Career Lessons Learned at the Supermarket

CheckoutYou find yourself at the supermarket on a Saturday, just placing your last item in your cart and now you face your most important decision – which checkout line to join.  Choose wisely and you will be out of the store in minutes and on your way; choose poorly and you will find yourself leaving the store in a bad mood and with half-melted ice cream.

It is during these random times that I often think about career management issues.  How does the checkout line at the supermarket act as an analogy for one’s career choices?  Stick with me here as I can find career lessons for career seekers and hiring managers.

Evaluate Your Options: I have been known to join checkout lines that grocery-cartare longer than others because I believe I will move faster than if I joined a shorter line.  For example, I have joined a line three carts deep to avoid a line with one customer who I could tell was going to take a while to check-out.  The same is true for airport security lines, choose a longer one if the line is a majority of business travelers – it will always move faster than being stuck behind me and my family.

When evaluating job offers and career moves, look a few positions above your current role to evaluate your advancement prospects.  Will senior management offer solid mentoring and the ability to grow?  Is your boss set for the long haul and thus advancing within this particular department may be difficult?  In short, do you believe your career will advance faster at one opportunity versus another?

In addition to evaluating the fit of the current role, look forward to see where this role could lead you in this organization and your field.  And then, next time you are in the supermarket, be sure to evaluate the lines to avoid one where you anticipate a logjam.

One Step Back – Two Steps Forward: At my local grocer, they offer two express lanes during busy times.  As I approached the express lanes the other day, one express lane line was twice as long as the other. I joined the short line and watched as three customers in the longer express lane were served before my checker finished counting the change for the customer in front of me.  The following week, I saw the same checker and quickly joined the other, longer, check out line.  This is an example of taking the seemingly longer route that turns out to be the faster one.

In your career, you may find yourself taking a lateral move or a move that is a step or two backwards in order to accomplish your goals more quickly.  If you believe a “longer” line may actually be better for your career in the long run, I say go for it.  It is important to evaluate your options and understand the landscape to ensure the longer line is the right choice.

An all to real career example of the slow check-out person is when you know your boss is going nowhere soon.  You have hit a ceiling at your current employer and until a new division opens (a new checkout line) or your boss moves on, you will find yourself in a holding pattern.  By moving over to a new employer that offers the possibility of faster advancement, you may take a short term hit in seniority/pay/title for a long term gain.  In supermarket terms, you leave a short line for a longer line because you know you will be leaving the store sooner than if you had stayed.

Price Check – Find the Smartest Checker: As you approach the checkout lines, all that are at least four carts deep, I evaluate the checker.  I try to find the person who appears to be the most adept at his/her job.  Is she moving quickly?  Does he type in the codes for the veggies without having to look them up? Is he asking for several price checks over the intercom? Does the person look a bit lost or believes the customer wants to engage in a lengthy conversation about the weather during the checkout process?  In short, I try to find the most intelligent/skilled checkout person as I have found that line will move the fastest.

I use a similar practice when hiring employees.  Finding the candidate who has the skills to do the job and can handle the role is my goal.  I look for talent who can handle the immediate job needs and who has potential to grow, finding this person tends to move faster than others.  Just as in the checkout line, I find the most intelligent/skilled candidate is my best choice when hiring.

Good luck at the store this Saturday and let me know how it goes when evaluating your next checkout line or job offer!


About Kevin Monahan

I have 10+ years experience in coaching clients in their career management and career change efforts. Personal career consulting services combined with employer outreach to help find opportunities for both constituents.
This entry was posted in Career Management, Job Offer, Job Search and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Career Lessons Learned at the Supermarket

  1. What a creative post! How you managed to be inspired by checkout lines is beyond me (I’m usually just plain aggravated by them) but the analogy really works. Well done!

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