My first summer job

No one ever forgets their first summer job.

Whether it began in high school or later, that first taste of making your own earned money is a memorable experience.

Graphic from Joshua Awolad
Graphic by Joshua Awolade

Remembering that first summer job can be cringe-worthy, as we remember how we tried maneuvering our way through an unfamiliar work environment while also being under the tutelage of stereotypically scary bosses. They were the first step to our movement into the world of employment.

Amanda Sparling, who recently graduated from the University of Guelph, worked at a local Wendy’s for her first job from grade 11 until high school graduation. Though she had that job seven years ago, it is still an experience that she reflects upon.

“I think because I worked at Wendy’s for two years, it’s easier for me to reflect on that job experience than any of my other ones,” Sparling said.

“I had a lot of good and crazy experiences, so it makes it hard to pretend that it wasn’t part of my life.”

Beginner flubs
Being in a new working environment, it is inevitable that one will make a number of “first day on the job” mistakes.

Alex Lackey, a third-year student at McMaster University, recalled his first day at McDonald’s being less than successful. Overwhelmed by first day jitters, Lackey let his nerves affect his performance.

“I was working the till for the first time, taking the orders of customers and I was getting nervous because it was a fast paced environment, which I wasn’t used to,” Lackey shared. “I was going really slow when I was taking the orders and I may have punched in the wrong cash amount a few times, which upset the customers and my supervisor.”

Inherently shy, Lackey had trouble adjusting to talking with the customers and appearing confident while doing so.

“I stuttered a lot and avoided eye contact,” he said. “Getting out of my own comfort zone was the toughest part of that first job, for sure.”

Sparling had similar experiences as Lackey. Not only did she feel overwhelmed by the demands of customers and the pressure to get the orders done correctly on the till, but also her nerves caused her to accidentally mishandle the food.

“I was in such a rush to get it all done that I actually dropped the burger and fries on the floor after the cook in the back finished making it,” Sparling recalled.

“My manager knew that it was my first day, so he just told me to calm down and to make sure that I never do it again.”

Both Lackey and Sparling agreed there were a number of “rookie” mistakes made on the job during their first two weeks of work, but as they became familiar with the working environment and became comfortable in their job, the mistakes became less frequent and their confidence continued to develop over time.

Sparling and Lackey both recounted many incidents involving rowdy customers, which can be difficult for new, young employees to manage. Lackey recalled working a late night shift and a group of students who had clearly been drinking came in to order food.

“The group was loud and obnoxious, but I ignored it and tried to take their orders quickly,” Lackey said. “Then all of a sudden, one of them started throwing up in the middle of the line.”

After the group was kicked out, Lackey was assigned the unfortunate task of cleaning up the mess.

“Let’s just say, I didn’t think a summer job was worth it at that moment.”

Horrible bosses
As it is in any job, a summer employee will often have to deal with a boss or supervisor who generates a negative aura in the workplace.

Having a supervisor who is strict and often reprimands an employee for their mistakes can make the job difficult to accomplish, especially if they feel constantly scrutinized.

First year York University student Khaled Nabeel had worked in a local clothing store and he was often anxious going to work because of the “negative vibe” he felt from his supervisor.

“My boss was a bit of a perfectionist, so everything in the store had to meet her standards,” Nabeel said. “If she thought me or one of the other employees were just standing around and not being productive or properly engaging with customers, she would get mad at us. I personally didn’t enjoy working there.”

Nabeel also shared that there was an incident where his boss yelled at him for not paying close attention to the needs of a customer in the change rooms. Nabeel said he was so shaken by his boss yelling at him that he contemplated quitting his job. However, he got some perspective on the situation.

“Isn’t that what a summer job is all about? Dealing with aggressive bosses and working a job you don’t really like?” Nabeel said.

“No matter how much I hated the way my boss talked to me and my co-workers, it was just a summer job. It wasn’t my career, so I didn’t take it personally that she didn’t think that I was cut out for that line of work.”

A learning experience
Summer jobs ultimately end when students return to school in September, but the lessons learned from those first brushes of employment exceed those summer months.

Graphic from Joshua Awolade
Graphic by Joshua Awolade

After working at McDonald’s for two years before going off to university, Lackey did not return for employment and instead found work as a page at a library. This change in employment patterns came as a result from his time working at the fast food chain.

“I made good friends working there and acquired many new skills, but it also showed me that I am not comfortable doing such hands-on work,” Lackey said.

“I’d much rather do work where I don’t have to talk to people and be in such a fast-paced workspace.”

Sparling, who also left Wendy’s once she went to university, has had multiple part-time summer jobs that included working as a bartender, waitress and a barista. She has credited her experiences at Wendy’s for helping her send job applications.

“I got really comfortable working with the food and working so closely with people and I really wouldn’t have wanted to ever do a receptionist job for four months,” Sparling said.

“That first summer job was one that had its ups and downs, but it also showed me what I wanted and didn’t want for a job and a career.”

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