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‘Know Your Worth!’: First Job Teachings from 8 Successful Women

Your first job can teach you a lot about yourself. For most people, their first job can be an opportunity to learn more about the type of professional they want to be. For others, it is a way to become more independent, open-minded or simply a chance to have fun!

The most crucial lesson is to try to enjoy the opportunities that come your way and learn from experiences that don’t turn out to be completely fulfilling. From stories about making long-lasting friends to incompetent bosses, this collection of tales is an inspiring and humorous demonstration of first job experiences from successful women of all ages.

Sharon, 46

“I had a part-time job working for Gap Kids when I was a university student. It was really fun working with a range of different people (some of which are still friends today!) and their training really put the customers first. I learnt so much about good service and what that looks like but I also learnt about business and how to sell and how to fold a jumper with exact precision (aka using a folding board). It was a great time of life and prepared me for working in the workplace for future roles.”

Miya, 21

“I worked at Kumon during sixth form. I applied to be an English tutor but got put on a maths desk where 12-year-olds were better at the work than me – my boss called me a ‘stupid little girl’ for not understanding a role I didn’t apply for! She also drove a fancy car and made us carry her bags into the learning centre without any extra pay. She really made me lose a lot of self-esteem but luckily I received great A levels and got into university. I know now never to settle for a boss like that and call them out on their behaviour. Know your worth!”

Sophia, 28

“I was 14 when I got my first real job that wasn’t babysitting or weeding for my parents. It was a summer work program for the Forest Service through an organisation called J-Tec. I was on a work crew with other high-school-aged kids, and we did everything from trail clearing to building and painting fences to planting trees. It was awesome and I really enjoyed it – but I spent the entire first week in an absolute panic. I was the youngest person on the crew and was so scared of messing it up or of someone being mean to me. I couldn’t sleep for days, and cried for hours in the evenings, dreading the next day. And then… I got over it. I realized that the other kids weren’t going to be mean to me (in fact, we got along pretty well), and the work wasn’t beyond my abilities.”

“Now it is one of my fondest memories of my teen years. I reminisce on the simplicity of that work, and how nice it was to take off into the mountains, do some heavy labour, and then return home tired and satisfied. I loved sitting in the shade of a big tree during lunch break and chatting with my friends. I’m glad I stuck it out for the week where I thought I wouldn’t make it.”

Jessica, 32

“When I was 10 years old I did some babysitting. I made £2-£5 an hour. That was the norm where I lived in the 90s. It was exhausting. I had CPR training, a babysitting course, and did leadership training at the local town hall which cost £2 an hour. My next-door neighbour mowed lawns for £8 with zero training, and no (real) responsibility. I learnt to take the opportunities that are given to me and allowed every job to be a new learning experience.”

Marta, 50

“My first job was a summer internship at CEPSA (a Spanish multinational oil and petroleum company). I was in the aviation department covering for someone who went away on maternity leave the day before I arrived. In that year, there was another oil crisis where you had to manually change the price of the kerosene for every air company by airport. I learned two things: I still remember the three-letter code of almost every airport and that my boss wasn’t aware the person I was filling had started her maternity leave 8 weeks before he asked me who I was. Funnily enough, when they offered me a full-time contract afterwards, I didn’t sign. Sometimes I wonder if my boss has realised I never went back.”

Maggie, 27

“I was 19 when I got my first job as a laboratory analyst. The job itself was technically challenging but I was incredibly underpaid. I loved my co-workers which made it very hard to leave. The amount of flirting I received from married men was surprisingly high though.”

Vicki, 51

“My first job was in the accessories department of Top Shop’s Buying Office, above the flagship store at Oxford Circus. I had just finished my A levels, aged 18/19 and was proud and excited to have broken into the industry when most of my mates had shop jobs in their gap years. We could smoke at our desks and had lunchtime drinks in trendy bars. However, it was not glamorous and most people were shallow or pretentious. The bosses were mean and the middle management routinely scapegoated the junior staff after screwing up on a comedown. I decided that the fashion industry was not for me and decided to go to university after all.”

Amal-Lee, 50

“My first job outside of academia was in the civil service environment department. Having just completed my PhD, where I’d had to write in a very detailed style, I was tasked with drafting a ministerial briefing. So, putting all my recently acquired knowledge to work, I produced several pages of very technical detail. I emailed it, feeling quite pleased with myself for applying my technical knowledge, only to realise it had to be completely rewritten by someone else into a very brief 2 pages of bullet points setting out the policy issue in very broad terms. It was quite a shock and I had to relearn my writing style from an academic one to a very pithy policy style. This was a good lesson and has helped me understand the importance of understanding your audience when applying different styles of communication.”

Words by: Pheonix Hamilton-Palmer

Edited by: Olivia Davies

Hi! I'm a English and Comparative Literature undergraduate committed to representing the perspectives of marginalised communities and women of colour. My main areas of interest include body image, self confidence, well-being, literature reviews, politics and entertainment. The majority of my pieces are written via an intersectional feminist approach, raising concerns that specifically focus on consequences for ethnic minorities. My work aims to use my own privileged position, as an educated student, to improve the portrayal of Minority communities in the media and create a safe space for women of colour to contribute experiences.
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