The Most Useful Job I Ever Had

Eton; Balliol College, Oxford; the foreign office. The standard route into a life of diplomacy. Pouring oil on troubled waters … the delicate art of compromise … getting all sides to see sense…

And in my view nowhere near as useful as spending a couple of summers as a camp site rep in the Vendee. But more of that later.

I was reading an interesting article the other day by Jeff Hadden, an American business writer: The Five Jobs that every Entrepreneur should have.

According to Jeff, before you become an entrepreneur you need to have had a job in sales and one in fast food. You need to have done some manual labour; you need to have worked in customer service and you need to have been a babysitter.

An interesting mix – but why those five? Sales because you simply can’t be an entrepreneur without being able to get your point across. Whether it’s selling to a customer or finding the money in the first place, if you can’t persuade someone to see what’s in it for them, it’s a non-starter.

Fast food teaches the value and necessity of control systems in business and doing some manual labour teaches you just what you’re capable of – and that everyone in an organisation, irrespective of what they do, deserves respect.

Customer service? In today’s rapid communication let’s-all-share-everything world if your customer service isn’t outstanding then everyone will soon hear about it. And babysitting? I’m guessing that Jeff means looking after your own (as well as somebody else’s children). He cites it as the ultimate responsibility – and therefore perfect preparation for taking care of customers, staff and suppliers, any one of whom can send their toys flying out of the pram at a moment’s notice.

The article obviously made me think about all the jobs I’d done prior to The Alternative Board. And without a doubt the one that was most valuable didn’t require a suit and didn’t give me a company car. But it did give me an absolute wealth of experience.

The camp site was not one of the most salubrious in Northern France. My happy campers could peer over the fence at the neighbouring Eurocamp. They’d note the magnificent facilities, the water slides, the toilets that worked, the smiling families…and come back slightly less than happy. And with yet more problems for their camp site rep to sort out.

But I learned tact; I learned diplomacy. I learned how different personalities could work together. And I learned to recognise the type of person who’d never manage to work with anyone…
What else? With a campsite in France and a mixture of French, English and German holidaymakers I became pretty adept at international diplomacy. Didn’t I tell you Eton and Balliol was a waste of time? I learned how to organise a kids’ club (two small boys? Piece of cake). And above all I learned a fundamental fact of human life: virtually every pizza known to man can be improved by crumbling blue cheese onto it.

Were the benefits of a holiday job unique to me? Absolutely not. One of the best public speakers I know says it’s all down to a summer job as a bingo caller. “Simple, Ed. I was calling from ten in the morning to about six at night. I just had to be entertaining otherwise the punters went next door. And I had to learn to engage an audience. In retrospect, it was brilliant training.”

And at that point I’ll knock the ball into your court. Which job that you’ve done – school holidays or early years in the workplace – gave you the best preparation for running your own business, or doing what you do now? I’d be fascinated to hear your answers – but if you were the rep at that Eurocamp, you had it easy…



  1. Andy Gambles · February 4, 2012

    Paper Round.

    Tought me organisation and planning. Getting the papers in order and getting the most efficient route.

    Dealing with people. Many would stop an chat to you.

    Sales and marketing. I got a bonus if I signed more up to the round. Send Xmas cards would also increase tips :).

    Determination. Getting up at 6am during school holidays to deliver papers!

    Customer Service. Helped many people on the doorstep like opening a jar of coffee for an elderly lady.

  2. simonjhudson · February 6, 2012

    Sales – done that
    Manual labour – done that
    Fast food – no, but I have done the control systems stuff
    Babysitter – done that
    Customer service – pretty much every job has some kind of customer and I have learned from all of them

    As for the job that taught me the most – no single one stands out. Pretty much everthing I have done (and there have been loads: greenhouse erector (snigger), potato picker, baby sitter, EFL teacher, shop assistant, physics teacher, lab manager, ISO9000 auditor, product developer, professional trainer, marketing manager, business development manager – I probalby missed a few – and now this) has taught me something. I know about people, systems, processes; I know what I love, what I tolerate and what I loathe; I know what I do that enthuses people and what irritates them beyond measure; I know much about what works and what doesn’t.
    If only I knew how to make lots of money and usccess from all this abundant experience.

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