Usually, contributors focus on the crescendos of their career. Today, I’d like to talk about my experience waiting tables because I believe that the least glamorous parts of our careers can be the most defining. Long before I became a sales professional and executive, I waited tables, ran the cash register at a Wendy’s, taught swim lessons, mowed lawns, worked at a jewelry store and much, much more.
Recent graduates often wonder, “Is a job in sales [or any field] right for me?” It’s the wrong question because the “rightness” of a job is not fixed – it changes based on our experiences. Unglamorous high school, college and entry-level jobs are a powerful training ground for the career we want. They reveal strengths, weakness, likes and dislikes that point us in the right direction. For me, waiting tables was one of the most invaluable jobs because it conditioned me to cope with hardest part of sales: dealing with people.
At Good Time Charley’s, a restaurant in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I was paid the minimum wage (about $2.65 an hour) to wait tables during summer break from college. The bulk of my income depended on tips, similar to commissioned-based sales jobs. I had to learn to be a performer, knowing that mistakes, conversations and split-second decisions could affect my income dramatically.
I had to stay upbeat and friendly to earn a good tip. I had to learn that no matter how obnoxious or wrong a customer was, the customer was still right. That is one of the most important lessons a salesperson can learn in life. The customer is right, the customer is right, the customer is right! Even if they are wrong, they are still right.
For example, when I waitressed, a guest would often say something like, “Excuse me, I ordered a Coke. Where is it?”
I knew the guy didn’t order a Coke. All I wanted to do was tell the guy he never ordered a dang Coke. But I didn’t because I wanted go home with 20 percent of his bill, not 10 percent. I had learned the hard way that telling someone they are wrong will not get me very far. Instead, I learned to say, in a sincere, nice voice, “I’m so sorry, I must not have heard you. I will get that right away.”
Every work day, I was on my feet from 5 pm to 3 am, and it was physically exhausting. I learned that I didn’t like being up until 4 am because I had to sleep through the day. Some people are night owls. My mind and body could never get used to it. I needed the daylight. It affected my entire mood.
Read the rest here.