“My first job was at a restaurant in Boulder, Colorado when I was 17 years old. I was hired as a dishwasher and by the second day had been promoted to “head dishwasher” because everyone else had quit. The job was difficult and thankless and I learned that it was pretty common for people to last only a day or quit after a short period. However, I learned sticking out those tough jobs can lead to big rewards and eventually I was moved to a role on the restaurant floor, which I really enjoyed. I also learned that some roles (particularly behind the scenes) can be invisible to some folks. Once you’ve served in a thankless job and experienced that treatment, you don’t forget it. You make sure you are appreciative, kind, and encouraging to people currently in roles that can easily be taken for granted. I learned a lot in that job about the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect. It’s a lesson that has always stuck with me. (Plus, eventually the money from that job allowed me to start married life with a new bed, washer and dryer and TV.) .”
– William Boulding, Duke University (Fuqua)
“In high school, I worked in a grocery store and after undergrad, I landed a job as a consultant. But, in between, I had what felt like my first “real” job – I worked summers in college for Frito-Lay as a route salesperson. This meant that most of the time, I drove a truck, delivering and selling salty snacks to convenience and grocery stores. For a couple of weeks, I played Chester Cheetah – furry costume and all – but those were the exceptions.
This job taught me a ton. First, there was the value of hard work and grit: my workday started at 4 a.m. and I was slow and inefficient at first, so my days were much longer than those of my peers. I remember that period as one of exhaustion and frustration. There was the value of selling: a good week or month could hinge on convincing a store manager to give me another foot or two of shelf space. There was respect for others from different backgrounds: I was humbled to work alongside several salespeople, many of whom didn’t have college degrees, who were simply better at that job than I was. Education wasn’t everything – they had skills. There was the way corporate culture connects to and impacts workers on the ground. From managers, down to the route sales drivers, Frito-Lay was relentlessly aggressive, striving to do better, even with a dominant market share. There was a belief that we could always do better. Finally, the job taught me that I really wanted to stay in school and find a position or career that took advantage of my relative strengths – and that didn’t start at 4 a.m.”
– Jay Hartzell, University of Texas (McCombs)
“My first job was a paper route delivering the New Haven Register. The biggest lesson I learned from the experience was the importance of showing up every single day and getting the job done – even in the snow. It was also my first real glimpse into how a business operates, as I bought papers from the publisher and sold them to the people along my route. By the time I retired a few years later the job, had been automated by cars, but I’ll always take pride that I did it the old-school way on foot and bicycle.”
– Jonathan Levin, Stanford GSB
“I entered Purdue University at age 16 and graduated at 19, with the intention of directly enrolling in Wharton’s Ph.D. program. But I returned home to Hong Kong to visit my parents for the summer before starting graduate school. My father had his own company, and my mother, thinking I had business expertise because I had a newly-minted bachelor’s degree in management, encouraged me to come up with some ideas about how to improve his business.
What I should have said was, “I’m not ready to give any advice.” But I was too proud and too naïve, so I told my mother, “Yes! I’ll get right to it!” It was one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life. To think that a kid just fresh out of college would be able to help improve my father’s business was just asking for it. I gave him really terrible advice. To this day, I’m still embarrassed. So the lesson to the story that has stayed with me is, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Be humble about what you know, and perhaps just as importantly, what you don’t. At Mendoza, we very much educate our students to be leaders one day, but we want them to get there through experience, not arrogance.”
– Roger Huang, Notre Dame University (Mendoza)
“When I was in college, my first real job was at a small engineering company in Ohio that made very specialized tools. The owner was the worst type of person to work for – he was constantly screaming at the 15 or so employees for no real reason and firing people. The smallest things would set him off. He hired me to run one of the machines. Then, after he fired a designer, he moved me to that position.
It was a challenge, but that experience taught me how to work with difficult people. I had navigated him to the point that he liked me, which is interesting because I didn’t think he liked anyone. I think he liked me because I was the only employee that would approach him and was willing to have a non-work related conversation with him. He liked to talk about golf and baseball and was comforted that he could talk to about both with someone at work. I also had to navigate the dynamics of the group. I was the only college student and the youngest. The others were locals who all knew each other. I was totally different from the rest of them. You never wanted the other workers to think he liked you. It was a great learning experience for me as an engineer, but it was tough for the interpersonal dynamics.”
– Rohan Williamson, Georgetown University (McDonough), Interim
“My first real job was with American Express. I learned there are many great opportunities and careers, but, for me, the calling was to teach and research. Sometimes you have to experience the opposite of what you desire to show you what you value and where you can add the most value to the world.”
– Erika James, Emory University (Goizueta)
* Go to next page for the first “real” jobs from deans at Berkeley Haas, Georgetown, University of Washington, and North Carolina