Jobs of the past: Your first job stories

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I’ve dressed tiny plastic trolls in air hostess uniforms, worn a straw boater and pinny to serve breakfasts in the Woolworth’s café and been forced to clean the gents’ loo in a burger joint which had no customers. We’ve all had shocking first jobs; at the very least, they provide us with some great anecdotes, at best, they have steered us onto a career path which has provided us with fulfilling and satisfying employment.

It’s at this time of year when we get all wistful and nostalgic, and ahead of the New Year job search (yep, that’s a thing), we thought we’d ask you to look back at your first job and how / if it shaped your career. Here are a few of your stories and the lessons you learned:

I caught the events bug

First job

My first proper job was as an apprentice at the tender age of 16 for an exhibition organiser, back in 2000. I thankfully waited for a great placement.

But that first apprentice job was where I caught the events bug. Fourteen years later, I launched my own event management company where my first ever client was the National Apprenticeship Service – I approached them as I wanted to support apprenticeships; after all, I owed so much to mine.

I now organise my own events - and all my future will be will be in events which would never have been if it were not for that first job as an apprentice organising exhibitions.

Lindsey Fish runs

I followed my dream

My first proper job was as a tax officer in the Inland Revenue. I wanted to be a nurse, but my dad didn’t think that was a good enough job for his daughter and a civil servant was a much better choice!

However, I did become a nurse. I married when I was 20 and started my nurse training six months later. I rose to the dizzy heights of Director of Nursing!

first jobs

Anne Owen, Chair Competence and Conduct Committees at AVO Management Serviced Ltd.

I got a million paper cuts

My first job, I'm sure, had a more normal title like ‘Administrator’, but essentially it was a ‘Folder Filler’. I was banished to an out building next to the main building for an outsourcing training company. I was given training materials to put in ring binders (all 250 of them!). It was repetitive but good for self discipline, even if I did get a million paper cuts!

Jenny Austin, Recruitment Advisor at Avios.

Never assume you’ve failed

I got my first full-time job in 1987, while I was still at college finishing my course in magazine publishing. There were no mobile phones in those days and no internet, so the only way an employer could contact you was through an old-fashioned land line.

Before a Christmas holiday, I had interviewed for a job I saw advertised in the back of The Voice newspaper. Because I was still finishing a course, I assumed I was too inexperienced and, a couple of weeks later, I had written off the job.  However, when I returned, I received the message: “Please call Olu at The Voice. He’s been trying to get hold of you for days.”

I was surprised to find the editor had been trying to get hold of me to offer me the job. I ended up leaving college early. That taught me two things. First, never assume you have failed at an interview; second, always be easy to get hold of.

Steve Masters, Services Director at Vertical Leap.

I became a mermaid!

I got the idea to be a mermaid after appearing as an extra in Pirates of the Caribbean 4 and after meeting him on set, Kevin McNally (aka Mr Gibbs) agreed to be in my first mermaid photoshoots - in my silicone tail!

I was once asked by a mum how much I would charge to do a swimming session with her daughter who had cystic fibrosis and was at Great Ormond Street hospital. I obviously did the gig for free and got some fantastic footage of us swimming together.

I really do love my job and I hopefully have some amazing opportunities coming up next year. I'm also in the process of making my own tail! 


Samantha Smallwood – aka Samantha Siren, mermaid.

My mistake opened doors

I started my first job at 16 and my first day couldn’t have been worse. My boss was a very busy lady, and wanting to make a good impression, I offered to get her lunch. She asked for a salad.

Unbelievably, at that point in my life I had never eaten a salad, let alone bought one. But then lightning struck: ‘A SALAD IS JUST LETTUCE!’ So pleased was I at this epiphany, I didn’t hesitate to buy a whole iceberg lettuce, thinking what a great impression this would make.

I confidently presented this unopened, unwashed lettuce to my boss and said: “Here you go, one fresh salad!"

Not a word was exchanged, but I could tell from the shock in the room that this would go down in office folklore. I expected the worst, but was pleasantly surprised: “That took some real b*lls kid,” said a senior member of her team the next day. “We like courage around here.”

That little mistake actually set me down a path where I was given a lot of responsibility, creating a new induction system. I learned that sometimes, doing something that makes stand you out is a great thing - you just have to assess the risk.

My second lesson was that networking internally is as powerful as networking externally. It’s about taking a real, genuine, interest in people. It’s amazing how that shift in attitude can open doors and opportunities for you. I worked there for over a year, met some great people (who I’m still in touch with) - even my boss came round eventually :-)

Han-Son Lee, who runs Daddilife.

I went from the frying pan into the fire

My first job was working in a restaurant, washing up plates and pots at the age of 13 for £1 per hour. I soon thought: ‘why wash up the dirty pots when I could cook in them and eat some nice food?’

I got into cooking, completing my City & Guilds at college, then worked in the Hilton Hotel chain and in Australia. Upon returning, I continued my rise in the kitchen, becoming one of the youngest Executive Head Chefs for Hilton Hotels in the UK - my last role in chef’s whites.

I do think it helped shape me as a person, as it’s a very hard environment in which to build a career: 12-14 hours day, 6 days a week and very fast-paced.

new job

My recruitment career started at a very young ARM, working one day a week for free, to gain some experience outside a kitchen. More than 18 years on I am still here!

Lorne Adams, Technology Service Delivery Director, Corporate Services at ARM.

My employers weren’t very ice…

My first job was in an ice-cream parlour - £2.75 an hour, all the ice-cream and sweets you could eat. Then they threatened to fire me because I went up a dress size and that ‘wasn't pleasing to customers’. Such a cheek! Feed you up then knock you down!

I was 14. I got my dad to call in an quit for me!

Deborah Bates, Web and Social Editor at Shelter.

I discovered a passion for sales

job search

My first job was as a Sales Consultant in a sports shop in central Birmingham. Although now nearly 20 years ago, working there is a memory that I will keep for a lifetime.  My experience within this environment provided me with a career foundation to build on by giving me some early exposure to my profession of choice in sales. 

My time working there provided me with some great insight in how to communicate with people, how to handle objections from disgruntled customers and satisfied my competitive nature by working in a sales orientated arena.

It was also a very social environment and reinforced the value of teamwork. I feel lucky to have had this work experience. 

Paul Fairclough, Client Relationship Director at ARM.

I learned I don’t like dealing with people!

My first was at an American diner, when I was 16. At the interview for the job we were ushered into a room, my friend and I had applied together, and we expected to be asked relevant questions by the two men presiding.  Instead, we were asked to tell jokes and do some aerobics. My friend and I, plus some other young women, got the job. 

Our uniforms were issued some weeks later.  The button-down dresses were so low cut that we had to use our name badges to secure them together. Funny that they chose bubbly, bouncy young girls to wear those uniforms! But as first jobs go it wasn't so bad.  It taught me that I do not like dealing with people very much. And gave me a healthy respect for those that do.
new job

I went on to work at a print shop, where I first got to use a Mac, and in 1998 that was a pretty big deal. That was the job that set me on a path to becoming a designer, without any design qualifications, and eventually on to where I am now.

Lucy Chaplin, Creative Director at

Looking for a new job in the New Year?

It’s incredible to think that those first jobs, however mundane or meaningless they may have seemed at the time, probably did shape your present career in one way or another. Whether it was obvious – you discovered a profession you were destined for, like Lisa – or not so much – like Lorne being readied for a career in recruitment by being put through his paces as a chef – these first steps into employment will have had a lasting effect.

New job

As for your current role – how does it make you feel? Are you happy? Content? Fulfilled? Or are you one of those people who already has a New Year’s resolution to find a new job? If you are, then stay tuned to our 'Jobs of the past, present and future' blog, as we’ve got plenty of inspiring and useful articles coming your way in the new few weeks.