Chicago — During an interview with an executive, he offered advice to young professionals aspiring to see success in their careers that got me thinking about how my generation should measure some of our past experiences and how they can be leveraged during interviews for roles we want or during our career deliberations.
The leader in customer experience strategy at an IT company said to never discount the experiences that don’t make it to your LinkedIn page. By that, he suggested that there’s value to be drawn from the summers we spent at grandma’s house doing yard work, the hours we spent on the register at Kohl's in high school or reluctantly volunteering at one of our parent’s jobs. That notion might seem counterintuitive to some young people, who might believe that those experiences were a means to an end. They allowed us to save for a car or a video game we wanted.
How could they possibly help us become a leader of a team or an industry?
For the leader I interviewed, those kinds of experiences were instrumental in instilling values, skills and lessons in him that continued to resonate decades later. His time in retail taught him the value of communication and other interpersonal skills and working in fields on hot days gave him a work ethic that he still leans on today as the head of several employees.
After hearing those insights, I started considering my early career experiences, ones that I had long believed had no value or bearing on the work I’m doing today. What came to mind was one of my very first jobs. I was a 15-year-old who wanted to buy frivolous things that his parents wouldn’t get for him. I eventually decided to turn to a summer youth employment program and was hired to cut grass on property owned by my local township. Additionally, I was on staff to assist with whatever was needed like filling school bags with supplies for back to school events, cleaning up offices, and scrubbing the floors of a vacant food pantry in Harvey, Illinois in preparation for its reopening.
Even though I didn’t know it at the time, the greatest lessons I learned were about people. I worked alongside at risk youth, who were in and out of the system in addition to formerly incarcerated adults who joined the program to rebuild their lives. As we worked, I listened to their stories and eavesdropped on their conversations, gleaning insight into what they cared about and what their lives were like. Though we were different in many ways and came from different backgrounds, we also had a lot in common. We laughed at the same jokes, collectively groaned when managers assigned new burdensome tasks and listened to the same music as we worked.
If anything, that experience helped foster a curiosity about others and set the stage for the way I’d view people who aren’t like me moving forward. It made me realize that there was more to be seen and experienced beyond the frontier of my own life and that there’s a lot of commonalities between people with different backgrounds. Those lessons continue to be vital in the work I do as a staff writer, who’s tasked with understanding the people I write about.
Whether we’re preparing for an interview or the next career step, I think my generation should take this same self-reflective approach as we think about the value we could bring to an organization. We’ll automatically consider our degrees and our various career experiences, whether they be before college or post-grad. But we should understand that’s only part of our story.
We shouldn’t discount all the things that came before - the summer jobs, the menial tasks, the yard work - and the impact they had on us. There’s much to be drawn from the places we started in.