May 21, 2017
The First Job series is an initiative of the Youth Employment Council of the Northwest Indiana Workforce Board.
Heather Ennis is president and CEO of the Northwest Indiana Forum.
What was your first job?
I was the “go to” babysitter in my neighborhood, but my first formal job was at the Man Alive clothing store at the Marquette Mall in Michigan City.
I got the job my senior year in high school. I couldn’t wait to start working. All of my friends had jobs at the Dairy Queen and I was anxious to get out and start contributing to society.
I remember going to the mall and asking different stores for job applications, and stopping at the Orange Julius to get a Diet Coke while I filled out the paperwork.
I was really interested in working at The Gap because they had clothes I thought were cool. Well, the Gap and its cool clothes were not in my cards, but the Man Alive was right across the way.
This turned out to be fortunate for me, as I probably would have spent my entire paycheck at The Gap.
My boss was a wonderful woman named Lisa. She taught me more about merchandising and customer service in that summer than I had learned in my 18 years on Earth.
I remember we were required to get to work early and familiarize ourselves with any specials or announcements so we could be “sales ready” when we hit the floor.
It was through that job that I found a love for selling. I would put the rest of the world on hold and just help people for the next 8 hours. It was such great fun. My problems seemed to matter less. I get it, I wasn’t saving lives or solving the world’s problems, but finding the perfect outfit for someone, and just generally being friendly and helpful was in my wheelhouse.
I’m not saying I was the perfect Man Alive sales associate. I wasn’t. As a matter of fact, I almost burned the store down by leaving the steamer on in the back of the store.
Let me tell you, the smell of burnt, stale steamer water and smoke coming out of the back of the store is something one doesn’t easily forget. It became a running joke to ask if I had turned off the steamer, a mistake I wouldn’t make twice.
They didn’t fire me or even really yell at me too much over this incident. I was more embarrassed than anything else.
Bottom line: Working made me feel good, whether it was babysitting or working at the mall as the pyromaniac Man Alive sales associate. Getting in and helping others and getting paid to do it gave me great pride.
I appreciate those who hire young workers. The soft skills of showing up on time, being accountable and the customer service that so many of us learned in our first jobs truly makes a big difference in their work ethic for the future.
The READY NWI partnership supports the unique aspects of community, school, and student, and embraces a commitment to regional thinking and acting in order to ensure prosperity by meeting the skill and education needs of employers throughout Northwest Indiana.