Ask the Readers: What Was Your First Paying Job?

By Ashley Jacobs on 30 July 2013 77 comments

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For a lot of young of people, their first job comes with a bunch of other firsts: the thrill of the first paycheck, the first time they have "real world" responsibilities, their first forays into work politics, etc. Whether the experience was good or bad, the first paying job is, to many, a marker for adulthood.

What was your first paying job? How did you spend your first paycheck? What important lessons did you learn while on the job?

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Guest's picture

I started working at McDonald's when I was 14...the summer after 8th grade. I actually started out below minimum wage since they say you are "in training" for the first several weeks. However, I stuck around, working Saturdays only, for 5 years. Believe it or not, that job, along with lots of babysitting and saving almost every penny, paid the majority of my college tuition (plus lots of jobs during college). One of the most fun jobs I ever had.

Guest's picture

Me too!

I started at McDonald's at age 14 and spent 5 years there! There were all kinds of things wrong with that job, but I learned a lot:

Guest's picture
Mary Happymommy

My first job was babysitting my neighbor's daughter during the summer.

Guest's picture

My first job was working in the kitchen preparing food for Chick-fil-a. I probably spent my first check on gas and fast food! The main lesson I learned is to persevere through difficulty at work and always put the customer first.

Guest's picture

My first paying job was at a fruit market with an ice cream shop attached. It was short-lived and I enjoyed the work, but not the management.

Guest's picture

My first paying job was the hardest job I've ever had - I worked on a farm. From sun-up to sun-down, and for very little money. I was so tired at the end of every day, all I could do was shower, eat dinner, and sleep. But it was good.

Guest's picture

I worked at a daycare center when I was 15. It was located up the street from my house and since I couldn't drive yet it was my only option for work other than babysitting. One day I put on a skirt and pretty shirt and hiked up the hill to the center. Lucky for me they hired me. I worked there for almost a year, but then they started giving me less time with the kids and more time cleaning toilets (which I was not hired to do). I think they were trying to take advantage of my young age and knew I would have a hard time refusing the task. Shortly after I got my drivers license I ditched that place for another daycare center that didn't ask me to clean.

Guest's picture

I was a file clerk at a doctors office after school. I bought lots of candy and toys.

Guest's picture

My first job was at the lunch counter of the J.J Newberry store in San Mateo, CA. The year was 1968, the summer after I graduated from high school. Before that, I had done babysitting and worked at some temp jobs such as stuffing envelopes and selling fireworks, but Newberry's was my first regular paycheck. I used the money to get the things I needed to go away to college in the fall. My direct boss was the fry cook, a tough single mom, only a couple of years older than I, from whom I learned a lot about hard work and responsibility. She was a terrific mentor. And I remember one regular customer, an old man who came in every day and always bought a cup of coffee for 10 cents and left me a quarter tip--his way of helping out the kid going to college.

Guest's picture

Like many people my first paying job was at McDonald's. I worked there for 5 years while I was in junior high and high school. I became a little teenage workaholic. It was fun and challenging as I rose up to become a manager. Plus all my friends worked there so it was a good time! Glad to have moved on from that though!

Guest's picture

After a couple of summers as a camp counselor, my first "real" job was after school at a local bakery when I was 16. Minimum wage was $3.35 an hour then.

This bakery made amazing fresh bagels, so they were crazy busy in the mornings, but after school was kind of dead, so me and my coworkers just ate cookies and did our homework. When we worked weekends, we'd arrive at 6AM as bagels were emerging fresh and hot from the oven. The owner always let us have one before starting work. YUM!

Guest's picture

I worked at McDonalds! For 4 years! I actually got on all the customers' nerves because I was "too chipper". I worked at 6am.

Guest's picture

Working for my dad in construction. I put the money in the bank and saved it. I learned that I don't want to work for my dad :)

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Kelli B.

My first job was at a little bakery close to home. I worked there for the summer, and then on and off during the school year. I don't remember what I did with my first paycheck, but I do remember learning the value of hard work (scrubbing floors and dishes and industrial equipment) and good customer service (working the cash register and assisting customers with purchases).

Guest's picture

First paying job was a paper route way back when. I was about 12-13 and my first week of collecting money I used my share to go to a small local corner store and buy a bag of penny candy.

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My first job was a secretary

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Victoria Harrah

My first job consisted of Triple A Minor Baseball, season ticket holders, and loads of fun! I was an Usher(ette) for the what was once the NY Mets (now the Baltimore Orioles) minor league team, the Norfolk Tides. It was a blast to watch a game 4 or 5 nights out of the week and meet so many loyal fans. My first paycheck was less than $100. They paid per game, not by the hour. As far as I can remember, my paycheck went to gas to get to work for the first couple of games. Yuck! It was no fun spending my paycheck to get to wear I was making the paycheck. LOL! This is where I learned to do the extra small things and work whatever extra they would pay me for. I wanted some spending money and that was how I was gonna get it! To this day (16 years later), I'm a huge saver!!

Guest's picture

Babysitting for neighbors' kids. Then, when I turned 16, I got my first "official" job in a candy store.

Guest's picture

I used to get paid $20 an hour to address my dad's office Christmas cards with a typewriter. My first real job was an internship at an interior design studio which I got high school gifted credit for and paid me very well.

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Rona B

I worked at a newspaper, stuffing inserts into the Saturday and Sunday papers.

Guest's picture

My first job with a paycheck was in the young men's department at JC Penney. I was 16 years old and had no idea why they wanted teenage girls selling jeans to men. Yes, I was naive back then! I think I made about $5.75 an hour or something. The most important thing I learned from that job is that it is really easy to impress your manager if you show up early, are working while you are supposed to be working, and are put-together, respectful, and polite to them and to the customers.

Guest's picture

My first job was a Hostess at O'Charley's. I probably didn't spend my first check as I was saving up for a car. I learned a ton at my first job, mostly because I worked there for 6 years. I learned about responsibility, friendship, not dating co-workers, and how to be a leader. It was a great first job.

Guest's picture
Jill Hollifield

Working the snack bar at Target in Grand Forks ND!

Guest's picture

My first job was a paper route when I was around 8 years old (delivering a local weekly paper). I have no clue what I used my first paycheck on - probably candy. Actually, I remember not being all that impressed with the money; the main enticement for the job was to collect a certain percentage (every month you'd get some sort of neat gift if you collected a certain percentage from your customers). One important lesson I learned was that having & keeping a job requires commitment, determination & responsibility. If I didn't feel like delivering the papers on a given day, or even if I wasn't feeling well, it didn't matter - the papers still had to be delivered. Obviously there were sometimes I simply couldn't do the route but even then I had to be responsible enough to find someone to do it for me. Ahhh, good times! Are paper routes even available to kids anymore?

Guest's picture

my 1st job was at an ice cream place, the one cool hip spot in our small town. it was popular because it was also really interesting with the setting of an old fashioned ice cream palace. we sold stick candy for 10 cents and all this old candy and crafts and kitschy stuff that looked like it was from the mercantile from Little House on the Prairie. my first job title was ice cream scooper. it was old school. in big ice cream tubs like you see still in baskin robbins. i spent my first paycheck on makeup i think. i worked part time and learned that earning a dollar was not easy. i also learned that life wasn't fair because some kids didn't have to work. i learned how to be on time and learned how much i wanted to be needed, expected to be somewhere. i just like feeling like i had somewhere i was expected to be. needed. wow, this feels like therapy, thanks!

Guest's picture

I babysat my neighbor's kids.

Guest's picture

My first real job was as a waitress at a retirement home when I was a sophomore in high school.

Guest's picture

My first paying job was baby-sitting - I would imagine that most US girls of my "generation," i.e. Boomers, would answer the same.

Guest's picture

My first paying job was cleaning the daycare center that my mom owned & operated. She would pay me & a friend $10 each to clean on Saturday when the daycare was closed. I was about 12 when we started. I also started babysitting for friends & neighbors around that time.

Guest's picture

My first job was on a summer youth program. I worked as an office assistant in the county Tax Assessor's office. I fibbed about my age to get the job. I was actually 12 instead of the required age of 13...but I did turn 13 in July! :)

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Worked in a frozen yogurt shop in the mall.

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My first job was the local video store

Guest's picture

My first job is one I still hold seasonally. In the winter, a lot of companies hold Christmas and end-of-year parties, and I work for a company that sets up fake casinos as entertainment. I deal either blackjack, roulette, or craps, depending on where I'm needed (but craps pays me the most). All of my paychecks doing this as a teenager were confiscated by my parents and deposited into my savings account.

Guest's picture

I did occasional babysitting from the age of 13, but my first regular job was at Baskin Robbins starting just before my 18th birthday.

Guest's picture

I was a cashier at KFC. I learned that hard work doesn't pay much and I didn't want to spend the rest of my life working fast food!

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Rebecca B. A. R.

My first paying job was babysitting. It has been so long ago, that I have no clue what I spent it on.

Guest's picture

Back in the late 60's I was a busgirl at a local coffee shop and barely made $1 an hour until I was finally promoted to waitress.

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I started working as an office assistant for a family friend, it turned into being a sales associate for their pool supply company.

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My first official job was in a call center where we did surveys by calling people at home. In this day and age of cell phones, I doubt that sort of thing even exists anymore!

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Guest's picture

Mine was working in a convent. No, seriously, it was! I worked in the dietary kitchen helping to make meals for Sisters that had special dietary concerns, like food allergies or needing their food pureed. My Mom worked in the convent as a Nurse's Aid to the elderly Sisters and she helped me get the job.

Guest's picture

Babysitting and I didn't like doing it.

Guest's picture

I worked for Captain D's. It was a bit "fish"y.

Guest's picture

I started babysitting when I was ten. But my first "real" job (where I had to actually pay taxes *gasp*) was when I was 15. I worked weekends at a friend's donut shop. It was dreadful. I had to be at work at 6:00 in the morning. Not a perk when you are 15!!!

Guest's picture

My very first paying job was fish-sitting for my next door neighbors. Then I graduated to cat-sitting for various people around my neighborhood. But my first job with a steady paycheck was sophomore year of college, when I was selected to be a Resident Assistant.

Guest's picture

Babysitting for the neighbor kids was the highlight of my week when I was 12... I made very little money most likely but that wasn't the point, anyway! :) I definitely liked work intrinsically, which is a great lesson to learn.

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My first job was in the U.S. Air Force.

Guest's picture

I started working at McDonald's two weeks after my 16th birthday. Been there 3 years. I've learned that you have to carefully manage your money or you'll end up destitute and working in fast food for a long time. I love it there and the people there and the experience has taught me so much. Plus, I've learned that even though you think you may be irreplaceable, give us an eager young worker and a few weeks, and sayonara!

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Lyn Brooks

I was 15 when I got my first job in 1983 at a convenience store. It was about a mile from my house, so I would walk to ride by bicycle to work in the afternoons after school and on weekends. I got paid minimum wage - a whopping $3.35 an hour.

Guest's picture
Holly S

I had babysat over the years but my first paycheck-type job was at a clothing consignment shop. I worked with three lovely older ladies but I hated the job, lol. All the clothes smelled musty to me. Don't remember what I spent my first paycheck on but I did learn about working with other people and and doing your best even if the job bores you to tears.

Guest's picture
Lisa B.

My first job (besides babysitting) was as a camp counselor at the YMCA when I was 17. I made $6/hour my first summer there. It was really rewarding to work with the kids, but it was really hard work for very little money! The funny thing was that because I didn't have a lot of expenses at that time and I was making more money than I ever had before, I felt rich.

Guest's picture

I started at McDonald's as a lowly crew member when I was 16. That summer, I used my paychecks to buy makeup and new clothes. Felt really happy with myself for buying a cool outfit for my sweet 16! I learned that coworkers can really make or break a job experience.

Guest's picture

I worked at a semiconductor company in New Jersey in their IT department the summer before 9th grade. Then I worked part-time during the week and fulltime in the summers all throughout high school. It was a great experience and I got to play around on their internal website, tinkering and working with employees to improve their sites. I put all the money in the bank and didn't spend it. I have since found ways to spend it (house, car, etc).

Guest's picture

My first real job was at the age of 17. I was the 2nd female bagger that my Kroger grocery store ever had. This was in 1984. I made $3.50/hour, a whopping $.15 over minimum. Since I was in high school, I couldn't work alot of hours.

One week, I hadn't worked many hours, and since union dues came out that week, my paycheck was $.24! Good thing I was still living at home.

Guest's picture

I started as a Reservations Sales Agent at a hotel call center at 16. The job served me well through college with flexible schedule, full benefits for a part-timer and place to do my homework. The sales bonus and hourly provided excellent pay. Hiring from within was practiced in almost all management positions. What did the corporate sector get for hiring teens? A college-educated worker who follows the policy/procedure manual to the letter while providing excellent customer care to every person with whom I had any contact, a punctual worker with low absenteeism and excellent coach to help all coworkers achieve the same or more. Please invest in US teenagers.

Guest's picture

It was at a supermarket my senior year, working for $4.75 an hour just because I wante to pay for my senior pictures!

Guest's picture

From age 14 to age 21 I worked seven days a week part-time at a neighborhood pharmacy, doing janitorial work, waiting on a few customers, stocking shelves, and then, at age 16, delivering prescriptions to customers. The pay during all that time was $1 an hour, no benefits. To add to my income, I had two other part-time jobs, one flipping burgers on the night shift at a drive-through, and the other working as a kennel boy and vet assistant (before there was any formal training) for three different vets. The burger job paid $1.25 an hour, and the vet jobs provided me with a place to sleep, since I've been on my own completely since the 10th grade.

Guest's picture

My first job was babysitting my neighbors. The first time I ever did it was on my 13th birthday! I will never forget it. :)

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Working in a bakery. I sliced bread, boxed cakes and wore a puffy red hat.

Guest's picture

What was your first paying job? Caring for slugs used in brain research at Princeton University's biology department.

How did you spend your first paycheck? Room and board.

What important lessons did you learn while on the job? Responsibility. I was originally hired to work two days and when the other kid didn't show, inherited her slots as well. Managing money. Managing time. Enjoying the quirks, (every job has them). Following instructions. Then the specifics of this job. (I loved biology in high school.) Seeing slugs hatch from clear round eggs, working with the professor, talking with the grad student doing nerve conduction experiments in the same area, never needing a manicure.

Guest's picture
Lori Tate

I wrote news and feature articles, and took photos for a weekly newspaper in a town that had a population of about 3,000 people.

Guest's picture

Even though I am retired now, I remember my 1st "real" job was when I was 15 years old quite clearly. My best friend's uncle owned a security company in Miami. She got me a job there as an usher by begging him to hire me so we could go to work together. Since You had to be 18+ to work there, I was instructed to say I was 18 if anyone asked. (they never did) I got to see everything from Big name concerts, to Holiday On Ice, to Brodway stage shows, to Super Bowl games For FREE!!! All I had to do is stand in my area and show people where to sit. I worked there through high school & college. Even after all the different jobs i've had including 30+ YEARS as an R.N., it was HANDS DOWN the BEST job I've ever had.

Guest's picture

Babysitting and yardwork. My kids do the same now :)

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Debra K

My first paying job was delivering papers when I was a preteen. I didn't make a whole lot of money, but I was able to use what I made to get myself little treats I'd been denied growing up since we were on such a tight budget. I wish I would have saved or invested some starting at that job. I may have saved little amounts for shorter periods of time, and I paid 10% of my earnings toward tithing at my church, but the rest was money I could spend however I wanted, and I don't remember how I spent it.

Guest's picture

My first paying job was at Wendy's during my sophomore year of high school. The manager had a glass eye and he terrified me. On my first day, my mom dropped me off and I nervously entered the restaurant. Upon arrival, the manager curtly told me that my pants were the wrong color and I was instructed to leave. Having no license and no cell phone, I was forced to walk in the snow to a friend's home. It was mortifying. My time at Wendy's was short lived.

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Tabathia B

My first job was working at hardee's, I had just turned 16 yo and my social studies teacher gave me a glowing reference

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Laura Jacobsonl

I did alot of babysitting...but my first real job with a paycheck was at Ponderosa Steakhouse! Oh such fun memories!

Guest's picture

My first out-of-the-home job was cleaning a family friend's home when I was 11. I started washing dishes at another family friend's restaurant when I was 12. I loved it! I saved my money so that I could go to Beatles conventions. :)

Guest's picture

My first job was a fry cook at a pizza place when I was 16, but my first paying gig was selling cherries at a stand when I was 8

Guest's picture

First paying job was supervising the "games room" at a local Boys and Girls club. I was only 17 (pretty sure you're supposed to be 18 when given full supervision responsiblities) and our "games room" was basically an add-on to a building that we stuffed 50 kids ages 6-14 into (breaking multiple fire codes no doubt).

I learned a lot about how to manage a room and plan activities, skills that translate well as a classroom teacher. I also have the ability to a play a mean game of pool and can beat just about anyone in foosball. Those skills, however, haven't proved quite as useful with the exception of my college years.

Guest's picture
Happy Love

I cleaned bathrooms for my parents for extra money beyond my allowance when I was a kid, and then I started babysitting. My first job according to the IRS was telemarketing for symphony subscriptions when I was a teenager.

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J. Pario

Baby-sitting. I remember it vividly. It was the family across the street and I called my mother to come change the baby's diaper!

Guest's picture

My first job like many others was working at a fast food place. They had no respect for the teenage workers. I quit after a short time and went to work for an apple packing plant where the pay and attitude was better.

Guest's picture

My first job was at the local library for minimum wage putting books back on the shelves. I enjoyed it because when I was done if there was nothing to do I could hide away and read for a bit...

Guest's picture

My very first job was working at Burger King while I was in High School. Yeah - it was as bad as you can imagine, but I did learn from it. I learned that I would probably encounter bad bosses in my life, I learned customer service, and above all, I learned respnsibility - showing up on time, doing the job correctly, etc. I also made great friends with the other high school kids who worked there - they made it fun.

Guest's picture

My first job was working at an office supply store as a bookkeepers assistant/cleaning girl. I started when I was 14 years old and went in after school and during summers to help with the filing, posting entries in journals and stuffing statements into envelopes for the bookkeeper. When there wasn't enough to keep me busy for the 1 to 3 hours I was asked to dust, vacuum and clean the bathrooms. It taught me a lot about the business world and how to get along with coworkers under the watchful eye of my supervisor. It was a great experience, even though I started out making $1 an hour!

Guest's picture

Aside from babysitting, my first full time job was as a cashier for a toy store. It was great until Christmas rolled around!