A successful career must be built upon a solid foundation much like a building. A strong work ethic, determination and learning agility are keys to a successful career. Learning these skills and abilities begins with an individual’s first job. Whether that first job was mowing lawns, delivering newspapers, working retail or fast-food, those first job experiences helped build a foundation for future success.
We all had a first job and reflecting back on that first work experience can provide some helpful career insights. By interviewing and surveying a number of people about their first job experiences, I found some interesting data. In my research I interviewed/surveyed mid career professionals currently at the Vice President or Director level. A few demographic facts about the group.
- 15: the average age when they had their first paid job
- Paid minimum wage
- Respondents were 60% male and 40% female
- 35-54 is their current age range
The jobs ranged from surf shop salesman to secretary to convenience store clerk and many other jobs. While the job duties and responsibilities varied greatly each person spoke about that first experience with pride. Most importantly each person found that their first job had some level of influence on their career and who they are today. If you believe that who you are is based on your life experiences, then this makes lots of sense.
The phrase that everyone mentioned about his or her first job was “work hard”. It appears that first jobs were important in teaching each person about having a strong work ethic and that working hard is a requirement. “Work hard and get rewarded” was a common theme. One of the most interesting findings from the research was the way in which people got their first jobs. Only two sources were mentioned. First was a family connection. So even as teenagers we are taught the value of leveraging our network to identify job opportunities. While social networks did not exist at the time that those interviewed found their first jobs, they did leverage their personal networks and relied upon their families to help them land those first jobs. Gary Poisson, Vice President of Human Resources with Voya Financial commented
“Networking is so important throughout your career, so use your network to obtain your first job, and maintain that relationship well beyond your first job.”
The second source cited, was personal initiative. Individuals mentioned walking into a place of business and asking for a job. None mentioned applying for a posted job, instead it was more about targeting a place they wanted to work. I find the source of employment to be the most enlightening data from my research. What it teaches us is that leveraging ones network and targeting those companies that you want to work at are keys to job-hunting success whether for a teenager or a mid career professional. What we learned from our first jobs has had an impact on our career choices and how we approach work whether we have taken the time to explore the connection or not. So if you are in the market for a new job, think about how you landed your first job, what it taught you about hard work and responsibility and try to apply some of those learnings to your current pursuits. Finally if you have children, think back on your early work experiences and share those learnings with your children. Encourage them to take summer jobs and to enter the work world at an early age. It will position them better for a successful future. Cari Sisseron, Executive Director, Learning and Development at Catalina Marketing commented
“I often tell teenagers that their first jobs operate as a prototype for how we will function throughout our careers; that these first few positions in our formidable years really set the stage for later growth and development.”
Cari’s advice is right on target. Taking time to reflect on our early career choices and experiences can provide very meaningful insights, especially as we approach career crossroads later in life.