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How Important is My First Job After I Graduate?

I’m always amazed when a student walks in my office or approaches me after class to tell me that he or she isn’t accepting a job offer. It is usually followed with something like, “I didn’t go to college for four years just to stock shelves…make phone calls…work a front desk…etc.”

I have three pieces of advice for graduating students regarding their first job: Be prepared to work hard; find a company not a job; and remember that you don’t have to stay there for your entire career.


Be Prepared to Work Hard


Leaving the easy life of college to enter the work force is a big change. As a college student, you take four or five classes that meet two times a week for 75 minutes a class. If you don’t skip class to go skiing or because you slept in, you are spending 13 hours a week sitting in a classroom. And most don’t start before 10 or 11 a.m.

I know if you are a student you’ll argue that you spend two to three hours per class studying and preparing, so that adds 26-39 hours a week. My students are the 13 hours a week in total students.

The moment you enter the workforce you are expected to be ready to work by 8 a.m., and will most likely be expected to not leave before 6 p.m. You are expected to spend nearly the same amount of time on day one that you spent an entire week while in college. No naps, no laying in the quad and no blowing off the class because attendance isn’t being taken.

Want more bad news? If you are that employee who works 8-to-6, you will be average. If you want to be a superstar, do just 10 percent more than your job description requires. Do 10 percent more than the other new hires are doing. It won’t be easy, but I promise if you work hard, you’ll move up in the organization quickly.


Find a Company Not a Job


I happen to be a big fan of students getting their first job at Enterprise Car Rental, Target or Kohl’s. These are big companies and they have very structured Management Trainee programs. They teach customer service, management skills and they invest in their new hires. These are all things that will help build a strong foundation for your career.

I suggested to one of my top students that she speak to Target. She responded, “I didn’t go to college to stock the shelves at a Target store.” She is clearly too focused on the job and not on the company.

Unfortunately, if given the opportunity to work in the mailroom (I know they don’t exist anymore) at Google or the Director of Marketing for an unknown, local organization, most students would jump to the marketing role. They focus too much on the job and the salary, versus focusing on a company.

My second bit of advice is to find the largest, most successful organization that will train you in management, leadership and customer service. Two years in any organization like this – sorting mail, stocking shelves, cleaning bathrooms, etc. – will launch you into the real career or job you want.


You Don’t Have to Stay at the First Company


Let me first say you should do your best to stay at your first company for at least 18 months. I had a student two years ago graduate with a marketing degree. She got a sports marketing job with a professional baseball team. Six months into the job she emailed me and said, “I hate my job. I just call ticket holders and beg them to renew.” I explained that all first jobs are like that and she was in the tough period of a job. I suggested she try working harder than the others, that she ask for extra projects and that she commit to another six months. She will be celebrating her two-year anniversary next month and loves what she is doing (she was promoted for doing extra).

I never understand why someone looks at the first company they go to and act as though they will have to stay there for their entire career. Focus on finding a great company and know that you only have to stay 18 months. Hopefully it will be a great experience and you will stay longer, but push yourself through the tough period (month seven to month 13).


If you remember these three simple things, I promise you will be off to a successful career. Unfortunately, the 13-hour weeks will be gone – and I can’t help you with that. FBN

By T Paul Thomas


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