My First Job: Lessons Learned

Last week I wrote about my first job ever, at a pizza place, and a little bit of background on how I landed the gig. Now we get to the fun stuff! Today is lessons learned and in the future we’ll discuss some of my crazy stories.

Lessons Learned

Free Food Makes You Popular

I was not a cook but I did cut the pizzas. You would think that the cooks would mess up on purpose to get free pizza but I honestly think they just couldn’t figure out to read a whole ticket at the same time. They never ate their mess ups.

Now if the store was managed properly all of these mess ups would have gone straight in the trash so employees wouldn’t mess up on purpose to get free food. That didn’t happen. Instead we’d cut the pizzas and throw them on top of the pizza warmer and at the end of the night you could take home whatever you wanted.

I was not a pizza fan but my dad loves pizza. In the beginning I just brought home a pizza or two but some nights I ended up bringing home as many as six pizzas! Needless to say my dad couldn’t eat them all so he’d take them to work with him. I heard he was quite popular at work around lunch time and when I went off to college people were sad my dad could no longer provide them free pizza through me.

How NOT to Run a Business

If you own a business you need to check in on it every once in a while. In the three years I worked there on and off I saw the owner once. He came in and walked behind the counter. I remember saying to him “Excuse me, can I help you? Customers aren’t allowed back here.” He identified himself as the owner and I remember thinking to myself… OH CRAP.

Turns out he was a nice guy and knew how the pizzas were supposed to be made as he criticized some of the cooks. The thing I never understood was why he didn’t come by more often. He owned 4 stores and the store I worked in was the worst performing store by far and as I previously mentioned it was eventually closed.

There were so many things that were done very wrong on so many different levels and just a little bit of involvement would have the potential to at least give the store a chance to turn around. I don’t know how or why they finally decided to close the store but if the right people were there I think it would have had a shot.

Don’t Hire Friends or Friends of Employees

If you’re managing a business don’t hire your friends. I’ll extend that to don’t hire friends of employees either. We were constantly hiring, after all it was a pizza place and it had a decent amount of turnover. It was a close to minimum wage job and I feel that is fairly common. The problem was instead of hiring based on any type of metric we hired friends of current employees because it was easier to get them in the door.

Why should you avoid this? First, if it is your friend, people end up getting into arguments over job tasks and you don’t want that to carry over into your personal life. Second, if you are hiring your employee’s friend expect them to get a lot less done. In every single case the friends ended up fighting which translated into bad service for our customers. When they weren’t fighting they were normally trying to find a way to avoid doing work and were just chit chatting. The only positive was it was an easy way to get a body in the door.

Oh, if you shouldn’t hire friends, definitely DO NOT hire family members. It is normally the above on a much larger scale.

These is just some of the lessons I learned but they are some of the more important ones. Expect a follow up soon with many crazy stories from my first job.

What lessons did you learn from your first job?

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About Lance Cothern

Lance Cothern, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, is the founder of Money Manifesto. You can read more about him here or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.


  1. This reminds me of when I was working as a cell phone sales rep.. one of my first jobs at 16. I was all about working, but working with people who became my friends made it clear that they were all slackers, and they weren’t a good influence on me. I definitely have to agree with your last point.

    I actually learned a lot about time management, since I was going to school full-time. I also learned more about interacting with people and just strengthening my communication, negotiation, and people skills.

  2. I learned a lot about money! I was a commission salesman as a summer job. I could work as little or as much I wanted. The real lesson came when I used that money to support myself in college. I learned how to budget and survive on very little.

    • Commissions is very uneven income so I bet you learned how to deal with that as well. Budgeting is key if you want to get ahead in life if you don’t have a ton of self control.

  3. I learned also not to rent to family. We have friends that only rent to family and sadly as it is they always get taken advantage of. Hearing them complain makes me wonder why you would even set yourself up for that.

    It is amazing what we can learn when we think back to the jobs that we used to do.

    • I know some people that rent to family and it is fine when they get paid on time but if something happens where their income doesn’t come through it become a ton of drama. I hopefully will never have to rent to family but they do it to help the person out which is really nice.

  4. Free food does make you popular, doesn’t it! I learned that a business should always be ran from the perspective of the customer. If you do what’s best for them rather than yourself, then you’ll keep them coming back. I also learned that servers work their tails off!!!

    • If the customer was always right no one would be in business because the customer would always demand everything free… at least I would if it worked.

  5. Interesting. I’ve known some people who went out of business (tavern) because they didn’t hire people they could trust. Their employees rob them blind until the business tanks. That being said, I probably couldn’t work with family. Or own a bar.

    • I have a feeling a lot of businesses end up failing due to that. It is sad but the owners clearly weren’t cut out to manage them.

  6. I learned that just because someone was the boss didn’t mean they were a good person and had great work skills. I was shocked to find this out. My dad always told me to be very mindful of “the boss” so I was surprised when I learned she was more concerned about her free time and friends than on running a good restaurant.

    I’m glad I didn’t know you while you were working at the restaurant. I can’t say no to pizza.

  7. Great topic! My first job was as a lifeguard… I learned the importance of sun screen and cold water, for sure, but also about trusting your colleagues. I also learned that you should never, EVER date your manager, no matter how hunky he looks with his shirt off.

  8. My lesson was that when you look young (and are young), people won’t respect you unless you give them a reason!

  9. Nell @ Housewife Empire says:

    I worked in restaurants growing up, and my first job at 15 taught me that the younger you are, the more managers will try to exploit you through long hours and low pay!

  10. I definitely agree and can relate to your last point about not working with friends or family. My parents are part of a joint family business on my mom’s side and I swear it has torn the family apart. We used to be really close and now people have a hard time even being in the same room. It really bothers me actually.

    • That is rough. I’m sorry it happened but I really am going to try not to work with friends or family. Almost never works out.

  11. Sounds like it was a crazy environment to work in. At my old company the best workers were recommendations from current staff. That’s how I got my job. The company got a good worker (me) and my buddy got a bonus. Thoughts about employee referral programs?

    • In a career oriented field I think it would work better but in a restaurant environment it didn’t. I guess it really matters who is the referrer because ours were mostly slackers who brought in slackers. This may have been an isolated incident with my store.

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