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How a Restaurant or Camp Counselor Job Can Enhance Your Resume

Although many job seekers may leave their early experience working in the service industry off their resumes, one top talent manager says that’s a mistake. In fact, Dean Carter, chief people and purpose officer at Guild, a public benefit corporation that manages companies’ education assistance benefits for workers, lists jobs as a waiter, camp counselor, fry cook, drive-thru cashier and more on his own LinkedIn profile.

Here’s why Carter thinks people who are looking for a job shouldn’t shy away from highlighting the skills they acquired working in such roles. The key? Learning how to shape the conversation with hiring managers. (This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)

You’ve held a number of service industry jobs. What skills did you learn from them?

Dean Carter: I personally learned some really extraordinary skills that I didn’t in some of my later jobs. They were also helpful in my getting those jobs. For example, by waiting tables I learned teamwork, customer service and how to be a servant leader. I also had to be incredibly organized, so I learned to work efficiently.

I was also a camp counselor, and that’s the first time I learned to picture someone other than myself. Those things led to me being a better sales person at Procter & Gamble and a better store manager at Pearle Vision.

Right, the skills you note can make workers of all stripes more productive and also more attractive as candidates. How did it occur to you that these early service industry jobs could be valuable for excelling in future positions?

At Guild, we did ice breakers with team members. I asked people what their first jobs were and what they learned in them. That’s when it hit me that we should put these things on our LinkedIn profiles — the things you did or learned before your profile typically starts. In my case, they are important life skills that I have kept.

What’s the value of understanding a candidate’s earliest work experiences?

We need to put the whole person on there and be really comfortable with that. Those are honorable jobs. I didn’t all of a sudden appear on the scene at Procter & Gamble. That’s not accurate.

We need to have more conversations about the skills we pick up in jobs and how we use them afterward. It makes for an easier conversation. We can shape the conversation about skills we learned in jobs and the skills that those jobs required versus saying, “Tell me about your experience with Procter & Gamble.” Or we can have it in addition. It’s all about moving toward hiring people for skills.

Could it also help employers broaden the talent pools available to them? After all, we’re just emerging from a period when many businesses said it was hard to find qualified people.

There are some people for whom those are their main experiences. Maybe they didn’t have an experience at Procter & Gamble and they picked up skills waiting tables or at a fast-food restaurant. Those are the same type of skills [one can learn in an office].

I think about the number of people out there who are doing work like that now and picking up skills that may be overlooked in terms of their ability to do work in other places and spaces.

We could be overlooking a big chunk of the workforce because they may not know how to represent those jobs in the form of skills. Sometimes people say they waited tables instead of learning team building and talking about the skills that were involved in putting plates on tables.

Are you seeing more people listing early jobs on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles?

I didn’t put those early jobs on my resume because I was taught not to — that it was irrelevant. That’s what I was told by recruiters and search firms. That stuff also came off to shorten your background, but now you have a lot of digital space to tell your story.

I put mine on my profile, so hopefully, someone else sees that. We haven’t been given a good language around what the skills of a waiter, drive-thru cashier, camp counselor are, such as, “I learned to be in service to other people. I learned to work on a team where others depended on me if I was an expeditor or a cook.”

But by having those on there, you’ll create more rich conversations with someone. We’re hiring full human beings — not a list of jobs on a resume.

In other words, skills don’t have an expiration date.

They don’t — they are skills I built on top of. If I have been a service industry worker, I am going to value the experiences of the other hard-working people who have been there.

What are other examples of jobs that can build important professional skills?

As a camp counselor, at an early age you are responsible for leading a group of people. You have to organize them, do something during the day that involves a project, so there is project management involved, and it takes a level of discipline to make sure they don’t get hurt in the process.

You have to hear someone’s challenges and resolve conflicts.

What about experiences outside of a paid job, such as volunteer work or playing team sports?

They can be really valuable in building trust. In cheerleading, when you’re doing a stunt, you have to trust someone will catch you. And you have to rely on a team of spotters to make sure you don’t get hurt.

That’s what we learn from competitive sports — the ability to rely on someone else and trust they’re going to do their job and you’ll do yours. It makes for better teamwork when you can be on a team with a high degree of trust. I learned teams need to have each other’s back, and I learned that going to cheer camp.

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