First Day At Work (Retail)

First Day At Work, 2 December 2019

I remember on my very first day at work, reporting for duty at my first paid job, I was filled with an acute sense of weirdness.

Matchy & Co Christmas season booth
17 December 2019
Credits: Blog author, Rachel Tan HX

Today I would only work for 4 hours from 2-6pm, and my bosses would evaluate my abilities and decide if I could officially become their staff.

But it didn’t matter. I was working!

After years and years of either “barely breathing” in school, or burying my head in model test papers and reference books at home, days after my SPM, I walked into the hub of Midvalley Megamall – centre court – with Christmas songs playing and people chattering while taking photos of the gigantic teddy bears, and christmas trees decorated this year with the most cute mooses — carefully approaching a little wooden makeshift booth that would become my second home for the rest of the month of December.

A big sign that said “Matchy & Co” hung above keychains, stationery sets and travel wallets displayed below, all available in an array of colours and designs. I was told to put my little backpack in the cupboard behind the booth, and as I was trying to find a place to put my bag amongst the even more impressive stacks of wallets, I saw a lady sitting on a chair at a flimsy wooden table, which was really part of the booth, handling a little machine that I did not yet know what it was for.

Then I was told to stand in front of the booth, and Viv, the lady whom I had contacted through whatsapp, told me the prices and promotion set offers for the items, all of which I had to write down and eventually memorise. It was a very slow process, because business goes on as usual and Viv had to attend to the customers. When Viv was busy, I admired the products on display and marveled at the bright colours – but more than that, I felt acutely aware of how strange it was to be standing in front of a booth at midvalley, but instead of facing in to make a purchase, I was facing out to promote these items. After a while, in a flurry of aggressive but friendly promoting, when I was seen standing there doing nothing while everyone was working so hard, I was prompted to start selling by my colleagues.

“I haven’t finished learning all the prices.” I reminded, feeling maybe more than a bit worried. They explained that the best way to memorise the prices fast is actually to start selling. I soon realised what they meant when I tried to sell.

“How much is this wallet?” Someone would ask, and I would try to as inconspiciously as possible slip out my a-bit-too-big notebook, under the dubious eyes of a customer, as I err-d and umm-d to fill the awkward silences. Flip, flip goes the pages. “This is 60 ringgit,” I would reply. “And how about this?” and I would fumble with the notebook again, and state the price again, as robotic as the price-checking machines you find at Ace, the hardware store. But do that three times and it starts to stick in your head, and soon it becomes easy and effortless.

Soon my superior Viv saw that I was not making much progress, and she came over to train me while all the human beings were busy having their lunch – during the quieter period. Earlier, she had told me to aim to approach 10 customers an hour, and make a tick on my notebook for every customer I approached. Under pressure to perform, I made sure I exceeded this minimum by far, walking up to promote to every human being that walked pass, until it surprised my bosses. However, one thing was not under my control: my closing rate. (=how many customers I actually successfully converted to buyers).

Viv picked up a product. “I’m your customer now. Miss, may I know how much is this passport holder?”

“RM40.” I replied smoothly, happy that she happened to choose the only product that I had managed to memorise so far.

“If I buy this travel pouch and this wallet, will I get a discount?”

My eyes snapped down to my notebook and up again, swiftly. “Yes, that will be RM 90 in total.” Not too much hesitation. Still ok.

“Can’t I get them for RM 80?” Cass, the lady who had interviewed me, asked. “Tell your boss lah. It’s only RM 10 cheaper. Can one lah. Ask your boss.” Cass eyed me challengingly.

“Cannot.” I replied curtly, caught by surprise. “It’s already discounted.” Cass laughed.

“You can’t say it that way,” she grinned. “You can’t just say: ‘Cannot.’ You can say it in a more friendly manner. ‘Sorry, sir, it’s actually already discounted you know! Originally, the price for both items totals up to (how much). I am unable to give you a further discount, if not my boss will deduct from my salary!’ and then the customers will smile.”

For the rest of the month I would be reminded again and again to smile more, speak louder, and say things and make conversation that help the customers feel comfortable. Gradually, it dawned on me that this was not simply customer service; I was learning the abstract skills involved in terms of human interaction, and it is not something you can obtain from textbooks. It is an area that I have been especially lacking in practice, and the advice I get from my superiors, who are a great mix of strict and friendly, is eye opening. With each new day at work for the rest of December 2019, meeting people young and old, alone or in groups, mothers with kids and men just off work, foreigners from the US, Hong Kong, China, Australia, Korea, Saudi Arabia and Singapore, and little boys and girls who would tug at my jeans and call me “姐姐” (big sister), my heart would open just a little bit more to the prospect of temporary but meaningful friendship.

In the next hour, I sold to two customers, to the delight of my colleagues, and I was told at the end of my probation that I would probably be accepted to work with them for the rest of the month. I’m really happy for that!

My First Job Interview: PART 2

I went for my first job interview the very day after SPM ended.

(If you have not read part ONE of my job interview yet, click here!)

Christmas mood filled the air at Midvalley Megamall, and Christmas crowds filled its streets. My would-be colleagues bustled about their colourful kiosk, and it wasn’t until about 20 minutes later that I was attended to, but that did not bother me. I was glad to have the chance to take my time to observe the products on display and how the staff attended to their customers.

A lady gave me a form to fill up, and then she proceeded to ask me if I had any problems with talking to people. I was nervous, as would anyone at their first job interview. I also knew for a fact that my social skills were not the best. However, with my promise to myself to perform and breach my comfort zone, I told her I was okay with speaking to crowds, just that I don’t happen to do it very often. Even then, I can, I emphasized to her, and in my mind I told myself I would raise myself to the standards I spoke of. It was also that day on which I learnt that this was another effective way to encourage improvement in oneself. In the consequent weeks, I would discover yet another way. These were all methods we had heard of a million times in theory, but it really only dawns on you when you discover it for yourself through experience.

Then the lady described what it would be like, working at their booth (During Christmas season, they had a little booth at the Centre Court in addition to their permanent kiosk at LG floor.), how I had to be observant and watch for roaming eyes toward their products on display, how working with them would be very fast paced indeed, and I had to be able to be efficient. Already all that was making me dizzy, but I nodded my head and smiled calmly at her, like all this was not a whole lot to take in after being locked up studying for months. Then came the final blow:

“It’s okay to make mistakes,” said the lady, “But if the same mistake is made too many times, it becomes an offense.”

I stared at her, feeling as if I had already started making mistakes. But I had walked into this anticipating “the world out there” — demanding bosses, strict rules and a fast-paced working environment were what I was expecting, and what I wanted for myself, so I nodded bravely.

(I would later discover that it wasn’t the super-strict scenario I had been trained by my parents to imagine, but instead my bosses were a perfect balance between being strict when it was time to work, and being friendly when it was appropriate to have fun.)

After discussing the days and hours per week that I was available to work and my salary scheme, the lady told me to come for training on the 2nd of December, where they would observe my promoting abilities and see if they could accept me. Before she let me off, she smiled at me and said: “Welcome to the working world!”

My First Job Interview: PART 1

If you really want something, you will make it happen.

Rachel Tan HX, 18

It was almost by chance, that I managed to secure a small temporary job that would add so much colour to my life compared to the dull studying days of before.

During the past month, I had scoured the Indeed Job App in search of promoter work, as a means to improve on my confidence while getting valuable work experience after SPM. I finally landed myself a job interview with Matchy & Co (Midvalley outlet), a company that sells colourful travel products and personalised gifts. Finding the right job match for myself was not easy, having to take into account many factors such as distance, age limit, and working hours and days per week, but I got it done.

Despite the huge effort I had put in throughout November to find this job, I was prepared to drop the opportunity for this already-secured interview if I could not find the right timing to inform my father about it. Only teenagers with strict parents will understand when I say angering the fire dragon/s in the family is no small joke! Haha.

Today, I am instead grateful to my dad for unintentionally causing the opportunity to ask him to arise. This is how it went:

Dad: “Your SPM has ended! What do you want to do? Hmm….. Aha. How about I take you to visit your potential university tomorrow?”

Immediately, the word tomorrow clashes with something else I’ve planned. Before I can stop myself, I say: “Tomorrow?…. Uhhh….But tomorrow I have an interview.”

Dad’s excited grin falls into a deep frown. “Interview. Since when?” (Rarely do I ever make plans for anything on my own, without first informing my father.) “Then when did you plan to tell me? It’s tomorrow already.”

I then proceeded to pounce on the opportunity like a starving cat, and I think it is partly because SPM had just ended that my father was a bit more open to the idea, and he allowed it! (After making some reluctant grunting noises.) Yay! I was very excited for the opportunity and the experiences my potential job had to offer. I knew that given all the effort taken to find the job and get the permission to go for the interview, I was going to make sure I got this job. No way would I allow myself to be rejected the position. I was going to perform well and secure it.

We still went to visit my potential campus the following day to make some enquiries, then I was rushed to Midvalley just in time for the interview at 3pm. “This is one busy woman,” my dad laughed, as he sent me to my first job interview ever. Scattered around KL and Selangor, my friends were watching Korean dramas, going for outings, scrolling on their phones or lazing on their beds. Oh dear! What was I getting myself into?

>>> To read about what happens next in my first job interview, click here.