Experience Is The Best Teacher: What Working As A Student Taught Me

Currently studying? Take opportunities to learn different skills or get involved in other jobs or volunteer opportunities:  this will teach you skills and build a network.

In a previous blog titled “I graduated now what,” I spoke briefly about the value of internships, volunteering and above all- networking. Looking back I wished I did this more, however I count my blessings recalling how the jobs I took along the way have helped me learn skills that prepared me mentally and emotionally for the working world (yes EQ is equally as important as IQ in today’s world).

Whether you take up a waitressing job, volunteer somewhere, intern for a few weeks or take up an active role in a society, these experiences are all extremely valuable to moulding how you think, react and potentially how much of a game changer you will be in your future career- so take it seriously and as usual be open to learn. In more than one instance, I have come across many students who joined our company for a one month internship or worked with us part-time, and because of their dedication and curiosity to always ask questions and learn more, we have offered quite a few of them permanent jobs (even before they graduate). Why? Simply because of their willingness to learn, adapt and display of skills.

Sometimes, as students, we make the mistake of overlooking the value of our part-time jobs, internships, summer work abroad or volunteer experience and we sadly lose out on the golden opportunity to pick up skills that will prepare us for future careers. I will be the first to admit that I sometimes took on jobs as a student simply to make money and to have something to add to my CV, instead of really looking at it as an opportunity to gain skills that will be useful in your future career. Fortunately, it is never too late to learn, to take up a new role, or to change your perspective of you current work or school project experience.

I challenge you to start taking note of what you have learned in the roles you have worked in (yes write it down); It will change how you view and tackle each opportunity and you might have more to say about your experiences the next time you are at a job interview. If you haven’t started working yet, set a goal to take note of skills you will gain as you progress in your new job.

To give you an idea of the roles I took up during my studies and what I learned, I have listed a few examples below, maybe you have similar experiences?


Lesson 1: Patience and humility

Have you ever had to deal with a super slow scanner or printer in your life? That will definitely breed patience! During my gap year after high school, I decided to volunteer as a Receptionist at my local church. This job taught me a lot, however, the most important lesson was patience and humility.  As a Receptionist I was tasked with work that required a lot of patience like using a super slow scanner to scan and file dozens of papers or multi-tasking between the phone and walk-in guests. This was helpful because when I finally got my first full-time job in Customer Services, I was open to taking up extra tasks that no one else wanted to do because it was boring tedious work, simply because I had my training ground in my Receptionist role. After a few months, my patience with Customers and colleagues and my willingness to take on extra tasks paid off when I was awarded the Employee of the Year Award and I was promoted to join the HR Team! Funny enough, even as a Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist today, one of my duties includes keeping all employee hardcopy and soft copy files, and because I have done it for so long I am fine doing it (especially with the super fast scanners we have today).

Customer Services

Lesson 2: Problem Solving

Nothing teaches you problem solving like dealing with customers! Whether you are a Waitress; a Receptionist at a busy office park or working as a Junior Developer, you will be forced to think on your feet at least once or twice.

During my 2nd year of University, I worked part-time as a Customer Service Agent for a car servicing dealership. At first, I took this job to make extra money (I hated it sometimes, but the extra spending money was good so I stuck it out). Little did I know this role was grooming me into the fearless decision maker I am today. As a Customer Service Agent, I had the fun task of calling customers and checking if they have any complaints about the service they received from the dealership; nine out of ten times they did, and I had to Fix it (gulp!).

Facing a screaming customer on the other end of the line and learning to stay calm, not take it personally and most importantly find a solution or happy medium was a task that, after a lot of practise, became second nature. Because of this experience I am still able to confidently face challenging situations, which I now look at as exciting challenges and not daunting realities. I learned to think on my feet and find solutions to problems which were sometimes out of my control. I learned the art of asking for help from supervisors and being proactive to think of a solution. WHY? Because a star employee comes up with a solution, not a problem. This  is a mantra I apply not only in the workplace but in my personal life as well. You will be faced with a lot of challenges along the way, but what separates the average employee from a great one is how they react to the problem – look at people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates who identified a problem and came up with many creative ways to solve them, and from that they have built empires.

Restaurant Management Intern

Lesson 3: Entrepreneurial Skills

I was fortunate to land a job as an Intern shadowing the Manager at a local restaurant during my long Christmas holidays. This was a whirlwind experience because not only did I learn a lot, but this experience helped me in finding my own path as a business owner. The most valuable lesson I learned from the Restaurant Manager was to “treat every business like it is your own and you will never go wrong”. He said to me that although he is the Manager and not the owner, he comes to work and works as though this is his own business, this not only builds passion for your job but you begin to really apply yourself in every aspect; you look at how clean the restaurant is, you jump in and help the waiters when they are short staffed, you learn how to save costs by negotiating with the local butcher or raw foods supplier, you learn to work late where needed and have a good understanding for marketing, branding and asking for help in a space that is not your level of expertise. This is the most important lesson for every student working in a project or a new role – treat the business like it is your own and be available to help where you can. You will learn a lot along the way, learn to become a star communicator in a team and learn to respect different ideas which not only makes you a valuable member of the team but a good future leader too!

So, the next time you are in a team for a school project or placed in a captain role for sports or a society, remember to take on the challenges and lessons. Many of these will mould you into a star employee one day, and remember to highlight these skills in your next interview!

All the best!


#parttimework #onthejobtraining #career #internship #graduateinternship #experience #lessons #volunteer #learning

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