Did you have a glamorous first job? We didn’t think so. But even if it wasn’t particularly interesting or didn’t have ideal hours or much pay, it was probably memorable. There are some valuable lessons to be learned as a teenager earning those first official paychecks. Even if it was simply that you never wanted to do that again. 

Work can be work

The idea of bringing home regular pay sounds great. Having to actually work for it? That can be eye-opening.

Chris Nichols, social media manager: My first job was at a family-owned video rental store — watching movies, organizing movies, making popcorn and talking to people about movies. It was the dream job. But I learned very quickly that just because your job can be more laid-back, that doesn't mean you don't work. If our boss walked in and saw you not doing anything, oh she'd find something for you to do and make you regret just killing time. So I learned very quickly and young that if you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean. No matter what job you're working or what your responsibilities are, you can always fill in time between your main tasks with smaller jobs that make everyone's lives better. 

Janae Jackman, homemaker: I worked at Reed’s Dairy scooping ice cream and selling milk, cheese, etc. I learned that I would make a lot of mistakes and it would feel daunting at first — and take a while to learn everything to feel comfortable. But then, after putting in the time and effort, I knew how to do everything. I felt completely confident and was the go-to person for questions or problems.

Brian Higgins, content writer: In college I worked at a tent rental company called Mr. Tent with my brother and his friends. I learned that the tenting industry is a very popular place for ex-convicts to get work, and that if you’re a fit 20-year-old working with out of shape guys in their 30s and 40s, they’ll think that you’re not working as hard as them because you’re not sweating an insane amount.

Appreciate your parents

Maybe they help you find your first job, are your chauffeur or wake you up for an early shift. Whatever it is, parents tend to play a large role when you’re just starting out. Remember to say thanks.

Merijo Holley, airline partnership analyst: My first job at a snack bar in a grocery store taught me that my parents were always on my side. I had to be picked up after work and they waited patiently in the car until all the closing duties were complete. My dad toted garbage, broke down a stubborn pallet. They worked really hard at my first job.

Taylor Shepherd, events manager: I started early. I was a paperboy at age 8. My mommy would drive me around during the winter months while I tossed newspapers from the bed of the family truck. OSHA would be terrified. And in the summertime, I had to ride my Huffy around all of Salina and deliver them like in the movies with a paperboy satchel. 

You’ll be surprised

Even when you think you’re on top of it all, your first real job can throw you a curveball. You may even strike out. But you also learn a little about the world — and maybe even yourself.

Chad Hurst, production manager: My first job was at a fancy restaurant in New Jersey called Cafe Mozart busing tables. I learned that laid off means you're fired and not to show up for work the next day.

Laurie Argyle, small business owner: Working at Arby’s in high school was my first paycheck job. I learned I could make more money working for myself. And I learned I wanted to set my own hours. I didn’t last very long at that job and left to go clean houses working for myself.

Rude awakenings

First jobs can also be rough — early or late hours, unpleasant duties, little pay. You may need to look harder to see the good parts.

Ashley Jensen, marketing events coordinator: My first job was mucking stalls. I definitely learned to keep my mouth shut and breathe through my nose.

Kaylie Caplette, creative coordinator: I was a gym host, so we got water for people, cleaned the machines etc. The hours were 24/7 and most of us took turns sleeping in the laundry room [while] the other person on duty kept a lookout and would wake us up if the boss was coming. But I learned a lot about responsibility — getting up for work and being on time with those crazy hours. I also learned people were the nicest first thing in the morning.

Side effects

Working odd jobs can change you, sometimes in completely unexpected ways.

Mike Condie, senior UX designer: Mine was at Pace Bars popsicle plant in North Salt Lake. I learned that the more popsicles you ate, the harder you were able to work — and I worked really hard. There was a muscle in your arm that we called the “popsicle muscle” that would get quite defined from lifting the 30-pound molds from out of the giant saltwater tanks.

Amy Hoskins, office manager: I was an ophthalmic scribe for my first job. I was very shy, introverted and I was afraid of “old people.” I developed confidence in myself and learned how to initiate conversation. I also came to love old people.

Kirk Koenen, marketing director: I was a lifeguard, and I did that for my entire teenage career really. It helped me get comfortable in my own head because I had to be very good at watching people and not having something else to do while sitting. I also got to learn how fun a summertime job at a pool can be to make friends and get a tan.

Fringe benefits

While a first job may seem like thankless work, there are definite perks. In fact, the experience often sets you up for the future. You may even begin to see tangible rewards from your efforts.

Erica Drebing, national accounts receivable director: It was babysitting for me. I learned that if you do a good job, you get more jobs. People talk and say if you are good or bad.

Sara Samuelson, finance director: I worked as a waitress at the Chinese restaurant in town. I enjoyed the accomplishment of it — I felt like I was able to do what they asked well. I also enjoyed being my own budgetary manager. Not asking if I wanted to buy something was glorious.

Annie Ostler, teacher: My first job was a hostess/busser at Lone Star Steakhouse. I think what I took away most from that job was learning how it felt to do what needed to be done and not expecting to be rewarded or acknowledged. I took great pride in rolling silverware, picking up things off the floor and keeping things going smoothly. With the hustle and bustle of a restaurant, no one ever personally thanked me and I did not make enough for how hard I was working. But it helped me develop a sense of personal pride in my work.

Enjoy the journey

Retail or food service work may not be the most interesting, but you can make the most of it. Hey, you may even pick up some life lessons along the way. 

Lisa Lyon, production manager: My first job was a sales associate at a surf and swim shop at the outlet mall. One thing I learned was to not wait around for others to solve problems, even though it may seem scary or intimidating. My manager appreciated me taking initiative. I learned to not only share what the problems were, but suggest solutions to the problems. This set me up for promotions and incentives, as well as made it fun to see my ideas be implemented.

Kallie Olson, homemaker: I worked at a clothing kiosk at Fashion Place Mall. I learned that having things neat and tidy feels very satisfying and makes life so much easier when trying to find something specific. Even if all the tidying up and organizing isn’t fun or exciting, it is worth doing. 

Chris Midgley, IT manager: I was “the dude” at a tanning salon. I think my life lesson is that there is usually a better way to do things, and as long as things get done, nobody really cares how. Also, being nice to customers will get you free Diet Pepsi and pizzas.

Getting a first job

Looking for a first job for yourself or someone else? Search KSL Jobs, where you can explore openings based on experience and education, part-time, full-time or seasonal work. Find more job ideas for teenagers on the KSL Jobs Resource page, as well as tips on what to expect on your first day.