Have you ever tried to clean burnt cheese off of a soup bowl? It’s not easy.

I know this from a few months I spent working as a dishwasher during college. People normally scoff when I say the word dishwasher, likely because dishwashing involves hard work, meager pay, and soggy clothes. Each day, the kitchen confronted me with an enormous mess: dirty prep dishes, nacho cheese baked into plates, and unknown liquids and napkins stuffed into lipstick rimmed glasses all waited to be pre-soaked, washed, and sanitized to state Board of Health standards. I felt a great sense of accomplishment at the end of the night when I walked out of that clean and quiet kitchen.

Like all part-time jobs, my dishwashing job served as a stepping stone to my next part-time jobs, and then the full-time jobs after that. Each job provided me with a set of skills and refined professional values that made me a more marketable candidate. Students often wonder how their part-time jobs in college–such as dishwasher, barista, groundskeeper, and office assistant–will benefit them in their future careers. Once graduated, why will employers care about those shifts in the SUB?

A career begins with a person’s very first work experiences. Whether you start by raking leaves for ten bucks as a kid or as a student employee working on-campus, each job is an investment in the next. This doesn’t mean that “Child Landscaper” should necessarily appear on a resume. But it does mean that early experiences developing work ethic and practical skills will help when it comes time to search for that next career step. So how do you translate what seems to be an inconsequential part-time job into the transferable skills that employers want? There is a lot of opportunity on a resume and cover letter and during an interview to translate the duties of a part-time job to universally-sought after skills.

For example, it’s easy to list the duties of a typical dishwasher:

  • Washed dishes
  • Put away dishes
  • Cleaned the kitchen

This list tells me in the simplest terms what most dishwashers do. What’s more challenging is to paint a picture of this experience that helps the next employer to understand a candidate’s full potential. Here is the same dishwasher, presented in a slightly different way:

  • Implemented Board of Health safety standards by washing cookware, dishes, and equipment within state issued temperature guidelines
  • Organized and stored kitchen equipment to maximize safety and efficiency
  • Prevented injuries and illnesses by maintaining kitchen cleanliness

This list tells a story about the person’s capabilities. From these descriptions, I know that this candidate understands the “big picture” purpose for doing things a certain way, looks for opportunities to create efficiencies, and understands that their work can have an effect on the experiences of others. These are all marketable skills that tell me that this candidate thinks critically and creatively about work.

Skill translation experts are available right here at Puget Sound! Career and Employment Services can help you get started on constructing a resume and cover letter that translate your part-time skills into marketable experience. Stop by Howarth Hall 101 to make an appointment with a career advisor or drop in with your resume or cover letter for a 15-minute consultation between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m. Monday-Friday.

© 2010 Career and Employment Services, University of Puget Sound
Photo: ratterrell

1 comment

  1. The number of highly skilled workers who found their way through kitchens and into the workplace is astounding to me. Especially as I think of people who are interested in changing the world through health reform, nutrition, etc. This is a glimpse into one of the most practical components of life, food!

    Finding myself among the ranks of the once-kitchen-employed, I remember the copious amounts of guacamole made in 10 gallon bins (that’s a lot of avocados!), the numbers of whole chickens finding their legs tied together for a trip to the rotisserie, and I recall the time management, inventorying, organization and prioritization skills. So to all the future Jamie Olivers in the room looking for a food revolution, heed James’ advice…a lot of us have been there and it’s more than a job! Looking back, those stainless steel work surfaces taught me so much!

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