What did you learn from your first job?

Written by Jim Walsh - July 2019

Our first gig often helps to shape our values.

Recently LinkedIn asked that question based on a post from a McDonald’s worker who was moving on and shared her learnings about customer service.

I am sure that most people in business will have recollections of lessons, advice or actions from their first job that shaped their values.

And like me they never thought that what they were hearing or learning would be of benefit later in their careers.

In my case, my first real job was in a printing business where my manager was way ahead of his time. He had no formal business training but had an innate instinct for  doing the right thing for his customers, colleagues and staff.

He instilled in his staff the essence of customer service which was invaluable in my subsequent career in public relations.

His mantra was essentially that you always consider the person next in line and do what you have to do to make their work easier. So in the context of taking instruction from a customer for a print job we wrote the instructions, not as they were relayed to us, but in the language of the typesetters and printers.

This line of thinking can shape everything you do in PR. Communicating with clients in a way that makes their decision simpler to make, giving them clear options, giving instruction to staff or colleagues, putting the request in a context and explaining how the information will be used.

It is all about thinking of the next in line and not just yourself, taking that little extra time to set your communication in a context is not only making life that little easier on whoever you are communicating with, but it is ensuring a better outcome first time and avoiding a back and forward series of questions or rewrites or repetitive work.

Some years ago I was commissioned by a Government department to provide a speech writing refresher course for a particular grade of public servants. The problem senior officials were having was that draft speeches for the Minister frequently had to be rewritten.

During the course of the refresher day it became very apparent that the problem was not wholly the fault of those drafting the speeches but of their senior managers who were providing the flimsiest of briefs, usually just the date, time and occasion when the speech was to be delivered with a cryptic mention of looking at a similar speech from the past.

No discussion on policy changes or direction, no briefing on the Ministers views on the subject or no information on the style that the Minister preferred.

It is a common fallacy with managers that their staff should know things in the way they do, even though the managers have had many more years experience.

The late Senator Feargal Quinn never took it for granted that everyone knew who he was, even though he was a high profile public business figure and senator. When he met someone for the first time he invariably was the first to say, “Hello I’m Feargal Quinn”.

To emphasise the lesson of doing what is best for the next person in line my first manager would frequently say “when you leave your desk in the evening you should assume that if you are hit by a bus whoever sits at that desk the next day can take over the work in a seamless manner.”

Not only do I try to live up to that lesson but I take great care crossing the road when I leave the office.

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