Last month, I blogged about how the concept of holding multiple jobs within a relatively short time span—say a decade—can lead some hiring managers and HR personnel to see applicants as “job hoppers.”
I find this labeling is often premature and short-sighted. A resume detailing more than 3 employers over a ten-year span isn’t necessarily a sign that a candidate lacks dedication or commitment, especially in this job climate.
I assert that even the most unsuspecting jobs can gift us with our greatest professional experience. The most valuable business lessons I’ve learned over the years came from the unlikeliest of places while performing some of the least glamorous aspects of my job.
Today, I take these lessons with me to every assignment whether staff or freelance. To demonstrate this idea, let’s take a closer look at some of the jobs I’ve held and what lesson I walked away valuing the most.
1) Associate Editor
A little goes a long way
Editorial and production departments are constantly locking horns in the world of publishing, but they don’t have to. I learned to love that mad dash to pub dates because that’s when I got to interact with other departments the most. I made sure to keep the art, production, sales, proofreading and online departments in the loop before all hell broke loose and we were working late into the wee hours to make our deadlines.
More importantly, my co-workers didn’t fret seeing me appear around their cubicle corners because I made an effort to pop around even when all was well. I wasn’t everyone’s best friend, but I learned to relate to other people’s schedules and needs, so that when I did find myself needing a little help to get my proofs through production, designers were willing to go that extra mile. A little bit of goodwill goes a long way when you’re working in a stressful environment that runs on a monthly cycle of crazy.
2) Library Page
Let the customer see you try
Any position dealing with the public on a regular basis can be stressful no matter how prepared you are. When people want answers, the last thing they want to hear is excuses. Which is why although my high school after-school gig wasn’t the greatest job in the world, it taught me an important lesson.
Patrons and customers don’t necessarily mind when you don’t have all the answers to their questions or problems. What they care about most is whether you make an effort to find those answers. If you don’t know the answer, offer to find it for them. It’s as simple as that.
Offering a connection to another source who can give the customer what they need sends the message that you see the patron as a human being, not just a “$” sign. In the end, customers—and people in general—just want to feel valued. So even if you ultimately can’t find the answer to their most difficult and urgent question, they’ll appreciate that you at least made an effort.
3) Editorial Assistant
Find your buoy in the storm
My first professional position out of college involved working for a book publisher that divided the editorial department into teams. Most teams included 7-9 editors including a manager and assistant. My team had 21. Yes, 21 editors. I was the EA for the largest group of copy editors, development editors and project editors in the company. And how did I stay in control of this massive responsibility? Organization.
A place for everything and everything in its place. I developed an SOP and filing system envied by everyone in the company and I still use that label maker to this day. I know organization won’t solve all of your problems, but it can be your buoy in a storm of chaos. I discovered how a clearly developed system keeps you in a position to tackle projects far grander than you ever thought possible.
There’s no substitute for a great team
You hear about the value of teamwork all the time, but anyone who’s truly experienced working on a great team knows it can make even the worst job 1000x more bear-
able. Believe it or not, I learned this important lesson while working for a local chain restaurant in my college town of Frankfort, KY.
I had the good fortune to find myself on a team of wonderful people who genuinely enjoyed each others’ company. Our restaurant staff took pride in helping each other. Everyone from the cooks to the dishwashers to the waitstaff did their part to run a smooth ship. And when things were slow, we enjoyed a good laugh or water fight for fun. Sure, every team may have a Wally or two or may be managed by a Pointy-haired Boss, but a strong team that creates a sense of inclusion and support often maintains high morale and a pleasant working environment, even during tough times.
5) Staff Writer
Put your best foot forward, even if you think no one’s watching
It’s easy to succumb to feelings of isolation when working in an ongoing freelance position. You cover your beat, you ask questions if you need clarification and you hand in your assignments on time. You may not hear from your editor or fellow freelance staff members unless there’s a problem or shakeup at HQ. But that’s no reason to slack off or turn in sloppy work because you think no one is watching. Why? Because someone is always watching.
I was recently assigned an ongoing gig to judge contestants in Indiana’s only singer-songwriter competition, an acoustic “battle of the bands.” Why did I get the assignment? According to our editor-in-chief, my talent and expertise won me the spot. In his words: “You are a very talented writer and I enjoy reading your work.” Well, color me bashful.
So here I am, seven weeks into the Acoustic Live Challenge. Yes, it’s time consuming and contestants’ family members give you dirty looks, but I think it’s worth it. I can’t count the number of contacts, story ideas and remarkable talent I’ve uncovered since I began judging the event. It goes to show you that opportunities can present themselves at any time, even when you think no one is watching.
This is just a sample of the invaluable business lessons I’ve learned over my short time in the job market. Some of these positions appear on my CV, others do not. But when a company or client interviews a prospective candidate, it’s best to remember that each new hire brings much more to the table than the jobs listed on their resume.
What major lessons have you learned from the unlikeliest of jobs?
What soft skills have helped your freelance business the most?