First jobs are hard. There are systems to get your head around, jargon to learn, and scary people with important-sounding job titles telling you what to do. And fails. So many fails.

But it’s all worth it. Because the lessons you learn and the people you meet can set you up for long-term success more than you can ever know at the time.

In our new My First Job blog series, we’re going to be hearing from service industry leaders about what they learned from their opening role, the mistakes they made, and what advice they would give to first jobbers. Kicking the series off is Jack Conway, a Recruitment Manager at etc. venues.

My first job was with an independent fine-dining restaurant called Little Dudley House in Dorking, Surrey. I originally went to university in Plymouth to study event management, but left after a year. I wanted to return to work; university wasn’t for me. Little Dudley was a brand new venture by an entrepreneur. He put together a group of Londoners, people who knew the high-end restaurant trade, but also wanted someone local. Someone who knew a bit about the town, about the people. That was myself.

I had always been drawn to hospitality. I didn’t want to work for a shop; I didn’t want to work in an office. I wanted somewhere that there was music in the background or a great smell from the kitchen or a general buzz. I looked at what I was good at: talking to people. Hospitality fit quite naturally with that and when you’re young it’s fun, it’s exciting. You enjoy going out yourself. Sometimes, particularly when you’re young, it doesn’t really feel as if you’re working.

I started as a waiter at Little Dudley. I was not a natural waiter. I remember on my first dry-run, my first table had come in and I was clearing away the wine glasses. I put one glass on the tray, went down to take the second glass and as I did my left hand holding the tray just tilted. It smashed all over the table. Awful start, but it’s one of those things that anyone in hospitality goes through.

They moved me into an event management role and it was very much taking event enquiries, reservations, being the face of the restaurant. Living in the town I knew a lot of people. Because I knew a lot of people I could build up relationships quite quickly. I was there for a year and learnt how to plan events from start to finish, that customer interaction, aftercare, working with the kitchen and understanding logistics and everything that goes into that. Funnily enough I’ve come full circle and I’ve entered the recruitment world later on and am now working for a corporate event company.

Little Dudley absolutely helped my career. I was very fortunate to have an owner that was very commercially successful in Terry. And Tony, who was a proven restaurateur in London and had an excellent standards, a great palate for wine, a good idea for details. They certainly gave me a grounding. Whenever I went to interviews I would remember that I’d worked for some people who had a big impact on my initial developments. I would always refer to things that they would say. I’m really happy I started in a business where quality and finesse was highly valued.

My advice for people looking for their first job would be to try and find a job where you will be managed or led by someone that you can look up to. It’s massively important when you start off in any career, in any industry, that you’re working for a person. So really try to determine who’s going to work best with you, who’s going to work best for you.

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