Surviving a Summer Job in Retail
By the time my shift at the video store ended, it was after 11 p.m. I was grateful for my parents’ dark and quiet home as I moved soundlessly back to my bedroom.
I closed the door behind me and slid down it until I was a heap on the floor. My shoulders shook as I allowed myself to reflect back to what had happened that night. The sting of humiliation spilled over on my cheeks.
That customer had actually thrown her change in my face.
My co-workers and all the other customers in line stopped what they were doing and watched as the woman yelled at me, “That’s not right. You can’t even do basic math. You shouldn’t even have a job!”
It can seem like the only thing you get out of jobs like that is a paycheck, but believe it or not, you are learning other valuable skills and life lessons. As I went over the incident again and again in my head, I vowed then that no matter how old I got and no matter how frustrated I was, I would never yell at someone helping me in the retail or food service industries, because first and foremost, we’re all human beings.
If you’ve worked in a similar job, you probably have your own horror stories. It can seem like the only thing you get out of jobs like that is a paycheck, but believe it or not, you are learning other valuable skills and life lessons.
To this day, that video store clerk position was the hardest job I ever had. I can look back on it now and realize that I did learn a thing or two from my time there, which I am sharing here:
Tell Your Boss When Something Out of the Ordinary Happens
A few weeks into my video store job, my hand slipped when I was closing the cash drawer and hit some kind of strange button. I didn’t think anything of it until a police officer showed up and asked if everything was all right. He told me about the button and I apologized for hitting it by mistake. Then I went back to my work.
I left my shift later that afternoon, but got an angry call from my supervisor about midnight. Apparently that button has to be reset after it’s triggered. If it’s not, when you’re locking up the building at the end of the night, it notifies the police that you’re having an emergency situation. Apparently a whole slew of police cars had surrounded the building and my co-workers had been totally bewildered.
You can easily blame situations like this on a lack of training, but a lot of supervisors aren’t able to be that mature and think about it that way. Instead, it’s best to get in the habit of telling your supervisor any time anything out of the ordinary happens—and that’s true for all types of jobs.
Find Peace With Repetitive Tasks
One of my first weeks on the job, I was given a long Sunday afternoon shift. Sundays at the video store were usually pretty slow, so this was the time that unlucky employees were required to re-alphabetize all the videos. A week’s worth of customers had picked up videos and changed their minds and abandoned them in the wrong places. And don’t even get me started with the disaster that was the video game section.
I guess I must have had a higher tolerance than my co-workers for the frustrating re-alphabetizing task. Soon I was assigned an eight-hour shift every Sunday just so that I could be the one to do all that sorting.
I used to get aggravated when I worked other days of the week and could see customers shoving videos where they didn’t belong. I would watch them with tight-lipped irritation. But then, after a few weeks, I realized it didn’t matter — whether I watched them or not, I was always going to have a huge task on Sunday. And that was OK.
Now, one of my primary job duties in writing and organizing web content. A lot of times, after finishing a project for clients, I’ll visit their site months later and realize it’s turned into a big mess with confusing navigation and too much text. While I might grumble to some of my co-workers, I tell myself, “It’s just another Sunday at the video store.”
Remember that incident with the customer throwing the change in my face? It actually was my fault, but not for the reasons she thought.
You can gain the respect of others by using some quick critical thinking skills and speaking up.When I rang her up, her total had been something like $10.39. She handed me over $20.29, but before I had a chance to tell her she was 10 cents short of what I thought she wanted to be, her son knocked over a display of videos for sale. She was berating him about it, and I had a growing line of other waiting customers, so I just shrugged and punched her money into the cash register.
Now that I’m older and not quite as mousy as I was back then, I know the best thing to do would have been to wait patiently, then show the customer her error. You can gain the respect of others by using some quick critical thinking skills and speaking up.
What about you? What have you learned from your experiences in the retail or food service industry? Please share in the comments below.