First of all, congratulations! If you are reading this article, I am going to assume that you are taking the first steps in your career. Whether you are a soon-to-be college grad, high school grad, or someone who has decided to join the workforce for the first time, I commend you for wanting to think through this important life decision and taking ownership of your future.
I know that you want to get it “right”, set off on the “right” path and pick the “right” first job that will lead you to success. But first, take a deep breath. The good news is, there really is no right or wrong choice for you to make here. All you need to figure out is what is what feels right to you, and that will lead you towards creating a career path that is uniquely yours.
The secret to success in career and life is that they defined by each individual, and that we as individuals are happiest when we are living life in accordance with our own hopes, dreams, and values. Perhaps you are facing pressure from family and friends to make important life choices a certain way, but remember that you are ultimately the only one who will have to live with your decisions and their consequences. Therefore, I highly encourage you to start the process of selecting your first job from deeply understanding what your personal goals are.
The following 5 steps will help you choose the first job that will be right for you. My goal here at The Career Beaver will always be to help you find your success as you define it.
Step 1: Figure out what is most important to you in life
Many people jump to figuring out what they would like to do as a career before fully understanding who they are, what is important to them, and what their life goals are. If you think that you have life goals aside from achieving career success, then I would highly encourage you to introspect and paint a picture of what your dream life looks like, and what role your career will play in that picture. If you think that career success is your one and most important goal, that is totally okay too! In that case, I would highly encourage you to introspect on more specifically what that career success looks like.
As you think about what you want in your future, do keep in mind that these goals will change as life throws you surprises, challenges, and opportunities. However, developing a rough blueprint at this stage is important because these ideas will serve as the guiding principles on which you can base important life decisions on. When you check your decisions against these guiding principles that you have created for yourself, you will be able analyze whether the decisions you are about to make will lead you to the life you want. You have one life to live on this earth – make it one that you’re proud of!
Step 2: Discover your career options
The most obvious place to begin exploring your various career options is from what you studied. From these options, look for career paths that will enable you to live the life that you desire (as established in step 1 above). However, if you do discover that the traditional career paths that naturally stem from your education experiences do not lead you to the life that you desire – do not fret! Just because you enjoyed studying something does not necessarily mean that you want to live the life of professionals in that particular field of knowledge. Always remember that getting an education teaches you how to be a quick learner, adaptable, and a critical thinker, and that these important skills will always be applicable to jobs in any industry. Therefore, you can focus on what industries and types of jobs you want to get involved in, and then focus on adapting and learning new skills as required to succeed.
If you do decide that the traditional career paths from your educational background are not right for you, then start learning about and exploring all of your other options. There are many different types of industries (healthcare, education, retail, banking, manufacturing etc.), companies (large, small, start-up, established, for-profit, non-profit etc.), and professions out there so start by selecting 5-10 career options that look the most appealing to you. Then analyze whether your top choices could lead you to the life you desire by conducting informational interviews with professionals already working in those fields. Informational interviews are informal meetings where you can ask questions such as:
- What is it like to be ‘X’? What are the pros and cons?
- Why did you go into this chosen profession?
- Are you able to balance professional and personal goals as an ‘X’?
- If you could share a piece of advice for someone who is starting out in your profession what would it be?
From the information that you gather, select a career path that best fits your life goals. It is important to keep in mind that there will always be pros and cons to all choices so select the one that is the best fit, not necessarily the perfect fit. Also keep in mind that you may change your career path at any point in the future as your goals and priorities shift, so don’t be afraid of making a “wrong” choice here!
Step 3: Decide which geographic locations have the best opportunities for you
Once you have chosen a career path that aligns well with your life goals, decide where you would like to work geographically. The reality of our world is that the opportunities available for any given person will vastly vary from one location to another, even given the same background and experiences. Therefore, before you even begin looking for a company, it is important to make sure you are looking in a place that will support your long-term goals.
Some characteristics of location that you may want to consider, depending on what your goals are, can be the following:
- Types of people in your daily surrounding environments
- Availability of career advancement /growth opportunities
- Ease of travel to and from the location
- Climate of the location
- Types of social and recreational activities available
- Ease of moving on from the location should you decide to try somewhere else
This is most definitely not an exhaustive list as there may be other characteristics that are important for you to consider. The key here, again, is that there is no “right” answer. If you have the option to, select your location preferences based on your life goals and values.
Step 4: Decide on a work environment and culture that is best suited to you
Once you know which locations will help you reach your goals, start thinking about what type of work environment and culture will be best suited for your goals (are you starting to see a pattern here :-)). Companies and organizations come in all shapes and sizes. Again, you need to decide on what is most important to you, what you would like to gain from your first full-time role and apply only to positions as companies based on your priority list. I know that it can be tempting to apply everywhere and hope for the best, but the repercussion of joining a team that is not a good fit is that very quickly after you join, you will be unhappy, job hunting again, and end up wasting time for everybody involved in the process – yourself, the company, hiring managers, new teammates, new boss, etc.
You can ask yourself these types of questions to figure out the type of company that is right for you in accordance with your goals:
- How large of a company do you want to join?
- Do you want to work in the for-profit, non-profit, private, or public sectors?
- How large do you want your immediate team to be?
- How old do you want the people you immediately work with to be?
- What type of mission do you want the company to be working towards?
- What do you want your company to value?
Knowing your personal answers to these types of questions will help you select companies that will help you derive meaning, happiness, and fulfillment from the time you spend at work. It is extremely important to know what you want because joining the right company for you will enable you to work towards your goals in addition to the company’s!
Step 5: Get multiple offers!
The last step in selecting your first full-time job is getting multiple offers on the table! I know that it is super tempting to accept the first offer you receive, but there is no way to pick a “best” choice if you only have one choice. You have done great work figuring out what is right for you up to this point so please go that extra mile to make sure you have options to choose from! How to acquire and choose between multiple job offers will be a subject of a future post. Once you have multiple job offers, again weigh each option carefully against what is most important to you and select the option that most aligns with your values. There is usually not a perfect option, but when you have multiple choices, you can choose what you value most.
Make Value Based Career Decisions
I know that selecting your career path and your first full-time job seem daunting but if you make your decisions based on your goals and values, then you can rest assured that at the end of the day, these decisions will sit right with who you are fundamentally. Lastly, always remember that life is a journey and impossible to predict. Your journey is uniquely yours. Your goals and priorities will certainly change with time, and you can always adjust your career with them by making value-based decisions. Making important life decisions, such as selecting your first full-time job, in accordance with your goals and values will ensure that you enjoy the journey every step of the way.