Describe Your First Job… A Great Interview Question

Lemonade StandYesterday, I saw a great post on an HR site, suggesting an out-of-the-box interview question.  Frankly, these are sometimes a dime-a-dozen, but I really like this as a good interview opener:  “Tell me about your first paying job and what you learned from it.”

My first job, at the age of 14, was on a land surveying crew. My dad owned the business and there was only one job available (my older sister was already working in the office, at the reception desk).  It was hot, sweaty, dirty and definitely not the job that a teenage girl dreams of.

What did I learn at that job?   Do your work, no matter what it is. Don’t complain; no one wants to hear it and it does not improve the situation. Enjoy what you can; I got a great tan during that summer job and was outside every day. Enjoy the downtime when it comes; sometimes it rained and gave us a break.  The next day might be busy with a lot of catch-up, so it was important to enjoy that downtime. Do your share, but ask for help when you need it, then watch for opportunities to help in return.

Here’s what I like this interview question…  First, it’s a real conversation starter. It allows you to understand and ask questions about why the person selected that as their first job.   Why they enjoyed it.  The plethora of interesting insights into what they learned from it.  Second, it’s a personality indicator.  The indicator is not about what the job was, but about how the person describes it.  Do they describe it with enthusiasm, fondness, bitterness, or boredom?

The way people describe their first job might be the way they describe their next job.  So think about what kinds of characteristics will thrive in your organization.  Are you looking for someone who can help identify opportunities to improve?  Someone who can rouse the team when times are tough?  A professional who can still find something positive in their summer job scraping barnacles off boats?

That first job has colored my attitudes at work ever since.  I still like to work outside the office when it’s feasible.  Instead of the negativity of complaints, I try to seek the positivity of improvements.  I enjoy a few minutes of downtime when it comes.  And I’m always on the lookout to help the team.

Interviews don’t have to be rote.  One of the best interviews I’ve ever had – for one of the most enjoyable jobs I ever had – was one where the interview ranged far from the standard questions.   We started off with a few questions, but then we had more of a conversation, a real chance to get to know each other.

So, I’m all for HR professionals who add this question to their repertoire.  I’ll be using it in my next few hires and see if it plays out as successfully as I expect it to.  I enjoy working with enthusiastic innovators.  And I’m not going to find them with the less-than-remarkable interview questions.


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4 thoughts on “Describe Your First Job… A Great Interview Question”

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