of money. That’s why we’ve always paid the work experience students that come through our doors, whether or not they thought the internship was voluntary.
I went into that job doing everything from keeping the shop neat and tidy, to handling the till, taking bouquet orders and, eventually, making up the flowers myself. From hand-tied bunches to wedding button holes, I was soon able to craft something beautiful to meet a customer’s very specific requests. The ‘raw ingredients’ were standing right before me, just like a repertoire of words might be there for the taking in my job today. But success lay in being able to pull everything together, professionally and without a single flaw.
Looking back now I was a sponge for learning. I learned how to take a ‘brief’, the importance of detail, and what it meant to fulfil a customer’s requirements – how relevant these skills are in my current role!
So much of the job relied on effective communication too. One minute I was getting excited when the mother of the bride collected the flowers for her daughter’s big day, and the next I was listening to the heartbreak of a son or daughter planning the funeral flowers for their late parent. I was a little like a chameleon, adapting to the situation. I may not stand among flora and fauna anymore, but that adaptability couldn’t be more important when switching between client, journalist and supplier conversations in life at Scriba.
Am I better at PR because I know whether bear grass or eucalyptus leaves are the perfect bouquet filler? No. But I genuinely believe this job gave me a great start to my working life. The fact that I can still remember those Saturdays so clearly, surely speaks volumes.
That’s why I’ve got so much admiration for young people who pick up the phone and ask us to help them enhance their CV with an internship. They might not work in PR in five, ten or fifteen years’ time, but I bet they’ll learn a lot about themselves, and the world of work, in the process!
My employer also owned an ice cream van which I worked in from time to time. If that taught me anything, it’s that a 99 can stop a child’s tantrum in about three seconds. I haven’t had to put that skill to use just yet…