First of all, congratulations! If you are reading this article, I am going to assume that you are taking the first steps in your career. Whether you are a soon-to-be college graduate, or someone who has decided to join the workforce for the first time, I commend you for wanting to think through this important life decision and for taking ownership of your future.
I know that you want to get it ‘right’, set off on the ‘right’ path and pick the ‘right’ first job that will lead you to success. But first, take a deep breath. The good news is, there really is no right or wrong choice for you to make here. All you need to figure out is what feels right for you, and that will lead you towards creating a career path that is uniquely yours.
The secret to success in your career and life is that they are defined by each individual, and that we as individuals are happiest when we are living life in accordance with our own hopes, dreams and values. Perhaps you are facing pressure from family and friends to make important life choices a certain way, but remember that you are ultimately the only one who will have to live with your decisions and their consequences. Therefore, I highly encourage you to start the process of selecting your first job from understanding what your personal goals are.
Many people jump to figuring out what they would like to do as a career before fully understanding who they are, what is important to them and what your dream life looks like, and what role your career will play in that picture. If you think that career success is your one and most important goal, that is totally fine, too!
As you think about what you want in your future, do keep mind that these goals will change as life throws you surprises, challenges and opportunities. However, developing a rough blueprint at this stage is important because these ideas will serve as the guiding principles on which you can base important life decisions on. When you check your decisions against these guiding principles you have created for yourself, you will be able to analyse whether the decisions you are about to make will lead you to the life you want.
The most obvious place to begin exploring your various career options is from what you studied. However, just because you enjoyed studying something doesn’t necessarily mean that you want to live the life of professionals in that particular field of knowledge. Always remember that getting an education teaches you how to be a quick learner, adaptable, and a critical thinker, and that these important skills will always be applicable to jobs in any industry. Therefore, you can focus on what industries and types of jobs you want to get involved in, and then focus on adapting and learning new skills as required to succeed.
If you do decide that the traditional career paths from your educational background are not right for you, then start learning about and exploring all of your other options. There are many different types of industries (healthcare, education, retail, banking, manufacturing etc.), and professionals out there so start by selecting 5-10 career options that look the most appealing to you. Then analyse whether your top choices could lead you to the life you desire by conducting interviews with professionals already working in those fields. These informal meetings give you a chance to ask questions such as:
- What is it like to be ‘X’? What are the pros and cons?
- Why did you go into this chosen profession?
- Are you able to balance professional and personal goals as an ‘X’?
- If you could share a piece of advice for someone who is starting out in your profession, what would it be?
From the information that you gather, select a career path that best fits your life goals. It is important to keep in mind that there will always be pros and cons to all choices so select the one that is the best fit. Also, keep in mind that you may change your career path at any point in the future as your goals and priorities shift.
Once you have chosen a career path that aligns well with your life goals, decide where you would you would like to work geographically. The reality of our world is that the opportunities available for any given person will vary from one location to another, even given the same background and experiences. Therefore, before you even begin looking for a company, it is important to make sure you are looking for a place that will support your long-term goals.
Once you know which locations will help you reach your goals, start thinking about what type of work environment and culture will be best suited for your goals. Companies come in all shapes and sizes. Again, you need to decide on what is most important to you; what you would like to gain from your first full-time role and apply only to positions at companies based on your priority list. I know that it can be very tempting to apply everywhere and hope for the best, but the repercussions of joining a team that is not a good fit is that very quickly after you join, you will be unhappy, job hunting again, and end up wasting time for everybody involved in the process – yourself, the company, hiring managers, new team mates, new boss etc.
Use the following questions as a template to figure out the type of company that is right for you, in accordance with your goals:
- How large of a company are you looking to join?
- Do you want to work in for-profit, non-profit, private or public sectors?
- How large do you want your immediate team to be?
- What type of mission do you want the company to be working towards?
- What do you want your company to value?
It is extremely important to know what you want because joining the right company will enable you to work towards your goals in addition to the company’s.
The last step in selecting your first full-time job is getting multiple offers on the table! I know that it’s tempting to accept the first offer you receive, but there is no way to pick a ‘best’ choice if you only have one choice. You have done great work figuring out what is right for you up to this point so please go that extra mile to make sure you have options to choose from. Once you have multiple job offers, again weigh each option carefully against what is most important to you and select the option that most aligns with your values.
I know that selecting your career path and your first full-time job may seem daunting but if you make decisions based on your goals and values, then you can rest assured that at the end of the day, these decisions will sit right with who you are fundamentally. Finally, always remember that life is a journey and is impossible to predict. Your journey is unique to you. Making important life decisions, such as selecting your first full-time job, in accordance with your goals and values will ensure that you enjoy the journey every step of the way.