Lessons from a Telemarketing Waitress

What do French fries, eggrolls, newspapers and Rolling Rock beer have in common? I’ve had to sell them all during my early years of employment! I used to be ashamed to include my high school and college employers on my resume for fear of being type cast as a Telemarketing Waitress Who Delivers Newspapers While Eating Wonton Soup. Yes, I’ve had some interesting jobs throughout my career—all serving their purpose of funding late night pizza delivery and the extra large cans of AquaNet my mother refused to buy.

At first glance, these positions would not seem to be a reasonable steppingstone to my current profession as a writer, consultant and coach. Yet, upon deeper reflection, I realize that these motley assignments served me well. Indeed, they shaped my professional beliefs and set the foundation for a lifetime entrepreneurial journey.

The lessons I gleaned from my teenage career include:

1. The Customer is (Not) Always Right, but it Doesn’t Really Matter Who’s Right. After only one day under the Golden Arches I understood the importance of customer service (yes, I worked for McDonald’s back in the day when greasy fast food didn’t make me hyperventilate).  By the time Old Ronald was through with me, I was a customer service expert and the youngest master of the upsell. Would you like fries with that?

2. Clear Communication is Not a Byproduct of Screaming Loudly. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s amazing to me how many professionals don’t know how to change their communication strategy, so they simply turn up the volume. I learned this lesson quickly while working as a waitress in a Chinese restaurant. Imagine eight high school girls from the suburbs taking direction from 20 people who don’t speak English. We had no idea what we were supposed to do, let alone who was in charge. No wonder they were never satisfied with our “work ethic!”

3. Rejection is Part of Life and in Business, You Can’t Take it Personally. The most fertile training ground for an insecure teen headed for a business career is a telemarketing call center. I’m not proud to say that I excelled at calling people during dinnertime and convincing them that they needed to buy a daily subscription to the local paper in order to fund my college education. Today I refuse to answer the phone when a salesperson calls, let alone engage in discussion. But in my youth I didn’t appreciate the importance of respecting people’s privacy and I thought nothing of intruding on them with unwelcome sales pitches. The result: I developed extraordinary confidence in my ability to sell a product I didn’t even use and I discovered that it is OK when not everybody likes me.

4. You Have to Dress for Success. Before I learned to sell the newspaper, I had a stint delivering morning papers with my sister when we were too young for any other job. We rolled out of bed every morning in the dark and split our three-mile delivery route before school, cutting short the essential primping time required for tween girls. The crucial lesson from this glorious occupation: you never know who might see you at 6 a.m. wearing hot rollers in your hair “at work.” Even now, as a work-at-home mompreneur, I tend to neglect my appearance, running around town in jeans and no make-up. I have to frequently remind myself to dress the part.

5. Some Jobs Are Just Not Right for You. Thus was the situation I discovered after my one and only day serving Rolling Rock beer by the case to tables full of fraternity boys. If the physical labor was not enough to send me running, the 2 a.m. bathroom cleaning duty put me over the edge. This is the only job I’ve ever abandoned; I didn’t even return for my tips! It became clear to me after this brief experiment that I am better suited to work with sober people. Again, this may be an obvious lesson but it was the first time I felt like I had a choice and could decide for myself what I wanted to do. Even now, I am continuously discovering new things about myself that help define the type of work that fits me best and allows me to use my talents to serve others in an authentic and meaningful way.

Those are just some of my favorite former occupations. I’ve had the honor of working in probably a dozen more equally fulfilling jobs. My summers at Pizza Hut taught me that when your best friend is dating the boss, you could get any schedule you want. That’s probably not the best example of good work ethic but it does highlight the importance of relationships in a business environment. I’ve served as a receptionist at a health clinic where I learned precision organization skills and the many uses of color-coded labels. I honed my inventory-taking skills at the Student Book Store in college and I escaped the stressful reality of exams by monitoring recess for a local preschool.

Without a doubt, my favorite job as a teen was babysitting. My clients loved my nurturing personality and reputation as mature and reliable. But I think what I liked most was the independence and the high level of responsibility. Now that sounds like the perfect training ground for a Christian mompreneur!

So what did you learn from your high school or college jobs? What do your early career moves say about your business life today? Share your lessons here!

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3 thoughts on “Lessons from a Telemarketing Waitress

  1. This made me laugh – not only reading about you and your escapades (didn’t know about the bar gig!), but also brought back good memories of my various jobs during the early years. I’m sure I didn’t realize it then, but they taught me lots of important lessons as well, especially the skill of measuring guys for a tux. I can’t tell you how often that comes in handy! Ha!

  2. This made me laugh – not only reading about you and your escapades (didn’t know about the bar gig!), but also brought back good memories of my various jobs during the early years. I’m sure I didn’t realize it then, but they taught me lots of important lessons as well, especially the skill of measuring guys for a tux. I can’t tell you how often that comes in handy! Ha!

  3. Awesome post Theresa! The Customer is (Not) Always Right, but it Doesn’t Really Matter Who’s Right – so true. Whether it be selling product or services this must be a true statement for anyone who wishes to not only stay in business, but also to grow. I think many people miss the point by taking “right” too literally. What the customer thinks, feels, and perceives is always right from their point of view and good customer service skills require us to embrace this without reservation or argument. The key is to actively listen to them and ask good questions in order to determine how best to provide what they truly need as opposed to what they may think they need. So they are always right and with skillful interaction – we can make the even ‘righter’ by providing a win win solution on both sides of the equation. Thanks for sharing this interesting post.

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