Tuesday, 9 December 2014

What makes a good job?


In the months since I've been back in my home town since graduating/being dragged kicking and screaming from uni, I've had three jobs. I remember back in my first year of uni when I refused to find one as I was determined to make the most of my time as a Fresher, and so what if that meant I was surviving solely on the little allowance my parents sent me each week – and then as the weeks went on, my overdraft...?
Then when second year came around and the reality of the necessity of money had properly sunk in, I quickly snapped up two jobs in September; one was every weekend, one most week nights. Friday night finishing work at 3/4am then starting work at 9am on Saturday morning was always grim, also I missed my weekends after a while, so I stuck with the week night front of house gig for a few more months. I found my beloved cinema job towards the end of second year, and was there for over a year. Summer of third year, I took on another job at a beaut shop in town, and I'm still upset that I had to leave to come home. Luckily I have a few shifts at one of their sister stores in Brighton this month to look forward to...

Anyway, my work experience at uni – and before it, at the shitty racist Italian restaurant for £3.20 an hour and then at my good friend's beauty cutie boutique – taught me many things. My work experiences after uni are teaching me a million things a day, too.

Contracts are important. I've been screwed over by many pieces of paper in the past. It's fortunate that my dad is a little more than literate when it comes to important paperwork. He likes looking over things for me. I've recently been royally effed by a supposed contractual agreement to forfeit nearly three days' worth of wages from a job because I left before I'd worked six months in that (godforsaken hell hole of a) place – I've missed out on approximately £160 purely because I couldn't bear to be there longer than six weeks. I know £160 may just be a small price to pay in the grand scheme of things, but it's still money I could be putting towards a future. A future plan that I do not have. This is a lesson learned.

You should know what you're doing. Starting a new job often feels like being thrown in the deep end of that metaphorical pool – I personally hate the first couple of weeks on some level, because even though it's exciting as can be and a new challenge etc., I'm already wanting to be perfect at every single thing I have to do.
Now this should go without saying, but... It helps to be properly trained. At my previous job I was never properly trained, never talked through rules and policies, never fully informed. I never walked onto the floor with much confidence and in my fifth week I was still struggling to make the most commonplace of orders.
At my new place of work, I got trained in my first two shifts by a Maestro, an employee who is specially trained and assessed to teach newbies. I made every drink in the book, twice, and was congratulated on each one. By the end of the first two days, I was serving every drink in the book with at least 72% confidence.

A manager makes it. Example A: The coffee shop chain I joined as my first job post-grad was rather horrific work, and a big contributing bummer would have been my poor timing – the manager of this franchise, the one who interviewed me and processed my details, left as I arrived. She gave one day's notice, and that day was my first day, and she was covering in another branch that day. Bad day. So for the entirety of my time there I was not managed at all. We were a group of baristas (notice how I say 'group' and not 'team') all on the same level, with nobody being paid to be in charge. Eventually an assistant manager from another store was brought in and due to start after his annual leave was over – but I'd left by then.
Our area manager was a character most feared. The news that she was due to appear one day to do staff reviews or just check up on us meant we'd be spending the day cleaning, tidying and panicking more than serving customers. Her presence was like an icy chill that swept through the cafe and down the high street – and it didn't help that her other half was an assistant behind the bar so she had access to gossip and supposed faults in her employees.

Example B: I've been in my new position, at another coffee shop chain that I've always loved, for three weeks now and it's already better by a few million miles. I have the same job title, but it could not be more different.
When I applied, the manager of the branch gave a thorough interview and explained everything there was to know about the job; the harder tasks, the cheeky benefits, and where it could lead. Sometimes you get a good feeling about someone when you meet them, a good energy draws you in and fills you with confidence instantly. You can tell when someone is a good manager, and when they are frank and relaxed on the surface but they really properly care. I met the area manager at this job just a week after joining – Northern, hilarious, casual yet caring. I helped her take a dozen pizzas out of an oven and load tables with crates of beer for the staff social, and we bonded instantly (at least I'm absolutely positive we did).
My managers at the cinema were a bunch of delights. Each of them beautifully unique, and hilarious (whether unashamedly deliberately or completely unintentionally). One manager would come in every once in a while armed with an armful of chocolate treats for us bar minions. Another let me play my classic retro rock playlist over the speakers. My favourite manager was the one I'd have endless conversations with that consisted of ninety percent Community quotes, ten percent depressed yet hysterical ponderings about life and love. My manager at the shop last summer was chilled and friendly as can be, we made instant coffee and had heart-to-hearts between serving customers.
So my current manager insists I come to staff socials, makes shameless puns, explains everything to me and ensures I'm happy at all times. At my shift a couple of days ago he took me aside and basically told me repeatedly how well I was doing and how chuffed he is. I needed that. Also, hugs from managers are not out of the question. If anything, they are a goal to be achieved and a relationship level most coveted.

Smile, damnit. A good little expression I came across recently (in italics against a cloudy backdrop, very much a 'share me on Facebook, tag friends' monstrosity) was 'Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.' This cheesy little string of words pretty much describes my constant mentality when it comes to customer service. For some customers that cuppa you make them, the extra stamp on their loyalty card you give them or the free box of popcorn you shoot their way will be the highlight of their day. They could be coming to or from a terrible place and a tragic situation. I wrote a blog post a year or so ago about Mrs Clark, and her casually telling me over the bar at the cinema that her husband was dying of cancer. She was happy as anything that night, smartly dressed and very... Together. Excited to see a film, to spend time with friends and maybe to get a break from some sad realities. I still think about her. I hope my kind words made a difference to her day.
Then again, it's not just about being considerate all the time – sometimes you just have to take down the worst ones with some good humour. 'Kill them with kindness', my parents would say. If you can sense after just the brief over-the-counter chat that they're gunning for a spat, you flip it on its head and really heap on the sweet talk. Knock the wind out of their sails. Offer them every sweet cheeky extra you possibly can; ask how their day is going; compliment their outfit or accessories, preferably something specific – I usually go for jewellery, it's a fail-safe option, people love chattering away about their personal knick-knack keepsakes. Maybe they'll walk out of the shop feeling acutely embarrassed of their behaviour and demeanour thus far that day – or suddenly their outlook becomes inexplicably positive and they're wondering what the matter ever was... Who knows? It never hurts to be gracious and friendly.

Take note of feelings. If you're counting down the minutes until you can run out the door at the end of your shift, something must be wrong. Fair enough if you've been battling a beastly hangover all day long, or you're in a hurry to head home and watch Strictly, or if those customers didn't appreciate your charming chatter as you packed their bags – but if it's every day, if the countdown starts at 9:01am, you could do with a change. The best shifts are the ones when your manager turns to you and says 'Why are you still here? You finished twenty minutes ago, silly!'
If you have two days off in a row, but still you're filled with dread every minute because you will be back at work in two days' time... That's not good, either.

Think ahead. Will this job help you in the future? Is it a stepping stone, a savings plan, a means to an end...? Is it your perfect occupation that you accidentally but happily stumbled into? I've realised recently that it's so good to keep these things in mind; my current job is by no means a potential career, however it's something I enjoy and arguably a very valuable skill. It's a profession I'm intrigued by and now I can tick it off my job bucket list. I'm learning things, sharpening skills and doing something I'll always love – making people happy.


Okay yes, I have yet to take on a job that is on or at least adjacent to the path I want to follow for the rest of my life, but what does that matter? I'm young, and I forget that more than eighty percent of the time. These are the years when you have experiences, and maybe lay a little groundwork for the future, but there's no pressure. You don't have to know where you are, you just need to have even the roughest tiniest inkling of an idea of where you want to be. Then at some point you work out how to get there. 

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