Debunking The Myth Of That Perfect First Job
Everyone wants that perfect first job: the job that will be your stepping stone to your future; the job your parents can proudly boast about to friends and family. But the perfect first job is a myth—and a dangerous one at that. It makes students and young professionals extremely anxious—and, ironically, focused on the exact wrong things. Your task as a young professional isn't to find the perfect job. It's to make the most of that imperfect first job you’ll inevitably find yourself in.
Here are my top three tips to take advantage of that very first job—especially if it's not what you had hoped for coming out of the gate.
1. Build your skills. Even if you don’t love your first job, it can be an amazing opportunity to learn and develop as a professional. So, be a careful and thoughtful observer of what’s around you. Experiment. Step outside your comfort zone. Learn to speak up at meetings; to ask great questions; to receive and give feedback; to stay organized; and to make yourself a valued and helpful resource for solving problems on your team.
And also be thoughtful and reflective about your likes and dislikes about the job. What about the role excites you? And what doesn't? Early jobs are amazing opportunities for learning and self-reflection. So, instead of thinking of your first job as a litmus test for your career, think of it as a learning laboratory for growth and insight.
2. Build your brand. Your brand is the impression you create: your reputation; your track record; what people can expect from working with you. And you can start building your brand this right out of the gate—even with very little experience, and even in a job you don't exactly love. For example, you'll notice that people will often mention an idea at a meeting—for additional research or data collection, for example - but no one necessarily raises their hand to do the extra work.
You can be that person. You can grab that opportunity to start building a reputation as a hard, reliable worker and key contributor to the team. You can even perhaps volunteer to report back results at the next meeting, showcasing your intellect and poise in front of a potentially influential set of people.
And none of this is rocket science. You don't need an advanced degree or decades of experience to start building a reputation. It's yours for the taking if you're willing to put in the work. And working on building your brand today will pay dividends in the future when you do find that job you really find appealing.
3. Build your network. If you’re anything like me, you have an immediate negative visceral reaction to the idea of networking. It feels aggressive and inauthentic to make connections with people for purely instrumental purposes. But networking is really important, especially early on, for seeing what's out there and what interests you.
So here are a few tips for successful networking at your first job, even if it’s not the ideal one: Create a professional-style profile on LinkedIn that highlights your strengths and experiences, and where people can go to learn more about you—and to connect. Have lots of lunches, coffee dates, and drinks. Use these opportunities to meet people who interest you – to learn about their jobs and industries; how they got these jobs; and whether what they’re doing seems interesting to you.
And then follow up: connect with them on LinkedIn. Send them a thank you note; ask them if they have other people they might suggest you meet with. You never know what someone might mention in an off-hand conversation that could spark your interest and lead you on the next path in your career journey.
In the end, don't worry if your first job isn't that great—or if you feel like you made a mistake by choosing a company or industry you don't really love. Your task isn't to love your first job; instead, it’s to gain valuable learning experiences and to develop yourself so you can make the very best of those next exciting opportunities that will inevitably come your way.
The mission of Next Steps Navigation is helping college graduates navigate the ups and downs of finding their place in the world, by finding their right next step. Recognizing the huge gap between getting a college degree and the realities of entering the workforce, we developed our coaching program to help families navigate this critical transition. We’ll meet you where you are and get you pointed in the right direction to choose a job – and a life – that you love.