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First job flubs

EMPLOYEE HANDBOOKS don’t cover everything. For instance, if you are going to smoke marijuana in the restaurant’s staff restroom, it’s a good idea to lock the door.

And telling a grocery store manager that you are stocking shelves only because your dad made you get a job isn’t apt to elicit a high-five.

The list goes on.

Did you know that whining about every assignment doesn’t make bosses glad they hired you?

Common sense? Sure.

But just ask business owners and managers, “What makes a person succeed in his or her first job?”

Their answers make one thing clear. Some newcomers to the work force simply don’t use their heads.

In fact, supervisors’ tales from the front can amount to a veritable “Don’t” list for making it in your first job.

Spokane restaurateur Jim Rhoades once thought he heard something odd in the basement at an eatery where he worked as a manager.

So he went down to investigate. “I hear a couple of guys talking in the prep room and I come around the corner to ask them if they heard a noise,” he recalled. “And here’s one kid pouring a big bucket of beer down a funnel into another kid’s mouth.

“I said ‘Did you guys hear anything?’ And the kid with the funnel in his mouth starts to answer me.”

Beer spilled all over the place.

That’s not how you earn a glowing performance evaluation.

But succeeding (or not succeeding) at your first job can start before you even get hired.

Years ago, Irv Zakheim, head of Zak Designs Inc., asked a job applicant why he was half an hour late for a scheduled interview. The young man could have apologetically cited traffic, car trouble or any standard excuse. Instead, he got all huffy and said, “Why does that matter?”

He didn’t get the job.

Florist Ray Matteson once had a new deliveries driver who decided to augment his salary. He bounced a series of personal checks cashed at the flower shop. And because one of his duties was to pick up the mail, he was able to intercept the returned checks.

“I guess he thought he’d never get caught,” said Matteson.

He was wrong. A monthly bank statement soon told the tale.

Of course, most people who make mistakes on their first job aren’t crooks. They’re just inexperienced.

Consider the guy Mike Taylor hired fresh out of college to work at his engineering firm.

Taylor gave the rookie a specific instruction about handling his first project. The new guy promptly ignored that direction.

Soon after, Taylor escorted this employee outside. Together they looked up at the sign displaying the name of the business. Taylor called his young associate’s attention to the word “Taylor.”

“I get to tell you stuff,” he explained to his green employee. “And you’ve got to do it.”

Taylor summarized the lesson: “Don’t ignore the person who signs your paycheck.”

That sounds pretty basic. Apparently, though, not all neophyte workers arrive at the door of their initial jobs armed with a clear understanding of the real world.

Chuck Young, administrator at the Shriners Hospital for Children, explained.

“Unless you’re working for yourself, you’re working for the man,” he said. “And the man expects you to put in a day’s work.”

Now, obviously, most entry-level jobs don’t pay as well as more senior positions. But grousing about that disparity right out of the starting gate definitely isn’t the way to get ahead, said Dan Houk, president of Wilbert Precast Inc.

Karen Holmes, recreation supervisor for the Spokane Parks and Recreation Department, has seen lots of terrific young people flourish in their first jobs.

She has also observed the other end of the spectrum. “There have been a few complainers,” she said, sighing. “You know, constantly whining about everything.”

That’s just not the way you want to behave, said Holmes.

Even if a summer gig with Parks & Rec isn’t going to be the springboard to a career, being lazy and disagreeable can cost you a reference that might have helped you land your next job.

Grocery store manager Dick Duclos knows about first-timers who don’t get it. He has a short reality-check statement he shares with new employees who act as if they are doing him a favor by showing up for work.

“I say, ‘You need to change your attitude or you’re not going to be around long,’ ” he said.

Sometimes they get the message. Sometimes they find themselves unemployed.

Speaking of attitude, restaurant owner Rhoades chuckled when he recalled the teenage genius smoking marijuana in the employee restroom.

That young man reportedly got indignant when informed that his services would no longer be needed.

“You’re firing me for smoking pot?” he asked, reeling from what he saw as a gross injustice.

Not really, he was told. In truth, he was being dismissed for being too stupid to lock the door.

And that’s one poor way to light up a resume.


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