Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Working For The Mouse: Traditions & Training

If you're just joining us, I've been working on a whole series of posts for people interested in relocating to Orlando and/or working at Disney World. You can find all of the posts in this series by clicking here!

Today I'm talking about the subjects I've probably gotten the MOST questions about- Traditions and training! It's totally common to wonder what the heck is going to happen to you when you're starting your new job, and I think it can be really calming to have at least some idea of what to expect! This was originally going to be my first post in this series, but when I started writing it, I realized just how much there was to cover, so I wanted to invest a few extra weeks in it. I have a feeling I'll need to do at least one or two more posts on the subject, but at least this is a start!

First, let's break down an outline of what your first week or two (or more) might look like.

1) Traditions- This is the very first class that any new Cast Member will attend. I believe that for College Program people it's a half day class, but for everyone else it's a full day. This is the day you (generally) get your name tag (yay!) and your cast ID, which is also your ticket to the parks! It introduces you to the company and parks, and goes over basic rules and info. This is also when you find out exactly where you will be working! Yep, up until this point, you may have known "Magic Kingdom- Tomorrowland Attractions", for example, but you don't actually know which attraction until now!

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2) Classes- Most  roles involve taking classes before you begin your on the job training. There's even a snazzy building called Disney University just for learning! Oooh, ahh! Depending on what your role is, you may only have a day or two of classes, or you may have more than a week! The classes for each role are totally different, but they're generally core info that you need to know before you begin training, such as how to run the cash register if you'll be working merchandise, or safety procedures for food-related jobs. I was always super impressed with the set-ups for classes! For instance, for my resort front desk classes, we had a separate "lab" area off of the main classroom that was set up with a mock front desk and computers so that we could practice checking guests in! Let me tell you, it is SO nice to get to practice that in a classroom environment instead of having to learn in front of guests!!!

3) Location Orientation- This day is spent learning your way around wherever you'll be working. In general, you'll take a tour of ALL of wherever you're working (for instance, Magic Kingdom or the Caribbean Beach Resort). This day gives you the basic "lay of the land", and will probably give you a little history and info about this new place where you'll be spending so much time. I've seen people have this orientation both before or after the classes from #2. This is the class that I used to facilitate, so I could talk all day about this topic! They used to literally pay me to!

4) On the Job Training- Once you learn the basic info about what you're going to be doing, it's time to actually head out into your location! Just like with classes, this training will vary in length depending on what you're doing. At the end of the designated training period, your skills will be assessed to make sure you're ready to start working on your own.

As you can imagine, all of that can be a LOT to handle, especially if you've also just moved to the area and are still getting settled into a new home, too! It's a lot of new info and new people and new routine (or lack of one) all at once! That brings me to my first two major tips:

Tip #1- Give yourself permission to be a beginner. No matter how smart and capable and generally awesome you are, chances are you are going to kinda suck at whatever you're learning at first. You're going to make mistakes. You're going to feel uncomfortable sometimes. You might feel scared or overwhelmed or have one of those "OMG, what did I get myself into?" moments.

My very first night in Orlando, I woke up in my hotel room (having not even found an apartment yet) at 3 a.m. and Freaked. The Freak. Out. How on EARTH had that day taken me 1,000 miles from home to a city where I knew exactly one person, to a whole new life? There was a moment where I sat up in that hotel bed, looked over at my still packed suitcases, and momentarily considered just booking a plane ticket back home the next day, as if it had never happened. I'm really thankful now that I didn't turn around and go home, but for a good half hour or so there, it was a definite possibility.

My job in attractions wasn't that hard to pick up, so I never stressed too much learning that role, but when I moved to front desk and concierge, there was a period during training and my first few days on my own where I was pretty sure I would NEVER get the hang of this stuff. There was just so much info to learn!
I don't think there's anything you can truly DO to prepare yourself for those first few days. There's just no other job experience like it. I mean, I worked front desk at a hotel for three entire years before moving to Florida, but working front desk at a Disney resort was a totally new experience in every way possible. Yes, I was still checking people into rooms and handing out keys and such, but it looked and felt nothing at all like what I was used to.

Of course, a few years later I was at the point in that role where I'd seen and handled so many things that I was totally confident in my ability to handle almost anything that came up. You probably could have run up to the desk and told me that flying vampire zebras had just invaded the food court, and I would have just been like "Okay, cool, I'll handle it."

The point I'm trying to make, I guess, is that if you go into your first days on the new job worrying about impressing everyone and doing an amazing job and being the best ever, you're probably going to stress yourself out like crazy. Try to keep in mind that nobody expects you to be perfect. That's why we stick that big, bright red "Earning My Ears" ribbon on your name tag. Yeah, you might screw up, but it's okay. It really is. Chances are, your trainer has seen other people make the exact same mistakes a million times before. Go into it with the attitude of wanting to do your best, but be gentle with yourself. Which brings us to...

Tip #2- Prepare Yourself For Those First Weeks
I spent the night before Traditions sick as a dog with no cold medicine and no furniture. (It was my first night in the new apartment, and the delivery of all of my stuff had been seriously hindered by a snowstorm hitting my old home.) I slept on my living room floor with one pillow and blanket that I'd picked up at Wal-Mart that day. I sniffled my way through Traditions the next day, sipping a mixture of the free coffee and hot chocolate that had been set up in the back of the classroom to try to keep me alive after only about 3 hours of sleep. I often had to take a moment to remind myself that this was the big day I'd been looking forward to for so long.

I am far from being the only person to feel gross during Traditions, or to have a totally not fun bug during training. All of the stress and work and crazyness that comes with moving and starting a new job is bound to wear your body down. No matter what job you end up doing, training is exhausting. For some roles it can feel pretty physically intense (Most of us just aren't used to a job where we might be walking for hours and hours at a time!), while others drain you mentally. With a lot of roles you'll be outside, which can be a pretty major shock to the system if you're coming from Minnesota and are now spending several hours in a row out in 100 degree Florida heat and humidity.

Gearing up for the first couple of weeks is definitely on my list of "Things I'm glad I know how to handle better next time"! Here are a few suggestions:

*If you can afford to, try to leave at least a week between moving into town and starting work. I arrived on the evening of the 10th and had Traditions on the morning of the 15th. I REALLY wish I'd allowed myself a few more days to settle in, especially since 2 of those 4 days were spent apartment hunting! I know that not everyone can afford to spend an extra few days without working, but chances are you'll really appreciate it if you can! (No, you won't be able to go to the theme parks for free until after Traditions, but there are plenty of other things to do until then!) Having a few days to settle into your new place and nest a little can do wonders for you mentally, in terms of feeling like you have a "home" to relax and unwind in after a crazy day of learning new things, rather than some weird new apartment full of boxes you haven't had time to unpack yet.

*Have you ever felt like you might be coming down with something, and tried to fight it off by taking vitamins and drinking lots of fluids, eating super healthy and getting lots of rest? I'd suggest preparing for your first week of work in a similar way. Do everything you can to boost up your immune system and energy level so that your body is a little more prepared for everything you're about to throw at it. You might want to add something with vitamins and antioxidants to your routine (I'm personally a fan of Emergen-C Raspberry, but there are all kinds of options). I know that this makes it sound more like I'm telling you to prepare for a marathon than a first week at work, but this is what I'm planning to do when I go back! Your body will naturally start adapting to your crazy new schedule after the first few weeks, but anything you can do to make the transition a little easier is a good thing! (When I worked attractions at Magic Kingdom, I would sometimes get home from work and have to sit in my car for a few minutes, staring at the stairs that led up to my apartment until I could summon the energy to actually climb them to go home!)

*Have something comforting waiting for you at home. Due to the storm I mentioned above, I was in FL for more than a week before the people I'd hired to deliver my car actually dropped it off. The only problem was that they were now dropping it off while I was at my very first day of training at Magic Kingdom. I got off work and found a bunch of new voicemails telling me that their truck had been unable to fit through the gates to my apartment community, so they had dropped it off in the parking lot of a grocery store on their way to another drop-off. (I'm not even going to get into this whole crazy story, but it's way back in the archives here and here you want to read it!) When I learned that my car was now 20 miles across town and the only person I knew in the entire state wasn't available to help me get it home, I sat on my living room floor with a giant cream cheese brownie and a glass of milk, and wept for a solid 15 minutes while I ate it. After that, I was able to pull it together and work things out, but I needed that moment of breaking down and  gobbling up some comfort food first.

When you're suddenly surrounded by so many new things at once (New city, new home, new job, new people, new things you're expected to do, new clothes you're expected to wear...), having something familiar and comforting can be a total life saver. Taking some time during your first couple of weeks to chill out in a bubble bath with a glass of wine, or watch your favorite movie while eating too many cookies- whatever ritual helps you to really, really relax and totally turn your brain off. A lot of people get sucked in to spending every free minute in the parks when they're new, and while that's super fun, you're going to wear yourself out big time if you don't plan for some downtime, too!

One final, sort of random tip: For Traditions and any classes at Disney University, take a jacket or sweater with you! Even if it's the middle of August! It seems like every time I've been there, no matter what time of year, the classrooms have been FREEZING. If the temperature ends up being okay, then no big deal, you just brought an extra item with you. But sitting still through an 8 hour class while freezing your rear off is no fun at all! In my experience, I've always been welcome to bring a beverage, too, so if you know you can't get through the afternoon without your favorite soda or tea, bring one along. You'll have plenty of breaks to get your caffeine fix or just plain re-hydrate!

Speaking of things to wear during Traditions, I have a post in the works that will be full of suggestions for what to wear for Traditions and your classes! A lot of people get freaked out by trying to find clothes that meet the Disney Look guidelines, so I'm giving it a whole post of its own!  I'll probably come back and revisit the topic of training in more depth, too. If you have questions, let me know and I'll do my best to help!

That handy disclaimer: All opinions posted here are based off of my own experiences, and are in no way official or guaranteed to work for everyone. 

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