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My First Job: What’s Your Story?

Sarita Harbour

What was your first job as a teenager or young adult? Do those memories make you cringe, chuckle, or laugh out loud? Perhaps you learned a valuable life lesson, discovered a career path, or even met your future spouse. We asked people what they remember most about their first jobs, and the answers we got ranged from thoughtful, to nostalgic, to even hilarious.

We’ve chosen to have these 12 respondents speak in their own voices, without adding any commentary.

Read what they have to say, and share your own story in the comments below.


The Fire Alarm That Wasn’t

My first job out of high school was as a data clerk for an insurance company in Des Moines in 1960. The buzzer used by the agents to contact the dictaphone operator was a LOUD horn-type buzz. It was exactly the same sound as the fire alarm at my high school.

The first time it went off, I got up from my desk and walked out of the building. ALONE. A bit later I went back in to ask the others why they stayed, and learned my error. JudyAnn L.

Dropping the Drinks

first job

My first job waiting tables, I learned how kind and understanding people can be after getting a tray full of drinks dropped on them.

And to never let anyone take something off of your tray! — Karen C.

Punching Time, Processing Punch Cards

My first job was right after high school graduation. I needed to get a security clearance. I worked in the computer operations center at White Sands Missile Range, processing punch cards. Remember them?

At the time, the minimum wage was a princessly [sum of] $2.54/hour. Thankfully, I still lived at home! I wasn’t an accurate typist, by any means. I needed to retype so many of those punch cards—and the ones I liked the least were the payment processing cards for the soldiers. I had to enter a lot of data per soldier, so those took the longest.

After a while, I moved to processing computer tapes (confidential) for a vital operation at WSMR. Bobbie A.

Lessons in Horse Poop

What is a good first job?

My first real job was mucking stalls at a horse barn.

I learned quickly that I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought about horses. Michelle C.

The Job That Led to Adulthood

I did not get my first “real” job until I was 17 years old, and it was what I like to call my gateway to adulthood. It led to my first car, paid for my secondary education, and it was where I met my husband of 31 years.

There were about 15 of us that worked at that hardware store and we were all very close. We worked together and hung out together as if we were a large family. Just the other day, I saw an old friend from that job. We haven’t seen each other for over 20 years and he instantly recognized me. We sat and talked about our lives, our families, and the good old days.

That job is still a fond memory I cherish even today. TracyLynn S.

What an Arm!

how long to stay at first job

I delivered newspapers from 12 to 15 years of age. I excelled at folding and wrapping rubber bands around each.

I was also an expert at throwing the newspaper…on the customer’s roof. Rick M.

The Crawl-Through Drive-Thru

My first job was babysitting, but my first real job was at Burger Chef, a fast-food job. This company was great to work for—still haven’t found a burger or fried apple pie as good as theirs. Times were different then.

Our drive-thru window didn’t lock good, so, if I was the first person there in the mornings, I just had to pop it with my hand by the lock and slide it open, crawl through the window, and get to work. If you were the last to leave, you locked all of the doors from the inside and climbed out of the drive-thru window, sliding it closed with a “slam.”

Managers had keys, but, at 16, I was “‘the manager” a lot of times. I got raises about every three months and made a $1.00 more than minimum wage. That was in 1978. Kroger was my job at 17, and I had a 401(k), insurance, retirement. I stayed for 24 years. Amanda C.

Free Food Perks

What is a good first job

I was 14 and washed dishes. I worked my way up to the head cook by 15. We had these amazing big sandwiches: roast beef, turkey clubs, and others. We got a free meal every eight-hour shift, but I would save my meal to bring home for my Dad. Bob M.

Love in the Stacks

first job ideas

My first job was as a shelver at my local library. I was in high school and it paid well. As a neat freak, I enjoyed making sure all the books were in perfect alphabetical or Dewey Decimal [System] order. The other fun part was that the children’s librarian used to have me come in and help with story-time programs, passing out the craft materials, etc.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that job would shape the rest of my life. When I was in college, I transferred to another branch, where I ended up meeting my husband, who was another shelver. (We’ve been married 24 years.)

I had such a good experience working in the library, that I began working full time and eventually got my master’s degree and became a children’s librarian myself. I have been in the library field for 32 years now, but for the past five years I only work part-time and work as a professional organizer on the side. That way I get to organize things OTHER than books, which has been a great transition. Pam H.

Fighting Fast Food Temptations

how to get hired for your first job

[My first job was at] Dairy Queen at age 15.

Funniest memory? One of the girls I worked with and I made gorgeous loaded sundaes…and then threw them in the trash without eating them to prove we had the willpower to stay on our diets!

That was long before I knew about food costs! Kathy A.

Washing Dishes, Making Friends

What skills to learn for first job

My first job was washing dishes at a restaurant. I was 15 years old and had just returned from vacation when I learned my good friends had landed a job at Sixpence [a local restaurant]. I wanted to work, too, and, of course, they put in a good word for me.

We had a great time, met many new friends and I ended up bussing tables my sophomore year. Looking back, I guess those were some of the best work experiences of my teenage years. John P.

You Say You Want a Raise?

first job tips

I worked at a convenience store. Started there when I was 12 years old.

Worked my butt off for $1.25 an hour.

After two years of devoted service to all customers, I asked for a raise. The owner told me to go stand on a chair. Tony C.

Everyone Has Their Own First-job Story

What do you remember about your first job? How did it change you? What did you learn?
Let’s take a stroll down memory lane—share your story in the comments below!

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