As we head into the end of the semester, those all important summer internships and first jobs are right around the corner! And while you hope that your new role will land you a byline, some on-air screen time or even a shout out from the CEO, the reality is a lot of your time will be spent making the work lives of everyone around you better. But instead of looking at making the daily coffee run or taking of lunch orders as menial tasks,WhoWhatWear and Clique Media’s, Hillary Kerr, explains there is more to learn from this task than the fact that there are 37 ways to order a latte.
There are a handful of things in life that are inevitable—death, taxes, and ugly bridesmaid dresses—including one work task you’re sure to be assigned as an assistant or intern: getting the lunch order. It seems like a drag, for sure, especially in Los Angeles, where people are almost legally required to get Sally Albright–ordering-pie levels of complicated (“I’d like the pie heated and I don’t want the ice cream on top, I want it on the side, and I’d like strawberry instead of vanilla if you have it, if not, then no ice cream, just whipped cream, but if it’s out of the can then nothing.”), though obviously no one in this town orders dessert.
For an educated, qualified, ambitious individual, having to deal with someone’s lunch order can feel reductive, and it’s easy to see it as an annoying responsibility that’s not actually teaching you anything or helping your career progress—but that’s simply not true. Here’s the good news: There is a direct correlation between getting the lunch order right and succeeding in your career, and here’s why…
1—You’re Learning to Pay Attention to Details, and Details Are Everything.
Dressing on the side, white-meat only grilled chicken, iced skinny latte with five pumps of sugar-free vanilla and light ice—whatever the order, you have to get it right down to the smallest detail. It’s true for lunch, and it’s just as true for work projects. The ability to execute any task flawlessly is essential at every stage of your career, and the sooner you realize the way you handle small responsibilities tells your boss how you will handle larger responsibilities, the better.
2—You’re Learning How to Effectively Communicate.
Being able to really hear what your employers are saying and being able to efficiently, effectively communicate with them is a hugely important skill you simply must master. I can’t tell you how many times miscommunication has completely derailed a project, and it’s incredibly frustrating when you realize that a deadline was missed or a sale was lost due to people simply not understanding each other. That’s why you have to start practicing the fine art of communication as early as possible, and being able to correctly understand and place someone’s lunch order is a great, relatively low-stakes way to hone that skill.
3—You’re Learning How to Delegate.
One of the crucial skills everyone has to master at some point in his or her career is being able to delegate effectively. As an assistant, you’re hopefully learning this by working with interns and overseeing their projects, but the lunch order is another great place to advance that skill. Even if you’ve clearly communicated what you want, you still need to check the work you’ve delegated, since ultimately it’s your responsibility that things are done correctly. Keep that in mind when you’re picking up lunch. Instead of just grabbing the order and heading back to the office, take the time to double-check that the restaurant followed your (hopefully) clearly communicated instructions. You asked for a turkey and cranberry salad, hold the cranberries, add walnuts, hold the goat cheese, with the dressing on the side, but is that actually what’s in your bag? Don’t assume; do the smart thing and double-check it.
4—You’re Learning How to Troubleshoot in Advance.
The most valuable people in any company are the ones who know how to think ahead and can anticipate potential problems before they happen. This is true in business; this is true in lunch orders. Since we’re talking about lunch orders, after you’ve placed the order and checked to make sure it was executed correctly, it’s time to think ahead. Before you return to the office, take a second to think about what else your boss might want, even if she hasn’t explicitly asked for it. Whether it’s a side of oil and vinegar, just in case your boss doesn’t like the dressing she ordered, or making sure there are napkins and utensils in the bag, getting ahead of potential small problems is always a smart move.
5—You’re Learning How to Be Resourceful.
No matter how clear you were over the phone or how detailed your Postmates order was, at some point in your lunch-ordering process, things will go wrong. Rather than solely presenting your boss with a problem, be resourceful and give her solutions, too. For example, if the item she ordered isn’t available, rather than just saying that, give her three similar options at the same restaurant, or similar options at other restaurants that are nearby. Show that you’re thinking about ways to fix the issue, rather than assuming she’ll have the solution. Even if she doesn’t take your suggestions, she will still appreciate the fact that you’re being resourceful and trying to find alternative ways to get what she wants. Best of all, that ability to think on your feet and be proactive will serve you well in all aspects of your career, long after you’re responsible for anyone’s lunch order.
For more amazing advice and words of wisdom for Hillary, check out her new book “The Career Code” which she co-wrote with her WhoWhatWear Co-Founder, Katherine Power.
Photos via @hillarykerr