One of my favorite things to do when studying a resume or reviewing a LinkedIn profile is to go back in time to see where it all began…this impressive person in front of me may have made a seismic shift in their professional history that led them to their current state in life. It’s one reason I always recommend that you include your first job, even if only in a summary paragraph – for the interested observer, it provides multiple points of potential connection that may not otherwise occur.  It’s like studying someone’s professional family tree.

Back to the point of my message…if you were to walk by my office, chances are you can hear me mutter, “so, where did you come from?” Well, what about me, you might ask?

Gallo Sales, South San Francisco Distributorship, 1989. My first professional gig. I was rich – $28,000 a year + a company car (Pontiac station wagon, aka “Shaggin’ Wagon”), and I was officially a part of the adult world – except…my first sales meeting resembled my last fraternity meeting ~ 150 guys who looked like they could chase pretty women, break 80, drink a lot of beer, and forget to study. We were the guys who didn’t have an answer when people asked, “so, what are you gonna do after graduation?” Unfortunately, we were also without Trust Funds, so at some point, work was definitely going to be involved….

in retrospect, NOT a good role model

In retrospect, Billy Hicks was NOT a good role model

And so, there we were – selling Bartles & Jaymes, Carlo Rossi jug wine, and various other semi-palatable goods into “end-cap” displays at grocery stores; I knew every Lucky’s and Safeway in the East Bay (stand back ladies, I’m taken) – for two years I had a feather duster in my back pocket and a pencil behind my ear. “No ma’am, I don’t work here” should have been painted on my back. I clearly remember freaking out just a little bit, thinking, “this is my career?”

But it wasn’t a career ~ it was an initiation. Our army of 150 ex-frat boys covered the Bay Area like preppy little ants, learning life lessons every day, all the while bitching and moaning about our lot in life and trying to find a way back inside the collegiate womb (some people call this “Grad School”). But, like it or not at the time, those two years are my reference point for so many things I still utilize now, 20 years after the fact. I’m grateful for that first job – my experience in a role outside of HR, and more specifically inside the Sales organization shaped a perspective that continues to serve me well when dealing with clients, both internal and external. There is no teacher like experience, and having my own stories of time spent in the sales foxhole provides some credibility for those who are not always convinced about HR’s knowledge of “real” business.

I still connect with a few of the old “Gallo Boys,” almost all of whom are in Sr. Leadership positions in different companies around the country…without fail, each of us can now appreciate the building blocks we were laying down. Don’t get me wrong – it was hell, but we are the better men for it.

My point? Whether it’s your first job or your current job, wear it loud, wear it proud. You are a summation of your experiences, and not just the ones that look “good” on a resume. Sometimes the most interesting part of the journey is that first terrifying, memorable step ~ don’t rob yourself of that memory.

John “Whit” Whitaker is Founder and OH (Original Hardballer); HR Hardball™ is a blunt, self-aware, and sometimes snarky perspective of Human Resources and life in general. Peace.