How did you find your first "real" job that led to your career?
February 10, 2013 7:55 PM   Subscribe

I don't know how to find a job. I made good grades in college. I've done some good internships. Usually once I get to the interview process, I get offered a job. I just don't know where to start with my job search. Looking for anecdotal advice. How did you get your first break into the career you wanted?
posted by sunrisecoffee to Work & Money (15 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
This is kind of a vague question. Where exactly are you hitting the point where you don't know what to do? You said you usually get offered a job once you get to the interview process... so... why not just do that?

Here was my experience: I had a specific career path in mind (usability engineering). I took related classes and completed relevant internships during college. After I graduated I found a small company in my area that did the kind of work I wanted, and I begged/pleaded/etc the owner to give me a shot. I was hired as a "technical assistant" which basically meant helping the people who did the real work rather than doing the work myself. I stuck it out for a while until things randomly worked in my favor: none of the people qualified to do "real work" were available for a project so the owner gave it to me instead, and I nailed it and subsequently asked for a promotion to "person who does real usability work" and the rest is history.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:03 PM on February 10, 2013

The semester after graduating, I applied for and got a full-time, paid internship in the field I wanted to work in. Toward the end of that internship, a permanent position opened up at my company, and my supervisor urged me to apply - they were familiar with my work, so the hiring process was basically just a very informal interview. I got hired off of that.
posted by eponym at 8:07 PM on February 10, 2013

Do you have a field you want to go into? Find the companies in the place you want to live that do that. Then find out how they advertise for jobs. Apply for those jobs.
posted by xingcat at 8:13 PM on February 10, 2013

Solid external project work and recommendations from engineering professors as well as co-op work, employment by my university, and additional work by a local employer was sort of useless to me, since I moved 1,000 miles away from school, and businesses didn't know the weight of my recommendations nor about the project work.

Instead, living with a house of 22 acquaintances networked me to a job opening during the front-end of the first tech bubble.

When I left engineering and couldn't get a job cooking because no one believed I was serious, getting a culinary degree, cutting my hair (seriously), and nailing my stage (following for the night), nailed me my first real culinary job. It also helped that apparently, I somehow found a restaurant with an alumni sous chef - unbeknownst to me.

Then when I left cooking, and went to find a 'Job' just to pay the bills, I got my foot in the door through their tech support and a friend who worked there - who never knew me as an engineer. Nine months later, when a position opened up requiring statistics, coding, and business experience - I told them I'd be doing the company a disservice if I didn't apply... they bought it.

3 legitimate careers later, the reoccurring theme has been someone on the inside knew me and was willing to give me a chance.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:36 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I had three jobs within the first year after graduation. The first two were just things that sounded interesting enough and I was qualified for. But I kept looking to find the perfect job, and it finally appeared and things I had learned in job #1 definitely got me job #3. I can't count the number of jobs I applied to. I threw my resume around and wrote countless cover letters and it eventually paid off.
posted by missriss89 at 8:48 PM on February 10, 2013

I was just on a plane with a man who didn't start his "real" career until he was in his 30's. He thought that he was happily employed in the insurance agency until a debilitating accident. While he recovered, he volunteered in a school. 20 years later he's training to run a district.
He didn't actually know what career he wanted.

Recently I switched careers, and I couldn't have done it without the skills gained and the networks created in the previous jobs. In my case not being in my career helped me get into my career.

I guess my point in sharing these anecdotes is that the path to your career may not be straight and narrow.
posted by jander03 at 9:18 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was an anthropology major working in a museum bookstore. My plan after college was to teach English abroad, but before that could happen, the bookstore laid a bunch of people off (including me, obviously). I ended up getting a casual gig doing part time assistant work for a film producer who did a lot of international projects. She liked the fact that I'd studied anthropology; it implied that I'd be able to deal with people from different cultures, different global film markets, foreign accents, etc. (She was right.)

After working for this producer for a while -- this is still during my last semester of college -- she asked if I'd be interested in helping out on a film she was working on. I said sure, because that sounds like an interesting experience, right? I stepped foot in the film's production office and I've pretty much been there ever since.

One thing I've learned from my experience stumbling into a business people dream of "breaking into" is that, honestly, most of what's required is hard work and tenacity. Once you've got a foot in the door, that's mostly all you need. Hard working interns get brought onto the next project as PAs. From there, the sky is the limit. You need a little bit of moxie, because if you just quietly do your internship tasks and go home at the end of the day, nobody will think to offer you that first job.

Another good thing to do is to go to afterwork social events*. You want people to know who you are. You want people to think, "Wow, sunrisecoffee really deserves to succeed in this field! I should introduce her to..." or "She'd be a great fit in ... department". You have to ask for what you want. You have to make sure people know you exist (in a good way).

*On the other hand, I think self-proclaimed networking events are a waste of time. The goal is to get to know people who will want to help you, not swim around in a chum bucket full of nobodies who are all out for themselves.
posted by Sara C. at 9:46 PM on February 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

From your previous questions, I gather that you majored in journalism/Spanish and are somewhat over three years out of college; also, that you aren't sure if you know what career you want.

As you describe yourself as having worked "a series of odd jobs.... administrative, marketing coordinator, plenty of retail gigs", I assume you are not asking 'how do I get a job, any job, to pay my bills tomorrow?'.

However, close to 18 months ago, you sounded pretty sure that you wanted to be a therapist. Two months ago you sounded equally sure, and you got a lot of positive responses to your question about whether therapy was a solid career choice, so why are you not pursuing therapy as a career path?
posted by jacalata at 9:48 PM on February 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

The odds of your first "real" job actually being related to what ends up as your career is fairly minimal. So get a job and do your best. If it becomes apparent that it is not the right field for you try something else. Obviously, 6 jobs in 2 years will look really bad on your resume, so try to stick it out a while and give stuff a fair shot. I think very few of us really know what we want to do with our lives when we are 21 or 24 years old.
posted by COD at 5:41 AM on February 11, 2013

Here's my story.

I was living at home in Phoneix and attending Arizona State University when my parents decided to move to San Francisco. My grades were...meh. I was a solid 2.0 and my folks were more than annoyed with me. I was given a choice, I could foot the bill myself and stay in Arizona (working a full-time job) or I could leave school and move with the family to San Francisco. That's what I did.

My plan was to return to school and finish up my degree after I had established residency. Hanging around being a leech wasn't an option so I had to get a job. I tried and landed some short term gigs, even doing phone sex for a while. I decided that none of this stuff was giving me the money I needed, so I answered an ad in the paper (this was 1983) for a 30 hour a week, $6.00 per hour gig as a customer service rep for MCI.

After about 18 months, I had been promoted to full-time, then to the business group. I took the swing shift and finished up my degree. (English Lit.)

I kept getting promoted, and in order to become a teacher (my original goal) I would have had to have quit my job and taken another post-grad year for teaching. I took another promotion instead.

Long story short, I spent 25 years in the Telecommunications Field, working for MCI, BellSouth, MCI WorldCom, and AT&T.

What a long strange trip it's been.

Forget what you think you know about work and what you want to do, be open to whatever the universe has in store.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:00 AM on February 11, 2013

Well, first I had to have some idea of the career I wanted. Trial and error proceeded and followed that.
posted by Good Brain at 7:33 AM on February 11, 2013

Got a call from a college friend/co-worker the day I graduated offering a (poorly paying) job in the field I wanted.

For my current career, I signed up with a couple of temp agencies. One sent me to a firm looking to hire temp-to-perm.
posted by troywestfield at 7:42 AM on February 11, 2013

I was just on a plane with a man who didn't start his "real" career until he was in his 30's.

This is basically me. Did a bunch of random stuff in my 20s (which, let's note, included getting a semi-generalist master's) and found myself 29 and unemployed after a stint doing poverty-wages community-service work. I signed up with a bunch of online job boards (and applied to a bunch of jobs somewhat blindly), some headhunter saw my resume, and recommended me for a temp-to-perm contracting job as a researcher in a field I was only marginally interested in.

After six months I went permanent as a contractor supporting a government agency on an "indefinite services" contract; for the next three years I slowly got more and more complex and interesting work, and then just as the contract was running out, a position very similar to what I was doing appeared in the government job listings (and was mentioned to my face by an unsubtle number of coworkers). I applied for it and was hired, and for the past two years have continued morphing my duties into something I find more engaging (though still not exactly my "dream job") and am being asked to take a leadership role in the office, with the opportunity to rotate to a more-to-my-interests position... which is likely to lead to other, even better opportunities.

So my anecdotal advice: when you've got nothing, take something. It may be a while (hello, five years of under-enthusiasm) but for some of us, patience in the face of dissatisfaction can pay off. Note that this also totally relies on the economic climate--having someone call and offer you a job is less likely now than in late 2007--and on your location--DC, where I am, weathered the national recession pretty smoothly.
posted by psoas at 9:18 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's all in how you frame it.

My first job out out of college was doing corporate sales for Day-Timers (time management products). Logically that job has nothing to do with what I do now, but I can absolutely connect that to every other part of my career. When I was a Project Manager I had a exceptional sense of how to manage time because Day-Timers taught me that.

I could connect every job I've ever had to what I do now (DJ, McDonalds, grocery store bakery, PM, web developer, strategy consultant, you wouldn't believe all the jobs I've had). My point is that no job is a waste of time if you can frame the skills you've learned into a new job.

Gone are the days of getting a job at IBM or Xerox and following a linear career development. You need to show the person hiring that you've picked up the skills they need.
posted by 26.2 at 11:15 AM on February 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've either been temping or interning and then someone left a full time position, and then they asked me if I wanted it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:15 PM on February 11, 2013

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