Learning on the Job: My Personal Experience with My First Job (French version available)
By Bhargavi Venkataraman
As a third-year university student, I have had many job experiences. Jobs are a great way to learn new skills while also making money towards wants, needs and savings. Of all my job experiences, my first job is one of the most memorable.
I came into the job scene a little later than average. I started my first job as a mathematics instructor at a big education brand franchise that will remain unnamed for privacy reasons in the summer of grade 11. It was run by a couple, and I got hired along with another candidate to start over August that summer.
The hiring process was conventional, but as this was my first job, I remember taking it very seriously. I carefully curated a resume and cover letter and took hours to prepare for the interview. I remember sitting in front of the owner in my formal shirt and trousers with sweaty hands, in nervous anticipation of his questions. He took one look at my resume and put it away. He then proceeded to ask me a couple of basic questions, and that was it; I got the job. It seemed too simple at the time, but I did not question it too much in my excitement.
My first days on the job were invigorating. It was a big learning curve to teach in the model of this education brand, but it was also fulfilling to earn money for the first time. I was paired with another employee who would supervise me and invited to staff meetings where they provided food and lively conversation. Initially, everything was going well. The issues started when the owner began scheduling me for many more hours than I originally agreed to when being hired. As I knew that this was my grade 12 year and that I would mainly focus on school, I asked the owner if he was okay with a certain number of hours per week during the interview. He let me know that it was okay. However, when the school year started, I got scheduled for double the hours I had initially specified. When I conversed with him about this, he would brush off my concerns by saying that it was only for a couple of days. This pattern continued for a long while, and I found myself drained of energy by the end of each day.
Another problem came up a few months later. I had made friends with some of the other employees, and we would talk when we had some free time. We discussed our difficulties with the number of hours we were required to work and some issues with the expectations set by the employers. I did not participate actively in these conversations as I felt uncomfortable talking about superiors in that way. Still, the owner assumed I was also part of the group gossiping about her. She proceeded to berate me for small mistakes publicly and criticize any work I did. The environment became very toxic, and I dreaded coming to work daily.
My journey with this job ended over the winter break of that year. I noticed that I was waiting to get emails from the organization with the schedule for the next week. I called the company a few times but was still waiting for a response. I eventually let them know I could not continue with the company and wished to terminate my contract.
My experiences with this first job, the supervisors, my coworkers, and the general process taught me many things, which I applied to every future job. I will list some of these lessons below:
1) Don’t be afraid to state expectations/boundaries before starting your job: I think one of the reasons I was able to speak confidently with my superiors about my issues with the hours they were assigning me was because I set clear expectations beforehand about how much I was able to commit. This also helped make my termination easier to digest, as our priorities differed.
2) Speak up when expectations are not met: It is easy to feel like you cannot speak up or don’t have a voice when you are just starting a job or in a lower-level position in a company. However, it is crucial to recognize that you deserve to be valued, and your boundaries should be respected. This role may not be the best fit for you if they are not. I let my supervisors know when I felt burdened with the time commitment. I wish I had taken myself outside of that situation earlier as I became more burnt out and unhappy as time went on in the position.
3) Be careful about workplace boundaries: It is easy to get carried with the camaraderie of workplace relationships, especially in the first couple of months on the job. However, it is essential to respect the feelings of everyone around you, including superiors, and ensure that you keep within your values when joining group discussions. In my case, I should have removed myself physically from my coworkers when they were gossiping about the supervisor and said something to stop them. This would have been more in keeping with my values.
4) Know when to terminate your role: Sometimes, despite your actions, a position might not fit you. The environment might become toxic, or you might not be able to keep up with the demands at the time. This is when it is good to take a step back and evaluate if the positives of staying in this position outweigh the negatives. If they do not, then consider terminating your role. This is precisely the process I went through. I spoke with my friends and family and also reflected on my own. Eventually, I decided that I needed to quit.
I hope someone else can utilize the lessons I have learned through this experience to help them in their career trajectory. It can be daunting to navigate such an unfamiliar terrain, so it may be worthwhile to see how others did it. Always remember your value and what you bring to the table, be confident in your skills, and learn from every new experience!