Your First Job Doesn’t Have To Be Your Career

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A wedding photographer reflected in a mirror, with the subject of the photo (a bride) blurred.

You could do this, right?

Cultivating a successful and rewarding career is one of the biggest challenges of adulthood. In college, you were told what steps to take to achieve defined goals: enroll in these classes, read these textbooks, get this degree.

Unfortunately for new grads, the job market doesn’t come with an instruction manual, and many find themselves feeling like I did: overwhelmed and lacking direction.


Temper Your Expectations

Many graduates enter the workforce with demands that outpace what a recovering economy can provide. For no discernible reason whatsoever, I held high salary expectations of my bachelor’s degree that were readily dashed in my job hunt. No one wanted to start me at $60,000 merely for having a chemistry degree—what’s up with that?

I encourage everyone looking for their first job to moderate their expectations with an understanding of the circumstances of our generation: We are the most educated populace to enter the workforce, and we’re doing so post-economic meltdown. Research starting salaries in your field, make your résumé and network as strong as possible, and don’t rule out jobs you consider “below” you.

It always makes me sad to see new grads foregoing service jobs to wait until the right opportunity comes along. Spoiler alert: You can wait for the right opportunity while collecting a paycheck as a barista.

Skills Matter Most

You might start your career without an end in mind, and that’s fine! I frequently tell people I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I care very little for acquiring titles or even what company I work for; I know the most important thing is what I can learn from my job.

I was so attracted to my current job as a university recruiter because it gave me the opportunity to hone my public speaking skills, learn how to plan large-scale events, and gain an understanding of marketing to the 18-24 age demographic. These are valuable skills, and most importantly, they’re transferable to different roles in both academia and private industry.

You Don’t Have To Be Normal

As the times change, so does the workforce, and the 9-to-5 is dying a slow but obvious death. Many people find fulfilling non-traditional careers.

A friend of mine rakes in cash as a photographer. It means she works every Saturday and many evenings in order to catch weddings, parties, and other events that everyone else holds outside their regular working hours, but her extraordinary talent has created a lucrative personal business.

Your career might sneak up on you when you’re busy doing something else. Don’t be scared of odd hours, uncertainty, or unusual environments. Work isn’t easy, but it is going to be what you spend a large amount of your time doing so don’t be afraid to try new things.

The most important thing to remember is that a first job is a starting point, not the finish line. All your career dreams don’t have to (and probably won’t!) come true your first year in the workforce, but this doesn’t mean you can’t have it all—you just have to work for it.

Was your first job out of school what you thought it would be? Let us know in the comments.

(Photo: K e v i n)

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  1. Ryan Lane June 19, 2013 / 10:46 am

    My first post-college job was waiting tables at a college executive center (and it wasn’t really even waiting, because it was a buffet). I told the interviewer that I was still “figuring out what I wanted to do,” which he said he liked. I’m sure he just liked having someone who didn’t mind starting his workday at 4:30 a.m.

    • Bridget June 19, 2013 / 11:02 am

      But did you get free food? haha

      • Ryan Lane June 19, 2013 / 12:20 pm

        Oh, most definitely! There’s nothing quite like eggs that last an entire buffet. How I miss it all.

  2. Mecala June 19, 2013 / 3:05 pm

    I graduated in December and got a job in Marketing, Sales, and Account managing for a janitorial company. I have about 2 years previous experience in marketing and this isn’t exactly what I wanted but hopefully it will all work out. Hope to move back to the East Coast and get into marketing research!

  3. Sven Arneson June 19, 2013 / 3:13 pm

    I’m still in school and I’ve been able to start building a home based business while still in school, which I think is what a lot of people should start doing. Network marketing is going to be huge for my generation (people more in 80s and 90s) because we are the ones who’ve mastered this whole social networking concept. People will begin to see the value of creating and building businesses within each others social networks. I’ll never be able to do a 9-5, but I love to work. I just like to work on my own time and I prefer to get paid on the results I make instead of simply trading time for money! The fact that I get to consume a product that I know is great for me and also get to share that product with my social network to create residual income is simply awesome!

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