1.Don’t wait with your first job until you get a degree
In many cases you don’t need a degree to start a career. There are jobs that require formal education, but my point is a bit different and twofold. First: you need to learn how to work. The sole skill of working is very different from the skill of learning and getting good grades at school.The sooner you gain experience in the setting of a real workplace, the better you will understand which skills to pursue. You will also have a real, more tangible idea of what is it like to work and how being a professional differs from being popular at school. Second: as I mentioned, there are still jobs with formal requirements, but even in these cases the real learning will start only when you get your hands on the work.
2.Your first job should not be about the money, but still it also should not be done for free
You need the experience. As a freshman on the marketplace often times you are not as productive as your more experienced colleagues. Being able to start early, gain practical knowledge, be in the position to network can be a value in itself. Yet, beware of spec work and working for free. Free work does not have tangible value to people interested — your input will be diminished unconsciously and you can be even actively ignored as if your lack of experience was an additional cost. It can be a complete waste of time and energy for everybody involved.
Spec work is an entirely different story, and should be considered case by case. Because legitimately, if you are not under non-disclosure agreements concerning the speculative work, it can boost your credibility on the market. Yet, be aware with the risk and tendency that young creative workers can be exploited that way.
3.Master the art yourself
Approach your first job (and any job) as you would approach new subject or class. Google up what your position is all about. Check out for the best practices. Get a book or course at Lynda.com or Treehouse if you can. You will be surprised that not many people in their roles are devoted to perfecting the craft. With little effort you can easily avoid misleading advice and easily build on your colleagues’ experience.
There is also the other side. Many job descriptions and requirements contain this classic phrase: “2–3 year experience” or, towards senior positions, “5–7 year experience”. As your spy I can assure you that this is a misleading criterion. If the position in question needs that diverse set of skills, then it would be all about problem solving skills and ability to adapt — not the “experience”. If not, then how much can you learn about any particular job, or how long can you learn it? If you don’t get the best practices under your belt after two years on that same position, then you probably won’t get them after next 3 to 5. On top of that, how much of experience can you translate into the same position but in the different organization and setting? If potential employer really insist on that “1+x years of experience” criterion, then she or he needs not your experience but your network.
4.If you are interviewed for your first job, do not be afraid to ask about other opportunities if, for whatever reason, HR does not think you are the best fit for them
Almost all interviews end with a statement encouraging the person interviewed to ask own questions to recruiting team. As it is your potential first job and you seek for work experience, you can genuinely ask: “If for whatever reason you conclude that I am not the best match for this position right now, could you possibly help me with pinpointing opportunities to gain experience needed?” People on “the other side” of the table are just like you — real people. There is a chance that they can and just might help you out. Especially if you impressed them with a positive attitude and lacked only in skills they particularly needed in that particular recruiting cycle.
5.Audit yourself. In the sense that not everyone have to work in the office or, even further, in IT or marketing departments.
There is a vast market for welders not to look into the extreme non-office jobs. Salesmen are year after year in the top of the most paying positions. Do not be fixed on idea that everybody can live off blogging, or be a creative director, or an entrepreneur. Most of times office jobs mean a lousy work-life balance. Something that welders can manage perfectly. There are jobs with 8 hour day, where you leave working mind at workplace and have free leisure mind to do whatever you please. Office jobs are often highly stressful, so you can have real difficulty to truly appreciate time with friends and family.
Take seriously the odds and ask yourself what you would rather do with the limited time you have. It got all serious real quick, but it is true that you are on the brink of one of the most important decisions in your life. Consequences can drag upon that sweet little sentimental and almost romantic thoughts about working and careers.
Of course dream big and devote to great risks now if you are prone to — there will be not a greater time to do that than in your twenties. Also take into account that people change their entire career paths about 5 times on average in life, so it seems like little is constant. What I ask you to do is to make informed choice. Do research, weight the odds, and only then go for it.
(Photo by Attila Schmidt)