Careers

5 ways my summers spent working as a waitress helped my career

Marguerite Ward is a staff reporter for CNBC Make It.
Mary Stevens|CNBC
Marguerite Ward is a staff reporter for CNBC Make It.

During high school and college, I spent summers and school breaks working as a waitress at a shore club in Westchester.

Don't let the setting fool you: It wasn't a glamorous job. In 90 degree weather, I had to wear a white, long sleeve collared shirt, dress pants and a tie, all while doing demanding mental and physical work. We weren't allowed to be seen anywhere on the premises, except for the dining room or the dimly-lit basement.

During the hottest days, I often wondered why I hadn't been able to secure an internship, or a job in an air-conditioned office like some of my friends had. Though I respected my hard working colleagues, I didn't see how the experience would help me further my career goal of becoming a journalist.

But looking back, I realize the experience taught me skills that would later help me land positions in my field. In fact, some of these skills are ones employers are looking for right now.

Here are five skills I learned working as a server:

1. Collaboration

Teamwork is crucial to a restaurant running smoothly.

When a wine glass fell from one of my tables at the opposite end of the room (while I was taking orders from another customer), a colleague stepped in and swept it up. When I noticed a customer without water, regardless of whether or not it was my table, I filled it. If we didn't help each other out, problems would arise.

That lesson applies to office jobs, too— when a colleague is stuck on a project and asks for your input, you offer to lend a hand. When you hit a roadblock a few days later, you ask for input.

Being a great team player doesn't just help your company run more smoothly, it also boosts your relationships with your colleagues. (Your boss will notice, too.)

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2. Attention to detail 

In the food industry, details matter. Not only do people want their food to look and taste good, they expect the whole experience to be well-managed.

If I didn't tie my tie correctly, I was told to redo it. If I didn't fold a napkin correctly, I was told to fix it. After a few times, these things became second nature to me, and no explanation from my boss was needed.

Whether you're folding a napkin or writing a succinct email, there will be times when you forget to look at the small things, and end up making a mistake. Nobody's perfect, but try to learn from those small errors. Give yourself time to look at the details so you present your best work.

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3. Effective communication

As a server, I had to learn how to speak up. When I didn't understand the complicated electronic ordering system that sends orders from the dining floor to the kitchen, I learned that asking your manager to help you is a lot easier than botching orders and dealing with the fallout.

Being able to clearly and professionally express yourself is one of the top skills employers are looking for right now. Whether it's writing emails or speaking with energy, how you communicate matters.

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4. Owning my mistakes 

A few times, I accidentally submitted the wrong food item to the kitchen. I'd click "steak" instead of "rib eye steak" in the computer system that tells the chef what to prepare. That was something that he, surrounded by hot cooking equipment in a sweltering environment, never appreciated.

By owning my mistake, apologizing and making a note of what I should do correctly the next time, I was able to move on.

Every professional will, at some point, do something incorrectly. Having the experience of communicating your mistake, as well as what you learned from it, is useful in any job setting.

5. Learning new things quickly 

No waiter has time to babysit another employee. At the restaurant, I had to take in a lot of new information in a short amount of time.

Server etiquette, food pairings, location of different equipment, names of all the employees, the history of the club — I was expected to learn these things in a matter of days, if not hours. To do this, I got good at taking notes while being given directions, asking follow-up questions and memorizing details.

Any new job will come with an influx of new information you have to digest in a short amount of time. Having practice in this, especially in a fast-paced environment like a restaurant, can help you later on.

Communication, collaboration and attention to detail are some of the most frequently-used phrases in job postings. So if you land a job in the food industry, be proud of it. And be sure to highlight the skills you develop on your resume — they're relevant to any role.

Check out 4 things to do if you don't have a summer internship yet.