Few people venture into entrepreneurship as their first gig. Compared to traditional professional careers, entrepreneurship is risky, demanding, and requires more capital at the outset. Working in a steady job prior to becoming an entrepreneur gives you skills, experiences, insights, and money that you need in order to be successful.
As you might suspect, some jobs are better at preparing you for the entrepreneurial world than others. Any job in the white collar world can probably equip you with a pool of savings and some new contacts, but even simpler jobs that anyone can get will help you build the skillsets necessary to run a business effectively.
1. Retail. Working retail offers an opportunity to develop several skills that have nothing to do with running a cash register or sorting items. You’ll work with incoming customers who may not know what they want. After having a conversation with them, you’ll get a feel for what they’re looking for, and you’ll be able to match it with a corresponding product available in-house. After a few months, you’ll be able to look at a person’s behavior and profile them based on their needs — it’s a way of learning how to read people and preempt their needs and wants.
Additionally, you’ll have the opportunity to work with disgruntled and dissatisfied customers — probably some of the nastiest around. It’s entirely within your power to address their complaints and make things right, and that experience will help you greatly with your first wave of dissatisfied customers.
2. Food. Food, particularly fast food, is not a glamorous industry. Some cooks and chefs earn a level of artistic mastery that rivals the respect and appreciation of any other art — but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about being a line cook at best, or a fry cook at worst. I’m talking about the down and dirty job of making food in a hot kitchen as fast as possible for demanding customers.
You won’t learn much about financial projections or profitability models here, but this is an extremely high-pressured environment. You’ll be forced to work quickly, multitask, and shape orders to perfection under increasingly tight circumstances (and often with people who aren’t skilled at their jobs). It’s a sink-or-swim environment that will perfectly prepare you for the pressure cooker that is entrepreneurship.
3. Sales. Working in sales should be an obvious move for any aspiring entrepreneur, even if it starts as just a telemarketing job. In sales, you’ll learn strong communication skills as you speak with people from all walks of life. You’ll learn persuasion skills as you get better at talking people into deals. You’ll learn about customer needs and how to meet them appropriately, which will help you develop perfect products.
Furthermore, you’ll likely be in an environment that pays at least partially on commission. In a sense, your livelihood will depend on your ability to succeed — which is exactly how it will be as an entrepreneur. In fact, you can consider being a business owner the ultimate commission-based job.
4. Customer Service. I’ll admit this is cheating a little, since there are customer service elements in almost every job — even the three I mentioned above. Still, I think it’s important to be in a near-exclusive “customer service” role. Customer service reps, as they’ll likely attest, are forced to deal with people in a rapid-fire system, day in and day out. They see the worst, most demanding, angriest sides of people — and that experience will give you the edge you need in a highly competitive environment. Keeping your cool face on while a disgruntled customer yells at you across the counter isn’t exactly fun, but it will prepare you for practically any customer challenge you encounter down the road.
5. Management. Last but not least, try to get a job in management before going it alone in an entrepreneurial venture. It doesn’t have to be a white collar job where you’re managing educated, trained professionals — it can be the manager of a restaurant or department store too. In any management position, you’ll learn teamwork, delegation, time management, and resource allocation skills that you’ll need desperately when you’re running a business. Personally, I feel that a live management position prepares you far better for this than any class or textbook ever could.
If you’ve already had a few of these jobs, think back to the experiences you had during the course of your employment. What did you learn about teamwork? About leadership? About time management? These lessons are subtle, since nobody explicitly tells you any of this information, but if you’re receptive to them, you can easily integrate them into your working style. The more perspectives and the more experiences you expose yourself to, the more well-rounded your eventual business will become.
For more content like this, be sure to check out my podcast, The Entrepreneur Cast!