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In Praise of First Jobs

Even mindless first jobs can prove to be invaluable experiences. How else would some of us know how to carry six plates at a time or fold sweaters so neatly? On a more serious note, starter stints can teach useful lessons about people, ourselves and the nature of work. Check out what initiated some of our 2016 speakers into the world of gainful employment—and what they learned.

Keynote Speaker Adam Grant

Grant, Adam“My first real job was doing advertising sales for a travel book. Making cold calls was terrifying, but then I realized my focus was wrong. My core goal should be getting to know people and building relationships rather than getting them to commit financially and making a transaction. Once I shifted my approach, making calls became enjoyable and I became more effective.”

Wharton professor Grant will be speaking during the Opening Keynote Session and Session I and will be signing his book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World in the Beneficial Knowledge Bank Pavilion from 11 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.

Keynote Speaker Tamala Edwards

Edwards, tamalasm“Being a researcher at Time magazine meant lots of double-checking, waiting and observation—all good life skills! But I also learned many important lessons including you don’t get what you don’t ask for. Time was in a hiring freeze, so when I asked the managing editor if I could come see him, I thought it would be a brief conversation. Instead, I walked out with a summer internship that would turn into a job and a lifetime career. Also, I was lucky to have older colleagues, in particular female colleagues, take a keen interest in me, and I consider it my duty to do the same for younger women now.”

Tamala Edwards, weekday co-anchor of 6abc’s “Action News Mornings” and a regular co-host of “Inside Story,” will be speaking at the Opening Keynote Session.

Keynote Speaker Mindy Kaling

Mindy Kaling“My first paid job was babysitting. I’m not naturally good with babies, but out of sheer necessity I learned how to become good with them, and how to change diapers quickly. Becoming good at something you don’t particularly like was a good lesson to learn—and made me ache to get good at something I loved.”

Star, writer and executive producer of “The Mindy Project,” Kaling will be speaking during the Luncheon Keynote Session.

Trudy Bourgeois

Trudy Bourgeois“Working at McDonald’s, I learned that customer service is a competitive advantage. People shop where they feel welcomed and valued no matter their background, education or socioeconomic status. People want to feel special. That’s the secret sauce to winning, even more so in today’s hyper-competitive and ever-changing marketplace.”

Bourgeois, CEO of The Center for Workforce Excellence, will be speaking during Session II and signing her books The Hybrid Leader and Her Corner Office from 12:30 p.m. – 1 p.m.

Mallika Chopra

Mallika Chopra“There was a lot of grunt work to being an assistant, but I think you need to work hard when you’re young. I learned a lot of practical things during my time at MTV International—how to be organized, be prompt, communicate—that I am still building on and refining today.”

Chopra, founder and CEO of, will be speaking during Sessions I and II and signing her book Living with Intent from 12:30 p.m. – 1 p.m.

Laura Vanderkam

Laura Vanderkam“I worked behind the counter at Fazoli’s Italian Restaurant, a fast food joint, for the summer I was 17. It was tough work, and it made me forever aware of how difficult food service can be. My hat is off to anyone who can be cheerful to hundreds of customers in a row, particularly when people change their orders and take out their frustrations on people who have nothing to do with the problem!”

Time management expert Vanderkam will be speaking during Sessions I and II and during Beneficial Knowledge Bank Classroom Learning Bursts at 12:40 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., and she will be signing her book I Know How She Does It from 4 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.

▶ Read more from the October 2016 newsletter