Jane Miller is the founder of JaneKnows.com, which provides career advice to Millennials. She's the author of Sleep Your Way to the Top (and Other Myths About Business Success), and she's the CEO of ProYo Frozen Yogurt, based in California.
I taught a business class at the University of Colorado last semester, and one of my students sent me an email this week to let me know my book was helping her navigate her first "big girl" job.
The idea of that first "big girl" job made me laugh out loud. I laughed because I remembered how scary it was for me to go from being a Russian Studies major at Knox College in Galesburg, IL to landing my first paid job as a secretary at a bank in Dallas. Although I had life-long dreams of becoming a lawyer, before I went on to law school, I needed to work for a year to save some money. As you might imagine, having a Russian degree and no typing skills did not put me high on the list for a desirable recruit!
What a blow to my young ego. Having always been successful in my academic pursuits, it was so devastating to have interview after interview and be deemed unqualified. Why couldn't they see my potential? How could I convince them that I needed that first job to create a track record? It was a vicious cycle — I needed experience to get a job, but I couldn't get experience if I didn't have a job!
The good news is that someone at that little family-owned bank in Dallas decided that a girl without typing skills could handle the position. It didn't pay much, so I also got a job in the men's department at Lord & Taylor. I have to admit that I was having trouble seeing how my new reality was going to morph into the dreams that I had for myself.
But what I learned in my first big girl job was this:
In any job, you can take initiative.
I asked for more responsibility and like most employers, the bank managers were thrilled that I wanted to do more. Were the additional tasks strategic or glamorous? No, but they were tasks that needed to be done by someone, and by showing that I was up for anything, I was seen as a real go-getter.
In any job, you can build your skills.
No, I never learned to type, but I did learn about providing a great customer experience in my role as both secretary and greeter-girl. What I know now is this: having great people skills is a total differentiator in the business world.
In any job, you can build a track record.
Everything that you do in your life and your job tells the story about "you." Take notes of your successes and learn from your screw-ups, because they will help inform your next move.
In any job, you can build your confidence.
The "wins" in this job will become the stories that you'll tell for your next job. As you reflect on what you do great, you will build the confidence to take on the next challenge.
Finally, no job is too small or insignificant.
Don't be freaked out about working at Starbucks as a barista or Target as a cashier. Go to the job every day thinking about what you will learn from the day, not how crappy it is to not be in your dream job.
Although your first job itself will not dictate the trajectory of your career, your actions in that job will lay the foundation for your success.