Define “Work Experience.”

It’s come to my attention that there is a difference between “work experience” and “experience”, which denotes experience in your field.

So, what does work experience mean?

I had my first job when I was eleven. I only worked a half an hour a day, cleaning the faculty bathrooms in the office at my elementary school. I was one of the few sixth-graders allowed to work, mostly because my parents made sure to keep me busy until they were able to pick me up from school.

Seventh grade, I worked the first semester in the office again, then moved to working for my music teacher. I worked with a guy who hardly ever showed up to work. I arranged chairs, organized music, cleaned blackboards…the works.

Eighth grade began my series of grading/clerical related jobs. I worked for two teachers, one of my favorites and the one I disliked the most. Grading was one of the most sought after jobs, because that meant you weren’t vacuuming, cleaning toilets or scrubbing windows. You simply sat in a chair with the gradebook binder, entering grades in the computer and fending off nosy students who wanted to snoop on their grades (or others’ grades). This job led to working for the high school registrar freshman year, filing and organizing attendance records, mailing and making copies. I was kind of proud of myself that I had my own little desk outside her office. I didn’t work again until senior year, when the new Spanish/music teacher asked me to grade for him, and that turned into somewhat of a personal assistant job, ordering music supplies (I even got to choose the color for the new band folders), grading Spanish papers when I’m nowhere near fluent, and rearranging the band room that looked like a tornado hit it by the end of the day.

Throughout high school and most of college, I worked at summer camp. I did housekeeping for three summers. Those summers were marked by scrubbing floors with a toothbrush, a CD player strapped to my waist and headphones on, not alerting me to how loud I was belting out Fall Out Boy tunes. I made beds and folded laundry to strict parameters, found ways to exit a room without marking the freshly vacuumed carpet, and learned that stainless steel cleaner takes soap scum off of shower doors. I also quickly figured out that our industrial cleaner, NeutralQuat, stretched out rubber gloves to the point of having to change them every couple of hours, and that mixing it with bleach was enough to warrant completely shutting down a room to avoid breathing the fumes.

I worked in the kitchen for two summers as well. I had to drag myself out of bed at 6 a.m. most mornings. I washed my hands so often that my knuckles would dry out and crack. I gained hard callouses on my fingertips from carrying and changing out hot serving pans, and learned the quickest ways to make a two-handed job a one-handed one. I learned to stack dishes on a tray for washing at lightning speeds, and find and put away every dish in its proper location without slipping on the tile floor. (Crocs helped that.) I discovered the luxury of actually being able to relax while you eat, rather than wolf everything down as quickly as possible so that you can start on everyone else’s dishes. I learned what frostbitten hands feel like after spending fifteen to twenty minutes stocking a shipment in the walk-in freezer.

I sub counseled my final summer. I learned what it was like to have to pack a sleeping bag, toiletries and a couple changes of clothes, and move from place to place every night, learning a whole new cabin of kids and what they were like, and then moving on to the next. I know what it feels like to not exactly belong somewhere. I learned how to escort blind campers around the camp, and what happens when they have a fit on you and you have to call the nurse. I learned how to deal with a difficult, spoiled camper who would ruin my entire cabin for me. I also felt the joy of being able to make a difference in another person’s life for the better.

I worked my residence hall’s front desk for two years. I learned to steel myself against people who avoided your smiles and greetings and never smiled back. I learned to safeguard the dorm against boys sneaking in. I learned how to deal with a snobby staff who would either hate on you behind your back or tell you what to do while you were sitting there, knowing that you weren’t the one slacking off on your job. I learned to turn off the overhead light at night, so I wouldn’t feel like a sitting target in front of the glass front doors. I learned to get up at 2, 4, and 6 a.m. to work, and not to have a sleep schedule. I learned that you could never count on anyone else to take shifts if you needed them to. Our security cameras would never work correctly, girls would fall asleep at the desk and get in trouble for leaving residents locked outside, and easy tasks would always be brought up at staff meetings as never being done.

Most recently, I was a media and public relations intern at Nimbus Arts in St. Helena. I learned to work with others. I learned new techniques for event photography and made new contacts. I learned to be assertive about what I needed and when I needed it, and when I should take matters into my own hands. The people I worked with were extraordinarily busy. When I was in the office, the phone was ringing off the hook most days. I knew the office manager would sometimes work at home just so she could get anything done. I stuffed envelopes, I cleaned tables, I ran errands for lunch, I took art for framing. I ran around the annual fundraiser in high heels, I opened ten-fifteen wine bottles. I cataloged art for picking up by buyers and unsold art for picking up by their artists. I cataloged receipts and invoices and sent out donation forms. I called donors and asked if they would grace us with their presence at our event. I talked, I laughed, I worked hard. I worked with some of the nicest and most helpful people I’ve ever met.

So…can you define work experience for me again?

2 thoughts on “Define “Work Experience.”

  1. coyotero2112 says:

    I’ve helped so many friends fill out resumes when I lived in Ohio, and it seems they were ALL out of work. The “polishing” that goes into resumes can make a person seem so experienced, when in reality they have done little other than a chimpanzee could do with a little direction. The “real life” experience is so much more valuable, but doesn’t look good when written on paper. A bit of diconnect there.


    • Samantha says:

      This is what annoys me about it as well, you’re supposed to talk yourself up to the point where it could be misleading. I think people pass up a lot of good candidates because their resumes don’t tell enough in the first ten seconds. :/ There is definitely a disconnect there.


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