What was your FIRST job?

My mother is constantly bringing up the number of jobs I’ve had over my lifetime. I started to settle into my career life around the age of 26 when I was hired for my first television hosting job and spent the next 15 or so years hosting different shows for different television stations and production companies.

But before that. Well that’s another story. The part time jobs I had throughout high school and university ranged from picking strawberries to working in stores to slugging it out in a steel mill. The length of time I worked in these places ran from a few minutes to a few months.

I was particular about my working conditions and left my jobs as I saw fit. Often without warning or notice. Mainly I just decided this blows, and walked out the door.

On one particular occasion I was desperate for a job to buy Christmas presents for everyone in my family. So desperate I took a part time job in one of those mall clothing stores that thinks really bright fluorescent lighting, rolling racks filled with incomprehensibly awful and ugly clothing, and really loud, bad music is the way to go.

I did not agree with them. But I agreed to work there. I could struggle through it.

And I did. For a day and a half. For on the second day they told me I would have to wear a Santa Claus hat throughout my workday.

Now, I could force myself to deal with poor constructed garments made out of completely unrecognizable fibres. But I could not stand around selling this crap while wearing a Santa hat.

I set the hat down on the floor and quietly slipped out the door, never to return. I didn’t even pick up my paycheque, which I imagine would have totalled around $4.52.

But this is about my first job. My very first job.

I was in grade 8 and had a friend whose neighbour  distributed sunglasses. Peepers. They needed workers to take the glasses out of their plastic bags, label them and put a tag on them. We were required to work for 2 or 3 weekends.

I remember 2 things about this job. The room we worked in was the driest dustiest place I’d ever been in outside of a cardboard box.  And, at lunchtime we all got to go to lunch like grown ups. At a restaurant. I ordered chicken fingers.

I will never forget that first job and the first paycheque that came with it. $19. I remember that distinctly because I ended up losing it. Being a stupid kid and all.

So now I ask you … What Was Your First Job?

Judging by what I know about the average Art of Doing Stuff reader, I have a hunch there’s going to be some very interesting responses.


Have a good weekend!



  1. CarolP says:

    I was 14 and worked behind the candy bar at our small town movie theatre. I was paid $3.85 (minimum wage) in cash – each week it was counted out into my hand by the octogenarian owner.
    Behind the snack bar, there was no cash register – only a drawer for the money – so I had to do all the math in my head. Most of it was easy as everything ended in multiples of 25¢. Except the chocolate bars – they were 65¢ and that just messed with my head!

  2. Molly says:

    I was a dock attendant at a marina. I pumped hundreds of gallons of fuel at a go and was supposed to sell “fish mounting” to the tourists, so proud of the beautiful creature they’d killed. What they got was painted styrofoam, loosely the size & shape of what they’d caught. What we got was some pretty tasty smoked fish. What I liked best was helping out the pelicans who had run afoul of said fishermen’s gear.

  3. Jodi T. says:

    When I was a freshman, I worked at a Renaissance Faire as a Turkey Leg selling wench. I was GREAT at it ;). The best part about the whole job was when it rained (it was only open in Spring, and that’s about the only time TX gets rain). Most of the customers left, and while we waiting for our bosses to tell us we could go, we’d run around in the downpour, in our long skirts and peasant blouses, and be stupidly silly. It was great. Not to mention, there are some VERY interesting people at these types of faires. VERY. INTERESTING.

  4. Nicole says:

    The only reason I had a shred of a decent job as a teenager was all thanks to that bad ‘N’ word. Nepotism. I was a “certified barista” at one of the ‘big’ coffee shops. Yup, already way back then they were giving silly names to positions that really came down to slinging coffee.

    I learned, if you could swing it, the benefits of nepotism were endless. Once I got the job, I held onto it like my life depended on it knowing a chubby, braces sporting, glasses wearing teenager usually had as good a chance at a ‘front lines’ job like that as, well, as … I got nothin’ – I’m terrible with metaphors, but it wasn’t good.

    ANYHOW … I love this topic mainly because I think you and my mom would get along like a house on fire. She is the bravest woman I know in terms of starting and leaving jobs. She’s had over 65 jobs in the course of her 57 years and she just published a novel called Cover Letter Queen where she weaves a tale about a fictitious 40th high school reunion around the telling of all her real life jobs.

    My favorite line that I have to share because I think you will enjoy it was when she did wire tap transcription for our country’s finest and her co-worker said to her ‘Carol, mother****er … is it one word or two?’

  5. Deet says:

    I started my non-illustrious resume working at the age of 14 waitressing tables at a Catskill Mountain resort in New York. I couldn’t carry the heavy trays of food, I did dump wine on a guest, I lasted one dinner and they fired me. (and it was illegal for me to be serving the wine in the first place.)

  6. NormaJo says:

    Car-hop at A & W drive in root beer stand. Remember how the trays attached to the car window? I sucked at it, trays would fall off and I couldn’t remember what they ordered. Didn’t last long.

  7. Langela says:

    Other than a paper route and babysitting, my first real job was waitressing on Saturday mornings at a local diner. I was 14. The owner was a witch and would sit at the counter and talk about me to the customers–while I was right there in earshot! No fond memories of that place.

  8. Jill says:

    My first real job was at a restaurant that was attached to a hotel. It’s where I learned to set a ‘proper’ table and fold cloth napkins. But the most interesting part of my job was taking room service trays up to the hotel rooms on Sunday mornings. People would try to be all professional and serious about giving me a tip, while standing there in their pajamas, with bedhead, and miscellaneous clothing and toiletry items strewn about. And then there were others who were rude and mean, and had obviously trashed their room. I learned a lot about human nature at that job.

  9. Celia says:

    Besides babysitting? I mowed lawns. Not exactly glamourous but I took advantage of my neat-freakness and inner-artist! Our neighbours never had cool looking patterns on their front lawns…I tell ya! 8-)

  10. Nan Tee says:

    My first job was dishwasher at my high school. I only lasted half a semester. It was not exactly bad, but scraping food off the trays was gross. I think my check was $90? Good times. :)

  11. Cydney says:

    Alright, my first real job was selling roses on Yonge Street in Toronto. I was 15 and they used to close Yonge St. at Gerrard In the summer as a sort of pedestrian mall. I sold the roses for 19 cents a piece, but usually I got 25 cents. Ten cents went to the guy who supplied the roses (we met him behind Sam the Record man in the parking lot) and at the end of the night (usually around 1am.) we would meet him again and give him his cut. It was decidedly weird (I could say he seemed a bit like a pimp), but I made enough money to finance my trip to Vancouver. I can’t imagine what the hell my parents were thinking letting me do it, but it was the seventies when they just opened the door and let you out into the world.

  12. Mary Kay says:

    My very first business experience was picking green beans on my grandfather’s one acre garden. Does it still qualify as a garden or is that now considered a small farm??
    Two of my cousins and I would spend two weeks at my grandparents house enjoying this little enterprise: Grandpa got free labor picking his green beans. He then would load up his old wooden wheelbarrel (he painted it red – he loved the color red) with the beans, a scale and some brown lunch bags and send us out into the neighborhood to peddle the beans. Upon return each day we would then receive our lesson in economics: Grandpa got half of what we made to pay for the beans we then would split the balance between the three of us.
    I grew up hating green beans but I now like them as an adult but love them for the lessons I learned from my Granfather. He was a very successful businessman and I admire and miss him.

  13. I was a lifeguard at a country club that my parents belonged to. The 2 best things about it were that I could drink all of the “freezes”- sherbet shakes(lime, orange, etc), that made those hot days go by easier and kicking my brothers out and telling them to go home when they got obnoxious!

  14. Diane Stairs says:

    My first job was on the insistence of my friend Hilary, both of us being 15 and in need of new clothes and lots of teenage stuff, at a greasy spoon called The Westway Restaurant run by three Greek Brothers. Oh did those brothers open our eyes to what goes on in the “big” world…but we had lots of laughs, tips (maybe $5 a day, but that was a fortune to us in 1970) and realized that being a
    waitress was something we could tick off our lists….However, over the rest of my high school days and college I waitressed many more times but those times with booze…

  15. DzynByJules says:

    Does plucking gray hairs from my mother’s head for a penny a piece count? (as the mother of 7 kids, she had quite a few and I made a killing that first year) Realizing that job would fade fast with her discovery of color-in-a box, I then moved on to drying cars at the local car wash at 13, where I earned enough money to buy my summer pool pass. Good times!
    Jules :)

  16. Debbie says:

    Babysitting, delivering the Toronto Telegram (in the 60’s) and my first real job at 16 was in a fast food restaurant. Loved it but after a few months went on to ‘bigger & better’ at Canadian Tire. :)

  17. Janie says:

    1st real job….waitress for a small diner downtown. Lasted 3 days. Absolutely hated it, never did it again. Best job….clothing clerk at a state school. Took care of clients clothes and went SHOPPING when they needed more. sigh…..

  18. Mary says:

    I parked cars at the State Fair here in MN. I wore a lovely orange vest and had a gorgeous orange flag to wave around so they would know where to park. I was 11…..

  19. Debbie says:

    My first real paying job was as a lifeguard for the Town of Newmarket @ the age of 14. Well actually, before I got to lifeguard at the real pool, I got to sit at one of those wading pools…. in the middle of some park, with no washroom and pretty much babysit… I have no idea how we handled the no washroom part!!

  20. Suanne says:

    One of my first jobs was as a Car Hop at a place called, “Mr. Weenie” (totally serious) We offered like, 50 different types of hotdogs. I was one of the initial crew members hired when it first opened. When business was slow, we’d have Root Beer chugging contests between the employees. I remember trading food with a Colonel Sanders place down the street when we got tired of eating the hot dogs. Many years ago, but the place is still in business. They even have teeshirts that say, “I ate at Mr. Weenie”.

  21. Louise says:

    My first experience earning money involved wearing a sandwich board, dressed as a clown, handing out balloons and sneaking mouthfuls of helium. My friend’s parents’ friends had relocated their hardware store and wanted to attract local’s attention to the location of the new store. Cars kept whizzing by a couple of ridiculously dressed kids standing on the sidewalk, in an industrial part of town but as long as we got to talk like chipmunks, we were happy. I used the $10 I earned to buy a Bee Gees album – life was good : )

  22. marilyn says:

    aside from babysitting i pumped gas and slugged pop cases at the pioneer when it had a pop shoppe, yea i am that old lol..i loved it

  23. Picking strawberries. I thought that was everybody’s first job. The next year I picked strawberries and then tied cauliflower. That has to rank as the worst job ever. Picture early morning, heavy dew, crouching down and gathering an armload of heavy, wet leaves, hugging them to your soaked (flat) bosom and tying them together with binder twine. Thinking about it almost 50 years later still makes me cringe.
    The best job was not paid in cash. The Circle B Ranch was up the road and in return for brushing, saddling and being trail boss, I got to ride any time I wanted. That was just one step closer to a lifelong addiction.

  24. Linda Adams says:

    My first job was waitressing in the Alexander Hotel Dining Room! I felt so grown up – especially when a friend of the owner gave me a $20 tip for serving his lunch (he was sitting with the owner). I asked her about it – I wanted to return it! She said I should keep it because I got it for being friendly yet professional and since he owned a restaurant too and had told her he would hire 20 people like me – if he could find them! I worked that job two summers in a row while in high school – loved it!

  25. Sian says:

    My first job was in a kebab shop in a shopping centre in the late nineties. I feel sorry for them now, I think the sum total of their staff (mainly school and uni students) were giving away more kebabs to their friends than they were selling. Myself included. Kids are shits aren’t they? That probably justifies the $4.00 an hour I was making.

  26. Brenda says:

    Being born and raised on PEI it was ‘digging potatoes’, on a harvester after school & weekends throwing off rocks & ‘bad’ potatoes. My friends did it as well so we had lots of fun…down here we have a beauty contest where the winner is crowned..Queen of the Furrows. Spuds are big here!! LOL!!!

  27. Kathy W says:

    I used a riveting machine to put handles on a famous brand of luggage. ALL day, ALL summer when i was 17. Loved the paycheck! Hot, noisy place…never went back.

  28. Mati says:

    My very first job was cleaning the udders of milking cows. I was 5 or 6 and I would wipe the poop and crud off then dip the udder in this brown stuff that disinfected them. My family was helping out another family while they went to Disneyland. I remember getting paid $10 for what seemed like a few weeks. I took the money and went to a like a Dollor store and bought Christmas presents for my family. I thought I was amazing and pitched my mom a wooden spoon. I thought I was the perfect gift and that she would think I was the most wonderful kid. My brother who also got to clean udders. Selfishly bought Legos. See I was the better kid.

  29. Gale says:

    My first job was babysitting, but I also worked two days at a landscaping nursery – cutting long vines into 6-inch sections and bundling them. After the black salamander scared me (and one of the guys working there stepped on it) I decided the little bit of money I was getting wasn’t worth getting up so early in the morning and I didn’t go back. But my first real job was working the candy counter register in a drugstore after school, where I met my husband!

  30. Zala says:

    My first job was emptying and cleaning airplane trolleys for an airline when I was 14. After two weeks I went and bought the right Dr. Martens boot. My mom had to spring for the left one.

  31. Barbie says:

    Kentucky Fried Chicken! You could eat all the chicken you wanted…and my Mom and Dad loved it when I brought all the chicken home every night!

  32. Ann says:

    I worked on a tomato harvester…8th grade and great money. The tomatoes would be yanked out of the ground by the harvester and brought up to the belt where a number of women would make sure they were whole and good for sale, at which time they were tossed onto the center belt, where they eventually tumbled into a bin. Hot, dirty work with a lot of women who thought I was a snotty little white girl. Showed them…when they turned over a tomato with a snake curled up in it, I was the only one left on the harvester. The worst part? Dirty nose boogers for two days afterwards.

    • gloria says:

      Har! Great story. I’m embarrassed to admit (but I will anyway) that our family has a term and an acronymn for said dirty nose boogers. We landed upon this less than sterling family tradition while traveling on vacation in a car with no AC. After several hundred miles of hot Florida air blowing up our noses, the kids discovered they had DBs, dead boogers. And so a treasured tradition was born.

  33. Elle says:

    Ice cream parlor when I was 18.
    There was a “frozen yogurt” craze back then, and we had this machine where we would put cubes of frozen yogurt and the “trimmings” people wanted: candy bars, fruit, nuts etc and then we had to pull a big handle and mash it together. I got blisters from that handle!
    I quit after 3 weeks because I didn’t get paid (I was supposed to get paid every week).

    • elsje says:

      Me too!!! I was 14 and worked in a Ice cream cubicle attach to the tiny shop in the South African Holiday Seaside Town where I grew up… Turning out soft serve Ice cream (a selection of Vanilla, Strawberry and/or Chocolate) with flakes from the most temperamental of Ice Cream machines. Those machines turned out an exorbitant amount of heat – so while I was handing people their refreshing cones, I was dying in my sauna… About 5 weeks in a drunk Hobo walked by, leaned in and grabbed my boob!!! That was the straw that broke the camels back…

  34. Karen Eggleston says:

    I washed dishes in a nursing home. By the end of the month I had no skin on my hands. Really, just red swollen flesh.

  35. Susan Rappoport says:

    I got my first job the summer before I started college, working as a receptionist in the emergency room of a hospital. It was interesting and fun for about three days. My shift was 3-11:30 p.m
    One night I was working the urgent care clinic alone and had a huge line of people waiting to check in. I was barely looking up from my paperwork when I said “What sort of problem are you having?” The man at the head of the line replied, “I’ve been shot!” It got my full attention! I called the ER to come and collect his drunk and bleeding self. Did I learn my lesson, look over the desk and check the condition of people waiting?No chance. I continue checking in the patients. Four more people and the response to my question was “I’ve been stabbed!” The other party from the fight, also three sheets to the wind! The job sucked, but it put me through school and gave me some good stories.

  36. pixie says:

    Nevermind MY first job, tell me more about your adventures in a cardboard box ;)

  37. Tracie says:

    My first real job was working as a waitress in an all night diner when I was 15 years old. The owner was Greek and he used to have poker games in the back room where us girls would take turns serving food and drinks to the players. They would toss bills at us for tips, which usually landed on the floor as they were far too engrossed in the game to worry about paying any attention to us. Thank God! Fun times! He left town one night never to be seen again….hmmmm

    • Karen says:

      Tracie – They were throwing the bills on the floor so they could see you bend over to pick it up. Yep. ~ karen

      • Tracie says:

        You know, I would have thought that too, but the buggers didn’t even look up from their game! Oh well, sweet tips anyway! That graveyard shift can sure be an eye-opener, that’s all I’ve got to say…

  38. Leena says:

    I think my first job was mowing lawn of the apartment building we lived in. Then I also worked in a turkish restaurant (or a kebab restaurant as we say in Finland) near the central rail station in Helsinki with bunch of Turkish, Iraq and Iran guys. I was 17 years old and worked mostly on evenings and weekends. The customers were sometimes a bit scary but I loved to work there.

  39. gloria says:

    When I was 16 I needed money so I could buy gear to hike a stretch of the Appalachian Trail. I took a job as a telephone recruiter for a technical school. We had lists of boys in their senior year of high school to call. You’d think that would be bliss to a 16 year old girl. But I got flustered and instead of saying, as the script read, “Hi, my name is Gloria and I’m calling from Tampa Technical Institute…,” I said, “This is Gloria from Tampa Testicle Institute.”

    I don’t know, Freudian slip perhaps.

  40. Kirsten says:

    I taught piano out of my bedroom when I was around fourteen – and was also a choral scholar at a church from around that time too. One of my students gave me the Sarah McLachlan Christmas CD as a teacher gift (he was also my mom’s boss – daunting!) My first real pay-cheque job was (and is) working as a customer service representative for one of the largest real estate companies in the world (still not used to being corporate and having a corporate email at the age of 20…)

  41. AnnW says:

    Baby sitting doesn’t count. My first job was in the summer as a secretary for the Port Captain of the Port of Balboa, Canal Zone. $.85 an hour. I also got to work with the admeasurers who calculated the displacement of each ship and charged accordingly as it moved through the canal. If ships were empty, or too light, they had to take on water to travel through the locks. Ann

  42. Erica G says:

    I worked at a firework stand! I sold hundreds of dollars of cheap Chinese explosives to people who would let their toddlers run around on the sharp gravel parking lot with no shoes.

  43. Kim Merry says:

    My first real job was working the ticket booth at our local drive in theater. There was a boy a few years younger who would go to each car in line, count how many people in the car and run back to the booth and give me the money. He would then have to run back with their tickets and change. I think I had the better part of that job! I think I made $.75 an hour.

  44. Keri says:

    My first paycheck earning job was taking tickets and making popcorn at a movie theater- all the movies I wanted to see for free!

    • Karol says:

      Keri, I too worked at a movie theater for my first paying job. I loved that I could watch all the movies, plus have all the popcorn I could eat. But for the $1.25 I was earning per hour (I’m very old… that was minimum wage at the time), the perks were worth more than the paycheck. It was the most care-free time of my life.

  45. Erica Filpi says:

    My 10th grade year I got my first job at Kmart. I bought a dress there, went home, tried it on, and decided I hated it. they refused to take it back the next day, so I promptly told them where to stick the dress and the job.

  46. Megan says:

    I worked at a fast food restaurant that was owned by a couple with a very cute son. I am now married to their son. Yes, I married the bosses’ son…

  47. Lindsay says:

    My parents have a 100 acre orchard and my job every year was to sort cherries. Two weeks of hell but I always made more money in those two weeks than any of my friends did all summer. Mostly due to the 15 hour days.

    Also, I was so bad at anything to do with the orchard that my only other job was to count the fruit trees. On a 100 acre orchard. I did this very year. The count never changed. We joke about it now.

  48. Shannon V. says:

    My first job (aside from babysitting) was in a restaurant making toast, sandwiches, etc on the weekends. Imagine how mind numbing it was to stand there and butter toast over, and over and over. Needless to say, I did work their for a couple of years as we got new owners and they actually taught me how to cook on the grill. Thought I was really something then!

  49. Sigh – nothing interesting about my first job – babysitting, although there was that one family where the dad was rather odd. Not bad, just kinda strange.
    My first ‘real’ job was at the local drugstore.This was about the time Ontario banned the sale of cigarettes in drug stores. The owners got around that by installing a little room behind the cash that had one of those takeout windows to the outside. When someone wanted to buy cigarettes, they’d walk up to the window and press the doorbell which would ring inside. I’d then go into the little room and sell the cancer sticks.
    The most memorable time was when I girl I went to grade school tried to buy them – I knew very well she was underage, but because I couldn’t just say no I had to ask for and check her ID. I’ve always wondered why she just didn’t walk away – that would have had to have been the less embarrassing option, right?

  50. Lesley says:

    I delivered the Barrie Examiner after school one winter when I was 15. I hated it! It was dark and cold and the bag was heavy. And I was basically a lazy little snot : )

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