Monday, May 5, 2014

What I learned from my first job out of college OR Why college grads should choose the best opportunity over the best salary

I never felt more awful then when I was looking for my first job out of college. From interviewing for sales jobs I was so wrong for to considering being a Disney costumed character I was epically lost.

Sure, when I started out I had all these dreams when I started college. But when I graduated, I lost my vision completely.

Suddenly, I just had to get a job. That was the next step and it needed to happen right away and it needed to be “good.”

The world became small again and my lack of professional experience and understanding felt overwhelming. What did people actually DO in work? What was this whole professional world all about? Where in the world do I fit in?

I did informational interviews all over the place and while they were incredibly helpful, so far all the interviews were showing me what I DIDN’T want to do.

Eventually, I found my way back to working in education, at my local community college. I took an entry-level job and a tiny itty-bitty salary, and even worked for $10/hour for the first month.

While my role was in the back office processing baccalaureate applications (the community college had just started offering a few bachelor’s degrees) I also filled in a few hours each day on the “floor” where we helped incoming students fill out and prepare for enrolling in community college.

That floor is where I began my journey of learning about the community college experience in an entirely new way. I saw life “on the other side.” I saw what happened in administration and how it affects students, and more importantly, I got to interact with so many hopeful students pursuing their education.

I fell in love with the students who walked into that office. They were so diverse in every way, with one thing in common – they all desperately wanted an education.

I’ll never forget talking to one student from Laos – at the time I had never even heard of the country (pathetic, I know). He was wrapped in a beautiful deep orange cloth and had the widest smile and brightest eyes. He had come so far to be here. Wow.

And then of course there were the adorable toddlers who often sat across from me as their mom or dad filled out their college application.

While I hated being at a desk all day, I loved the people I got to meet during that time in my life, and that experience was integral to my work today.

Eventually another position opened up at the college in the Student Life office and I jumped at it. It was competitive but my previous experience working at the college was definitely a huge benefit.

And that brings me to my point (you knew I’d get there eventually, right?).

When you’re looking for your first job out of college, focus more on the right opportunity then the right salary or the best sounding job.

And by right opportunity I mean the position that is going to give you the best chance in getting where you really want to go.

Because chances are, your first job WON’T be where you really want to be. Chances are it won’t be perfect. It will be hard. It may be frustrating. It may not be what you hoped.

And that’s okay.

Because if you choose the right opportunity, you can use your first job to be a training ground, a place to learn, a place to connect with people in your industry, and a chance to contribute something that can help you get to the next step.

This is the time where you can take risks and go for what you really want. Live with your parents if they let you to save money and focus on taking the right opportunity (sorry parents!).

Channel everything you have in getting yourself into the right organization, the right industry, and the right circle of people. Even if that means working hourly or doing something you’re not totally excited to do.

While doing a menial job to get an “in” in a particular organization can be beneficial, it can also be a really good strategy to choose an opportunity at a smaller organization where you will have a lot chances to contribute creative work or manage your own projects.

The key: choose something that has a huge potential for future growth – whether it’s through a particular company or through the tasks you’ll be able to do and learn from.

Go for something that excites you and motivates you to put your all into the position, even when it’s hard and not perfect.

If I hadn’t of worked at a community college this blog, my book, my entire career right now – would not exist.

I’m SO beyond thankful I was able to begin my career at a place that I really cared about, a place that offered me so many rich opportunities to learn and grow.

Don’t be afraid to choose the right place, the right opportunity.

This is your chance to take risks. Be fearless. It will not be easy. You may sometimes cry (and/or turn to Oreos and Full House re-runs as I did on bad days).

The beginning of your career can be really really hard, and I do wish someone would have told me that. But what I do know is that it’s also THE time to “set the table” for what your career can be.

Do it right in the early stages and you can set yourself up for a career you’ll actually like, maybe even love.

For more career advice check out my summer series,!

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