In a previous post I discussed how I managed to pay off $15k in student loans in just 15 months. Spoiler alert: I worked 3 different jobs for over a year, while living at home with my parents.
While I’ve said that I don’t want to repeat this experience (seriously, I had no life), I am really happy that I did it. Mostly because I was able to prove to myself that I could do it in the first place, but also because I learned an incredible amount from each of the jobs I was working, which has helped me prepare for the real world more than any of my years at school ever could.
The three jobs I worked were: a full time research assistant position at a biotech company, a part time sales associate at Michael Kors, and a Teaching Assistant for a general chemistry lab at URI. I honestly think that working in a variety of industries can teach you so much about business models at different companies, how they function, and why they are successful (or not successful). So if you ever find yourself working retail for a season or two when you majored in Biology, don’t feel discouraged, just focus on absorbing and learning what you can while you can.
What I learned as a Research Assistant
If you start at the most basic level, working in an office taught me how to function in an office. I know this sounds like something that should be intuitive, but you’d be surprised at how many people I’ve come across who don’t get it. I learned how to write a clear, concise email that included all the necessary information and action items it needed. I learned how to search for, interpret and present data to people who were not in fact the ones teaching me how to do so (goodbye, college). I learned what was allowed, and what wasn’t allowed in my office and also the effect that these rules had on the staff. For example, I was allowed to work from 8-4, 9-5, or 10-6, based on my preference and schedule. Obviously employees liked this because a flexible schedule is hard to come by in a “9-5” job. But I also learned that my so called “horizontal filing system”, AKA papers covering every square inch of my desk, gave the impression that I was messy and unorganized. Go figure.
I also learned a lot about corporate culture, project management, and management in general. Just by listening to my coworkers I could tell what policies didn’t work as intended, what bottlenecks stressed them out, and what small kinks in the system caused massive mistakes down the line. This was a small company with small company growing pains, and I could see all of them. This might seem like stuff that was over my head as a Research Assistant, and it was. But I thought it was important to take a glimpse inside the matrix to see what worked, what didn’t, and think about how I would fix it. That’s the stuff that I really like doing, so even though it wasn’t my job, I was grateful to get the opportunity to be exposed to it. It’s definitely something that will come in handy down the line in my career, whether I’m managing someone else’s company or my own.
What I learned as a Sales Associate
Working at Michael Kors was much different than working at a small biotech, for more than the obvious reason. Michael Kors is an established and thriving large corporation. They have their shit together. This was basically a glimpse into what a company looks like after surviving its growing pains and establishing a fully functioning adult life (trust me, it’s harder than it sounds). If the biotech was going through puberty, then Michael Kors was the Martha Stewart next door with an established career, happy marriage, 2.5 kids and a goldendoodle running around inside the picket fence.
There was an established interview process, there were inspirational training videos and group exercises, there was an acronym selling model based on the designers name. The team there are some of the best bosses and coworkers I’ve ever had, and it’s because they loved the company. Why did they love it so much? Aside from the employee discount, Michael Kors had also made it impossible for their employees to be unsuccessful unless they wanted to be. Not knowing what to do next is not a thing that happened while I was at work. They taught everyone about company culture, procedures, and selling strategies that fit in with these values. They didn’t want you to be sales-y and pushy, just friendly and helpful. This was also huge because I got to learn how to sell without selling; definitely a useful skill.
Some employees left, but it was usually because they had moved on to an office job, or simply lost interest in selling (no matter how fun it is, sales is also exhausting). The point is you could see all the cogs in the machine working, and no one complained about ineffective standard procedures or bottlenecks in the system. This was a happy workplace and I got to learn what it took to make it that way; another great experience to be put to use later in my career.
What I learned as a Teaching Assistant
Being a teaching assistant was a different experience from my other two jobs, simply because I wasn’t a part of a group or team working together to accomplish something. Instead I was partnered with one other person and we were in charge of teaching a classroom how to oxidize zinc. It was similar to the tutoring I had done in college, but obviously slightly more formal and with more students at any given time…and with chemicals. I had to be extremely prepared and organized for each lab, because I was the leader. I gave introductory lectures to that day’s experiment before we started, then I supervised and answered any questions the students had in a way that made sense to freshman in college. I learned how to be in charge and improved my public speaking skills (something I loathe with a passion) and my communication skills. It’s one thing to communicate with other experts in the field; it’s another to communicate with someone who has never been exposed to the subject matter before. A part of me really likes learning and understanding and then relaying that information to others, and so practicing enough to feel comfortable speaking to a classroom full of people was a great experience and definitely something I will have to repeat in the future.
What about you? What jobs have you had and what were you able to learn from them? Let me know in the comments!