Chris Taylor of Reuters has been writing some mini-interviews about the first jobs of well-known finance gurus like Warren Buffett and Jack Bogle. They include newspaper delivery boys, retail stockboy, gofer, shoeshine boy, USPS mail sorter, bowling alley pinsetter, and soda pop vendor at baseball games.
The initial takeaway is that these are humble beginnings for people who ended up as rich and powerful. It made me think of my own first jobs as a restaurant worker and parking lot attendant. Does this mean we all have hope?
However, while working my minimum-wage jobs I also remember a lot of teenagers and adults being really bad at those entry-level jobs. Based on the short descriptions given in the Reuters articles, the people interviewed all displayed certain successful traits at their first job. Perhaps doing well at your first job requires most of the same basic skills that you need to succeed at future high-level jobs. I think these critical skills would include:
- Reliability. I remember many people not showing up on time repeatedly, or even at all for their shifts. Charlie Munger lists reliability as one of the most essential traits for success. He explains that while something like quantum mechanics may be unlearnable by many, reliability can be learned by anyone. If you can master the ability to always be reliable, that alone can overcome many other disadvantages.
- Persistence at trying to do your job well. You may not be very good at first, but if you keep trying and learning chances are you’ll get there. I recently heard an interview about chef Geoffrey Zakarian landed his first job with limited skills at the famous restaurant Le Cirque. How? He walked, asked, got denied, offered to work for free (!), got the job, and learned his way up starting with peeling potatoes.
- Good (basic?) social skills. The other way that I’ve seen people mess up minimum-wage jobs is that they just can’t get along with people or control their emotions. They get into heated arguments with customers and/or coworkers, and either get fired or are just never seen again (disturbingly common). The current chairman and vice-chairman of Ariel Investments both started out working together as baseball stadium food vendors. Look at Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, who met through common friends. Take advantage of any opportunities to partner with good people when you come across them.