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The No. 1 skill you get working in fast food

A successful career could start behind a cash register or at a drive-thru window.

More than 3 million people work at fast food restaurants across the U.S., according to the latest numbers published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Fast food jobs are often misjudged as being low-skill and dead-end, but they can actually provide invaluable career experience, Tiffanie Boyd, McDonald’s senior vice president and chief people officer for the U.S., tells CNBC Make It. 

Working in fast food offers opportunities to cultivate “critical soft skills” including time management, customer service, communication and adaptability, Boyd says. But the most important skill you develop as a fast food employee is learning to work quickly and efficiently under pressure.

“You have to navigate a fast-paced environment and the tight deadlines and expectations that come along with it: getting orders out on time, managing an influx of customers,” Boyd, 50, explains. 

She continues: “Once you get the hang of that skill, it can help you excel in any job, whether you’re a software developer, leading a retail team or working in investment banking, because you’re able to calmly process a lot of incoming information, take action quickly, and deliver some type of result.”

Dozens of notable business leaders, politicians, actors and more started their careers in fast-food restaurants, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, former President Barack Obama and multi-hyphenate star Queen Latifah.

Peloton instructor Cody Rigsby landed his first job ever at McDonald’s in Greensboro, North Carolina when he was just 16 years old. 

While celebrating the restaurant chain’s “1 in 8” initiative in New York City on October 11 — a nod to the fact that one in eight Americans have worked at McDonald’s — Rigsby said the job served as a crucial stepping stone in his professional development.

“It was the first opportunity that gave me a strong work ethic and started me on my way to my career,” Rigsby, 36, said. 

Two of the most important skills he learned while working at McDonald’s, and has continued to apply in “every job” he’s had since, are time management and compassion. 

“People notice when you’re on time or early, it shows respect and that takes you a long way,” Rigsby explained. “Also, when you work with a ton of different people, and treat them all with humanity, kindness and respect, it’s noticed everywhere you go … take that skill with you, no matter how rich or successful you get.” 

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