How to Make the Most of a "Dead End" Job

by Vault Careers | April 24, 2012

A career is preferable to a job or a gig. But what if a "job" is all you can get?

Business Insider writer Travis Okulski needed work after a summer job ended, so he filled out an application at Walmart. Glamorous? No. But a waste of time? He doesn't think so.

In a piece taking a surprisingly positive stance on working for the retail giant, Okulski notes that the employees who have negative experiences at Walmart tend not to be proactive about making anything of their time on shift. "They want something for nothing from the company and they aren't getting it," he says.

Okulski himself must have been getting something out of the company: he stayed on for two years, and calls the time "a great experience that I wouldn't trade for anything."

Shocking? A little. But if you break it down, you'll see the elements of any good career can be present at a "day" job. Here's how to make them work for you at your job:

1. Employee Empowerment

Okulski says that on the floor, each Walmart employee is given a scanning gun that enables him or her to check stock levels. That way, "If something is out, the average employee on the floor orders goods to be in the department," he explains. "This really encourages associates to know what sells in their departments, since it's up to them to make sure the hottest sellers are in stock."

The Takeaway: More control=more happiness. Is there something you can be in charge of at your job? Extra visibility that could be empowering? Brainstorm, and don't be afraid to ask for it!

2. Opportunity to Learn—and Earn

There's something to be learned at every job, if you're paying attention. At Walmart, Okulski says that's people skills.

"Walmart taught me exactly how to deal with customers, and in my personal life, people, that could be considered difficult to handle," he writes.

The Takeaway: Even if you work at a pizza joint, time management, team work, and de-escalating emotionally charged customers are all highly useful skills you can take away from the job. Engage in your work and focus on what's required of you in every task. What skills can you work on? What training or advice from higher ups can you seek?

3. Engagement

Easy doesn't always mean fun. Okulski writes that his experience at Walmart was more rewarding—and that the time passed faster—when he was actively engaged with customers.

"As you learn in training, there is a heavy emphasis on the customer. If someone is within 10 feet, you are supposed to greet them and ask if they need help. If they are looking for something, you are then to take them to the item, not just vaguely point."

Putting in a little extra effort can also kick-start a positive feedback loop; if you treat your customers and coworkers with a bit of extra care, they'll feel good about you, and you'll feel better about your job. Simple concept, but effective!

The Takeaway: Get busy. Don't just count the hours at work; use downtime to improve your work environment. Can you streamline a daily process? Organize a shared work station? Think of ways to improve a service the company provides? Not only will you be more satisfied while kicking major butt, you'll also be on the fast track to getting noticed—and promoted.

4. Training

Why bother learning to do a better job at tasks you hate?

A better question—why not?

Feeling competent at your job is key to enjoying the work. And if you're being paid to learn (Walmart doesn't count voluntary training as break time), why not do make the best of your time at a company and pick up new skills?

As Okulski writes, "Before I hit the sales floor, I spent the majority of my first few days in the training room on computer terminals, learning proper store practices. They are actually useful, and if you pay attention, you learn a great deal about being on the floor."

You never know what will come in handy on your resume, and come reference-providing time, you'll be glad you gave your all at the job.

The Takeaway: Do your research and take advantage of training your company offers, especially if they're footing the bill. Don't miss out on opportunities to build your skill set—a little extra effort could translate into making yourself more viable for a promotion, or your next job.

5. Room for Growth

Don't discount your day job; it might still turn into something.

If you're having bad luck following cold job leads or trolling openings online, try looking within your own company—especially if you know you've been doing good work.

Says Okulski,"The best thing that I learned at Walmart was that hard work was recognized and rewarded. I worked hard and came back during a break from college to be promoted to work in the photo lab (more responsibility, higher rate of pay). I also saw many full-time employees that I worked with move up to become department managers, assistant store managers, and even move on to the corporate office."

The Takeaway: You may not love what you're doing at a company, but look a little further into the future. Could you line yourself up for a career you really love? Even if you know you want to move to another company or industry, is there a way you can align your work at this job to better equip you for your dream gig?

It's amazing what you can find when you look. Open your mind! Be amazing!

--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com

Read More:
I Worked at Walmart for Two Years and I Actually Really Liked It (Business Insider)
5 Steps to Taking Back Your Time at Work
Game-Inspired Tactics to Get You Motivated
5 Ways to Cut Down on Your Sick Days

Filed Under: Job Search | Workplace Issues


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