If you’re a new college grad and can’t find a job in your industry, consider applying to be a barista at the indie café in Princeton, Small World Coffee. O.K., so you don’t live near Princeton let alone anywhere near N.J.? No problem! Find your local Starbucks or mom-and-pop coffee shop and apply there.
We college grads are often quick to dismiss the valuable skills you can learn from coffee-shop jobs. In fact, we don’t just dismiss the skills you can learn, we often assume that there’s nothing to be gained by working in a coffee shop beyond learning how to pour a cappuccino. Come on, you know you’ve said to yourself, “I didn’t go to college to work in a coffee shop.”
But what you learn as a barista in a high-paced café are the soft skills that you don’t learn in your college classes. And these soft skills not only are essential if you want to thrive in the work world, but also complement your hard skills. In fact, being a great barista is a talent, and the best cafés like Joe in NYC won’t even hire you as a barista if you haven’t been a barista at a “top artisanal coffee bar.”
Even more, it’s simply not prudent for any young college grad without a job to overlook working at a coffee shop. Time to face reality, folks, most of you can’t wait a year or more until you can find a job that utilizes your undergraduate degree without making a cent ‘cause you’ve got loans (don’t shoot the messenger!). You need look no further than yesterday’s New York Times article if for some reason you were holding out for that dream job or “better-pay-than-retail job”; things aren’t getting better anytime soon. I digress.
Why not give yourself the opportunity to focus on honing your soft skills, which, in the long run, will make you much more marketable than those who have not?
Learn how to work with a team. Here’s the thing, those collaborative assignments you had in college last for a finite amount of time. Maybe someone’s not pulling his weight or someone else annoys you, but in the end, you get the project done because you do the extra work that’s not getting done by one of your partners. And that gal who annoys you, well you only had to spend a few hours with her over the duration of a month.
On the other hand, working behind a counter shows you the ropes of what it’s truly like to be on a team. That person who annoys you, or worse, who you don’t like, has to stand by your side for hours several times a week. You have to talk to him; you might even have to defer to him if he’s your supervisor. And you have to make it look like you like him.
There’s more. Let’s say there’s someone who’s just not pulling his weight on the shift. There is no way that the others on the shift can make up for that person because each person has a specific task to do. When you get behind because someone doesn’t keep up with his task, shifts can become tense, so much so that customers can even feel it in the café’s vibe. But you can’t let that happen. It’s your job to help create a convivial atmosphere or else customers won’t keep coming back. So what do you do when someone’s on your shift that isn’t pulling his weight? You find away to help him be successful at his role. (By the way, it’s usually only the newbies that have difficulty pulling their weight because anyone that can’t pull his weight once he’s no longer new will lose his job.)
Learn grace under fire (e.g. managing your emotions). Every now and then a customer can really tick you off, but you’ve got to keep it together so that no one knows. Sure, someone can irritate you in any job, but the difference is that you can go into your cubicle or office, or even step outside for a moment to collect yourself if you need to. But being a barista is like being on stage, and once the show starts (your shift) you can’t leave the stage. When you’re a newbie, it’s easy to get flustered by a nasty customer. Over time, you really do learn how to temper your emotions so that a negative experience with a customer won’t faze you.
Learn social skills. Working as a barista will give you the opportunity to interact with people over and over and over again. You’ll learn to make eye contact with people and to know if customers are new to the café or aren’t satisfied with their experience simply by observing them. Actions speak louder than words!
Here’s an example of how I know someone’s never been to Small World Coffee before. The person tentatively comes up to register area – regulars are never tentative – and she makes little, if any, eye contact with me. Instead, she looks above my head where the menu is.
Here’s another example of how I know if a customer isn’t satisfied with his drink. He retrieves the drink from the counter and looks at it with hesitation. Instead of immediately walking away from the counter, he lingers. When something like this happens, which isn’t often, I know that I need to figure out how to make this customer happy. Rather than waiting for the customer to say something, I take it upon myself to address his needs.
Learn to sell. By selling, I mean the art of getting people to like and trust you, a skill that can make you or break you when it comes to getting a job or a promotion. Small World Coffee sells much more than coffee. It sells an experience. Selling coffee, easy. Experience, not so much. As a barista, you will learn how to sell a great experience to each customer that walks through the door. And you’ll know when you’re really selling well because you’ll watch customers walk away with a smile. No smile, no sale!