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5 Important Business Lessons I Learned From My First Job

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I’ve been doing a lot of teaching and interacting with young talent lately, and it’s been making me nostalgic for when I was that age. It’s an exciting time in our lives when we are just starting out and everything is new. It’s an amazing feeling to have your entire career and life ahead of you.

When I was a junior in high school, I had my very first job at a JCPenney department store. I started out in the catalog department and then “moved on up” -- literally and figuratively -- to the men’s department on the main floor. The JCPenney Catalog was a big deal back in the day and the brand certainly helped shape who I am today.

In a lot of ways, I learned more then than during any other point in my career. I learned some fundamental lessons in life and business that have stuck with me ever since. Here's a look at five that are most important:

1. Make client service a top priority.

Probably most importantly, I learned the value of really good client service, and how the relationships you build with customers can help you grow your business and make it a lot more fun. I learned to laugh with my customers, listen to their stories and instill the trust that I was going to take care of them. These are similar emotions to what my clients to this day need from me.

I also learned to interact with clients from all walks of life and with very different concerns. Knowing how to adapt uniquely to each situation is a life lesson I carry with me today.

2. Be sensitive when resolving conflict.

You wouldn’t believe the things people would return to a retail store: dresses that had clearly been worn and even draperies that had been faded by the sun. I learned how to resolve conflicts in a way that keeps the conversation cordial and helps people accept the word “no.”

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3. Integrate online and offline communications.

This was way before digital folks, but in a way I learned the fundamentals of integrating various forms of business and communication by seamlessly weaving phone calls with in-person engagements with catalog sales with brick and mortar retail merchandising.

The art of integration kept it all working together, under one brand and one brand experience, with me as brand ambassador at each touch point, which is exactly what I teach today.

4. Appearance matters.

I did a fair amount of modeling at the time as well. I learned quickly that how you dress makes a lasting impression on people and directly affects how they are going to treat you. I dressed a bit older for my age and kept it fresh. Now I probably a dress a little younger for my age, and still try to keep it fresh.

5. Be your brand.

While I didn’t call it this at the time, I was launching my own personal brand and determining what I wanted out of a career based on what I was good at and what I liked doing. I learned to be true to that and to stay on a consistent path to make it all happen. My “brand” was forming, and it’s appropriately still consistent today.

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