How to Hack Your First Job

It’s graduate time, and thousands of young graduates will be entering the market looking for their first “real” job. Many of them (and their parents) find this time to be filled with anxiety. Will I be competitive? Will I get a job that inspires me (and pays the bills)? Will I make enough to move out on my own and start the life I’ve always dreamed of?

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My best advice: relax. Your first job will probably follow this predictable emotional arc.

Got the job:        Woo hoo!                          I am on my way to fame and glory!

First Day:             Holy #$%**                      This is terrifying – I’ll never get it all straight.

Three months:    I can breathe now.           I think I got this.

Six months:         I rock!                               The boss noticed me today and said “nice job.”

Ten months:       OMG – kill me now.         I am literally going to die of boredom.

We’ve all been there. Entry level jobs, by definition, require less sophisticated reasoning skills and usually require lots of repetitive and dull – but necessary tasks. But entry level workers who submit to the boredom are in grave danger of scuttling their career – at least with this company. Managers monitor entry level workers carefully for attitude and excellence, both of which are critical to success. A worker who disdains the work he’s given will probably disdain the work at any level he rises to. Contempt for doing the basics usually signals that the worker is more interested in what she can get, rather than what she can give.

I love what actor Ashton Kutcher said in a beautifully written Teen’s Choice Award acceptance speech in 2013. (Here’s a link to the transcript of the speech.) He spoke directly to the millions of young fans in the audience, saying, “My name is actually not even Ashton. Ashton is my middle name. My first name’s Chris. And it always has been. It got changed when I was like 19 and I became an actor.” He then went on to “share some really amazing things I learned when I was Chris….” He outlines all the menial jobs he held as a teenager, including “a job in a factory sweeping Cheerio dust off the floor.” He gives a tribute to entry level work, saying, “I never had a job in my life that I was better than. I was always just lucky to have a job. Every job I had was a stepping stone to my next job and I never quit my job before I had my next job.”

Kutcher is a new father, and I hope he passes on those values to his child. If he does, he’ll create the hardest-working trust fund baby in Hollywood.

What some entry level workers don’t understand is that their current job is always an audition for their next job. You have important work to do: master the skills you need right now, do a great job on your assignments, and take every chance you can to learn and do more. If you’ve done a good job, and managed to smile and enjoy yourself, you’ll have earned a recommendation for your next job, whether it’s in your current company or your next.






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