Working in PR is like being a hair stylist: You can either do it, or you can’t. Landing anywhere in between just creates bad results for the client.
However, in every profession there are things you can learn and skills you can perfect to make you better at whatever you do—to bring out your natural skill, so to speak.
You can obtain many of these skills while working jobs you never thought would matter. These are the three jobs that everyone should experience at least once in life:
I was a spry 17-year-old when I landed what I thought would be a cushy job as an executive assistant. As a senior in high school I had class until noon, which meant I worked from 12:30 p.m.-5 p.m. every day, accruing vacation time and even starting my first IRA. My goal was to get an easy, well-paying job to save money for college.
Little did I know it would become my first PR job. It taught me essential office-navigation skills I would never forget:
Computer skills: I was already pretty computer savvy, but I had no concept of how to use Outlook and other common office software in a formal setting. Learning how to compose a professional email/letter/memo was invaluable.
Detailed, organized note taking: Well-written notes will save the day on more than one occasion during your career. They’re tedious, but well worth the time. Plus, people will think you’re super organized-even if you’re not.
The ability to navigate office politics: No matter what industry you work in, politics are always involved. The sooner you learn to navigate them successfully, the better off you’ll be. Fortunately, if you mess up when you’re young, it doesn’t matter nearly as much as when you’re older.
Basic event planning: Whether it’s planning luncheons for all-day meetings, organizing a retirement party for Harry, or getting ready for the corporate retreat, knowing how to organize people, venues and vendors helps develop multitasking skills. It also forces you to be creative and sensible at the same time.
Mental stamina: While I had worked for some time before I obtained this job, this was the first job that required critical thinking and problem-solving skills. I was tired in a way I had never been before, which was great preparation for working in a profession like PR that requires serious mental muscle.
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Like every teenage girl, I dreamt of working at the cool store in the mall. I got a job at my establishment of choice after the first interview, thanks to my previous experience that required professionalism. Plus, I was a cute 18-year-old girl.
The store sold high-end club gear, hip-hop clothing and skateboard apparel, and was packed every Saturday afternoon with the “unreported income” crowd looking for something to wear out that night. I was the go-to girl to help them spend their money.
I picked up some valuable skills along the way:
Customer service: People are picky when it comes to clothes—especially expensive clothes—and want something that differentiates them from everyone else. What’s more, they want you to tell them how good they look with sincerity and a smile, even if you’ve had to haul hot pants and tube tops back and forth for two hours. No matter what profession you work in, it’s all about what the customer wants.
Merchandising: Like PR, retail is all about appearances, and merchandising is about appearance perfection. Your display is what gets customers in the door. Consistency, quality and curb appeal are key to achieving this goal no matter what industry you work in.
The ability to spot people who talk the talk but don‘ t walk the walk: In every profession, there is always the guy who walks through the door like he owns the place. He bosses employees around, makes unrealistic demands, and flashes a wad of cash. But his wad of cash is really a $50 bill wrapped around a bunch of $1 bills and some coupons.
You will encounter this person in any field, and the sooner you figure out how to politely bring him down to earth before the employees chase him out the door, the better.
It’s important not to waste valuable time and resources on clients or customers who are never going to pull the trigger. But don’t forget: The customer is always right (and has access to a variety of Internet pages where he can ruin your company’s reputation). So, tread lightly and distract him with your blinding smile while you come up with a legitimate excuse for why you just can’t squeeze in a meeting.
3. Waiting tables
Waiting tables is the job I thank God for every day. While it wasn’t my favorite job, I consider going back to it every now and then when my stress level enters the red zone. (But then I remember being on my feet for hours and hanging out in a hot kitchen isn’t really my bag.)
If you only have one of the three jobs discussed here, waiting tables is the one you need. While there are only two main reasons, they’re big ones that will serve you well for the rest of your life:
Customer service on steroids: Thank goodness for the customer service skills I picked up in my previous jobs, because waiting tables requires all those people-pleasing, quick-thinking skills times 10.
I’m often the person who takes the clients no one else is able to please. People often ask, “How on Earth did you handle this?” My response is always the same: “I waited tables. I’m used to being treated terribly.”
Waiting tables requires you to make the customer happy no matter what, or you don’t get paid. I enjoy a challenge, so my goal was to make that ultra-crabby hater smile. I paid attention and figured out the tiniest things that would make the biggest impact. It’s that level of attention to detail that makes the unhappiest customer your biggest fan.
How to be quick and calm: Waiting tables is a fast-paced profession, which is great training for the business world. There were often times when I received multiple tables at once—all with dietary restrictions, babies, older people and orders for hot tea. And they all wanted immediate service.
The ability to think, move and react quickly with a calm, professional and positive disposition was crucial in these situations. Perfecting this skill will serve you well throughout your career.