Last Updated May 2, 2007 7:18 PM EDT
Your first job sets the tone for the rest of your career. Choosing the right first job takes careful research and planning, and there can be pitfalls along the way. If you aim low, your career path may be limited as a result. If you choose the wrong company, it could set you off on a track that might take years to change. The following points are questions to consider as you prepare to network and market yourself:
- What kind of career have I prepared myself for?
- Am I financially able to hold out for the best job?
- How prepared am I to launch a professional job campaign?
Yes. Companies no longer offer lifetime employment or even the guarantee of promotion to qualified employees. Good workers are often let go in restructuring or downsizing, and the average person works for seven or more firms in their lifetime. When you are looking for your second job, which may be out of choice or because of circumstances, employers will place a lot of importance on your previous job title and the prestige of the company where you first worked. It is extremely difficult to move from an entry-level job at a small or unknown organization into a higher position in a well-known organization. However, it is much easier to go from a good professional position at a recognized company into a better position at an even more successful organization.
Some people prefer to take a higher-level job in a smaller organization, rather than starting out in a large company. This can be a smart move, particularly if you do not consider yourself to be highly ambitious, or if you are more comfortable in a smaller setting. One of the benefits of doing this is that you will learn more about the total organization than if you have an entry-level position in a large company.
Regardless of the type of institution you work for, your first job is still important. Non-profit organizations have their own hierarchy in terms of prestige, power, status, and success, just as for-profit organizations do. While this hierarchy may not have as much meaning for those interested in non-profit work, or influence their career choices so heavily, it still has an effect. Ideally, you are better off establishing your career by working first for a well-known and successful non-profit organization, rather than starting out with a small, idealistic, but unknown and unconnected organization. If you truly want to have a positive impact on the world (which is most people's motivation for working in a non-profit organization), you are probably better off if you make your first move in an organization with resources and clout.
The most important question you should ask yourself is "Do I want to be a specialist or a generalist?" If you are really passionate about a particular field (such as engineering, biology, music, finance, or medicine) and you know that this is what you want to pursue, then you probably are a specialist. If, on the other hand, your interests lie in becoming an organizational leader or an entrepreneur, you are probably more of a generalist. As a specialist, you will want to choose a first job that allows you the opportunity to progress more deeply in your field. As a generalist, you would be wise to choose a first job that will offer you opportunities to learn about a number of fields, and to expand your confidence and leadership abilities.
As you think about looking for your first job, you will no doubt already have done a great deal of career preparation through your education and perhaps through some additional training. Now is a good time to remember why you chose this field. Is it still relevant to you? Will it give you the kind of lifestyle you want? Will it provide you with enough money to enjoy that lifestyle? If not, you may need to rethink your career plans.
The following exercise is adapted from Zen and the Art of Making a Living (see below). Complete each of the following sentences:
- The people I want to serve are…
- The way I want to contribute is…
- The scale I want to work at is… (for example, individual, community, national, global)
Now combine the essence of each of these sentences into one statement about your work purpose. It needs to encompass the that includes who you want to serve, the way you want to serve them, and the scope of the impact you want to make.
Make a list of at least 10 different career roles that would be compatible with your "Work Purpose Statement." Now select the three that are most interesting to you. Using personal contacts, the Internet, the library, and any other resources you can think of, try to get a good sense of what it would be like to work in each of these career roles. Find out what a typical day is like for someone who functions in this role.
Determine how much time you can afford to spend on looking for your first job. If you do not have enough financial support to allow you to wait for the "perfect" first job, then decide on your minimum criteria for accepting a position. These criteria could include salary, working conditions, relation to your chosen field of work, location, or any other criteria that are important to you. At the very least, if you are accepting a job that does not fit in with your "Work Purpose," make sure that it gives you the time and opportunity to keep looking for a better position.
It's now time to create a professional résumé, draw up a contact list, prepare for your interview, and create your networking plan.
Parents and teachers, often with the best of intentions, can have a strong influence on a person's career path. However, this is not always the best route to take. Someone may say to you, "Your parents and grandparents are all teachers (or doctors, or lawyers, or in business). Of course that is what you will do. It's family tradition." But this does not focus on your unique interests and abilities. It does not take into account your own potential and what you feel called to do.
It has always been assumed that you would one day join the family business. Or your parents encourage a family friend to hire you. It seems so easy and convenient to take up this type of offer. But by doing so, you are putting your career and your life's direction into someone else's hands, rather than taking responsibility for yourself. It may be that one of these opportunities is perfect for you, but you need to consider it like any other job offer. Take time to analyze the situation and follow the steps above, so that you can make a rational and informed decision.
If you run a successful campaign when looking for your first job, you may be offered several alternatives to choose from. While it is tempting to take the one with the highest salary, this may not be the best choice. It may seem to make the most sense when you are starting your career, especially if money is tight, but it is actually short-term thinking. If the job does not fit your personality or your sense of purpose in life, you may soon be looking for another job. On the other hand, if you stay, you will probably be miserable. It's much better to take a long-term view, asking yourself, "How will this job get the skills I need to fill my work purpose as well as my personal and professional goals?"
If you have applied for several jobs, it is usually a mistake to take the first offer. Sometimes people lack confidence or feel desperate to have something in hand. They may be afraid that if they ask a potential employer to wait, the opportunity will be lost. But employers usually understand this situation and will give you some extra time while you wait to see if other job offers come in. Even if you get an offer from your number one pick, there is nothing wrong with saying something like, "Thank you so much. I'm really interested in your offer, but I would like to take a couple of days to think about it." If you eagerly accept a position without taking a little time to think it over, you may find that you have rushed into something while overlooking some of the possible drawbacks.
By trying to help, people can sometimes be overly cautious. Don't listen to them. It is amazing how incredibly creative and resourceful you can be if you are determined to make your dream come true. You may have to work harder and it may take a little longer to find the kind of work you would really love to do, but it will be worth it in the long run.
Job Hunters' Bible: www.jobhuntersbible.com