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Four Career Lessons I Learned Working at Starbucks

Starbucks cup.

I’ve never much so much fun (at work) as I did slinging lattes and bagging beans at Starbucks.

Maybe not everyone that’s worked in coffee feels that way, but for me, working part-time at the ‘Bucks to help pay off debt was actually fun. I liked moving around, I liked working fast, I liked being face-to-face with people. (It was a big contrast every to office job I’ve ever held at which I sit on my ass and send emails all day.)

But I didn’t just have fun at Starbucks, I also learned valuable lessons that have helped me at every job I’ve held since…


Most people don’t expect to have a counter person use their first name or ask them how they are doing (and seem genuinely interested), let alone make eye contact. Sadly, most people have come not to expect true engagement from coworkers, managers, or clients, either.

How to Use It: Imagine how you can stand out at work if you make an effort to use names, make eye contact, and be genuinely interested in everybody you talk to each day.


Are you a Starbucks regular? Chances are you have received a free drink when a barista makes a mistake or things are running slow. How many other companies admit to a mistake and give you free product without being asked? Such a simple gesture can make a customer’s day.

How to Use It: At work, surprise others by going above and beyond. Buy flowers for a coworker who had a bad day, take a good client to lunch and avoid selling him anything for the entire hour, or make your boss look really good in front of her manager.


These days you can walk into a store to buy a TV and find salespeople who could barely tell you the difference between LCD and LED. Ask a Starbucks barista about the differences among Latin American, African, and Southeast Asian coffee beans, however, and you’ll likely get an earful. That’s because Starbucks employees at every level are actually expected to know coffee…it’s part of the training.

How to Use It: How well do you know your company’s business? Whether you work in sales, finance, human resources, or on the warehouse floor, taking an active interest in understanding your company’s product, culture, and business strategy will help you take your career to new heights.


Though you might not know it as you wait for your cappuccino, Starbucks pushes its partners (Starbuckian slang for employees) to recognize each other for a job well done. Partners trade personalized business-card sized notes with one of several guiding principles printed on the back to show day-to-day gratitude for a job well done. Coworkers and managers have higher awards to bestow upon partners who really go the extra mile. The little awards can be cheesy at times, but showing genuine appreciation is always, well, appreciated!

How to Use It: Recognizing others at work can be as simple as saying “thank you” for ordinarily thankless tasks. Say it personally, or leave a handwritten note. If you’re a manager, nothing boosts employee job satisfaction like the feeling that their contributions are noticed and valued.


Thanks to visualpanic for the photo.

Published or updated on June 25, 2008

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About David Weliver

David Weliver is the founding editor of Money Under 30. He's a cited authority on personal finance and the unique money issues we face during our first two decades as adults. He lives in Maine with his wife and two children.


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