I decided to celebrate Labor Day by looking back at some of the “oddest” jobs I’ve had over the years. I’ve been an apple salesperson, a cement hauler, a car wash “technician,” and a “runner” for a television station during a nationally televised basketball game. None of these positions made me rich, but as my friends will tell you, they’ve provided me with a lifetime of entertaining stories. But even beyond the comedic value, they also taught me a lot about business, being a good employee, and the importance of fitting in with your coworkers. So let’s take a look at some of my odd jobs and what I was able to take away from them.
My first official job was selling apples in front of my grandmother’s house. I grew up on a small apple farm in Pennsylvania and, as a budding entrepreneur at the age of 10, I asked my grandmother if I could pick and sell some apples. Not only did she agree to my first official business plan, she also let me keep 100% of the profits. Key takeaways: The apple stand drove home the importance of location, effective signage, and merchandising. The “cute factor” of being 10 and selling apples alongside the road didn’t hurt my business either.
From there, I moved on to manual labor. This job was without a doubt the most physically demanding I’ve had thus far. It was also the creepiest. When I was 15, I was hired by a tombstone company to haul wheel barrels full of cement from the cement truck to the grave site. Key takeaways: 1) Dress for the occasion–I showed up dressed to impress not knowing that I was going to be hauling cement all day in 90+ degree temperature; as much as I hate to admit it, sometimes dressing up for your first day of work isn’t such a good idea. Before you start a new job, have a pretty good idea of what you’ll be expected to wear; and 2) I also learned that it takes a lot of cement to create a foundation for a tombstone.
Up next, my shortest stint. When I was in college, I was looking for a summer job to bring in a little cash (who isn’t?) I wound up working in quality control for an aerosol can manufacturer. Wanting to make a great first impression, I meticulously scanned cans for an 8 hour shift until, by the time I was finished, the cans all looked the same. And to make matters worse, when I got up to leave I noticed the warehouse was full of more cans that needed to be inspected. That put me over the edge. I realized I couldn’t go back. I called to let them know that Day One was also my last. Key takeaway: the importance of pacing yourself. I was trying to push through stacks and stacks of cans, but finishing the task was impossible. I should have spent more time taking periodic breaks but instead, I drove myself out of a job. That would have been one of the only times taking a smoke break would have paid off. Too bad I wasn’t a smoker.
From there, I tried my hand at the car wash business. And I must admit, this was probably the best fit for me during my teen years. It didn’t hurt that one of my best friends, Bryan, worked with me at the car wash for part of two summers. Key takeaway: the importance of fitting in. Many of the people who worked there had been doing so for years. I was just passing through until I went back to college. I made a point of hanging out in the background until I got a feel for the way things operated. The crew slowly opened up to us, and before you knew it, Bryan and I were insiders. Plus, I learned how to detail a car with the best of them.
My coolest odd job was the time I worked as a runner for a major television station during a broadcast of a basketball game between the University of North Carolina and the University of Connecticut. Long story short, television stations often hire locals to do basic tasks during the broadcast. It just so happened that a guy I went to high school with was an executive producer for the station so, in addition to having a chance to catch up with him, I also got a chance to sit in the production trailer during the broadcast. And, as if that wasn’t enough, I also got to wear a headset and have my very own clipboard. My job was to be the backup to the producer in New York by keeping track of trends during the game, timeouts, etc. Key takeaway: the importance of being in the right place at the right time. Had I not connected with my buddy while he was in town, I never would have had a chance to see a behind the scenes look at how a nationally televised basketball game is produced. And I definitely wouldn’t have had a chance to wear a cool headset or carry a clipboard.
Often the early jobs we held helped form the workers we are today. Think back to some of the jobs you’ve had over the years: If the trip down memory lane isn’t enough, I think you’ll find any number of key takeaways you learned that you can, or do, apply to your current job. And, if you ever need any help with anything from selling apples to hauling cement, you know where to find me.
Post a comment about some of your favorite odd jobs.
Shawn Graham is an Associate Director with the MBA Career Management Center at UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and author of Courting Your Career: Match Yourself with the Perfect Job (courtingyourcareer.wordpress.com).