Be Kind, Rewind: How Your First Job Affects Your Entire Career


Joe Strechay

A video cassette, with the tape coming out in neatly-arranged coils.

I often have the opportunity to give presentations or workshops to professionals, adults or teens who are blind or visually impaired. I speak about the employment process, resources, and the route to a career or successful employment. It always brings me back, thinking about my very first job.

It was at a video rental store that also provided photo processing and enlargements. I started working there when I was14 years old, through a bit of a fluke.

I'd decided I wanted a job, so I dressed up in a button-down shirt and slacks. I went from business to business, asking for applications and finding out if these places were hiring. I went to locations that I could walk to within about two miles from my home.

I spoke to the owner of the video/photo shop, which was about half a mile from home, and the owner seemed pleasant and excited. I left my application and received a call a few days later that she wanted to interview me. I went to my interview in similar clothing, but with the addition of a tie. The woman realized during my interview that I was not the person she had assumed I was— she thought I was my older brother, who was four years older then me. Obviously, she had not reviewed my application in detail. She said I was too young; I replied that I understood, and to please keep me in mind for the future.

Well, this was during the winter of 1994, when a blizzard hit the Northeast. I returned to the video/photo shop to rent a movie, because we had a snow day. The storeowner was in the shop, alone, with a huge pile of videos waiting to be stocked and a large crowd of customers. I offered to assist her and she said, "Yes, please!" I ended up staying until closing, and like that, I had a job. Other staff members were unable to make it to work due to the snow, but I lived close enough that this was not an issue. I worked there on and off for over three years. It was a great opportunity, and I am grateful to have had it. I worked for minimum wage, and that was just fine.

I learned a lot about working from that first job. I had my general responsibilities to complete while working. The owner and my boss had specific tasks to be completed if the shop was slow, and provided a list of things to complete at the end of the night when closing up. Most first jobs are learning experiences, and provide many lessons about life and work.

There were always a handful of people who also worked there. I learned about others' work habits by working beside them, or coming into the store after them. Some were model employees, and some were model slackers. At the time, I was the youngest person working there. Work has always been something that I have enjoyed, no matter the task—I kept a positive attitude about whatever duty handed to me—even cleaning bathrooms.

For those new to the world of work, both teens and adults, here are some basic tips to keep in mind for your first, or one of your first, jobs:

  • Follow the boss' instructions—yes, this sounds totally obvious, but it's so important.
  • Be polite and pleasant with customers and coworkers—this goes a long way, as I have been offered other opportunities specific to my attitude on the job.
  • Follow the dress code—even if there isn't an official one, ask a coworker or your boss.
  • Complete your tasks and ask for more; eventually, you will know what is expected and you will not have to ask as frequently.
  • If you are uncertain about anything, ask for clarification.
  • Always show up a little early and don't leave early—for me, this occasionally meant walking three miles from our high school, but it was always worth it.
  • Complete your duties promptly and efficiently.
  • Learn the rules and regulations associated with the business.

Take some time to share your experiences. AFB CareerConnect allows successfully employed adults who are blind or visually impaired to share their experiences and advice with job-seeking teens and adults. Become a mentor, find a mentor, or read our newly renamed Our Stories (formerly called Success Stories) from our mentors on their careers and lives.

Lastly and most importantly: "Be kind, rewind!" I had to throw this one in because it was on every videotape at the store—this was during the glory days of VHS rentals, preceding DVDs and online streaming. The message, however, is as timeless as it is succinct: be courteous, and do what's expected of you (i.e. job responsibilities). No matter what your first job is, this will set the tone for your entire career.

Let us know in the comments your own tips, or lessons you learned during your first job.

Video cassette photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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