Career

3 Important Lessons You Can Learn From Crappy Part-Time Student Jobs

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Joanne Poh

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The first part-time job I ever had paid $5 an hour. I was waiting tables at a small restaurant in a neighbourhood mall, and each shift was 4-hours long, earning me a grand total of $20 per day. The next year, I was a part-time receptionist, working night shifts at a spa for $6.50 an hour.

Obviously, I wasn’t making bank at either of these jobs. They paid peanuts even compared to what the parents of my tuition kids were paying me to mark assessment books.

But they were valuable experiences all the same. Here are three things you too can learn at crappy part-time jobs.

 

Dealing with difficult customers

There’s the perception that if you get a good degree and find work in a cushy MNC, working life will be glamorous and smooth sailing despite the challenges. What nobody tells you is that difficult customers can make your life hell no matter how much they’re paying you.

When you’re working a menial job at the bottom of the food chain, you get to experience first hand just how crappy customers’ behaviour can be.

Bad manners, such as not looking you in the face while speaking and forgetting to say please and thank you, are common, but the worst are customers who try to cheat by shortchanging the server or run off without paying, and those who take it out on the service crew when they’re dissatisfied with the food.

Through all of this, a good server has to keep a cool head and smile like it’s Christmas morning. That’s a valuable skill to learn because you’re going to need it no matter which rung of the career ladder you’re on.

 

The importance of showing up

As a student working part-time, there were times I just didn’t feel like showing up for work. Maybe I had a big exam the next day I needed to cram for. Maybe I’d stayed up late the night before and waking up on a Saturday morning for work was torture.

But each time, I’d force myself to show up. Student workers were a dime a dozen, and if you missed one or two shifts, you’d get fired.

No matter how prestigious or well-paid your job is, day-to-day life is really very much the same: it’s about going through the motions and showing up at the office each and every morning, whether you didn’t get any sleep, are hungover, got divorced the day before or just don’t feel like it.

 

Communicating with people from all walks of life

The local education system tends to put us in contact with students who are very much like ourselves in terms of not just academic aptitude but also family background.

Students who go to so-called elite schools end up ensconced in a blanket of middle class security, while those who wind up in a school with more Normal Tech than Express classes can end up in an environment that limits their self-belief.

A part-time job, no matter how humble, puts you in contact with people from all walks of life.

At my waitressing job, I had the privilege of working with another girl who, at the age of 18, had stopped schooling and was working full-time at the restaurant for $1,000 a month. Then there was the auntie with whom we’d peel tau gey during lulls, who continued to work although she was over 70 years old.

People often lambast local government scholars for being out of touch with life on the ground, and there’s a lot of talk about ivory towers. Perhaps this could be solved somewhat if more students took on “crappy” part-time jobs.

What part-time jobs have you tried? Tell us in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.