Your First Job After College Matters Less Than You Think – Here's Why

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Adobe Stock / cherryandbees

July 20, 2024 at 6:0PM UTC
Internship season is in full swing. Whether you're one of those interns, or just now managing an intern, you may be thinking about the next step in your career path.
Today we're taking a moment to celebrate the fact that careers unfold in many different ways. Heads up, young people — your first (or even second) job out of college may not be what you envisioned, but that doesn’t mean you will be suffering the consequences for the rest of your career. Here are 5 reasons why your first jobs after graduation matters less than you think.

1. Job-Hopping Is Popular

Job-hopping is more common these days, which means that in a few years, nobody will question that you took a couple years to "find yourself," or experiment with a career interest.
 Perhaps you started out your job search thinking that your dream job was to try to make a difference in the world at a non-profit you believed in, only to find that you were weighed down in daily bureaucracy rather than truly having the impact you imagined. Or perhaps it’s the opposite situation and you feel that your first job has turned you off corporate life forever.
Whatever the situation, few employers think their employees will be “lifers.” With the average job tenure under five years across the entire labor force, and an even higher rate of job-switching among young people and millennials, job hopping simply isn’t stigmatized as much as it used to be. You will still need to have an explanation for why you are changing jobs, but with a little rehearsing, you can frame a compelling story about the varied work experience you’ve had.

2. We Live in a Difficult Economy

People understand a difficult economy can limit a post-college graduate’s choices and inhibit them from landing their dream job right away. Sometimes the reason you end up taking a job is as a distant concession to getting a paycheck, or moving out of your parent’s house. Depending on the economy, that might be a totally reasonable (partial) explanation for a job-switch in a subsequent interview. It shows responsibility, the ability to take action on a back-up plan, and honesty. Reasonable hiring managers who have lived through economic peaks and troughs understand that timing and luck matter in terms of getting your first job at a company. While you don’t need to dwell on this explanation if you need to make it, there are ways of talking about this without “playing the victim.”

3. You Can Always Go Back to School

Even if you're crushing it at your first job, you might not be happy. If you really need to make a big detour, you can still go back to get a graduate degree.
Many times, graduate school (whether that’s to get a Master’s Degree, an MBA or other professional degree) is a way for people to really make a big career change. Sure, it takes an investment in tuition and years of additional schooling in some cases, but if you’re looking to make a big change, this is a well-trodden path.

4. Time Is on Your Side

If you’re a typical student, you’re in your early 20’s and nobody who’s been in the workforce for a few years expects you to have a perfectly linear resume or a laundry list of employers and work experience. In fact, detours can be easily made and explained during the interview process because hiring managers and interviewers will assume you were exploring your career options. Skills earned in entry-level positions are often easily transferable — powerpoint presentations, and social media accounts, anyone? In other words, you have time to change industries with the skills you learned in your first job, even if it’s not your ideal position or dream job.

5. All Experience Is Valuable

You are learning something valuable in your job, even if you think you aren’t. Whatever the situation may be, remember that possibly the biggest lesson your first job teaches you is what it means to have a job, period. First and foremost, it means fulfilling responsibilities, being punctual, getting along with colleagues and learning what it means to work for money. If you’ve realized you made a turn in the wrong direction, you have decades of your working life ahead of you to get back on track but those learnings are as applicable whether you are working at Starbucks or at Goldman Sachs.
With your LinkedIn profile for all the world to see, it may feel like there’s incredible pressure to start building a picture-perfect resume and professional career path from the day you leave college. With a few more years, you’ll be able to see that your anxiety wasn’t necessary and that in reality, almost every career option was still open to you during the years right after college. Hopefully, you’ll realize that now and be able to plan your next move with greater confidence.


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