Help, My First Job Is a Disaster!

True or false: The major you choose in col­lege will dic­tate what you do for your entire career.  Did you choose true?  Well con­sider this: a cer­tain actor, prankster and ex-​​husband of an older woman majored in Bio­chem­ical Engi­neering in col­lege. Would you have ever pre­dicted Ashton Kutcher’s career from that major?

Don’t mis­un­der­stand: I am not saying that what you learn in col­lege isn’t useful. It just may not be useful in the way you antic­i­pated. Sure, in many cases the con­tent of your major pro­vides the­o­ries, facts and tech­niques that can be directly applied in the work­place. Often, that con­tent is sup­ple­mented and enhanced on the job as a new employee is taught an employer’s way of doing things.  In many other cases, the con­tent of what you learn is not as impor­tant as the skills you develop in the class­room and the lab, like crit­ical thinking, log­ical writing, oral pre­sen­ta­tion or working on a team.

The same prin­ciple applies to your first job.  Obvi­ously, it’s insanely great to be hired by your dream com­pany for the per­fect posi­tion right off the bat. But it is not a career-​​ending cat­a­strophe when your first post-​​graduation gig is far from the ideal you envisioned.

Maybe another quiz will help make my point.  Con­sider the fol­lowing list of jobs: Lion tamer, para­legal, con­gres­sional page, accoun­tant, spe­cial needs teacher, mor­tuary cos­me­tol­o­gist, hair salon recep­tionist, high school drama teacher, party clown.

Who do you think held which job before the start of their “real” career? Christo­pher Walken, Ellen DeGeneres, Bill Gates, Ray Romano, Sheryl Crow, Whoopi Gold­berg, Bey­once, Jon Hamm, Hugh Jackman.

(Answer: jobs are listed in the same order as the people who held them.)

It’s not too hard to imagine the trans­fer­able skills these rich and famous folks may have devel­oped at their early jobs. Courage, patience, and humility come to mind; public speaking, rela­tion­ship building, and detail ori­en­ta­tion do as well.  After walking into a cage with a lion, or being respon­sible for applying makeup for a deceased person, a job inter­view might not seem that intimidating.

The reality for most new grads is that stu­dent loans are due, rent has to be paid and food put on the table. And even if you’re happy moving back to live with your family for a while, it’s a good idea not to leave a size­able gap on your resume between your grad­u­a­tion date and your first job.  So don’t hold out indef­i­nitely for the per­fect job, and don’t stress if you need to take one that is second best.  Instead, chal­lenge your­self to learn all you can while you’re there, even if your work wardrobe includes a red nose and floppy shoes.

Author Susan Lof­fredo began coun­seling NU stu­dents well before the iPhone was invented and owns socks that are older than the class of 2013. Email her at s.​loffredo@​neu.​edu.