What did you learn from your first “real” job?

The iconic Olga’s Diner in Evesham, NJ

Delivering papers, cutting grass, washing cars and shoveling snow were all formative jobs of mine and I suspect most would jump to their first job out of college or intern year. Given my engineering degrees, my first “real” job should have been selling apps I developed programming in BASIC with my dad’s state-of-the-art Radio Shack TRS-80 but alas there was not a large market for Pong at the time. My first “real” job was bussing tables at Olga’s Diner where I got that first paystub and the reality of paying taxes hit hard. I learned a lot during that summer and certainly it registered enough “likes” in my daughter’s brain to trigger a quick text from her when she was visiting family. My kids have heard me go on and on about this job and my daughter recently sent me a picture showing the South Jersey icon Olga’s Diner being demolished. The picture made me smile thinking about the lessons I learned from that job.

Honesty. The first day on the job I was offered a deal to sneak tips into the bus pan and the dishwashers would split the take with me 50:50. This was an easy first lesson. Don’t steal.

Punctuality. You don’t show up on time, you don’t get those hours on the paycheck.

Humility. It builds character to be the bottom rung of the restaurant ladder and doesn’t hurt to be forced to change before you walk into the house because of the kitchen smell embedded into your clothes.

Interpersonal Communication. At the end of summer, I had to give my 2 weeks notice so I could return to school. My middle-aged boss with a heavy Greek accent initially refused to accept my resignation. Ultimately he did accept my resignation but I translated his first response to mean that I was a hard worker and my absence would be his loss.

Parenting. My parents had to drop me off and pick me up every day (I was only 15 and biking to the corner of Routes 70 and 73 was not a great idea). They knew the lessons the job would teach me were more valuable than that pine-scented tree hanging on the dash to overcome the South Jersey diner kitchen stink that I reeked of.

Career Planning. I learned about career preferences such as air conditioning and whether I not to continue with the hard work and long hours of the restaurant business.

Pride. It’s a good feeling to tell your friends how hard you worked all day. Even nicer to have your work ethic rewarded by a boss who wanted you to abandon school and bus dishes full time.

Work Ethic. The diner was a frenetic place and every job has got to be done efficiently or the whole process breaks down. No dishes or glasses translate into angry patrons. One work-averse employee hurts everyone.

Learning on the job. Like any job, people may just assume you know the nuances but you’ve got to adapt. I was handed a large, gray bus pan and told to get started; I looked around for a server that already seemed to be angry with me and brought my new gray partner. Once I dealt with every dirty table, I then learned the most important 3 lessons in work life: Keep your head down, mouth shut and always be seen working! I can usually follow two of those three at any given time.

Preparing for a job interview. Clearly, my resume at the time was somewhat thin but got my first experience with interview questions such as “Will you show up on time?” “Do you have a ride?” and “Are you a hard worker?”

Respect for others. Simple courtesies like “please” and “thank you” go a long way. Respect servers at a restaurant… especially before you get your meal!

Common sense. I met hard working people who may not have scored well on standardized tests but had tons of common sense… Don’t scoop ice with a glass, only enter the right side of swinging doors, and reward hard work with a tip when appropriate. I learned nonsmokers looked younger and didn’t cough all day.

Great desserts can follow humble meals. To this day, I have never had better cheesecake than Olga’s Diner!

Pay attention to the new young, unfamiliar face at your factory, hospital, or office; this may be their first “real” job and what are you going to teach them?



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