Life After College: Does Your First Job Matter?

Here’s an unpopular opinion: what you do in your life after college, in the first few years, actually does matter.

At first, that might not sound like an unpopular opinion. After all, schooling is becoming increasingly aimed at activities that prepare people for “real jobs” post graduation. However, these days we tend not to take what young people do very seriously. A high school kid wants to be an artist some day? That’s cute. It’s a phase. He/she will grow out of it. A biology major wants to be a doctor one day. Eh…most biology majors don’t end up going past bacherlo’s level education.

After all, young people change jobs at an alarming rate, right? So why do they need to pick what they want to do by the time they leave those gilded halls of academia and sojourn out into the real world?

Well, it’s because of this thing called momentum, and it dictates that what you do after college really does matter.

Your First Job Lays the Groundwork for Your Future

The thing is, you always can start over. The other thing is, you may not always want to. That tender age, be it twenty, twenty-two, twenty-five or later, when you leave education behind for good may seem like one big open road. However, as you age, you quickly realize that the road gets narrower.

What used to seem like unlimited possibilities becomes hampered by your own likes, dislikes, abilities and time. Immediately after college you may not be tied down. You may not have bills to pay, and if you are like the majority of young adults, you probably live at home.

But eventually, this will change. You will want to get a job you like, a place of your own, maybe even get married and have a kid (or dog) or two. All of a sudden, you aren’t so footloose and fancy free anymore. You’ve arrived in the adult world where time is not infinite. It is a finite resource and you have to leverage it effectively to achieve your goals.

If you head down a career path post college that you end up not really enjoying, that is valuable time that you could have spent going towards a goal that you actually enjoyed.

If you spend five years post college working in business and then change your mind and want to be an eye doctor, well, yes — that is possible, technically. But it would have been more effective to leverage those years towards being a doctor in the first place.

Life after College is More Competitive Than You Might Think

Have you ever seen the Olympics? If so, you probably know that Olympic athletes start training from the time that they are young. This is because it takes a long time to gain mastery over a sport. So in order to compete on the world stage at a normal age, they need to have already put in significant amount of work. Tiger Woods, for example, was not yet eighteen when we went pro. And while landing a good paying “normal” job is nowhere near as competitive as becoming a pro golfer, no matter what career you choose you will have to be highly skilled and experienced in order to succeed.

That’s because for just about any job you want, there are probably a thousand other people who want that same job. In fact, for every corporate job posted, there are an average of 250 resumes submitted. Of these 250 resumes, about six candidates will be interviewed, and one person given the job.

As you can see, landing that dream job is easier said than done.

The Earlier You Identify Your Dream Job, the Earlier You can Start Moving Towards It

In a world as competitive as ours, it takes a lot to stand out in a job search. After all, you aren’t only competing for the job you are after against your peers. You are competing against people from all walks of life and all experience levels. After a certain point, there are diminishing returns on doing enter level job after entry level job. At some point, to reach the dream job you want, you are going to have to show how you leveraged your years of experience, how you’ve made positive impact, and that you have learned the skills that are essential to the role you want.

Sure, there’s nothing wrong with moving from one role to a related role as long as your experience aligns. But in reality, if after five years of work you realize you need to make an entire career shift to something completely new, you are essentially starting over.

Wouldn’t it be easier to just leverage the years of experience you already had?

Don’t Rely On Your College To Prepare You

As much fun as school is and as great as the people are there, a lot of the time they don’t know much about the work world. Even though I was going to school in the 2010s and studying English, nobody taught us about writing for the internet. Career counselors often aren’t any better than their tenure track counterparts in discerning what you need to get the job you want.

Colleges should do a better job preparing students for the work world but until they do there’s really no point in crying over it. Get out, do the research, and figure out for yourself what you want to do, what you can do, and what you don’t want to do. Take a look at the hard work involved in each possible avenue. Believe it or not, there is always hard work.

The First Job After College is Your Apprenticeship

Ultimately, if you choose to go right into the work world after college, and forego additional schooling, then your first job is as important to getting your dream job as getting a professional degree is to becoming a doctor. You may not realize it at first, but that first job you take, no matter how grueling or difficult, is the first stepping stone upon which you will build the rest of your career. It will impact you regardless of how much you want it to — no matter where you end up going after it, you will be referencing that job and the things you learned there as qualifications for the job to come, and maybe even the job after that.

So choose wisely, my friends. Life after college is awesome, but it’s best to approach it with boldness.


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