By Sarah Marlor
What do dogs, CDs, and Christmas elves all have in common? You’re right! They are all a form of nostalgic entertainment! For me, however, these words bring up specific memories of my interesting history of part-time jobs.
Although you will no longer find ‘Dog Walker’, ‘CD Shop Sales Assistant’ or ‘Christmas Elf’ on my most up-to-date resume, they all played a very important role in setting me up for my current career! This list of diverse, and seemingly ‘lame’ roles, have combined to teach me six key career lessons that I will always carry with me no matter what job I end up doing in the future.
I will start with the punch line here – I am VERY allergic to dogs! Even if I share a large room with a dog and never touch it, I will experience swollen lips, flaming red eyes, and a body covered in hives! In times past, spending moments with a cute, loving, playful companion seemed to take priority over being able to breathe properly. So, what are the lessons here – other than prioritising your basic health and wellbeing needs?
1. It is powerful to know what does not work for you!
When it comes to life decisions, we often receive the advice – “you don’t know unless you try!” In the case of my dog-walking career, I never knew I was highly allergic to pooches until I started smothering my face with their fur. From this, I learned something that has gone on to shape my entire adult life. I avoid a lot of pain and discomfort by removing myself from situations that involve dogs (it is a sad life, I know!) However, I have shifted my preferences and priorities in life to reflect what works best for me!
This is an important approach to utilise in relation to your career. Try things! If it does not suit your passions, your goals, or your personality – it is fine to move on and to try to find something better suited. I am a big believer that it is just as empowering to know what you do not want, as it is to know what you do want. Go for the opportunities that align with your motivations, preferences and values – and not those that suck your energy and give you eczema!
2. Networking is everything!
One thing I quickly learnt during my time spent at the dog park, was that everyone knew everyone! All the dog owners knew the names of the other pups, and they built strong relationships with each other based around a specific shared interest. These puppy-lovers, who initially connected through their adoration of dogs, grew to be friends and support systems to each other outside of the park walls over time.
By surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals, you will find that ‘like attracts like’. A great opportunity for university students to build a network is by joining a club or society on campus. This is a fantastic way to connect with industry professionals and fellow passionate students! You never know where a loose tie might lead you…
Check out Activate UTS for some inspiration.
CD Shop Sales Assistant
If you have ever had the pleasure of shopping at a CD store – spending hours listening to your favourite tracks on the communal headphones – I am sure you can imagine how fun it was to work there. On the flip side, perhaps you don’t know what a compact disc is – if so, that is so sad to hear! Your homework is to raid your parents CD collection! I did not realise at the time, but all those hours spent listening to tunes, recommending albums, and analysing the latest pop melodies was actually time spent adding useful notches to my career belt.
3. Keep up or get left behind!
I can bet my Spotify password that some of you have never listened to a CD before – this is because in the early 2000’s things started to shift in the industry when iPod’s and mp3’s were becoming more popular. We continue to see this space evolve, as we now jam to our favourite tunes via steaming services like Apple Music.
Things change. Constantly. Although I am still sucker for listening CDS, and even vinyl records, I quickly realised that if we do not commit to ongoing growth and development we might get left behind. Sadly, the little CD shop I worked at closed down because they were not able to adapt to the changing market around them.
In terms of your own career, it is important to know and embrace the fact that the future of work is uncertain, and the best way to future-proof yourself is to be open to upskilling and being flexible. Change with the change. Take opportunities. Learn. Step out of your comfort zone.
You do not want to be a scratched CD and the bottom of the junk draw.
4. Learn to have a conversation… with anyone
‘Strong communication skills required’, said every job ad ever! I cannot think of a single job that does not require you to communicate in some capacity. Perhaps you will be selling to a client, calming a distressed patient, or having a meeting with your boss … all of these require us to be crystal-clear communicators.
During my time at the CD store, I found myself having a very broad range of conversations. One minute I would be chatting to a school kid who wanted to buy their friend a cool birthday present, and the next moment I would be chatting to a retired punk who would reminisce about his memories in the mosh pit. I am sure you can imagine, I really had to adapt my style, tone, and body language with each customer. This ultimately gave me the confidence to build meaningful and strong bonds with the vast range of people I continue to encounter in my current career.
Once you get to know me, you will learn that I have an obscure media-viewing pattern and taste. I rarely watch anything that is not ‘educational’ (clearly, I am a hoot). However, for the last 15 Decembers of my life, I have fixated my eyes on the big screen to indulge in Will Farrell’s masterpiece (?) – ‘Elf’.
I took this fascination with the film to another level when I dove into the role of Christmas Elf at my local shopping centre about ten years ago. I desperately wanted to experience the magic I had been watching in the movie, but instead I learnt two major career lessons.
5. Sometimes you just have to figure it out
I can confirm that ‘Elf’ did not paint an accurate depiction of the role I took on at my local shopping centre. I did not expect to be juggling a screaming child, a disappointed parent, a broken camera, and an exhausted Santa – all at once. This role was high pressure and fast paced!
I assumed I would be taking snaps of kids on Santa’s lap – I did not sign up to clean children’s vomit off the fake snow floor! It was in the midst of this mess that I had to step up, and figure it out! As the only elf on site during the puking-child-incident, I had to quickly clean the floor, keep other patrons from slipping, make sure that the line of customers still flowed, and that the unwell child was happy with their final photograph. This incident saw me calling cleaning facilities, mediating with the parents, and using a microphone to provide updates to the growing cue of excited children! It was here that I learnt the power of using my initiative, and being able to juggle multiple (interesting) tasks at once. That being said, you will not find me in the North Pole this festive season.
6. Do not take yourself too seriously
Dressed in head-to-toe red sequins definitely taught me a thing or two about festive cheer. I also learned that you cannot always control the things around you, but you always have control of how you respond.
Sure, I did not necessarily want to have candy canes in my hair, but it was a powerful experience in surrendering to a temporary situation and having a laugh! Yes, there are moments in life and work that do need to be taken seriously, however, if things do not go the way you had planned – have a giggle. You will find that things do not seem as stressful, and that life is not as dull. For me, I now have some charming pictures of me as an elf that I will cherish as I grow old.
I used to spend all my time at my ‘lame’ part-time jobs thinking “Ahhh, why am I here? This won’t matter when I am working in HR!” How wrong I was! These moments made me who I am today, and taught me a long list of transferable skills that I tap in to frequently.
Do me a favour! Do not palm your part-time jobs off as a waste of time: you are learning more than you might first realise, and you may just score a sparkly hat in the process!
Sarah is a driven HR practitioner with employment experience spanning across talent acquisition, on-boarding, customer service and career advisor roles, so it is fair to say that people are her thing! With a bursting enthusiasm for helping individuals work towards being their best selves, Sarah brings a passionate vibrancy to her current role as a Recruitment Advisor at the University of Technology Sydney.
Featured image courtesy of Unsplash