How to Choose Your First Job

(This article originally appeared in the Florida Times-Union.)

It’s graduate time, and thousands of new graduates will be entering the market looking for their first “real” job. I’ve been asked by many graduates (and their parents) for advice. The Ladders recently asked me to publish a post for their growing demographic of career-driven professionals in their 20’s.

Here’s my best advice on what’s next: you don’t need a job. You need three jobs.

First, you need a job to pay the bills. Many grads have unrealistic expectations of what they should be earning. It’s easy to see why; they’ve left school with a mountain of loan debt, and many of them want move to the cool cities, where life looks so much more exciting. But the cost of living in San Francisco, Austin, or Seattle is 40 – 80 percent higher than here, and the competition for great jobs is fierce.

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Some recent hatchlings develop an all–or-nothing attitude: if I can’t make what I’m worth, I’ll just hang out until the market improves.  That’s a bad idea. A job is more than the salary it offers; look at the benefits package, which is worth about 30 percent of the salary, and the room for growth, which is priceless. Do the best you can in your search for the first few weeks after graduation. Then take the first decent job you get offered. Think of it as just one more prerequisite – like the ones you took before your major requirements in college.

In fact, your peers are way ahead of you on this. Writer Cord Himelstein writes this about Millennials: “They know that doing what you love sometimes means taking a day job to pay the bills, and they want employers to have no illusions about that. They have skills that can be put to use; if you’re willing to pay them, you get the goods, with the understanding that it’s not a marriage contract.” Start earning, saving and investing whatever you can; it will pay off over your lifetime.

Your second job should be one that challenges you and builds your skills. Find work that keeps you sharp and keeps you in a learning mode. It can be a part-time gig, a consulting project, or a sideline that might turn into a startup. This work is focused on your future – your stretch goals for your career. Make it count.

Finally, you need a job that gives you chills. One that feeds your creative side, connects you with people you love or work that changes the world. If you can find something that pays – good for you.  You’ll be way ahead of 99 percent of the workforce. But don’t worry about pay for this work – volunteer if you must. This is for you, to remind you what it feels like to connect what you do with who you are.

In ancient times, these activities were called hobbies. You had a job, and then you came home and “took up” a hobby for fun. If you got seriously good at your hobby, selling tons of homemade bakery goods or making natural beauty products that got snapped up by everyone you knew, you never thought about turning it into a business. “Oh no, that’s just a hobby. I’m not quitting my day job.” Work, by definition, was something that bored you but brought in money. Hey, if it were fun, no one would pay me to do it.

This is the new model: pay the bills, build your skills, and do something that gives you chills. Build a career, but don’t forget to build a life, too.

5 thoughts on “How to Choose Your First Job

  1. Sam Winters

    Well, you might just be lucky at first attempt but chance is rare.


  2. I am glad to read this blog, thanks a lot, really it means a lot to any fresher. Aspiring job seeker always have a confusion in their mind that how should they start their career , how they should step in to get their first job, but after reading this blog i must say , it helps them a lot boos their morale, Well they can also apply and register themselves to get their choice of jobs at


  3. Nice article. Choosing a first job may be hectic but one should take it as a target.


  4. Thanks for sharing nice blog with us. Choosing a right job depends what we are planning for our future. A right career selection will always help to take us at higher level. Keep sharing your blog. It is very interesting to read.


  5. […] their traditionally-employed counterparts, and they are more hopeful about the future. It’s why I recommend gig work to everyone who’s concerned about their own […]


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