If you’re reading this, most likely, you’re under 30. You might be close to graduating from college with your BA or BS. Maybe you are graduating from grad school—either because you think an advanced degree will further your career, or your undergraduate degree wasn’t enough to land you a job in this tough economy. Or maybe you are looking for a new career after a few years of humdrum corporate work. If you are in this last category, you may have made some of the same mistakes I did when choosing my first job—a decision I fluked badly. Luckily, I can share some of my mistakes, in the hope that you can avoid the same fantastically regretful pitfalls.
Don’t take a first job that doesn’t fit your passion:
When I graduated from college with a Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering degree, I was fortunate to have multiple job offers to consider. In the end, I chose an offer in an industry and field that was unrelated to my interests, rather than a job that I would find the most fascinating. Why did I do this? The short answer: I was a greedy capitalist– the money was just so much better. Sure, there would be a bit of travel, sometimes to really crummy places, but how many people have been able to say that they went to Muskogee, OK (birthplace of Carrie Underwood and home to a beached submarine—yes in Oklahoma). Also, I made the decision to locate in a specific geographic area where I already had developed a support system.
Long story short: I was miserable. I stood at the base of the marble skyscraper where I worked , and craned my neck, squinting to see up to the very top. In that moment, I realized that I had 35 stories to climb to reach the top—and in that industry, I’d probably die of boredom and/or become a most cynical old man before I reached the top floor. Moral of the story: Choose your passion. The money will come. Not sure what your passion is? Select a company where lateral movement is possible, not one that pigeon holes its employees into a single career path. I’ve found this is the best way to discover an unknown passion.
Guess what? Those companies that come to your career fair and exhibit? They pay to be there—whether through payment to set up a booth or through donations to the school. That means there are other companies out there who might be a bit smaller, and are looking for the person who is willing to take a little initiative and do some digging. And guess what? Often times, since they saved tens of thousands of dollars on not exhibiting at career fairs, they’ll get the talent they want, be willing to pay more for it, and will be more interested in you as a person. I contrast my path, of only applying to jobs available through the school, to that of my younger sister. By learning from my mistakes, she applied for several jobs, but really focused her search for jobs through networking via professors and online. She ended up getting a much better job offer from a smaller consulting firm, though just as prestigious as the big exhibitors at her school (from whom she also received offers ), and loves it to this day. Me? I left after less than 2 years. (I don’t recommend that you follow my path – I DO recommend that you make a more informed choice at the start!)
Take a Risky Job
All of our parents (well MOST of them) want us to get a nice, comfortable corporate job. Such jobs offer a lot of benefits—a salary, a retirement plan, health benefits, and bonuses. Corporations, often a hot-bed of inefficiency, are safe places to hide, if that is all you want. It wasn’t what I wanted. When I took my first job, I realized I was caught in a rut. Not all corporate jobs are this way—in fact, many aren’t. But in mine, I saw myself in the same place in 10 years, still digging, playing politics, struggling to prove my worth and struggling for advancement. If you want something less comfortable, a bit more risky, look to apply your skills to a forward-looking company, one that has incorporated more recent business concepts in their organization. There are start-ups popping up daily. I don’t encourage the entrepreneurial route that I chose for everyone—I have an amazing business partner, without whom I never could have started our two companies, theExpressionary.com and Khraze.com. But I do recommend looking for fast growing Inc. 500 companies where the work will be diverse, challenging, and your ability to contribute will be appreciated and opportunities will abound.
William L. Mehserle Jr. is co-founder with Michael J. Flanigan of theExpressionary.com, a personalized gift site, and Khraze.com, a new media marketing company. You can connect with him on Twitter at @WLMehsJr or on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/mehserle