how did you get your first job?

A reader recently suggested an open thread on the following topic, and I thought it was a great idea:

Friday’s question about why employers don’t see the potential in people got me thinking about how folks get their first career-track jobs (whatever that career may be), and what people who have been successful in their careers did during college to help make that possible. It seems like it could be helpful for college-aged readers and recent grads to hear what worked for others.

For example, I worked throughout college. I couldn’t afford not to be paid, so I found paid work that was at least somewhat professional-track: I worked at a phone bank that made calls on public health research studies, had a work-study job as an office/research assistant at a historical society… and I was lucky enough to land two years worth of paid internships through a great undergrad research program. My first job out of college was a promotion at the phone bank — I became a supervisor.

I’d love to hear how everyone else made that transition, and I think it could be helpful to folks trying to do it now.

I love this idea — I think a lot of people new to the workforce deal with confusion and frustration about how they’re supposed to transition into a career. How did you do it?

{ 296 comments… read them below }

  1. OR*

    I was on the swim team and trained to be a lifeguard in high school. I got the highest scores in the class so the aquatic center that put on the class hired me. I taught swim lessons all through high school and college. I leveraged that experience in college to get my first professional job in HR where I was responsible for doing all the filing, data entry for all new hire paperwork, and conducting the new hire orientations for employee where I trained them on benefits, company policies, basic safety, etc.

    1. Victoria (The OP)*

      How did you leverage the swim teacher job to get the HR job? Like, literally what did you do? Write a cover letter that pulled out your accomplishments and described how they applied to HR? Invited an aquatic center member who you knew was HR director at a local company to lunch?

      I’m asking because I think this is the kind of experience a lot of people have – lifeguarding, summer camp, etc. – and it can be hard to translate those kinds of jobs to career-track jobs. That’s why I asked the question: What very specific steps did people take to get to the jobs they have now?

    2. Cathi*

      I’ll second the OP’s “how??”. My passion and skill set are perfect for an HR-type position, but while my education (BA in Communications) is vaguely related, my work experience is…not. 7 years of bartending does not scream “professional office setting”, even though I have a professional demeanor and a great capacity to learn and grow.

      Just the small problem of being given a chance… So yeah, how does a lifeguard leverage swimming skills toward an HR position?

      1. Jamie*

        I don’t know how a lifeguard does it, but I can easily see how a good bartender has the perfect skill set to translate to HR.

        I would never be in the position to hire for HR, but if I was that would actually jump out at me.

        HR needs to serve two masters in a sense. Primarily the company by the enforcement of rules, laws, policies, and procedures to follow when the above are broken. Yet at the same time has to attend to the needs of the employees – get them all their paperwork, explain the handbook (100 x), often deal with their disputes while still trying to maintain good relations between labor and management and ideally this keeps people happy and coming back.

        Just like a bartender with the ownership and clientele, respectively.

        Also, what other two professions require you to deal with malcontents and know when to call security?

        I would write an awesome cover letter highlighting how the people and procedural skills transfer (not as TiC as I did here – of course). I would think HR in a restaurant or hotel would be a good place to start.

  2. Elizabeth*

    I’m a teacher, and when I was new to the job market I felt discouraged by how many job postings specified that they wanted teachers with at least 5 years of experience. It felt like such a catch-22! I worked as a TA for two years, which helped me become a much better teacher, but still many of the schools I wanted to work at required several years’ experience *as a lead teacher* – my time as a TA didn’t count.

    I wound up snagging a maternity leave position that was going to be only a year, and got lucky – the teacher who had gone on leave chose not to return to teaching right away, and I was hired on as the permanent teacher. I have multiple friends who have gotten into a school this way, too.

    It also helped that I was able to fit more of a specialized niche: my degree in biology and other scientific background made me qualified for this elementary science job instead of just regular elementary jobs. Few elementary school teachers (sadly) are confident in science, so there was less competition from experienced teachers for this role. (They posted the position when I went from maternity replacement to permanent, and only got a handful of resumes – in contrast, when they posted a kindergarten teacher job, they got over a hundred people applying.) So my advice to aspiring teachers is to acquire some skills that make you stand out from the crowd!

    1. kelly*

      I think this is great advice for teachers! I have a close friend who is finishing up her masters in art education and is currently student teaching but is very worried about finding a job after that’s over.

      1. Elizabeth*

        It also helped that I got my job just before the economic crisis hit. The market is even tighter for teachers now than it was then, unfortunately. I wish I could turn that into advice for your friend (has she considered time travel?).

        Even when a maternity leave position (or paternity leave, or medical leave, etc.) doesn’t pan out into a full-time job, it’s still excellent experience and can lead to good references – both of which help in getting the next job. Day-by-day subbing is a lot less enjoyable, but at least it’s something – and if you sub at just a few schools then the administration gets to know you better and gives you an edge when something opens up.

        Art could also possibly open up other alternative pathways to getting known at a school, like teaching an after-school class or a summer camp that takes place on campus. I know those kinds of jobs aren’t (for most people) the end goal themselves, but they can help establish a reputation.

        1. kelly*

          It’s funny you mentioned teaching summer camp, she has actually done that for the past few summers at a renowned arts camp. She’s looking into TA positions but is hoping she can take over a position in her area where someone is retiring at the end of the year. I believe this is the school she’s student teaching at so hopefully she has an “in”. (fingers crossed for her.)

    2. Erin*

      That’s how I got into teaching! A Spanish teacher was out on long-term maternity leave, so I took over her classes for a semester. Before I got there, there were a string of long-term subs that had quit, and the administrators were so impressed that I stuck it out that they gave glowing recommendations when I was interviewing for permanent jobs within the district.

      1. Grace*

        I would also recommend a foreign language specialty if you can do it. There are private, public, and charter schools in my area (MN) that are expanding their language programs. A charter school near us actually couldn’t find anyone willing to be a part-time Spanish teacher. And a new public elementary language immersion school just opened this year.

  3. Kyle*

    Contact Centers get a bad rap, but the truth is they’ll take employees without experience and train them in something and offer opportunity. I grew up poor, but as a teenager I was “good with computers” so I went to work at a contact center that did computer support for a major computer company. 6 months later i was a team lead, 2 years later I was a manager, 2 years after that I’d carved out my own role in scheduling and reporting. 6 years later I moved on to a better company and so on. 15 years later I’m doing… very well.

  4. Jubilee*

    I worked as a research assistant for work study all four years of college (I graduated 2 years ago). I also interned at a court house working with victims of domestic violence–I did phone/in-person interviews, wrote reports, attended court, etc. which was a great experience. After I graduated I took a part-time job while I job searched. It took a good 8 months, but I received 3 full-time job offers at the same time. I then worked at that full-time job for almost 8 months before landing my current job that I really love and that pays well (I was lucky-my boss didn’t want somebody too experience because he wanted to train them the way he wanted, and I had a perfect balance of skills/potential for that).

  5. BadMovieLover*

    In my field they tend to do this silly thing where they make you take a “programming test” before they even interview you. Part of this is that a lot of people have a really elitist attitude as you can see on various blogs related to the field.

    During my very first interview after college, I was given such a test. I passed, and the manager proceeded to badmouth previous candidates. I was eventually hired. For my second job, there was no such test and I’ve been here for 11 years.

    I understand, partly, where the desire to test (and the attitude behind it) comes from, but it fails to take into account various factors like nerves, being in a setting that’s not conducive to concentration, etc.

    I can confidently say that most of my coworkers would not be able to pass the the same test I took under pressure, but I can vouch that they are great at what they do– which is to program.

    1. BadMovieLover*

      By the way, this is a perfect example of the attitude I consider elitist:

      I am disturbed and appalled that any so-called programmer would apply for a job without being able to write the simplest of programs. That’s a slap in the face to anyone who writes software for a living.

      This, like I said in my comment above, does not even have an ounce of empathy for someone who’s probably super nervous about interviewing in the first place. Let alone having to interview under the pressure of a very short time.

      It also ignores the fact that in order to get a degree in computer science, by definition you do know how to program. It’s a garbage attitude as far as I’m concerned.

      1. Adam V*

        > It also ignores the fact that in order to get a degree in computer science, by definition you do know how to program

        As my CS degree progressed, less and less of it ended up being applicable to my day-to-day work at my first job. So I don’t think it’s a bad idea to test your incoming developers to get an idea of how much they’ll need to learn on the job; at the very least, we never used source control or MFC in college, and I had to learn to use both in my first job.

        There’s a difference between “you’ve got 15 minutes, design me a new programming language” and “you’ve got 15 minutes, write a program that writes different strings based on these rules”, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask people to do the latter even if they’re nervous. No one is expecting code written during an interview to be perfect, in any case. As long as you can discuss potential shortcomings, then usually you end up looking alright.

        1. BadMovieLover*

          It’s different when it’s used as part of screening you before they even try to interview you.

        2. BadMovieLover*

          And again, when you have a degree from CS already, what really is the point of having someone write a program under time pressure *before* you even interview them?

        3. moss*

          we had issues with people who just didn’t know their way around a computer and I wanted to give them a programming test but TPTB vetoed it!! I don’t care if the code is perfect but showing willingness and a basic comfort level with computers would be great to see before we spend time interviewing.

        4. Jamie*

          “There’s a difference between “you’ve got 15 minutes, design me a new programming language” and “you’ve got 15 minutes, write a program that writes different strings based on these rules”, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask people to do the latter even if they’re nervous. No one is expecting code written during an interview to be perfect, in any case. As long as you can discuss potential shortcomings, then usually you end up looking alright.”

          This. Because you can end wasting time interviewing a lot of people who aren’t even in the same universe as qualified for the position if you don’t screen.

          This is one of those times I really think testing as part of the screening process saves everyone a lot of time.

          And having a CS degree does not guarantee that one has any programming ability whatsoever.

          This is just narrowing the field a little bit.

        5. BadMovieLover*

          It does not account for performance anxiety as most people are terrified/stressed out during interviews. So it’s usually not a matter of “Can you X?” , it’s more like “Can you X whilst terrified?”

          And, yes, to have a degree in CS you must have some programming ability, otherwise you wouldn’t have the degree in the first place unless somehow you bought it. I don’t know about where other people studied, but where I studied I had to work on complex coding projects to actually get my degree.

          1. Jamie*

            If you have such a severe stress reaction to a basic industry screening practice I feel really bad for you – because that has to be brutal – but that doesn’t make the practice unfair.

            And just because someone does well in school and knows how to do something in theory doesn’t mean they can apply that knowledge in practice and do the same under working conditions. A degree is nice and shows you have a foundation of knowledge, but if you don’t have practical hands on experience then they need to test it somehow.

            A degree can absolutely get you in the door where it’s required, but it’s almost never the basis for getting the job.

            1. Anonymous*

              Moreover, it might not be clear what the CS degree contained. If someone was of theoretical bent then…. I believe the saying is:
              Mathematicians work on toy problems to get results
              Engineers cheat to get results
              Program Verifiers cheat at toy problems to get results
              At the other extreme, there’s Joel Spoelsky’s piece on the perils of JavaSchools.

              1. Neo*

                Joel has had a fair share of criticism over his views (ever seen his opinion on teams having lunch?), so I take anything he says with a super sized grain of salt.

                1. Anonymous*

                  The stuff he’s written is certainly highly opinionated (his stance that a from-scratch rewrite is always wrong is a particular one which springs to mind), but I think his points on interviewing are generally reasonable.

                2. Neo*

                  Let’s see. Joel says that article Java is not hard enough to be helpful in discriminating between good programmers and bad ones.

                  Um. Yeah. He’s got very reasonable opinions.

                  No offense but from what I’ve read written by him, he sounds like an awful person to work for. No thanks.

                3. Jenn*

                  Wow. I just read through some of those blogs and saw some encouraging phrases like “the morans”, “idiots” and other colorful terms when referring to people who happen to fail one of those tests.

                  I’m so glad I’m not in IT.

                4. Anonymous*

                  I would expect that the language of the article is not used on actual candidates. At the same time, I think it is reasonable to expect that people calling themselves programmers know about pointers and recursion. Even if you’re using a language without (and there are plenty of reasons to do that – I think that he mentioned that in other articles), knowing how the computer is doing stuff is an important part of the job.

                5. Jake*


                  I have a civil engineering degree and I know about recursion and pointers. Recursion being the process of repeating a process over and over and a pointer being a function that points to a certain address in the RAM, but I am a horrible… and I mean horrible… programmer. I can do stuff like MathCAD and MatLab, but I failed hard in C, Java and C++.

                  What I’m getting at is that knowing what those two things are is not a good indicator for competence. I knew programmers far better than me that gave a blank stare when you asked what a pointer was, but they sure knew how to use them.

            2. BadMovieLover*

              1) Almost every normal person tend to feel nervous, stressed, and scared during an interview. If you don’t think producing code under those conditions is significantly different from producing code under normal normal working conditions, then it’s my turn to feel sorry for those you interview.

              2) Working on a software project in college is nowhere near being ‘theoretical’. Please tell that to anyone who has had to turn in code to a teacher for review and see what they say. If you think that writing code is not actually really writing code, then I don’t understand your logic.

              Finally, this screening programming test nonsense is given by some companies to people who both have a degree and already have experience actually working in the field.

              I’ve had that experience with a company that wanted me to drive almost an hour, in the middle of my work day, to their office and take a test before they even bothered to interview me. They wouldn’t even give me the courtesy of doing a pre-screening over the phone. I flat out refused, and got a better job anyway.

              My friend, who has a PHD, also has had that experience. Frankly, it’s ridiculous.

              1. Anonymous*

                Almost every normal person tend to feel nervous, stressed, and scared during an interview. If you don’t think producing code under those conditions is significantly different from producing code under normal normal working conditions, then it’s my turn to feel sorry for those you interview

                True, but to be rendered incapable of taking a reasonable stab at something like the FizzBuzz examples described… what stress level will cause someone to cave on a real problem? Of course it’s going to be possible for an interviewer to over-do things – you’ve got to let minor syntax errors and the like slide. But to be unable to do it???

                1. Neo*

                  no one is saying that. what’s being said is that it is very easy to fail such screening due to nerves, the situation, etc.

              2. Another Jamie*

                Everyone feels stress in an interview yes, but if that stress prevents you from doing something you supposedly know how to do? That doesn’t inspire confidence. Being able to handle stress is also a requirement for most jobs.

                1. Elizabeth*

                  I agree with you. I definitely feel stressed when I interview, but I also feel stressed when I have to deliver bad news to a parent of one of my students, when I have to write 90 report cards, when I have to deal with a sick child on a field trip, or when I have a conflict with a co-worker. But I have to deal with those things professionally and competently anyhow.

                2. BadMovieLover*

                  The thing with programming is that it requires complex thinking. Some questions might be fairly easy, but others might not be so straightforward.

                  Like, try writing a program that gives you all primes or gives you fibonnaci sequences. Those are relatively simple problems, yet many experienced programmers do struggle with those in an interview setting where people expect that you write a complete compilable program in less than 15 minutes.

                  To me, that’s not really an adequate screening process, because it’s more of an interview skill than actually working. There’s a reason why sites such as programmerinterview dot com have started to pop up.

                  Heck, look at the link I posted in my first note, and you will see a bunch of elitist programmers give the FizzBuzz problem a try– and actually blow it! It’s quite easy to get it wrong when under time pressure, writing on paper, and being expected to get it right the first time.

              3. Womble*

                1) I must be abnormal then, because I’ve never felt any more nervous, stressed or scared during a job interview than I have when public speaking, or even meeting new people in general.

                2) There is a huge disconnect between the work you do in college courses and the work you do in a real development job. Maintainability, documentation, adherence to standards, use of version control, collaboration, and the larger issues of real-world project management and business-wide communication are rarely, if ever, addressed in any college course. There’s other things that are more important to learn, especially in CS courses.

                Your assertion that you *must* know how to program if you’ve got a CS degree is easily disproven by my experience and that of many other hiring managers. People (mostly) don’t put up hiring barriers like skill tests for the fun of it; it is a useful screening tool.

                I’ve worked with CS degree holders (from reasonably well-regarded schools) who couldn’t program, I’ve had candidates with CS degrees who couldn’t program, and I’ve taught CS masters candidates (who already held CS undergrad degrees) who couldn’t program. And I mean *really* couldn’t program — they were unable to produce “Hello World” in a language of *their* choice, whilst under no more pressure than they would face on any other work day.

                On the subject of “experience actually working in the field”, I’ll just leave you with the story of the brilliant Paula Bean:

                1. BadMovieLover*

                  This claim that people with CS degrees don’t know how to code is very specious to me. I don’t know of a CS curriculum, no matter how theoretical one’s bent is, that did not require one to go through some introduction to computing that also includes actual coding. That’s not even counting some of the more advanced, yet still required courses, such as Data Structures and Algorithms. Anyone who has actually taken Computer Science _knows_ that you _can’t_ pass those types of courses without actually writing workable code—unless somehow people are cheating.

                  Therefore, given the assertions of people such as the blogger I quoted, and this apparent need to employ these screening tactics, either most people with CS degrees are cheating, or the teachers and universities are awarding degrees mistakenly. If either case is true, then we really have a national crisis of education as far as computer science goes, and that should be making national headlines.

                  Notice that this doesn’t even touch upon the fact that even _experienced_ programmers and developers, doing actual work in actual companies, get screened this way should they find themselves looking for a new job. What about that significant pool of talent? If so many of them are also incapable of coding to the point that these screening tactics are also needed, then how in the world is any programming of any kind being done in IT departments and IT companies? That’s another scandal waiting to happen.

                2. BadMovieLover*

                  By the way:

                  I must be abnormal then, because I’ve never felt any more nervous, stressed or scared during a job interview than I have when public speaking, or even meeting new people in general.

                  www dot pbs dot org/standarddeviantstv/episode_res_public.html

                  I quote:

                  “. In one survey about people’s fears, respondents ranked public speaking at #1 — higher than death. ”

                  So yeah, you are probably unusual.

                3. BadMovieLover*

                  2) There is a huge disconnect between the work you do in college courses and the work you do in a real development job. Maintainability, documentation, adherence to standards, use of version control, collaboration, and the larger issues of real-world project management and business-wide communication are rarely, if ever, addressed in any college course. There’s other things that are more important to learn, especially in CS courses.

                  OK, cool. So now tell me how does solving the FizzBuzz problem tells you anything about all of those things.

                4. Vicki*

                  > 1) I must be abnormal then, because I’ve never felt any more nervous, stressed or scared during a job interview than I have when public speaking, or even meeting new people in general.

                  No, you’re perfectly normal. Public speaking and meeting new people are similarly stressful.

                  The part about stress in job interviews is that interviews are more stressful than day-to-day work. I can write you a program for work with no stress. There’s no OMG I ‘M BEING JUDGED feeling, there’s a longer time limit than, say, 10 minutes, I have my books and my computer and keyboard. And there’s no stranger looking over my shoulder.

                5. RF*

                  “This claim that people with CS degrees don’t know how to code is very specious to me. I don’t know of a CS curriculum, no matter how theoretical one’s bent is, that did not require one to go through some introduction to computing that also includes actual coding. ”

                  I’d say that’s usually in the first or second year. If they don’t do anything with afterwards, many have forgotten a lot.

                6. BadMovieLover*

                  Coding is no more frangible a skill than riding a bicycle. Basic logic is not something one just forgets.

            3. Kelly O*

              I have to chime in agreement with Jamie here.

              I can understand being nervous during an interview, but if you are so terrified you can’t perform a basic function, you may need more help than a copy of “Knock ‘Em Dead” – and I don’t mean that to sound as callous as it might seem, but it’s the truth.

          2. Stanley*

            Another JamieNovember 1, 2012 at 6:03 pm
            Everyone feels stress in an interview yes, but if that stress prevents you from doing something you supposedly know how to do? That doesn’t inspire confidence. Being able to handle stress is also a requirement for most jobs.

            I failed to get an interview once, because I couldn’t “write a method in Java that will print out all the possible combinations (or “permutations”) of the characters in a string,” in the time allotted. That question is something that the interviewer probably picked out of some interviewing resource— and most likely, never would be able to do himself in the same conditions, unless he hadn’t already seen the solution.

            You know what the funny thing is? Back at home, after the interview, it took me 15 minutes to write a lean recursive function that did the job. Why couldn’t I do that in the interview? Because in the interview I didn’t have the time or resources I would normally have while on the job.

            But the most confusing part about this whole situation is that I’ve actually worked on mapping software. Yet, in an interview setting, I probably would not be able to write for you the code needed to say, draw a square. Would you be surprised if I said that I have delivered that same exact code for map software at my job?

            Yikes! Someone please tell me what’s going on. Maybe it is a miracle, because according to these tests, and all those posts, I’m not even worthy of being interviewed. I better tell my boss right now so he can fire me!

    2. Jake*

      Just recently I went through a few interviews .

      One of them had me go through some basic questions about web design, object oriented tech, and database design. He had me explain what I would do in certain situations that I was expected to deal the most with. I got an offer. :)

      It made me think back to another interview where I was made to take a programming test– which I did terrible at due to the pressure, but the job wasn’t a good fit for me as the commute was too far.

      I don’t know if some here would call what I do now coding but I type a lot! :)

    3. IT Bossman*

      We’ve had a sizeable number of candidates who couldn’t belt out a rather simple program. But I bet a fair number of them went home and easily figured out the task under normal conditions. They’d just freaked out with interview anxiety.

  6. Q.*

    I just got my first career-track job, out of grad school.

    It was a combination of luck, writing a good cover letter, and the fact that while I was unemployed, I started and maintained a blog on a trendy new area of my field. My employer (unbeknownst to me) had been thinking of expanding into that area, and they actually adopted my blog as part of their organization and made it part of my job.

    Now my #1 piece of advice to job seekers is to start a blog on something they find interesting in their field and update it A LOT. :)

    1. moss*

      can you expand on the blog thing? I know blogs are the new journalism or somesuch. I know that people turn blogs into books all the time. But what precisely do you see benefitting people who take your advice?

      1. Q.*

        Well, I’m a lawyer. So there are lots of benefits to taking my advice (not getting sued, not getting thrown in jail, etc.).

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think Moss meant, what exactly are the benefits of taking your advice here — your advice to start a blog.

        I’m actually a big proponent of this too, if you’re a good writer, thoughtful, and able to write reasonably fast and often. It’s a really good way to give employers a look inside your brain. But it’s not for everyone (it can kill your chances just as easily as it can help them).

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            You’ve generally got to do at least 1-2 posts a week, minimum, in order to attract much readership. If people return and see you haven’t updated in a while, they’re less likely to continue coming back.

    2. The IT Manager*

      No offence to Q, but when I was reading the Brazen Careerist blog, I saw a lot of this advice. Not that its necessarily bad advice (look at Alison), but it seems to work better for certain fields and its not feasible for many people. If you look back you see that Alison’s old post have a lot fewer comments because she had a lot fewer readers. It will usually take years to build a following and reputation that can lead to a job or give an applicant that final push over the top. The blogger actually has to write well and be knowledgable about a field that people care enough to read blogs about.

      It makes me wonder if the person who can start, maintain, and build a following on a blog doesn’t have enough other characteristics that they would have stood out anyway. “Start a blog” is not advice for a job seeker that seems to have any immediate impact.

      That’s my opinion. Please feel free to explain to me why I am wrong.

      1. Q.*

        Maybe. My blog doesn’t have a big following — that’s not why I recommend it. It is a good example of what you can do on your own, self-directed; it’s a good writing sample for the fields in which writing is important. It shows that you care about your field. Maybe it works better for law than for other fields, I don’t know; that’s the field I’m in, so other people can decide that for themselves.

      2. Jamie*

        This is really insightful – and there are really popular blogs with bad advice out there as well as awesome advice (AAM) but the one thing they all have in common is they can write.

        I know a lot of really smart people who are great at their jobs but putting their thoughts into type in torture for them (and the reader.) It’s a lot of effort for non-writer types to communicate efficiently – and some would never be able to do so in an engaging manner which brings people back.

        It’s funny – I was typing a post here the other day and my husband told my son not to bother me because I was working. I said I wasn’t working and they both looked at my iPad and had a conversation about what kind of person writes about work stuff when they don’t have to – no one is assigning an essay.

        You would not get either of those two bright and fabulous guys to ever write unless there was a grade or a paycheck coming out of it.

        Blogging won’t work for everyone.

        1. Q.*

          I’ll amend my statement above: for the unemployed in a field that requires writing (which is many, if not most fields?), starting a blog is a good idea, in my opinion. It’s an ESPECIALLY good idea if you don’t like writing and you’re in a field that requires writing, because the more you do it, the better you get.

          I wouldn’t necessarily tell a construction worker to start a blog, though if one did, I would definitely read it.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        One thing that I always point out to people who ask my advice about starting a blog is that it took me years to turn it into “a success,” by most people’s standards. If I’d expected immediate payoff, I would have given up early on. I kept it going out of pure love of doing it — which is also why I started it. I hadn’t even realized it could turn into anything else. I think it’s better to do it that way — and then if you do get some success with it, it’s a nice surprise and a bonus, but not the point. And if you don’t, you’re not disappointed/frustrated, because that’s not why you were doing it anyway.

        Q’s experience was probably a little different, in that she was writing about a niche piece of her field, so its payoff for her was probably less about readership and more about demonstrating knowledge and thought leadership to prospective employers.

      4. Steve G*

        I like that you say “no offense….Brazen Careerist.” I dont find Brazen bad but am not a huge fan because many of the articles are too cliche. 168 Hours I am not a fan of however. Some of the ideas are too cutesey for me, or too simplistic (I started a to-do list and my life couldnt be better now!), or too cliche (3 ways to get energy in the morning). I dont know why I keep seeing 168 Hours referenced so much…

        1. Kelly O*

          I am very anti-Brazen Careerist.

          It’s not that they offer cliche advice, they are just trying very hard to be edgy. Most companies are not edgy. Most people are not edgy. And usually the people trying the hardest to be the edgiest look the least intelligent.

          /end rant

      5. Anonymous*

        It is true that Alison’s blog had fewer comments in the past, but it is not an entirely accurate measure of influence. I have been reading her long enough that she has shaped my entire view if management (“What would AAM do” – seriously) and if she had applied to work at my organization I would have fallen over myself to hire her, even if she had 4 commenters one of which was a dog.

        Readership is certainly important if you are hoping to make a living from your blog, but as a venue for promoting your work, you don’t need to even allow comments at all.

  7. Lisa*

    I was a data entry person, but soon became the trainer cause no one else wanted to train new people. I then was good at problem solving so I became the go-to person for fixing things. Next thing I know I am being introduced as the office manager because I was acting like one. I was able to ask if my sudden promotion came with a raise and they let me have one.

    1. DMP*

      +1 By doing more than just what’s expected (at some jobs) can lead to better positions being created for you, like Lisa did here. I also was able to create my position once I got my foot in the door with an entry level job. Acting the part can be a large part of actually getting the part.

  8. Dawn*

    I worked summers at a museum when I was going to University to get my Bachelor of Administration Degree. I knew it was good to develop work references, and have that history for when I graduated. When I was done school, I still didn’t have great admin experience, so I took a job as an Administrative Assistant and stayed there 4 years to get experience and learn as much as I could. I finally moved on to another Administrative Assistant position at a better company, and after 2 years in the role, our bookkeeper/office manager left, and I asked for the job and got it. It was a big step in the right direction, and I stayed for almost 2.5 years in that position, when I was offered my current position at a different company as the Administration Manager.

    I found that while I had the education I required, I had to put in my time and get experience to back it up, before I could do what I really wanted to. Plus, starting at the bottom and working your way up gives you great insight into business and how it runs, which is excellent knowledge once you make your way up the ladder.

  9. Jay*

    Temping. I temped all through college on my breaks; started off fundraising calling, which was horrible but I did it anyway, then a placement as a receptionist, then a receptionist at a marketing firm, then a marketing admin, then a marketing coordinator position which I was still at when I got my first “real” job (which I just started a few months ago!) as an editorial assistant. I was able to prove to the agency that I was reliable & professional, which made it easier (and gave me a lot of different experiences) to prove the same thing to a company! Also – really sit and think about what you’ve done no one else has. I felt liked I’d failed right after I graduated because I hadn’t managed to snag an internship in college (there were very few relevant opportunities in my area and I definitely couldn’t afford to travel somewhere to not be paid) which is everyone’s go-to for recent grads…but I had done a practicum course, served on the executive board of a campus club, and started/run my own blog, which were all things that I was able to call back on when I interviewed for this job!

    1. Jay*

      And by things “no one else” has done, I mean “not every Joe Schmo off the street.” Oh, for an edit button!

    2. Lore*

      I had really good luck through temping as well. My part-time job in grad school trained me in proofreading and basic copy editing, so I had specific skills. But I was also recommended to a temp agency that specialized in publishing and media; their pay was a little lower than some and they were incredibly poorly run, but they had great clients. My first assignment through them lasted nearly two years, and provided enough concrete experience in an unusual area in the back end of publishing that it became a solid line on a resume.

      1. AnonA*

        Chiming in to +1 the temping route. It got me a job that lasted 11 years and helped me transition into another field 5 years ago. Temping allows a company to see how good you are, and that is rare. Neither career track would have been as accepting of me had I come in through the regular channels.

    3. Bridget*

      My experience was similar. I temped during summers in college. At the time, it sucked. I wanted to do fancy unpaid internships but my family just couldn’t afford that, so I did temp jobs in my hometown. I was a switchboard operator, a receptionist, I drove a car for a bank, I was a cater waiter a few times. It was miserable. But after college I moved to D.C. to try to get a job in museums. I signed up with a temp agency and said that what I really wanted was a foot in the door with a museum. Within a couple of months they placed me in a short-term temp job at the Smithsonian. Someone had given me the excellent advice to think about where I wanted to work more than what I wanted to do for my first job, so I ‘d already been applying for every entry level job at the Smithsonian I could. I worked hard at the temp job and my boss offered to be a reference for me. Once I had an in-house reference, I was hired by another Smithsonian department.

  10. businesslady*

    I had some retail jobs (Kohls/Borders) but my first “real” (=office) job was a summer internship that I got hired into sight-unseen because my mom had worked at the company & a family friend was a higher-up there.

    that experience, plus the fact that I went to a decent school, was enough to get me into the entry-level admin pool at a small company led by the founder/CEO. after a few months in that role, the recently hired executive assistant to the CEO unexpectedly quit (as in, didn’t show up to work one day), & a few hours after that news spread, I got a call from the CEO offering me the position. I of course eagerly accepted this surprise promotion, which entailed taking over pretty much all outgoing communications from the CEO to current/potential clients.

    it was a definite step up & a great early-career role, but I wanted something that was a better fit for me culturally, which eventually meant I “restarted” to an extent as an admin at my alma mater. after a couple years in that position, I got promoted to another admin role with more autonomy/responsibility, & a few years after that I got my current job, which is something I’m actually interested in for the long term.

    but while the undergrad pedigree/connections surely helped me throughout my career, the biggest through line in all my positions has been my ability to write carefully & effectively, to the extent that I’ve gotten noticed by the powers that be. that’s obviously not relevant to jobs that aren’t writing- or editing-based, but I think “find what you’re best at & then find ways to shine in those areas no matter the role” is pretty universal. & certainly the “be nice to everyone even if you don’t want to be” perspective I learned in my retail/admin days has probably helped me curry favor with my colleagues & bosses over the years.

  11. Work It*

    I got my first career-type job a few months after graduating from college because of a connection at an insurance company and experience working at an insurance call center (part-time while in college). I got the call center job by randomly applying to a listing I saw in the student paper, though I’d worked in retail, restaurants, fast food since I was 16. The insurance job wasn’t related to my degree.

  12. Jamie*

    Temping. I learned via temping what I wanted to do and gravitated toward it and (more importantly) what I didn’t want to do.

    I considered that very valuable job shopping time – I was able to try out a lot of different roles in a lot of different industries (albeit as a temp) and it really helped me figure out which path to take.

    It was interesting because there were a lot of things that were fun at first, but easily mastered and I’m easily bored…but there was a series of moments where I just realized where I was meant to be. Which is apparently in manufacturing running an IT department behind a bank of monitors…it’s home.

    1. Bridgette*

      Yes! I did a lot of temping, and although my roles in each job were quite similar, I got to see different types of departments inner workings. It also helped me build a reputation.

    2. Anlyn*

      I also temped (see response below), but I didn’t temp at a lot of different places. I did a little Accounts Receivables work, and was offered a job, but I didn’t want to stay in the town I grew up. I was offered a job in my first temping assignment and took it. I sometimes regret it, because it would have been interesting to try different things and see what really interested me, but I really lucked out in landing SAP, so I’m generally happy.

        1. Bridgette*

          That’s another good thing about temping in offices. You learn what kind of behavior is expected and how to adjust to the setting, which can be hard on new graduates who don’t have a lot of experience.

          1. Jamie*

            Yep – there are soft skills that good temps inherently pick up and will serve you well for the rest of your career. Like the ability to quickly assimilate and adjust to wildly different work styles and procedures. Also, for an introvert, it’s a lot like being thrown in a lake to learn how to swim. When I first started I would be physically sick about starting a new assignment with new people, but I just started seeing myself as a hired gun and I got used to it – one day I realized I was more afraid of being bored on a new assignment than talking to new people. I knew I was over the hump.

            Other advantages: Temps have a lot of downtime and if you use that to pour over help files of their software you expand your “familiar with” knowledge base really fast since each company will offer something different in the way of software. Also after temping there won’t be a copier or coffee maker you can’t handle – you’ll have wrangled them all :).

  13. moss*

    My first “real” job in programming came through a professor in Electrical Engineering in whose class I had gotten an A. That was a summer job paying nine bucks an hour. I was able to use him as a reference and then hustled my way into an actual job with health insurance etc.

  14. Xay*

    I did various work study positions in undergrad (career center, RA, and tech support in the computer lab). After I graduated, I briefly went to graduate school and when that didn’t work out, managed to land a job as a secretary at the state health department. I initially applied for an admin assistant position but although I had a great interview, there was a candidate with more experience so they referred me to another position that didn’t require as much experience. That office was shortstaffed so I ended up doing as much program work as secretarial work. When one of my supervisors was promoted to lead another program area (and it had been made clear to me that the other supervisor would rather pay me as a secretary while assigning higher level work than promote me), I followed him to a higher level position. 7 years and a few moves later, I’m a federal contractor at CDC and I’m getting ready to go back to graduate school so I can get out of the mid level career range in public health.

    My advice to anyone trying to get into public health is to pick up some work experience before getting your MPH. Not 8 years worth like I am, but at least some so you have a realistic sense of what your career path will be like.

    My advice to anyone trying to break into public health

    1. Xay*

      Also, my BA is in psychology and has been unexpectedly marketable because of the emphasis on research, writing and basic statistics – especially in the field of public health.

      1. Anonymous*

        You have no idea how happy that makes me. I want to do my BA in psychology so badly. I took it in grade 11 and 12 of high school and loved it so much. But I’m worried that it would be really hard to get any sort of decent job after graduating.

  15. Sandy*

    I worked at Blockbuster all through college and didn’t actually do any internships (looking back, I probably should have done some). I got my BA in Psychology, which I quickly realized was not very helpful in getting a job. I ended up randomly picking Human Resources as my career path.
    I applied for a bunch of HR Assistant jobs and ended up being hired at a little local staffing company as a Recruiter. I worked there for 1.5 years and realized I didn’t really like recruiting, but the experience gave me the skills to get a better job as an HR Assistant at a bigger company.
    I worked at the bigger company for 4 years and ended up being promoted to a Recruiter. After about a year in that role I realized yet again that I didn’t really like recruiting. My husband and I were relocating so I took the opportunity to land an HR Generalist position, which is where I am currently.

    1. Ashley*

      You sound like my twin! I worked at Hollywood Video throughout college, majored in Sociology, and ended up in HR (because really, what else do you do with a Sociology degree?).

  16. Esra*

    I lucked out and my first career-track job found me. I’d been searching for a couple months out of school (it felt like forever, better times), no luck at all, and got a call from an agency that found my resume on Workopolis. I ended up working on the web team for a huge corporation for nearly three years before moving onto my next position.

  17. Laurie*

    When I graduated college in the mid 2000s, I had interned at a financial firm for an year and worked on campus for over one and a half years. I still found looking for a job very difficult. After 3 months of sending out resumes for financial analyst positions with no success, I noticed a filing intern position open at a back office operation of a globally known investment bank. I applied for, and got the position based on my internships and leadership experiences in college, and was started off at a dismally low wage appropriate to a filing clerk.

    I worked my bottom off from the day I started, and one month later, I was hired as a full-time financial analyst.

  18. kelly*

    In college I majored in graphic design and really wanted a job on campus that would give me additional skills beyond my classes (and have something to put on my resume!) One of my friends was working at the student newspaper so she let me know when the production department needed a new designer, I came in and interviewed and was offered the job at the end of the interview! (I wish it still worked like that!) I think this was because of my friend recommending me and also because I was a design major. I worked there for about a year and a half, and it was the best college job. I got to park in their lot to walk to class (no more riding the bus!) and it was a great group of people, always fun to go to work. After that job I worked for the department of housing for a semester, which involved designing RA badges and such. I also had a small etsy business on the side throughout college that I promoted in my portfolio and talked about the skills learned from running a business, etc.

    Another big factor for me was the caliber of the design program where I went to school. I got to be involved in quite a few “real world” projects in my classes which helped a lot with making the transition from “doing whatever you want” to “doing what the client wants”. I never had an internship in school and I’m doing fine.

    I definitely had a few horrible interviews after college before I got it right and landed a great job, but it helped a lot to have at least these experiences on my plate to draw from. I would say to people in college, definitely get a job! Internships are great, but nothing beats real work experience IMHO.

    1. Anonymous*

      I think the key is “real work”. Internships definitely vary in the experience they provide, and no matter what you call it, it’s actually doing real work that counts at the end of the day.

  19. 9.*

    I got my first career-track job out of college as a Project Assistant at a non-profit by searching Idealist and applying online; it took me three months post graduation to be hired for something. Prior to that, I had one directly career related internship at another non-profit, but I also had a variety of less career related jobs and volunteer experiences including volunteering at an animal shelter, volunteering with refugees, barista, and PT receptionist/admin assistant.

    1. Anonymous*

      That sounds like my career path so far after eight months post-graduation. I’m still looking for that real career job and doing everything else in the meantime.

    2. J*

      If you don’t mind my asking, how did you leverage those less career related jobs and volunteer experiences in your interview?

  20. Bridgette*

    I started working various part-time/entry level jobs when I turned 16 (including Renaissance faire wench :) ) and was able to get some temp work at a large non-profit where my dad worked, in various offices. Mostly admin assistant stuff. I worked hard and took initiative, and that led to increased responsibilities and my reputation within the organization grew. Because of networking connections, I got a full-time job at a university where I was placed in a department based on my skills and personality and not necessarily my experience. I then moved to another university where I’m an IT project manager/analyst/some days no idea how to classify my job.

    I’m doing pretty well even though I have no formal IT training and my BA is in English. On paper, I have nothing that would qualify me for many IT positions, yet here I am. I think it’s because I’m hard working and I like efficiency. I’m 28 and I’m just now figuring out my “career,” I don’t know if that’s late or early or what. I’m thrilled that I have steady income and health insurance. My advice to those trying to transition into a career:

    Work as soon as you are legally able, no matter the job.

    Think very long and hard about what kind of a degree you want if you decide to go to college. My BA English provided tremendous growth for me as a person but is somewhat of a hindrance when job searching. Don’t jump into college without a plan, and certainly don’t rush through it – if you are unsure of your major, take some time off or go to school part-time. Get your basics at a community college so you don’t go into tremendous debt. Don’t let anyone (advisors, well-meaning relatives, etc.) pressure you into graduating “on time,” that concept is no longer relevant.

    NETWORK!!! Talk to people!! There are so many opportunities that come about just by networking that never would by simply filling out online applications.

    1. Tekoa*

      I wish I’d read this five years ago. To borrow a sentence from you and rephrase it “My BSc. Anthropology provided tremendous growth for me as a person but is somewhat of a hindrance when job searching.”

      To go over what I did “wrong”

      1) I rushed into university without a plan (just take classes you think are interesting!)
      2) I did not network (social anxiety/no idea what networking was)
      3) I didn’t work much (I was told my grades were more important)

      1. De Minimis*

        I have had a similar experience, although it was a few years back so some things have changed since then….majored in the wrong thing, didn’t work or network [still have major problems doing that.] It has come back to bite me numerous times throughout the years, and I actually repeated mistakes 2 and 3 when I returned to school for a graduate degree.

        I tend to minimize my own efforts as far as why I’ve gotten the jobs I’ve had, most of the jobs I’ve had were due to being in the right place at the right time. I had a temp job with the Post Office during the mid-90s that became a permanent job which I held for nearly seven years–they were hiring due to needing a stopgap measure while new technology was being developed, then a union agreement required the USPS to make a large group of the temps into regular employees. Still, I would not have made it in if I’d had bad work/attendance habits during the year or so where I was temporary.

      1. De Minimis*

        I didn’t embark on an actual “career path” until my mid-30s, and was 40 before things actually stabilized, so 28 is not late at all.

        1. Bridgette*

          I bet this is true for a lot of people, it’s just hard to shake that “Am I behind?” feeling when you have been told all your life that you go to college, get a job straight out, and that’s your career for the rest of your life. A good thing to keep in mind when job searching or launching a career – it’s different for everyone and what works for one, does not for another.

  21. Meredith*

    I did a summer internship just after graduation that was designed to give the 10 participants a broad understanding of how a city works with a public affairs perspective. We were given many “assignments” that forced me out of my comfort zone, like being sent to a particular neighborhood and told to spend the day asking local business owners and residents about their local concerns. I hated those assignments, but they were very good practice. The internship also involved brief 1-week placements with 5 different work places over the course of the summer and a 1-day seminar at the end about how to set up and conduct informational interviews. I had never heard of an informational interview before that. Once the internship was over, I moved to a new city and reached out to 10 different non profits and set up informational interviews explaining that I was new to the city and hoping to gain a fuller understanding of the non profit community. Those interviews were a lot of work, and very nerve-wracking, but I learned a lot and everyone I met with was happy to do so. A few months after I did all those interviews an entry level position opened up at one of the organizations and they contacted me and asked if I was interested, and I ended up getting the job. This was a relatively easy process because the city I moved to was smallish and I was able to get access to executive directors who were happy to meet with me. Now I live in a major city and I can’t imagine that I would have been able to do that here. It would have taken much more leg work and I probably would have had to know someone in the organization to begin with to even get someone to talk to me.

  22. A Nony Mous*

    I joined ROTC in college. I managed to keep my GPA up, my weight down, and passed the semesterly the physical training (PT) test during my college career, and there was a job (military career) waiting for me when I graduated. Those requirements are not as easy as they may sound, and we lost a lot of dedicated cadets along the way.

    I was appalingly clueless as Second Lieutenant so this guaranteed job was great. I would have been a horrible interviewer and resume writer, but I do have a technical degree (one of the things that made me attractive to the military) so I believe I could have found a job out of college. I would definately been forced into a career path I did not want, though, and without my varied military experience I doubt I would have known how to break out of it.

  23. Laura L*

    My first career track job came after grad school, not college. I was told about the job opening by a colleague from one of the internships I held in grad school and I got the job largely because I had a second internship doing almost the exact same thing. It’s not what I wanted when I went into grad school, but it’s worked out fine so far.

  24. Rob Bird*

    That is a tough question. My first job ever, I was self employed at 14 years of age. I mowed lawns for HUD housing that people were no longer living in.

    As far as my career track, I can’t say as I have one. In the last 16 years, I have had 12 jobs. I worked in a jail, as a police officer, as a probation officer, doing student loans, delivery driving, lawn spraying, and selling survey equipment just to name a few.

  25. some1*

    I had been working retail for four years (while going to school part of that time) and couldn’t take it any longer. I wanted better pay & better hours. I answered a job ad that a temp agency placed in the paper looking for a bank teller at a bank in my neighborhood. I thought that was worth a shot, so I went to the temp agency and the staffing person I interviewed with was a guy I had gone to high school with! I didn’t get that job, but he called me with an assignment working as receptionist at a City dept. My supervisor there was an unofficial mentor of sorts because she’d been working there for 30 years, and she taught me pretty much every admin function that I know. I enjoyed my assignments and asked for more work whenever I could. I was hired as soon as they could buy out my contract with the temp agency, and stayed six years total, working in other admin capacities in that dept.

  26. Anonymous*

    I worked every college break at a daycare/private school, and worked there full time for two years after I left college. I majored in classical studies (which in retrospect wasn’t the best decision), and was undecided about what I really wanted/liked as far as jobs go. When I moved after two years at home, I was desperate for any type of job, and landed a receptionist position at a warehouse. Even though I hadn’t had any of the experience that they had originally wanted, the staffing coordinator was impressed by how long I’d been with the daycare/private school. Turns out that the receptionist position was part of the HR department, and I had a great manager who was willing to train me and give me duties that a receptionist normally wouldn’t have (i.e. handling all Worker’s Comp claims and Auto claims). Eventually I became the HR Assistant there, and then the HR Generalist. If I hadn’t been willing to take the receptionist position (which a lot of people said was “below” me), I would never have realized how much I like working in HR.

  27. Anlyn*

    I temped. This was back when temping could easily land you a permanent job. I started working for then-Worldcom (oh yes) in Information Security as a data entry clerk. When they hired me full-time, they began training me in access administration. I eventually took on other applications. In 2004, our team was tasked with consolidating what we call KFAs…key financial applications. Mine was SAP. I worked with my team lead to transition the existing security request process into our group and became the lead analyst. I’ve been working SAP ever since.

  28. Samantha*

    I got my job in media/advertising just by applying. I had a sales job I hated (recruited out of college) and I had zero experience in the field and I just got lucky.

    I applied continually for 6 months (they had a lot of very similar jobs posted so I applied to each one) and finally got an interview, then waited another three months for an offer letter. Long road, but I’ve been with the company for four and a half years, have been promoted three times, and thank my lucky stars that they chose me. I attribute it to interviewing well and a string of interesting college jobs (campus tour guide, sleep technologist) and genuine love of the internet that made it easy for me to speak comfortably in the interview and be someone the interviewers wanted to work with. Also, straight up luck.

      1. Anonymous*

        I know there are labs where they conduct ‘sleep studies’ – basically monitoring a person as they slept. I’d imagine a sleep technologist would stay up all night to keep an eye on the patient.

        1. Samantha*

          Yes, pretty much. Was great experience leaning to talk to anyone, and it always intrigued people during interviews.

          1. Laura L*

            You also ran the equipment right? Like if someone was getting a polysomnogram, you’d hook them up to the monitors and make sure the equipment was working correctly and everything.

  29. Kelly O*

    I started working the summer I turned 14, helping my Grandma in the concession stand at our local short-track racetrack, and I’ve been working ever since. I worked at a Baskin-Robbins and a Big B drugstore all through high school, and once I started college, I added a retail gig to that, eventually working full-time retail while going to college full-time and jugging my Scholar’s Bowl responsibilities.

    I think one thing that really helped me was being able to show the willingness to hustle. I worked my backside off in school and maintained a good GPA while managing some extracurricular activities on top of working. When I got my first “real” job after graduating, the recruiter I worked with noted that hustle and was willing to take a chance on me. (I kind of wish I hadn’t ended that job the way I had. When I think about the experience I could have built up if I’d not been quite so flaky… makes me a bit ill.)

  30. EAS*

    Internships were the key for me – I had 5 part-time non-paid internships throughout college to build my resume, which helped me land a competitive paid internship the summer after graduation. Many of my peers thought taking an internship after college was below them, since they were technically qualified for full-time positions. But, when I found an opening with a top company in my industry (public relations), I knew I’d do whatever it took to work there. I ended up interning for 7 months before getting hired. Now, I’m in a great position with lots of opportunity to advance.

    1. Hari*

      I find with PR and Ad/Marketing unless you get lucky or have directly related experience (have interned at agencies doing the exact thing) you need a full-time internship to break-in to the company. Especially since those entry-level positions usually go to the current interns who are pretty much doing the job already. Plus in this industry they pay pretty well. It’s more like an entry-level freelance rather than a stereotypical internship.

  31. kdizzle*

    Right after finishing my MA (economics), I got married and moved to a new city where I didn’t know a soul.

    I was fairly depressed after not finding a job for about three months. While my husband was at work, I would literally drive around the city, find buildings where it looked like people worked, go inside the lobby, and write down the names of companies on the directory. Then I would go home, look up their websites, and apply to just about any job I could find. I figured that they might not have the money to advertise in the paper or on a job site, but certainly they’d advertise jobs on the company website.

    Not long after, I landed a gig in my field with a company I had never heard of. I made great friends and references for life. I can still remember the looks on their faces when I told them how I learned about the job. Luckily, they thought it was resourceful and not psycho.

    1. twentymilehike*

      I would literally drive around the city, find buildings where it looked like people worked, go inside the lobby, and write down the names of companies on the directory. Then I would go home, look up their websites

      What a creative idea! I’ve been checking the websites of companies I’d like to work for, but it did occur to me that are SO MANY companies that I’ve never heard of that I’m sure I’d like working for.

      My first career-style job is the one I have now as an office manager/jack-of-all-trades. I didn’t even apply for it … I was working at a bank and one of my regular customers asked me one day if I liked my job. Sceptically, I asked why before just blurting out that I HATED my job … haha. He said he was looking for someone and asked me to call him, and when I did we set up an interview with him and his partner.

      The funny thing is, I just posted on another post about people going to the mall to “recruit” and how IME that didn’t seem like a good idea … my boss normally “poaches” people from other businesses for assistant positions and (besides myself … but I’m not his assistant, either) all of the people he’s brought in from retail stores and restaurants have NEVER worked out. The longest one probably lasted just under a year. My guess is that those people had only worked in those environments and really wanted to switch environments, but didn’t have the skills built up yet. They were all early on in their college careers. When I was hired, I was about to graduate, was working at a bank and had other prior admin experience, so it was probably an easier transition.

    2. Anonymous*

      I always wondered about these companies – I’ve heard wonderful stories like this from the job hunter’s perspective, but how on earth did the company find a qualified candidate pool without advertising on a jobboard or something?

  32. Carin*

    My first “real” job after college I got through networking. I didn’t exactly know what I wanted to do career-wise, but I was an English major and had previously gravitated towards book jobs. In college I worked in the campus library and at a campus bookstore at another college in the summers, and after college I worked at a B&N. That’s where I was when I was sick of trying to live on retail wages and really wanted to get my life on track. My mother was at a meeting of the Jane Austen Society (seriously) and a women overheard her telling another member that yes I was working at the bookstore and had an English degree and I was looking for a “real” job but nothing had worked out. The overhearing woman was the head of the Buying department at the largest book wholesaler in the U.S., and within a month of that overheard conversation I was working for her. But the key was that my mother knew I was looking for a job and she knew generally my work background. It didn’t have to be my mother though – it could have been my sister or a neighbor or anyone. Be sure that people know you’re looking, that they know what field you’re interested in, and ask them for help keeping an eye out for you.

  33. Heather*

    I was in college doing art and worked in the library as a work-study student (my first real job was in high school working at a Sears Hardware… blech). After four years of school I realized that I didn’t want to be a working artist or a professor, which were the only real career options for the degree I received. After a year of working in a video store I realized: oh, I should be a librarian! I then got a job for a few years in a different library before going to grad school. My previous experience allowed me to have a pick of graduate assistant positions when I went to get my MLS (which allowed me to do grad school debt free). After graduating I stayed on as a contract librarian, before getting a part-time librarian gig at a prestigious institution (which turned into a full-time gig for several months). Finally my current place hired me on the spot for my position after I helped them out which some tricky original cataloging for a few months. On the whole, I would say the things that really helped were that work-study position (to get the ball rolling), the graduate assistantship (to get professional experience while still in grad school), and my first non-contract librarian position (which proved to me that I was a good librarian).

  34. Foi*

    I went to university in English Literature, with minors in gender studies and history (obviously focused on getting a job…) While I was in university, I did administrative and data entry work for a medical ethics committee and a pharmaceutical research company (started as a receptionist for one summer, data entry for 2, and then data management).

    When I graduated, I sent out CVs to agencies focused on pharmaceutical advertising/communications, arguing that the English literature degree was communications-based (essays, etc) and that I was familiar with the industry due to my previous jobs, and I was hired as a project coordinator (80 hours a week, on salary, etc… you start somewhere, and it ain’t always great).

    6 years later, I’m a program manager with 8 employees in a multinational corporation, running 3 programs and doing quite well (and the people I did my BA with are either still in school for graduate degrees or teaching English in China or Korea, so I think I’m really lucky!)

  35. Jessie W*

    It was all about the academic internship for me. I wanted to do an unpaid internship during my senior year of college, to get coursework credit. I worked only 8 hours a week at a non-profit.

    I took a year off after graduating while I contemplated grad school (and worked in retail at a small boutique). When I decided yes on grad school, I called my internship mentor to ask for a recommendation. He practically offered me a job on the spot. I worked part-time (paid) and kept my retail job while in school. When I graduated, they offered me a full-time gig!

  36. LL*

    I’ve gotten every single job I’ve ever held via networking. In all cases, I knew a current employee or a had a very influential reference actively recommending me. That’s true for high school jobs in food service and retail, on- and off-campus jobs in college, and professional positions in my current field.

    1. LL*

      I should add, these weren’t the only jobs to which I applied – only the jobs I actually landed! Part of the issue is living in areas with high unemployment. Without that “inside” connection, it’s unlikely to have your resume stand out against 100s of others.

  37. Tiff*

    I would consider my position now to be my first “career track” job – I’ve held plenty of jobs, from McD’s to catering to singing telegram (that was an adventure). I was hoping that the job I had before this one would develop into something that was career track, but the organization had some serious flaws. Fortunately for me, one of those flaws was their willingness to throw me into projects that no one else really wanted, and I was able to develop some skills that I already had and learn new skills. I also discovered that I have a good temperment for dealing with people, so I began looking for jobs in public relations. Once I re-did my resume to reflect the work that I’d been doing at company A I got a lot more bites from employers, and went on a TON of interviews. Although nothing panned out, I gained invaluable practive interviewing (seriously, one job had me interview 6 times before rejecting me). Then one fateful day, I saw an ad for a job that was right up my alley. It played to all of my strengths. I wrote a kick-booty cover letter, did the online application and also fedexed a copy of my resume and cover letter to the director. I know that’s usually considered a bad idea but in this case it worked in my favor – the hiring manager got my resume with a good word from her boss. I was hired and have been here ever since, growing my role into a management position.

  38. BHB*

    I didn’t complete any education after high school, despite having decent grades at 18. I was 21 when I landed my first ‘proper’ job, and that was down to the fact that I applied for the wrong job. The company had 2 openings – adult education tutor and office administrator. I thought I copied the email address for the administrator position and sent of my CV/covering letter to that effect. I was emailed to schedule an interview and it was only in the interview where I was asked “so, what experience do you have in education and tutoring others?”. I stumbled a little as I had no experience whatsoever, but assumed it was a general question as the company was a tutoring company and they were asking to see what my perceptions of the industry were. I got a call a few days later offering me the job of Tutor. I was upfront there and then and said they must have made a mistake because I’d applied for the admin position. The guy laughed, and told me that some of my interview responses didn’t quite match what they were expecting, but that I’d made a good enough impression and that my skills and attitude more than made up for the lack of experience and that I was a very attractive candidate for the Tutor position. He told me a little more about the role and gave me a day or two to decide if I was willing to accept the position, which I ultimately did.

    I’ve been doing the job for 3 years now (although I’m now at a different company) and I absolutely love it, and it’s all down to me copy + pasting the wrong email address. I know it’s not the most conventional way of getting into a career but hey, life’s funny like that sometimes.

  39. Anonymous*

    My BA was in psychology, which is practically useless, but it did allow me to get in to grad school for library and info sciences. While in grad school I did several internships that sounded impressive on paper, which got my foot in the door at entry-level librarian position before I even graduated. It was 2000, and library positions were easier to get then! I worked there for 3 years, then took a directorship at a small public library which allowed me to learn and practice (and do good things for my library). That job proved that I could be a director, so I’ve been able to do interesting things in my career.

    Now, for people entering my field – it’s *essential* that you have some work experience before you start applying for jobs: an internship, paraprofessional work experience, SOMETHING. There’s too many librarians and too few jobs (and as a hiring manager, a great many resumes coming in for the good jobs) to not have some experience to crack open the door.

    If you can, get to know people in the field – librarians are a small social circle, and we all know everyone. I know someone’s pedigree just by seeing who they use as references, so get to know the librarians in your area and choose wisely for references! Go to conferences, try to get an internship or a para- job at a library you’d admire, get out and meet people!

  40. KS*

    My 1st job was a grocery store cashier. I did work study in a tutoring center as an admin assistant. My junior year, I worked at H&R Block which was great experience at working one-on-one with clients and more experience with a different office’s procedures.

    1. KS*

      Edit to add- my experience at H&R Block helped me to land a job in public accounting. The partners said they needed someone with some tax experience and didn’t have time to train from the ground up. Now I’ve got 5 years in public accounting and am using that experience to help me in the future to move on to a role in a private company.

  41. Lindsay*

    Networking got me my first career job at 28. I was very humble and asked a lot of experienced people for advice. If someone offered to do something for me (a chat, a tour, a referral) I took them up on it. And I got a lot of introductions. I also interned/volunteered (not full-time, can’t afford that). I’ve met a lot of people that way.

    Listen and do your research and be friendly.

  42. Paralegal*

    I started volunteering as an EMT in high school, and continued on during college. While it was largely unpaid (I did do some paid work during summers), the amount of responsibility was still the same. As the crew chief, I was responsible for EVERYTHING that happened on a call. The experience was great in terms of demonstrating responsibility, leadership and communication skills, and I had fantastic stories to tell about working in high pressure situations, or dealing with an irate patient.

    My current position has absolutely no connection whatsoever to EMS, but I believe my years of volunteering were essential in helping me stand out from other applicants.

    1. Anonymous*

      Was this in a small town? It’s hard to imagine that big-city EMS would be staffed by volunteers.

  43. Ali*

    I worked at a call center as my first job out of college. I saw the position on a job board, sent my resume and was pretty much hired on the spot in my interview. Although I was laid off because of the economy, I feel like I learned a lot such as being efficient while maintaining professionalism, dealing with different personality types and learning on the fly. The call center I worked in handled calls for around 100 clients, so I had to know the product line and policies of each company that called in.

    Now, I am working for a media website, and I hope to use that to transition to a job in professional sports. I started at my current job as an intern and worked my way up, and I’ve been there for two years.

  44. Forrest*

    I was a communications major and interested in PR. During my last year in college, I just googled marketing and PR companies and contacted them to see if they were interested in an intern. I did that for a year while waitressing at nights and eventaully landed a year long contract position in an University’s alumni office. I then used that experience to transition to the development field for a nonprofit.

  45. Aly*

    I worked at my college newspaper for 3 years, which was fabulous experience in itself. But each semester we’d have alumni come talk to the new hires about post-grad life with a journalism/ communications degree (for better or worse). One woman came in to talk about her job as a trade pub editor. At the end of her presentation, she mentioned that they had an editorial intern spot open for the summer and anyone interested should contact her. I got to her first, introduced myself, and after a cup of coffee had myself an internship — which was unpaid but was great experience. Six months later, just a few weeks before my graduation, their assistant editor just happen to quit. I was really lucky — I ended up being the only one of my friends who had a “real” job lined up before graduation.

    1. Jamie*

      Secret confession – I read several trade pubs and I’m always jealous of the article authors.

      I’ve been published – but not for serious content – so even the crappy articles impress me.

  46. Wilton Businessman*

    I worked at the computer center for two years while I was in college supporting the “new fangled” PCs that nobody wanted to touch. I worked with a couple other guys to have the first Novell Netware server in the school. I went from there to another university for my first full-time gig working in their PC Support wing connecting everybody to Novell Netware servers. I learned a lot about the working world in that first job, even though it was in a university setting. But that was in the late 80’s.

    Things are different today. Today employers are expecting to see people with internships closely related to their chosen field. We are expecting kids to be able to hit the ground running and not have to explain how an office “works”. We will train them in our systems, but we expect them to know how Excel works and that you don’t forward an email of the latest joke to the entire company.

  47. GeekChic*

    Depends on what career you’re asking about… for my most recent two:

    – Librarianship: Out of grad school I volunteered with a theatre and dance company designing their in-house ILS and cataloguing their music collection. When I was done the setup and had a healthy start on their cataloguing they helped me search for work (they called people they knew and said “You must hire this person, this is what she did for us.”) I was also willing to move out of the country so that made it easier.

    – IT: I started working in IT while I was in libraries. I did consulting jobs on the side with sister organizations who liked what I did for my employer. Eventually I started working for a group of consultants doing just IT work.

  48. LH*

    For current students majoring in business: internships. I can’t stress that enough for any business majors out there. Whether accounting or finance or supply chain or marketing or general management… So many large corporations and CPA firms use their internship programs as feeders into full-time positions. Some large companies (from my personal experience) rarely hire entry-level candidates who did not intern with them previously. For companies that will hire candidates who did not intern with them, your chances of an offer are much better if you have interned with another company in your field. Do well enough in your coursework to get a recruiter’s attention (i.e., a 3.0+ GPA), speak to them at a career fair (if your school hosts one) if possible, and as long as you’re engaged and articulate while speaking with them you have a decent shot of being asked in for an interview. Normal rules/suggestions for a career fair apply – dress professionally, do a little bit of research for each company you’re interested in, etc.

    I graduated in late 2010, and many friends graduated between 2008-2010, during the worst part of the recession. The most successful students found internships during college. Take a semester off if you have to – spring internships are far less competitive than summer internships, because fewer students are willing to take the time off from their study track. I was willing to graduate a semester late, and it helped immensely while searching for internship opportunities. Many CPA firms and corporations need help (particularly for accounting/finance students) during the winter/spring year-end period, and they were very interested in students who were willing to delay coursework for that semester.

    You don’t need to be an “all-star” candidate to find a job or internship. I wasn’t an officer for any of the organizations I joined, I didn’t have a ton of leadership experience, and I had no professional experience before being offered my first internship. Keep in mind, I wasn’t going after a position with a top CPA or consulting firm, so their “requirements” for interns may be a little more rigorous. Be genuinely interested in the companies with which you speak, be able to present yourself as someone who can analyze and solve problems (with examples!), and be willing to learn quickly. And it should go without saying, but if you are fortunate to find yourself with an internship, make sure you perform well enough to leave with a positive reference, if not a full-time offer!

    1. KS*

      Exactly. And if a student is fortunate to be able to take evening courses, it’s possible to complete a 6-9 credit internship in a semester and take 3-6 credits in the evening or even online at their college to qualify as full-time student status for financial aid purposes (minimum of 12 credits).

      Internships are so important and it’s great when students are able to complete them.

      1. Anonymous*

        Sidebar: I’m unfamiliar with this type of credit system, so just out of curiosity, do these internship credits get counted in the same ‘pool’ of credits required to graduate? I’m an undergrad myself, and while there is a record of internships completed, it is very clear that it’s not fulfilling the academic graduation requirements.

        1. Laura L*

          Yes, at the college level. If the internship gives you class credit or school credit (it’s called different things), then the credits you earn from that will count towards the total number needed to graduate.

          They often won’t fulfill specific educational requirements (e.g. you don’t get social science credits for working at a social service agency), unless the school requires a certain number of internship credits.

        2. Naomi*

          This varies from school to school. My college doesn’t offer any academic credit for internships, although you can get credit for an independent study paper written in conjunction with the internship.

    2. Anonymous*

      Speaking of which, be humble, but don’t undersell yourself. You do have marketable skills, no matter how inconsequential they may seem to you. (generic college-student “you”)

  49. Erika*

    I’m someone who doesn’t exactly have a career but does have a job in which they are successful. I’m also someone who didn’t finish college and still (in their late 20s) is still not entirely certain what their job goals are.

    I will say this, though – I amassed a large amount of job experience by joining a temp service. I was able to try lots of different fields and perform many different functions, both blue and white collar (which is how I determined that factory work = not for me). Once I had a couple years’ experience in offices through temping, it was a lot easier to transition to higher-level admin positions, which I enjoy despite the usual lack of upward mobility.

  50. Thomas*

    I got my first career track job about three weeks out of college. The company at which I now work (a year and a half later) had a team with a massive backlog, and they were bringing in temps to help with some of the lower level work so that the engineers, who made up the team proper, could get through the backlog more easily. I was brough in as a temp because, I think, I fit the exact type they were going for in these temps: fresh out of college, good grades, and currently unemployed meaning a fast start. I was one of about six recent college grads working as a temp on the team early on. I did data entry and admin work for about 10 months as a temp, and was hired on as a regular employee in an admin/QA position. During my time both as a temp and in that first real position, I spent a lot of time learning what the team’s work was all about, and what the engineers did, and demonstrated that I was smart, diligent, and wanted to learn those things that were beyond my current responsbilities . Which is why I will soon be transitioning out of the admin/QA position and into an engineering role.

    1. Thomas*

      I should clarify that I had two internships and some on campus work experience during college, and that those definitely helped me with the professionalism and skills I needed at the company I work for now. In terms of getting my foot in the door, however, I think it was in many ways being in the right place at the right time. When I started, they needed people yesterday, and I was ready, willing, and able.

  51. Jen in RO*

    [Note: I’m not in the US, so most of the readership won’t be able to use my experience.]
    I have a BA in Tourism and an MA in Business Communication, neither related to what I do now. My first “real” job was pure luck: a friend of mine worked in a publishing house that needed copy editors. He talked me into it even though I had no clue what it even meant… a couple of months later I realized I loved it. For a few years I was a freelance copy editor/web editor (wrote for various sites), until I decided that I needed a steadier paycheck. And there comes my current job: my boyfriend said that I would like technical writing (again, I had no idea what it meant), so I applied. I didn’t meet the requirements, but luckily this profession is still in its infancy around here, so with my experience in writing and editing I was hired as a full tech writer (my other coworkers were hired as juniors). I’ve been here 3 years and loving it!

    1. Anonymous*

      Just curious – what was the MA in Business Communication about? From an outsider perspective, it certainly seems related to technical writing.

      1. Jen in RO*

        It does seem so… but basically it was a waste of 1.5 years. (I don’t regret it, because I didn’t have to pay a dime, but it *was* useless.) Half of the students came from an economics background and half came from a social studies/foreign languages background, so the curriculum was a mix of stuff that was too easy for us economics grads and too hard for the others. What we did was only vaguely related to communication (one class only) and most of the business parts were things I’d already learned in undergrad.

        I’m glad to know that the name makes it sound interesting though! (I also get cookie points from employers since it was taught in English. By teachers with less English language knowledge than me, but oh well.)

      2. Jen in RO*

        Maybe I should add, after seeing the blogging conversation up-thread: the reason why I was offered my first copy editing job was that my friend read my blog, so he knew I fit two important criteria: used correct grammar & spelling and was an SF fan (they were starting an SF collection). [Also, he wasn’t my friend back then, just some guy who read my blog and had chatted to me a few times.] The first book I ever copy edited was the first volume in my favorite series ever!

  52. VSG*

    Networking and internships. I was a sophomore and a professor knew the head of a company and was happy to recommend me for an internship. The next summer I got a competitive internship, that was able to bolster my resume. At both places, I worked extra hard and showed that I was willing to do the ground work and put in the extra hours to be successful.

    The boss at the first place liked me. And after having obtained the second internship I had a reputable set of experience, he was able to offer me a job. I accepted the job in February of my senior year and started in May (graduated in 2008, right before the crash.)

    (As a side note, I did a number of retail and food service jobs through high school, but while the two years I spent working a drive through shows dedication, I hardly think it was the reason anyone hired me as a college grad or have hired me for other jobs since then.)

    I think one thing that is important in reading all of these is the number of people who took unpaid internships versus paid internships. Both of mine were paid. In fact, I insisted on it. (I know that’s not really an option all the time anymore given the economy.) One thing I learned in watching my peers intern without pay, still being worked hard and their work product used for the benefit of the company, was those companies were not the kind of places that respected employees and treated them well after hiring them. It was a future red flag for me, places that pay their interns tend to have more respect for their employees as a whole.

  53. Joey*

    Target Sales Assoc to Pizza Hut delivery to Valet to Concierge, then while in school Asst to a Manager then Manager

  54. Aimee*

    I started working in a low-level data entry job that I got through a temp agency when I was in grad school. After a few months, they moved me up to a sales support position, and I got to know several of our sales managers and reps through that position.

    Fast forward a few years and a couple jobs with other companies, and I returned to that company in a customer service role. In that role, I made sure I got to know how the company worked, who to go to to resolve issues for customers, and how to get things done. One of the former sales managers was now a manager in the Marketing department and remembered me. I had submitted my resume for a position in Marketing, but I was really not qualified for it (it was more of a “submit to show them I’m interested in taking on a role in this area” than a “wow, I really hope I get this job” move). When she had an entry level marketing manager position open though, she contacted me to see if I wanted to interview for it.

    So for me, it was a matter of starting out (and spending a few years) in an area that I wouldn’t consider the career track I wanted to be on(admin/support/customer service roles), but learning about how the larger company worked, getting to know people, and building a reputation for myself as someone they’d want on their team; and then leveraging that knowlege and reputation to pursue the roles I wanted.

  55. littlemoose*

    First off, great question. I think we will have a variety of interesting responses.

    I went to law school right after college, and after law school I had an 18-month stint of depressing underemployment, despite good grades and passing the bar. It was fall of 2008, when the economy crashed and burned, and the legal job market was no exception. I did some temp work for a while, but that dried up after about four months, and I did retail about 30 hours/week to get by. Not a great time for me at all, and I moved back in with my parents for a while.

    I got my current job through an ordinary job posting on my alma mater’s job board. I moved across the state for it, but got very lucky and was able to transfer back to my home city, where I wanted to be. I am still in this job and I love it. For me, it was mostly the numbers game – eventually I found something – although I know that, had I found AAM before I got my job, my search would have been a lot shorter (I was doing some things wrong and following some bad job-seeking advice). I also got my current job in part because I had a specialty in law school that is related to my current niche in law, so I definitely echo what the other posters said about finding a specialty in your desired field.

    If you are early enough in your education or career process, I would advise trying to get internships, etc that are more likely to lead to post-grad employment. I worked as a research assistant to a law professor for two years and interned at a small state agency that, while related to my desired field, was bound by an administrative rule requiring five years’ experience for all permanent employees. So, even though I had good work experience, none of it would lead to future employment. You may want to keep that in mind when deciding what opportunities to pursue.

    Lastly, not to thread-jack at all, but I want to reiterate that the legal job market is still poor, and that law school is not a guarantee of a high-paying job or even a job at all. If anybody wants info about the law-school decision, feel free to ask.

  56. Jubilance*

    I found my first job in my field actually through my grad school’s career development site. I had begun applying for jobs in December & I was slated to graduated with my MS in May. I slacked on writing my thesis & pushed it back to August graduation, but I also started working on a 2nd MS in science & technology policy at the same school while continuing to apply for jobs. I applied for the position using the school’s website, and I didn’t even send a cover letter, just a resume. The recruiter called the next day & I had a phone interview before they flew me down & had me interview with the group. The next day after my interview, I had an offer.

    I found out after I started the position that the group had been looking to hire for a year, but they weren’t finding the right candidates for the position. It was a chemistry role, doing materials analysis, but HR was incorrectly advertising the position as a chemical engineering job (they are very different). The type of analysis that I would do in the lab were things that I had done in internships & my graduate research so it was a good fit for both parties.

  57. Rachel B*

    I went to a “good” college, volunteered for a year, and then went to grad school. After that I landed a web writing job and have been continually employed ever since.

    I think the best piece of advice I can give college and grad students is to show up to work. Seriously. Many college and universities offer paying office and research jobs that look great on a young professional’s resume. But too often, students disappear during midterms and end of term, leaving admin and professors in the lurch. Of course, class should come first, but if you can be counted on, you will get better projects. In grad school, I was hired as an administrative assistant and ended up being the director of well funded web project, because I was willing to say “yes” to every assignment.

    1. Blargh*

      I’ve honestly never understood why students just decide not to show up or quit suddenly without notice. It makes no sense to me. Isn’t the point of a job to do your job? =\ Hum.

      1. Naomi*

        A lot of people do this, not just students. At my first job (retail), this woman I worked with told me her whole plan to move up the ladder, from part-time to full-time to management. A few weeks later, she didn’t show up for work. Turned out she’d taken a vacation with her boyfriend without telling anyone. I was astonished, but as time went by I realized how common people like this are in non-professional jobs (of course, there are many people with great work ethics in such jobs too, and often they are considered great employees just for being present, competent, and enthusiastic).

  58. Ann*

    I think one of the biggest factors in getting my first professional job was that I focused on first finding companies that I wanted to work for, then constantly checking their openings. The company that ended up hiring me is a small local publisher that only posts their jobs on their own website, so if I hadn’t known I wanted to work for them, I would never have seen it when they finally posted an entry-level opening for an editorial assistant. In college I earned BAs in English and journalism, did several unpaid internships, worked as an editor on a school publication, and had paid jobs as a resident assistant and a bank teller … then graduated to find that I was too inexperienced for entry level jobs, thanks to the tanked economy. When I finally got my first professional job, I think it was due to a strong resume and cover letter (thanks entirely to Alison’s advice here) and the fact that I was currently working (a job that I despised but that paid well), so I was lucky enough to go into the interview feeling like getting the job would be awesome, but I didn’t absolutely need it. I think that made a big difference in my ability to come across as a strong candidate, because I wasn’t anxious or desperate, just excited about the chance to work for an great company and to finally break into paid editorial work. They also had me do a quick sample assignment, so I finally got a chance to prove that despite being entry-level, I was capable of doing the work. I’ve been here for about 2 1/2 years now, being promoted once, and am so thankful that I’m past looking for that “first job.” It took me a full year of searching, and it was really hard to face that much rejection, feeling like no one would give me a chance even though I’d done everything I could to a good candidate. But for me it was worth the wait; the job I ended up getting was amazing.

  59. Pam*

    Short answer: I highlighted how my previous jobs and skills would transition to my career, I was willing to relocate, and fortunately my samples matched my employers’ interests.

    Long answer: I worked part time as tech support for a small ISP and tutored at the university. Those jobs seemed a natural transition to the technical writing positions I was applying for, and I definitely emphasized the whole “explaining seemingly complex concepts in a simple way” aspect. I also mentioned the need to remain calm even when the people you’re dealing with might not be, because pretty much everyone who calls tech support is already upset; there’s no need to escalate their frustration.

    This experience, coupled with samples I had created for classes, helped land my first technical writing position for a government contractor . They particularly liked my sample diagram of an XBOX 360 controller, which I showed them only after evaluating their personalities. It was a great fit. My only hesitation was moving 8 hours away from home to a new place where I didn’t know anyone. But it was a rewarding experience that taught me I could survive and even enjoy being all on my own.

  60. Christina*

    I happened upon a technical writing co-op position for a big pharmaceutical company while I was still in graduate school. I stayed there just over a year and then was hired as a contractor for the same company. The co-op experience plus my master’s degree set me on the course for getting great jobs. If you like to write for business, consider the industry. It is rapidly changing and always needs fresh perspectives.

    1. Lulu*

      I’d considered trying to get into technical writing, but most of the job postings in the field that I’ve seen around here emphasize the specific technical expertise of their industry over (or equal to) writing skills. Did you come in with a subject-matter background as well?

  61. Patrick*

    I worked throughout college in a work-study position within the Social Work Department, summer jobs and two internships with regional environmental non-profit organizations. When I graduated, I spent 3 months working at a non-profit in St. Louis before returning to my home state. When arriving back home, I worked for a mortgage company in a job obtained via a temporary agency. While working for this company in a position I severely disliked, I pursued personal endeavors to keep myself happy. In doing so, I met a guy on the soccer field who owned a company in a field that I went to college for. It’s now 7 years later and I’m still employed with this company and I’ve never looked back. Part of the reason I was hired for this job was the combination of my work experience and education.

    My advice to anyone looking for a new job is to take what they can from the opportunity at hand because you never know when it’ll help you in the future. Also, networking is absolutely the best way to find a job. Always make a good first impression whether in casual or professional settings.

  62. Ali*

    I worked in on-campus offices throughout college (Honors/undergrad research offices and the undergrad office in the College of Music). In grad school I had an internship and a separate assistantship my first year that I gave up because I was offered a 1/2 time job at the university’s arts festival where I had been I interned at for my 2nd year. In my 2nd year of my masters, I did a directed individual study on arts organization education programs and was lucky to have a lenient boss who let me restructure the festival’s ed program and implement an evaluation process. I think that experience more than anything helped me get a few interviews and eventually my current job at an arts nonprofit.
    (2009/2011 grad)

  63. Diane*

    In college, I tutored and loved it so much that I switched my major and got a master’s in English. I taught part time in grad school, and then created a patchwork of part-time teaching, tutoring, and assessment jobs at four different colleges at once. When I really really couldn’t stand all the part-time work, I took a full-time job with a university that trained me in the specifics of grants and fundraising. That led me to more specialized and challenging grant work in higher education.

  64. Jennifer*

    In my case, it’s always boiled down to being at the right place at the right time when someone was leaving.

    First employer: I had an internship my junior year of college, then got asked to work part time after that during summer/senior year. I then officially went “full time” for about four months–and then got laid off because I was the lowest on the totem pole.

    Second one: I got hired in a temporary position from February-June. Then one of the two regulars in the job was leaving to go to law school, so they opened up a permanent slot, I applied and got it. I’ve worked in the same office ever since. I’ve gotten upped in my levels a few times. I worked a few temp stints in other departments in addition to my job for 2-3 months at a time. After the last temp stint, I got told that they’d probably eliminate my current position, but I impressed folks so much in temp stint #3 that they’d like to move me into another section because they were moving people around.

    As far as I can tell, that’s how you do it!

  65. Marie*

    My first vaguely professional job (typist, straight out of high school), I got through my CV, which said “Relevant experience: none. However, I got an A for English in high school and I can type 60wpm with 98% accuracy.” The manager liked that I was not ashamed of having only ever waitressed, and hired me. I ended up working there for 3 years during university holidays.

    My first career-track job, I started sending out my CV 2 years before finishing law school, looking for internships (which are basically the way you get a decent law job in my country – it’s like a two-week, paid interview) with the bigger firms. I found there was a large element of chance to getting called for an interview: one firm printed out my CV in order to mail it back to me along with a covering letter saying that they don’t want me or my CV. Another firm offered me an internship the very next day, but didn’t hire me. My actual employer took months to call me for an interview. After my interview, they offered me a permanent position the next morning (without an internship). I accepted the offer more than a year before finishing law school, so I started immediately after graduating.

  66. Just a Reader*

    Despite having a kickass 2-year internship in my desired field (PR), I couldn’t find a PR job.

    So I took a crap job that led to a 5-year run of crap jobs. First job: admin in an abusive workplace. Second job: bait and switch…was hired for marketing, treated as admin in a crappy workplace. Third and fourth jobs were better: content creation and research in a sweatshop environment.

    Fifth job: finally made the leap into PR. Pro: real PR work for household brands. Con: 5-person office owned by husband and wife. HORRIBLE ENVIRONMENT WORKING FOR HORRIBLE PEOPLE.

    Sixth job: 8-year tenure at a leading PR agency.

    Current job: holy grail of corporate PR for a Fortune 500 company.

    Looking back, I should have vetted my early workplaces better for culture and opportunity, but I’m very careful about it now and it has paid off.

    1. Anonymous*

      One thing I learned too: be very very careful about tiny companies, particularly when 2 or more members are related! You will be much more at the mercy of personalities, and if they’re at all difficult…

  67. Susan*

    The University of Cincinnati required 6 co-ops (like paid internships) over the course of a 5-year program for all majors in the School of Design. By the time I graduated I had 1.5 years of real world experience in my field AND awesome references from all of the places I had co-oped.

  68. Victoria (The OP)*

    You know what surprises me? So far, nobody has talked about AmeriCorps, Teach for America, or other structured term-of-service gigs.

    I’ve managed AmeriCorps members and worked closely with several large AmeriCorps programs (City Year, etc.), and my experience is that sharp AmeriCorps members have a real leg up in getting hired into related roles. Members in large programs have large networks that they can leverage; members placed with small organizations often get the opportunity to take on roles and projects that are usually way beyond the scope of entry-level jobs.

    I currently work with a lot of Teach for America alumni, and the power of that name (and the network that comes with it) cannot be underestimated. Even (and maybe especially) for those who don’t stay in the classroom, TFA alumni networks are hugely powerful.

    1. GeekChic*

      Well, my first career was in the military but after I was discharged I didn’t use it to get any of my other jobs. My buddies and I network to play games and that’s about it.

      I have managed several AmeriCorps members – some were quite good. Others were…. not.

    2. Laura L*

      I did a program similar to Americorps my first year out of college, but at the end of my term, the organization didn’t have any openings for me (I would have needed a foreign language for the openings they had) and I wasn’t sure I wanted to a related job (I was in fundraising). It works for some people (I know people who were hired on at their placements and then leveraged those jobs into similar jobs), but it depends on a lot of things.

      My other issue was that I wanted to do public policy/advocacy/analysis at a non-profit, but didn’t want to do that right out of school. So, I gained experience at a non-profit, but no experience with what I wanted to do.

      And then I moved home which was 2,000 miles away. So, yeah, I don’t view those things a panacea. :-)

      1. Victoria (The OP)*

        Oh, sure. Of course it’s not a panacea. But it is a route that’s out there that can translate into good jobs. Of course it requires at least a year of poverty wages before you get there!

    3. Kim (Career Advisor)*

      Full-time service programs are the BEST. My story:

      I completed 5 unpaid internships during and after my one-year graduate program in the humanities (during which it dawned on me that, no, I would prefer *not* to contribute to an incredibly erudite body of work already in existence about Virginia Woolf and feminism). When I realized book publishing wasn’t the wonderland I imagined it to be, I looked to the nonprofit sector.

      I did one year with AmeriCorps*VISTA; it was the best decision I ever made. It allowed me to relocate across the country, gain excellent experience in a new industry, and meet other young professionals trying to find their way in the working world.

      After discovering what I loved (and didn’t love) about nonprofit work during VISTA, I relocated across the country again and sought a position in higher ed working with students (all through online job boards; I did my due diligence with networking but it was an online application–gasp–that got me my current position).

      I know AAM is, in general, down on career advisors (my current position at a large state university in Texas), but it’s what I do, and I like to think I’m damn good at it. :)

      My service directly contributed to my getting a position; my current boss had a VISTA at her old position and loved both my commitment to service and my robust professional skill set (due almost entirely to my nonprofit experience).

      Also, my girlfriend is currently doing Teach for America and, while challenging for her, it was a great professional decision and is only helping to hone her skills and contribute to her professional exploration.


    4. Cheryl*

      I did TfA. Right after college graduation, while my friends were relaxing and partying and traveling, I jumped right into the classroom. I didn’t have a social life for 2 years. It was a huge amount of responsibility and many of my cohort did not complete the 2 years. It definitely takes a certain kind of Type A personality. I did get a great job immediately afterwards, though, working for a fantastic social service agency in a location I loved. I think it is a viable path to the work world – but hard as hell and not feasible for everyone.

      1. Cheryl*

        Also, the TfA network is a good resource for the “gathering information” type of networking – but in my experience it has not been helpful in getting jobs outside the teaching field. All of my jobs have come from the way that I’ve presented and leveraged the experience. TfA actually does a decent job helping you out with that.

    5. Amanda*

      I’m a former Peace Corps Volunteer and so far, that work hasn’t helped me get a job back in the US (which has been especially discouraging since I heard for over two years how people are really impressed by Peace Corps, it will lead to a great job, etc…I also truly did not really how awful the recession had gotten since I was out of the country for most of it. Rude awakening, indeed.)

      I find this post very interesting and upon reading it, I think that one of my major problems has been that in bouncing around so much (went to college out of state, moved back to home state after graduation, went abroad, moved to entirely different state where my parents now reside) so I haven’t built up a solid network. One thing I’m getting here is that networking is HUGE is getting a job.

  69. Victoria (The OP)*

    Also surprised we haven’t heard from many folks who did structured fellowships/apprenticeships: e.g. Presidential Management Fellows, Coro Fellows, PPIA Fellowship (uhhh, can you guess my field based on the fellowships I can think of off the top of my head?).

    1. Anon*

      The Student Conservation Association (SCA) has some tremendous longer-term internship opportunities through a partnership with AmeriCorps and a select number of federal agencies. Though I suspected all along I would end up going the consulting route (which I ultimately did), the time I spent working in the field alongside a Forest Service wilderness ranger was absolutely invaluable. If you can string together a series of internships that provide multiple perspectives on a field in which you might be interested, that is a tremendous leg-up.

  70. Jen*

    I majored in journalism and wanted to work in TV journalism. During my last year of college I got a part-time job ripping scripts for a TV station. Hours were terrible. I worked 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. and then went to school afterwards. When I graduated I got a part-time production assistant job at that station. I worked in that job for 3 months and the whole time I looked for a producer job in smaller towns outside of my city. A photographer I became friends with told me about a job at his old station. I applied. I interviewed. I did not get that job.

    However, the News Director was impressed with me and had heard good things from our mutual friend. The News Director called me up and said “Listen, I hired someone who was already producing at a smaller station for the past year. But I was impressed with you. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to call her old station and tell them about you and see if they’d be interested in considering you for her old job.” I said that sounded great and I thanked him. A day later the smaller station called me, I interviewed and was hired.

    So I had to work two kind of crappy part-time jobs to get my full-time job and I honestly think that if my photographer friend hadn’t vouched for me, I wouldn’t have gotten that first interview.

    1. squandra*

      Another TV news producer! Hi, Jen. Me, too. :)

      I got my first job at the station where I interned. One evening they were already short-handed when a story broke that needed to be on the air at 9:00, and they sent me. I made air on a pretty tight deadline, and I think that was my “If that hadn’t happened, who knows?” career moment.

      The next summer I told them I’d come back for pay, so they hired me as a per diem associate producer (which is like a writer). They offered me my first “real” gig a couple of months later, as a part-time AP — also 4:00 to 9:00 a.m. before the commute to class! A full-time producing spot opened up about six months after that, and I got the job.

      1. Jen*

        Always good to meet another producer! (Although I did move into PR eventually). I feel like it wasn’t necessarily easy to become a producer but it was easier than if I had wanted to be on-camera. I don’t know about you but it seemed like every other person in my program at school wanted to be on-camera so most professionals at my job were pleasantly surprised that I was happy being behind the camera.

        But those 4-9 a.m. gigs are killer, aren’t they!

  71. AP*

    I work in a field that is impossibly competitive to get a decent job in. Here’s how I did it…

    I had a paid internship in college, which I got because a friend had had the job and she was going on study abroad and she referred me (we had worked together at the student newspaper so she knew I would be a good fit.) Thanks to that internship I realized I no longer wanted to pursue that field and took several unpaid internships where I wanted to be (I could afford to do that because the previous one had paid well. Pre-2008!)

    After I graduated I took many short-term contract positions and it was miserable, I hated it, I was barely getting paid and wasn’t learning anything to grow further. So I changed tacks and started applying for receptionist jobs at the types of companies I really wanted to work for. After a few (4? 5?) interviews I got an offer from a great company It helped that they were looking for someone exactly like me and I was willing to work for bare-bones pay and no benefits (I was pretty used to that from freelancing already.) Luckily the company turned out to be an amazing group of people that I got along with well, turned a few of my supervisors into mentors who taught me how to do their jobs, and 5 years later I have the job that’s right for me right now and is growing into the job I want for the future. And I make a living wage now, but that took awhile!

    Honestly though, I love my job but I’m still worried about the long-term prospects, and where the next job will come from when I outgrow this one.

    1. AP*

      I should mention, since people did above, that I got that first receptionist position through an awesome cover letter. No connections or networking, although I have also seen those used to great effect.

  72. CC*

    I got my first career-track job through a contracting company. This was while I was still in grad school. I went through the application process, a couple of phone interviews, etc. I ended up not taking that one because it required relocation, though, but the offer was made. I applied locally and got the first job I applied for.

    I work in the health care field, however, so I know it varies because of high demand.

    1. CC*

      That being said, getting hired was easier for me because I am bilingual. Whatever the most common second language is in your area, if you are a health care provider and you speak it fluently, you can increase your value and negotiate better salary. A lot of postings are now specifically requiring Bilingual XYZ for certain areas because of the demand, and salary can go up by 5-10K/yr if you meet the requirements.

  73. Adam V*

    My father was changing jobs around the same time I graduated college, and he was subscribed to several lists that sent out periodic emails based on the fields you were interested in. He added “software development” to his interests, and a few weeks later he forwarded me an email asking for entry-level developers at a company not too far away. I went in and took their personality tests, then met with my future manager for about 20 minutes where he asked about specific technologies I did/didn’t have experience with, and told me about what sorts of software they wrote. I walked out thinking I didn’t have a chance because he didn’t talk that much – turns out, that’s just how he was. A month later I started there.

  74. whitney*

    I did the post-college travel thing for a while and when I moved back to hometown with the goal of finding a job, buying a house, and getting involved in the local community, I started volunteering. I found grassroots organizations working in a specific neighborhood and sought out opportunities to help. I became friends with other volunteers and staff, went to events/activities they told me about, and eventually met the woman who connected me to my first job on a political campaign. A few short months after that I started my career in the legislative branch of local governments.

    re: something Victoria (The OP) said above — I have worked with dozens of Americorps volunteers over the past seven years, and I have seen many of them go on to full-time positions with the organizations they served. It’s a great way to learn job skills and to network.

  75. Anonymous*

    I’m a librarian. I got my first experience as a student aide in high school. I was able to get a job shelving books at the public library near my college. I then was able to move up to the customer service desk when a job was open. My boss then promoted me to the information desk when the part-time children’s librarian started. I went and got my master’s degree and found a full-time job as a children’s librarian when I graduated.

  76. Kiribitz*

    Somehow I landed a paid internship in college in a temp agency office with only some prior retail experience to my name. About a month in, the receptionist was fired after one too many liquid lunches & since I was there for X hours per week, I was delegated to pick up the slack. Luckily I had already spent some time shadowing her so I had a general idea of what needed to be done and how. Thanks to that experience I was able to land a job after graduation as maternity leave fill-in person to a real estate association. When that receptionist resigned & her replacement didn’t bother to show up after a couple of weeks, I put together a duties book based on what the original receptionist had shown me before she left. That effort got me big praise from at least one of the higher ups & was used for at least several years after (the higher up was one of my references & continued to mention it when I checked in with her).

    I left there after a couple of months for a “real” job with long-term prospects where I found out later I was actually the 2nd choice. So I really got that job thanks to someone else being pickier than I was at the time. It was in that job that I finally started to figure out what I wanted to do and enjoyed doing, so when I left there it was after a much more targeted search for a job I really enjoyed instead of endured.

    1. Kiribitz*

      I also want to mention that during a later interview (the interviewer and I agreed that I was not actually right for the position) I was handed a gem of an observation about my work and personal history which gave me an incredibly strong addition to my cover letter for the job I eventually did land from that job search.

      You just never know where help is going to come from – it may not be a job offer but it may lead to an even better position if used correctly.

  77. Maureen*

    A semester away from graduating, I realized if I pursued my dream of becoming a top editor at a major publication I would spend 10 years living out of my parent’s basement working the evening shift at Starbucks and freelancing for newspapers and magazines that now have 1/3 the staff and circulation they did when I began college.

    Instead, I joined an AmeriCorps program called City Year and dedicated 2 years my life to national service, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. I traveled across the country to serve as a tutor, mentor and role model to low-income students with the goal of increasing the high school graduation rate. Not only did I meet incredible people and get to make an impact in the lives of youths, but I was given a living stipend, a $5,000 education award for each year I served, amazing professional development and access to a network of contacts that will help me for the rest of my career.

    Through this experience, I realized I was passionate about nonprofit development and could use my writing talents and skills for grant proposals and marketing collateral. I now write grants, plan events and run a program at a regional Museum, thanks to contacts I made through City Year. I am also Chair of the local chapter of the City Year Alumni Board. National service is where it’s at!

  78. KarmaKicks*

    I started work in seasonal retail, but landed my first full-time job through my then boyfriend’s mother. She worked for a contractor in a medical clinic and they needed a front desk receptionist. I worked my way up from receptionist to admin assistant, then moved to the corporate office before the contract ended. I’ve moved through the company’s various departments and finally landed as an admin coordinator/recruiter/travel queen…heck, I’ve got so many hats I don’t think my job title encompasses all of them. Today marks my 16th year. I keep telling my husband I’m retiring at 20 years…he just laughs :) What I really want to do is go back into retail for a small shop selling antiques and books, but since that won’t pay the bills…here I am!

    My son is 18 and started work in the same retail arena I did, but he only last two weeks before he decided that theme parks were not his passion. Our next door neighbor worked for a schooner on the river near by and told him to apply there. So, for the past two summers he was a deckhand and loved it. He’s now going to school in Maine (too many miles away) for the very job he loves. He’s made so many friends and network contacts that I don’t think there’s going to be a problem getting a job when he graduates.

  79. RAD*

    The short version is that I got the initial job through a friend. No application, no resume, no interview.

    The longer version went like this: “when can you start?” and I started that afternoon. Worked for them pt for 2 years while finishing school & they offered me a ft salary position that i started 2 weeks after graduation. I accepted. Two years after that (a month ago), I left the job & relocated to pursue my true career dreams in larger city. :))

  80. Ashely*

    I worked all through college in retail, and when I graduated, they promoted me to Assistant Manager. Although it wasn’t what I wanted, it was good experience and helped me get a more “professional” job in banking, although still on the retail side. Once I worked at the bank for a few years, there was an position open for the CEO’s assistant. I knew it was a stretch for me, but I applied anyway, and made such an impression that when they decided to go a different direction with the position, they asked me to interview for a newly open HR position. I got that one, and have been here ever since!

    But, I never would have been prepared for that interview, or gotten this job, if I hadn’t prepared myself while I was still in retail. When I was in retail at the Bank, I sat down with my supervisor and asked her what I needed to do to get into HR. She gave me some training to take and set me on that course. I offered to help in the department if anything ever came up and made it known that was where I wanted to be.

    One thing that really made an impression on me was when I first started at the Bank, the HR Director said in our orientation “Find the person whose job you want and tell them ‘I want your job. What do I need to do to get it?'” You are the only person who can make what you want a reality, and you can’t be quiet about what you want. Figure out what you want, go to the expert, and do what you need to do so that when an opportunity comes up, you’re prepared for it and can say “This is what I’ve been doing to be great at this job.”

    One other thing I will say is that you have to work your way up. I see a lot of young people quit after a year because they haven’t gotten promoted yet. It takes time and a lot of hard work to move up, but you have to put in your time at the ground level.

  81. Jo*

    I’d worked as a Caregiver throughout university. When I graduated there was a business manager vacancy at the Rest Home I had done the most work at. I pitched my skills to the owner (who I had got to know quite well) and said that I would do the work for a Caregivers salary (about a third of the normal salary) if she would give me a chance in Business Manager role. She took a risk and it paid off for both of us.

      1. Anonymous*

        I did get a bonus – but even better – that role springboarded my career. It’s only been eight years and I am already in a senior management role.

  82. JillianJigs*

    During school, I worked as a child and youth care worker (group homes) and as a respite worker for children with autism. My education level (completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work including child development and psych courses) got me those jobs as well as similar volunteer experience.

    Those jobs allowed me to get a semi professional job right out of school (before I convoked) as a case manager at Big Brothers Big Sisters. I say semi professional because I used very little of my Social Work degree in that position. This however turned into being a stepping stone to working for child protection in a provincial/state department- doubling my salary from 31k to 62k with 6 months experience.

    All the little things along the way add up. My ‘soft’ skills were developed through customer service and volunteer opportunities and my technical skills came from field practicuums and employment opportunities as a student.
    That being said, I hate my job and I’m currently looking for a job in a nonprofit setting :) The child protection and direct service experience will be a huge asset in that regard.

  83. Anonymous*

    I majored in Sociology. I worked in the alumni relations department calling for donations (6 hours a week, 3 if i called out). Since I had phone experience I worked during the summers at a univeristy for health studies conducting phone interviews. When I graduated 4 years ago, I couldn’t find a job, my univeristy summer job was also cut. I started working at a call center that handled tuition and processed student loans. After 3 years I transitioned into a role at the bursar’s office of a local college where I now handle mainly all of the scholarship and 3rd party billing, and help out with everything else that needs help: phones, email, in person, answering questions, figuring out who can answer the questions, etc.
    I didn’t see this as my initial path, but I have a great job that I love, coworkers that are awesome, and job security like whoa. I can even go to school for free.

  84. Sydney*

    It was really interesting to read all of these comments. I’m going to throw my story into the ring.

    I worked part time retail and fast food jobs throughout high school. I got a job at a call center (very easy to get, they had such high turnover) spring before high school graduation and I worked there until I moved for college.

    I got a work-from-home CSR position at TeleTech (if anyone is looking for CSR at home positions, they are great) and spent about two years there.

    Then I found a couple internships through my university. One was only for a summer and wasn’t a very good experience, but the other two were great. I worked for an RV dealership doing their website for about two years (self-taught web designer since I was 10 years old). Then I applied for a blogging internship that turned into a full-time position, where I still am. This job has been great and I’ve learned way more here than I have in most of my business classes.

  85. Erica B*

    I am coming up to my 9th year (in Jan) at my job. When I was an undergrad, I majored in Communication (because I waned to work in television) I landed a work study job thanks to my (now) husband in microbiology doing general lab work that progressed into helping with actual research. I worked there for a couple years, but got tired of it, and worked at a family run deli/grocery store for a couple years and left when I had my first son. My husband was still working in micro and one of the post-docs’ boyfriend had a part-time position opening up in environmental engineering at his lab and they needed somebody to drive around the state and test water. it was 2-3 days a week, salary, no benefits- and I could set the schedule. I knew everyone involved, so I got the job with no real interview, and have been here since. My position has since been increased to full-time with benefits, and my job now includes many more responsibilities.
    While this isn’t my dream job, I am thankful I found it because it has allowed me to be flexible with my kids’ schedule. If/when I ever land a different job I am not sure how I would adjust to a more rigid time schedule. I’m lucky!

  86. Stacie*

    I worked as an HR intern at a company over the summer before my senior year of college (I was a Marketing major with a minor in HR, couldn’t decide what I wanted to do). I graduated in December, and they had me come back as an intern until I could find a full time job. Then they had a job open up in their Marketing/BD department which I got less than 2 weeks after coming back to work as an intern, despite not meeting their experience requirements. But they liked me enough they wanted to keep me in the company.

    Unfortunately, only 8 months later I was laid off with almost my whole department. I found another (not great) job quickly but still looked around. Then my co-worker from my 1st company (who had left voluntarily after the layoffs) ended up convincing her current company to open a job req basically for me – I was the only one interviewed. Now I’ve been at a fantastic company for 7 months and am already up for a promotion within the next couple of months.

  87. saro*

    My senior year in college, I interned with a non-profit as part of a ‘Women & Leadership Program.’ they had a job opening and I applied and got the job. I recommend students doing as many internships as possible in undergrad and graduate school – made a difference for me.

  88. k.m.*

    My first job out of college was working in a call center. I was hired out of 500 applicants because the manager’s favorite bands were on the record label I interned for in college. At my interview, we talked for 2 minutes about the job and 10 minutes about the record label before he offered me the job on the spot.

    I got my first career-track internship, at a media company, without any real experience in media. I spent 3 months writing a blog that dealt with the topics they covered before applying.

    I got my foot in the door at my first “real” job in journalism because of a combination of writing talent, and a previous internship at my manager’s favorite publication. It also helped that the college I attended was very unconventional, and my manager had wanted to go there but his parents thought it was too weird.

    I suppose, then, that a lot of it comes down to other people’s distorted sense of how “cool” I am. (I’m not, I promise.) Every hiring manager I’ve ever interviewed with has mentioned that they’ve loved one of the record labels or publications I interned/worked for, or that they knew people who went to my alma mater and it seemed like such a neat school.

  89. JT*

    My stories are from the 1980s so probably not so relevant nowadays, but…

    In a way my first career-related job was a paid internship that came about through my high school. I went to a very demanding public high school in which we’d learned enough to have a state diploma by the end of 11th grade. Twelfth grade was called “inter-collegiate year” and most kids only took 2 or 3 classes a day, all in the morning. We got jobs or internships in the afternoon. I think the vice principal helped find organizations to work at. This was in the 1980s. Sadly, this program is no more – the kids in my school take a full load of classes in senior year.

    My internship was in a marine engineering firm as a general office boy – running errands, helping with simple tasks like re-organizing the library, and assembling documents. Great experience for a high school kid plus I got a paycheck! Wore a tie every day! Went to the World Trade Center every day! Interacted with adults on stuff that mattered to them. But that ended up not being MY career – I came to the conclusion that engineering was not for me based in part on what I saw there. I also did research work for a side project for someone from that company too – for a guide for travel agents called the Package Tours Index. But that wasn’t my career either.

    My first job that led to my current career in international development was teaching English in China. I’m not a teacher, but that international experience helped me get into grad school in international relations and that led to an internship at an international NGO.

    To get that teaching job, I simply went to the Chinese consulate in my city and asked about teaching in China. They gave me a list of English/foreign language departments at about 20 major universities and I think I wrote to all of them. I think I sent a letter plus a simple resume (which I wish I had copies of now). Got a few rejections and then a positive reply from one. So I went. That is to say, I got the job totally by postal mail, though I think I made a phone call or telegram about my arrival in China.

    This was in the late 1980s and Americans in China were rare. My boss in China later told me that my BA from a world-famous university helped me get the job, as well as that I had lived in China for a summer studying Chinese language. While I was not to use any Chinese in class, he felt my been in China previously and knowing some Chinese meant that I was serious and could adapt to living there. He didn’t want to worry I’d get sick of it and leave early, as some of his previous foreign teachers had. He was right.

    The teaching job wasn’t right out of college; rather I tried to get some white collar jobs unsuccessfully while a senior on college, then ended up working in a small factory for about five months and then as a messenger for four or five months.

    Also, for three or four summers late in high school and in college I worked in a commercial laundry packaging up clothes and keeping track of what was what. The factory, messenger and laundry jobs taught me about being reliable and working hard. But they didn’t actually help get career-related work.

  90. Christina*

    I was an English major with lots of retail experience but not much “office” background, and two semesters as an editor/writer of the college newspaper my senior year. I applied for an asst. editor/writer job at a private high school, the interviewer (my boss) seemed really nice, I gave her clippings from the articles I had written and used my newspaper boss as a reference (he was also a student, but also my only “supervisor” there) as well as a few managers from retail. The position was new (it was a one-person comm team consisting of just her, she was getting too busy and wanted help), and she hired me.

    The problem was that, having not had much experience, I was a bit out of my depth and she was too busy to help. She also left for 2 weeks on a business trip to China within a month of my starting and left me with an entire publication to finish writing, edit, and proof before she got back. Needless to say, it wasn’t complete, she didn’t like my writing style (I did get a summer semester of journalism classes paid for), and I was just flailing. I went home crying more days than I care to remember and felt sick on the drive to work about as often. I tried everything to meet her expectations.

    One Friday, there was an opening of school party for staff and administration, and another on Saturday. I was trying to be social, connect with her and some of the other administrators, but she wouldn’t talk to me, introduce me to others, or even make eye contact. I should have known. Monday I got in and couldn’t log into my email. Called IT and they “fixed” it, I (wisely) copied any files I wanted to keep for my portfolio, and then she called my into her office with her boss and our one HR rep and fired me. She asked “When I hired you, I bet those were your only articles you had written, weren’t they?” I said yes, I never implied otherwise. She also asked about my newspaper supervisor, it came out that he was also a student (I never implied otherwise there either, I thought she would have figured that out), and she implied I was in the wrong for listing him, I should have put down the “adult” in charge of the newspaper even though I had never met her.

    Three months at my first job and fired, I spent a week feeling awful for myself, then got a temp admin job, to a full time gig, to a great university position, and I’ve been working in communications for 4 years now and my colleagues say I’m the best writer on the team. So poo on her.

  91. Blinx*

    I’m a graphic designer. I landed my first real job a month out of college by answering an ad. I was beyond thrilled to get $5/hr for inking flow charts and doing some graphic design for an engineering firm. Entry level jobs at that time were mostly paste-up (pre-computer days), and I wasn’t that good at it. But this job afforded me a shared apartment, a used car/insurance, and independence! Since then I’ve always sought out more creative positions, and learned many different design programs on the job, as technology changed.

    What helped in college? Temping during all my breaks in an office environment (got some good references from these jobs). Worked all during college at the dorm desk or library desk. I interned at a photography studio (my minor), but decided not to pursue that career. I took a class for graduating seniors on creating and developing your portfolio. I also took advantage of some overnight class trips to NYC, where we presented our portfolios to art directors for constructive criticism.

  92. Blargh*

    I worked in college (well, unpaid) with the sports teams as an athletic trainer for 3 years. I quit that my senior year (too much work for a full-time student to be literally paying to work, we were treated poorly by coaches, and I realized I didn’t even like the work, lol) and had to make up for classes I dropped by taking an internship — I found my own at a children’s hospital medical library. (So great! I was treated like a real person, and they liked what I did. Rather than being a grunt at a gym, like my advisor suggested, ugh.)

    Then I went to grad school to become a librarian. I didn’t realize (stupid me) that you could actually get work study jobs IN the campus libraries, so I took a desk job in one of the divisions of the humanities my first year. It turned out that division was responsible for running a rare books library off-campus, and my second year the library needed a student worker to do some archival work. I had gone on vacation while most campus jobs were hiring (oops) but this one came up in December, so I got lucky! It was the best job opportunity I’ve had, so valuable and a great place!

    I kept volunteering/working there after graduation (same work, but fewer hours and no pay — it sort of rankles me when people try to say that ALL volunteering isn’t the same as “real” work) for about a year while I job hunted.

    Then, I got a 6 month temp job as a high school registrar (because of my records management experience from school), then kept job hunting for another 9 months until I -finally- got my first ~*real*~ (in my field) job as an archivist.

    This job is temporary, but… I know it won’t be quite as hard to get to my next job as it was to get this first job. Even though it’s been rough, I’m happy with the places I’ve been and jobs I’ve done so far. :) I totally understand the frustration when it feels like people aren’t looking at your potential, but it just takes time.

  93. Kat M*

    I got offered my copywriting job, without ever applying, because of the very niche blog I’d been writing for a year and a half.

    If I were a college graduate, I probably would have done things more traditionally, with networking, internships, etc. As it was, I just started writing, which got me noticed by the right people.

  94. Ivan*

    I just graduated this past May and am planning on getting my Masters in Library Science and becoming a librarian later on down the line.

    I worked part time at a joint academic and public library all through college. My last year I was a nervous wreck trying to find a full time job. I applied to dozens of paraprofessional library jobs with no luck save a couple of interviews that I never heard back from. I had applied for an internship through an organization that places interns at different government agencies in Washington DC the year prior but had never heard anything back. Out of nowhere the Library of Congress called me to set up a phone interview the next day and by the end of the week I had been offered a summer internship. This was in mid April. Then in May an academic library in northern California contacted me to interview for a full time position which sounded like an amazing fit. It just so happened that the only day I could do the interview from their time slots was the day before I was to fly out to DC.

    I almost didn’t go as I assumed that even if the interview went well there’s no way they would hold a position for 3 months. I decided to interview anyway as I could use the practice and was really really interested in the job. The interview went great. I didn’t tell them about the internship because I didn’t want that to be the reason for their decision. I would rather be offered it and then told they couldn’t hold the position for me. So at least that way I’d know if I was “good enough.”

    On my way home from my first day at the Library of Congress, the academic library called me to offer me the position. I told them I would love to accept but was currently interning in DC at the LOC and wouldn’t be back in California until late August. She said it would not be a problem and that they’d be able to defer the start date.

    This is where I work at now and couldn’t be happier!! It’s crazy how things worked out.

  95. Kailyn*

    I worked through high school as a lifeguard teaching swim lessons. I worked in college as a resident advisor and one summer as a administrative assistant. All these jobs gave me good examples of managing conflicts, creating plans to get things done, and having accomplished my goals (whether it was getting kids to swim or putting on an event).

    I got lucky with my first job out of college. The company I joined looked very much at potential as opposed to experience in the specfic field. Most people I worked with had no background or experience related to what we did though. When I accepted that job, I had no idea it was going to turn into my career path. It’s crazy where things can lead.

  96. Anonymous*

    If sticking around a university for so long as you can scrounge a living doesn’t count as a job…. I got my first job because my supervisor and I had been experimenting with some new computer technology. That in turn was because we realised that the “failure” mode would result in us being left with a really good machine for playing Quake IV/Doom III/Counterstrike etc. A non-profit wanted someone who could work with that technology, and I was available at the right time. When that non-profit managed to lose over $1B in 2008, they placed me with another one. And just about the time I was realising that advancement in that non-profit would require a greater predilection for torturing rats that I possessed, I got recruited via LinkedIn.

  97. Jesicka309*

    I broke all the rules to get my first on track job.
    As part of my media communications degree we needed to do 80 hours unpaid interning in a field we wanted to get into.
    I was volunteering at our local football club (interchange steward) when my mother dragged me into the club rooms. The local newsreader was doing a speech at their luncheon and she wanted me to “network”. It involved me standing there blushing as my mum and dad told the news reader how intelligent and capable I was. I think he was a bit mollified, but said to email the contact who set up his speech gig at the club. I did this, explaining my Uni situation and how I came to get her email.
    I got no response, and wrote it off as another failed attempt. A few months later, desperate and approaching holidays (the only time I could intern) I emailed her again.
    She rang back that afternoon. She was the head of publicity, and wanted me to do an internship. I realised that she mixed me up with another girl my age who helped them on a different local football project. In our interview, I did correct her, but during the internship and subsequent job as marketing assistant, she still introduced me as the girl who was so awesome at the footy clinic we ran.
    I gave up trying to correct her in the end.

  98. Laura L*

    One thing that’s standing out to me about these stories is HOW people got their jobs through networking. Several people (including me) got their jobs from casual connections (e.g. friend, acquaintance, soccer player, etc.) rather than through formal networking. You don’t necessarily need to go to networking events or make connections with strangers on LinkedIn. You just need to meet a variety of people, talk about what you do, and stay on good terms with them.

    It can be really casual. I got my first EVER job as a mother’s helper because a family on my block that was friends with my family had a child and their other two kids weren’t quite old enough to take care of her. But I was! She and my mom talked and my mom talked to me about it and I was interested, so they hired me. It led to a long, illustrious career as a babysitter.

    I know that doesn’t seem like networking, but if my parents hadn’t made an effort to get to know the families on our block, my neighbors wouldn’t have know they could trust me to watch their kid.

    1. Laura L*

      Oops, this is long and rambly. Also, in that last sentence I mean “known” not “know.” This is what I get for posting at the end of the day.

  99. Erin*

    I got my first job as a reporter for a Spanish-language version of our local newspaper. Journalism wasn’t something I’d ever considered as a career path, but I was good at Spanish (my major) and liked to write. So when my college advisor told me about the position, I sent in my resume and a cover letter. I was interviewed and hired the same day I sent my resume in, which, incidentally, was the same day I heard about the job. Crazy!
    I did it for a couple of years, but it became increasingly clear that I was a little bit terrible at meeting deadlines and actually going out to talk to people (I hate talking to strangers), so I lined up a new job as a Spanish teacher and have been doing that ever since.

  100. EM*

    I am lucky enough to have parents who were able to pay for my college education (at a state school). I did not work during school semesters, but I did work every summer in college. I majored in biology, and I was able to find jobs related to my major. I worked in a hospital lab doing random lab tasks one summer, I’ve been a research assistant for several professors, and I had an internship between my 2 years of grad school. The internship was really what got me my first job out of grad school, as I had worked on an area of environmental industrial compliance that not many people have experience with.

    Really, it behooves college students to become known with the professors in their major department. That’s how I got my research assistant jobs, which laid the foundation for getting my internship. I literally walked around the bio department during spring break handing out resumes saying I was looking for a summer job.

    Just the other day I got a resume from a young lady wanting to enter my field. All of the jobs she listed were in retail, which doesn’t translate a whole lot to the environmental business where entry-level people start out doing crappy fieldwork. The advice I gave her was to start attending industry association meetings and try to meet people in the industry. I honestly can’t imagine looking for a job now with no prior experience.

  101. Ferg*

    When I was in high school, I was part of a sailing team. As part of this I got a job at the local sailing shop, so I could have a budget to run around the area to different regattas. The shop was a combined sailing camping store.

    During my undergrad, I had an icome working at local camping stores, thinking that I a) loved the product and industry, and b) would be better suited to getting the job.

    Immediately after leaving University, I went traveling through europe visiting relatives. I saw a posting on the website of a favourite company of mine, for an account management position dealing with european accounts.

    Combined with some language skills I had, my 6 years in the industry and being able to demonstrate an understanding of the european business, I got the job.

    Since then, it’s been a linear progression up, largely due to the expanding company, and some perseverance on my part. I now manage all B2B account management for the company worldwide.

    My advice is to join the workforce as early as possible. Education is not just in classrooms.

  102. anonymous*

    I worked throughout college full time as a server in a restaurant. Not always on the same career track- but it paid enough to be attractive. I was in school for H0spitality so it was actually great experience for me.

    During college I also worked (for college credits) as a TA for some of my professors. One of those professors whose class I volunteered to TA was the Dean of the program and had a lot of connections with companies in our area. He suggested me for an entry level job opening at the largest hospitality company and set me up with an interview for the position based on my coursework and assistance I was able to provide as a TA. This internship led to a full time offer after graduation and I have held 3 positions with the company since, and am still here 8 years post graduation. I know lots of students from my program who were able to get great jobs through similar circumstances.

    College students – never underestimate your professors and their outside connections! Do good course work, get involved in student activities, attend alumni events, and ask them about potential job openings they know of. No teacher is going to stick their neck out for the slacker in the back row who does the bare minimum.

  103. Piper*

    I’m a user experience architect/content strategist. I started my career in marketing and communications, and I’ve progressed from there.

    The job market was tough when I graduated, despite my having graduated with three internships, a solid portfolio of real-world experience, a national marketing award, and a related degree. It still took me more than 2 years to find a job in my field. In the interim I worked in retail management and temping. I also picked up freelance gigs wherever I could.

    Finally, I landed a job, and to be quite honest, it did require that the hiring manager “take a chance” on me. It was a really good job, considering it was my first job in my field and I was given a lot of autonomy. I’m fairly certain my portfolio presentation (this was before online portfolios took off, so mine was in binder form – but there were no women in my binder, sorry had to go there), cover letter skills, and accomplishment-focused resume got me the job.

    One year into the job, my manager was still patting himself on the back for the good hire and telling me he couldn’t believe no one else had snatched up this “diamond in the rough” before him.

  104. Hannah*

    I went to a school with a very well established co-op program). They place students into their first professional jobs. This lets you get your foot in the door at at least one company in your field, so it’s easy to get a job offer by graduation.

    For people who know they want to start their careers right after graduating, I would recommend schools with co-op programs, and choosing a major where there is a surplus of jobs (at my school there weren’t enough jobs in liberal arts fields for everyone student, but there was 100% placement in technical fields). I literally don’t know anyone from my program who didn’t get a job offer or a grad school acceptance by graduation this past May.

  105. Shackleford Hurtmore*

    Part of my Computer Science degree involved a one year paid placement working in an IT department.
    After University, I took the first job I could get (actually very well paid, and in a related field, but not my preferred career track). One day, I bumped into an old colleague from my placement year. He told me what he was doing, and it was actually my preferred specialisation. Even though it was unrelated to my day job, I had kept current on developments in that field, so he introduced me to his manager, and I got hired direct into a fairly senior position, despite my young age and lack of experience; my old colleague had convinced his manager that I had the core skills, was professional and could learn fast.

    I think the lesson for me was that I made some of my own luck:
    1. I knew what specialisation I wanted to work in – from the first day I discovered the subject, I knew I was “passionate” about it.
    2. I chose to do a “placement year” which in retrospect paid off; it helped me build a real network, gain real world experience for my CV, and opportunities to get experience in my preferred specialisation.
    3. I kept current in that specialisation, even though it wasn’t part of my day to day job.

    All that meant that when the opportunity presented itself, I saw it and reached for it.

  106. AnotherAlison*

    I secured my first mechanical engineering job in November of my senior year. It was pretty easy – the job market was good before the bust, and I had a great gpa and had won some department awards. Back then, that was enough, but a couple things that probably helped and are still applicable today:

    In 9th grade, I attended a women in engineering seminar and one of the talks I attended was by women who worked for the company I ended up at 8 years later, so I was able to back-up my statement about having a long-time interest in engineering and that company in particular.

    Before I was picked for an interview as a college senior, I attended a SWE dinner the evening before the career fair and sat next to a recruiter from that company. By the end of the night, she knew me better than any other candidate. (I also got T-boned and totalled my car and my interview suit going home that night, so I remember all the details.)

    Anyway, while this was before everything was extremely competitive and internships were a must-have, I think a couple things are still important: demonstrate you really want a job or career in a particular field by your actions over a long period of time and make the right connections.

  107. Anonymous*

    At my alma mater, it used to be that you could get them to give you an IT job by cracking their systems. Well, to be precise, you had to successfully crack them multiple times: the first time, they just bought you a drink. The second time, they got you drunk. After the third time, you got the job (they used the same logic LBJ had about Hoover).

  108. Kat*

    My first career-track job was a paid internship, when I was 19 (after one year of a four year civil engineering degree). Internships in this field have to be paid, in Australia.

    It was really competitive to intern at a ‘good’ company, and in convenient locations (i.e. the city where I studied, or any city at all). But my work was in a tiny little rural council, where there was no competition for work because nobody wanted to move there for the summer! I was prepared to live at the caravan park if needed, but I was fortunate to have family who let me stay there.

    My suggestion is to accept some inconvenience to get your foot in the door… a year after graduating, my company offered to shift me to NZ – not my first choice of location either, but I’ve had career opportunities here that would not exist at home.

  109. J.*

    I’ll join in with the previous journalism folks. In college I was active on the student newspaper — I wrote, copy edited, shot photos and was selected executive editor my senior year.

    I also interned during a semester and freelanced with a local newspaper in my hometown during breaks. I wish I had interned more (and done a PR internship, too!) or freelanced more, to make more money and expand my network, but it worked out. I also diversified my coursework and took broadcast tv and radio classes, which more or less stood out to the editor who ended up hiring me for my first journalism job.

    For aspiring media-types, frequently it’s all about your clips (or reel, if you’re in TV) and you establish that in college…so it’s really important to produce some solid work.

  110. Lisa*

    I went from working as a cashier at Petco to working as a full-time fundraiser for a nonprofit to a temp gig for a new social media site to a full-time social media marketing job in one year (2007).

    What helped:

    1. Writing skills. I can’t emphasize enough how much employers appreciate young people who can write. There are numerous publishing options online with which you can build up a portfolio rapidly. I community-manage one of them now and have had multiple publishers thank us for helping them build a portfolio that resulted in a job offer. Even if you’re not applying for writing jobs, learn to write well.

    2. I applied for jobs I didn’t want. I also got my second career track job that way. There’s no harm in going to an interview just because you’re curious about the employer. If they invite you to interview, they’re curious about you, too. The first time, I was offered significantly more than the advertised salary for the job (my first career job) — my first actual SALARY, and an amount which made the 40 mile commute feasible for me, when the advertised hourly rate wouldn’t have. The second time, I had a pleasant interview and admitted I wasn’t as interested in the position as I’d hoped. A year later, they called and offered me a different, much more compelling job with no followup interview. Be personable, polite, honest, and interesting, and you never know which connection might someday work for you.

    3. A core skill that relates to multiple specific positions. Mine is communication, especially written communication. When I don’t know how to sell someone on what I can do, I go back to how that core skill can apply to what I want to do. Find your core skill. What can you do better than other candidates with your qualifications, and why? How can you emphasize that to potential employers? I’ve leveraged my talent for written communications to do marketing, social media management, community management, journalism, PR, corporate communications, fundraising, and sales support.

    1. Pam*

      “There are numerous publishing options online with which you can build up a portfolio rapidly.”

      Could you elaborate? My husband is a high school English teacher and is always searching for ways to make writing more relevant to his students.

      1. Lisa*

        Hmm, for high school students that’s a little bit more challenging, because some Web publishing platforms (including the one I work for) don’t accept minors. However, there are still lots of ways to put your writing skills on display online, including something as simple as creating a professional blog.

        I’ve shown several friends how to create a simple page which then pulls in their blog posts on Tumblr, their LinkedIn resume and updates, Flickr photos, and whatever else they want to bring into that central feed. I think that project could work for showing high school students how to showcase their writing skills to an employer. Have them create a page (free) as a hub for themselves, then add a blog where they make several well-written posts on a topic relevant to the kind of work they’re looking for, or, if that doesn’t lend itself to interesting writing, a few posts about news in their neighborhood.

        I got my first social media job based on my writing on YourHub, which was an early “citizen journalism” portal. I was covering nonprofit events and wildfire relief efforts (in Colorado, the year Governor Owens said “all of Colorado is burning”) and had several pieces selected for publication in the print edition of my local paper.

        You should also show your husband some of Peter Shankman’s public speaking videos. He has a fantastic rant about the importance of writing well. He talks about a young Harvard graduate who lost her shot at a job working for him by using “4” instead of “for” in a professional cover letter. Conversely, he explains why writing skills demonstrate to an employer that a candidate is detail-oriented, intelligent, and cares about the quality of their work. He’s pretty funny, too, so I think teenagers would relate to him.

  111. PuppyKat*

    In high school, I got into the drama program. Always worked backstage—loved working every show—never wanted to be a performer. After graduating from high school and about a month before starting college, I heard about a new performing arts center that was about to have its grand opening soon, and they were going to PAY people to work as stagehands. What a revelation! I didn’t know people could get paid for having fun.

    I applied and was hired (with only my high school experience and some gumption). People from that job recommended me for my next paying gig, and so on. I worked on productions all the way through college as I earned my degree in an area of technical theatre. And it’s been my one and only career for 35 years.

    I’m know I’m lucky, though. My jobs have all been tied to what I majored in, I love what I do, I’m good at what I do, and I’ve had people along the way providing valuable guidance and assistance.

  112. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I just sat down and read these all in one sitting over a bowl of gazpacho, and it really struck me how common a couple of themes are here:

    1. No surprise, soooo many people didn’t have a “career plan” when they came out of school — they just fell into something and realized they liked doing it and/or were good at it.

    2. Again no surprise, lots of people got where they are today by starting somewhere that they might have felt was beneath them or certainly far from ideal — but then rose because of the experience.

    Both of these seem like great lessons for recent grads wondering how this stuff will all play out for them.

    1. Wilton Businessman*

      Yes, but I have my Master’s Degree in French and I should be running DuPont because it has a French Name.

  113. Meg*

    First job: production personnel for Comcast. Was on three different crews. One crew I was audio technician. Another crew I was the floor director. Other crew I was the master control. Started on cameras first, both studio and ENG. I did this from age 14 to 17 regularly, then seasonally when I went to college (I got this opportunity because I majored in Radio/TV Broadcasting in a vocational high school. Was paid $10/hr plus class credit).

    Second job: I work-studied as a lifeguard in college freshman and sophomore year.

    Third job: Paid internship with a production company in Santa Monica, CA during sophomore year.

    Fourth job: Temporary 90-day contract for an insurance company. Hated it.

    Fifth job and sixth job: Walmart and Work-study in the admissions office of my college. Started as cashier, eventually promoted to Asst. Mgr. Worked for Big Blue a little over three years.

    Seventh job: Verizon Wireless. Started as a store manager, promoted to Training Mgr for the district. I trained new hires and did orientations with them, and then started training employees as new store managers.

    Eighth job: Front-End Web Developer at a federal government location that has it’s own Metro station (big hint to those in the DC area). Technically a contractor with another company. Love it. The firm found my resume on (great place for IT professionals looking for work!) within a day or two of me posting it for the DC area, and whole process went smoothly.

    My background: Radio/TV broadcasting, live productions, audio recording technology (formal education) + front-end web technologies (XML/HTML/CSS/Javascript/XSLT), some PHP/MySQL (web stuff as a hobby, self-taught over 10 years).

  114. eemusings*

    Internship during my first year of university led to a part time job led to a full time job after graduation. Very fortunate. Get that foot in the door people!

  115. AdAgencyChick*

    I don’t want to give too much detail about how I broke into my specific niche of advertising (because my story has enough identifying details that it wouldn’t be too hard for someone in my field to figure out who I am from reading it).

    I will say this: I had tried to break into a NYC agency before, and kept running headfirst into “no experience? no job!” But then, for personal reasons, I moved to a much smaller city with a very different talent pool. I got a job there in an area closely related to the type of work I do now, working for a nonprofit and making peanuts. Because the talent pool in that city wasn’t as deep as it is in NYC, I landed a job almost immediately.

    The personal reasons for my living outside of NYC soon disappeared, but by the time that happened (only six months later), I had enough experience to get hired at a NYC ad agency that had previously turned up its nose at me. That was almost ten years ago, and I’ve been in the field ever since.

    So, the principle that I draw out of this is that, for some people, it may be worth it to live in a less exciting location for a while, while building experience that makes you more attractive to companies in the location you want to be eventually.

  116. E.*

    I impressed a professor in graduate school. She was the ED of a small nonprofit, and wanted to hire me after graduation. Unfortunately I graduated in 2009, and her org was really suffering due to the financial downturn. They did not have any funding to hire me.

    But! Her son was looking for an office manager for his small business (completely unrelated field), so I got that position based on her recommendation. Then several years later a position opened up at the nonprofit run by my professor.

    I recently moved away from that city and had to find a new position. I interviewed well, but I really believe what got me the position was that my references RAVED about me. Don’t underestimate the power of networking/treating people well!

  117. ChristineH*

    Ugh! Really wishing right now that I was 21 years old and just starting my senior year of college! I had a B.A. in Psychology, which is all well and good, but because I didn’t combine it with another major or take the “graduate track” (for those intending to pursue further study), it ended up being pretty useless.

    After several years in data entry/clerical positions (both found after long periods of using standard job search methods), I decided to pursue a lifelong dream of helping people with disabilities by going for a Masters in Social Work, which I completed in the Fall semester of 2006. My Field Instructor for my second-year internship strongly encouraged me to look into this one specific non-profit; a couple other people had suggested this place as well. After finishing, I think I reached out to this agency a couple of times with no luck. I finally scored an interview, and ultimately the job, through a gentleman who worked there (and still does) that my career counselor had suggested. I began that job in August, 2007.

    I was laid off from there in June of 2008 (as many regular readers probably remember). I’ve since fallen off the rails on my career track, so I don’t know how much wise advice I can offer nowadays, lol. But I can definitely vouch for the power of networking.

    Another thing that I did find helpful is volunteering. I volunteered for a year with my professional association, who then hired me on a part-time, temporary basis to help with their annual conference.

    Kinda ironic that I’m writing this because I’m at a point now where I feel like I need to start over from scratch since I’ve been out of work so long :( Thank goodness for my proposal review gigs this past year, which have kept me somewhat sane.

  118. Cody C*

    I had a college job driving a hotel shuttle picking up flight crews
    Killing time talking to the customer service agents at the airport turned into a great four years at SWA . My manager was having lunch with some contacts and mentioned I had just finished college which led to an opportunity as a buyer with a music distributor which then led to a job as a buyer for a bank whose CEO loved SWA and remembered me from there. And today I interviewed with a company in the entertainment industry as a buyer because of the experience with the music distributor. It’s like six degrees of Herb Kelleher

  119. Vicki*

    My MS thesis project was responsible for getting me my first job.

    I got my MS in Microbiology. I wanted to do work in computer programming, related to biology (I took roughly half a BS minor in CS; and while I did learn to code, I’ll say that CS degrees teach a lot more than “how to code”; it’s not a “programming” degree, and the language they teach in may not be what a given job wants.)

    Anyhoo, my thesis project was a statistical analysis of microbiological data (data produced by others in my advisor’s team). I wrote a lot of programs, and learned a lot about Unix.

    My first job interview after grad school was with a large well-known BioTech firm. BioTechs have the interesting attitude that basically, you can’t even get an interview if you don’t have at least a BS in some Bio area**. So, my BS/MS degrees got me the interview. My Unix/programming knowledge got me the job. I ended up doing in-house tools programming and Unix user support for a year and a half, then leveraged that into a tools position at a software company.

    (I’ve worked for two other BioTech firms since that one. Both times, my degree got me in the door for the interview; my programming skills got me the job. Whenever anyone questions whether a BS is still of value, I can tel them it definitely is if it’s in Biology and you want to possibly work for a Biotech or Pharma company.)

  120. VVonderVVoman*

    Just wanted to throw my story into the mix, since there isn’t a lot of guidance out there.

    During college, I became eligible for a state-sponsored work-study program that paid you very well to volunteer at a non-profit. So I immediately went to my local domestic violence shelter to volunteer, but had missed the bi-annual training by a few weeks. So I ended up managing nutrition/cooking classes for a different non-profit. This actually provided a lot of work experience that translated well later on.

    But in the meantime, I volunteered in the finance department of the domestic violence organization. I did the training 5 months later, and transitioned into an internship in the community education department, where I stayed interning/volunteering for another year.
    In the meantime, I did other internships doing sex education in an urban high school, sex education projects for medical providers, and went to as many trainings as possible. I became certified in as many relevant things as possible, did online trainings, broadened my knowledge base, etc.

    Now I’m in an AmeriCorps position running a sexual health peer education program and doing patient education.

    It should be noted that these were all unpaid minus the work study. It’s one of those fields that unless you do specific coursework, there are only so many paths to take.

  121. Rana*

    I love reading other people’s stories!

    I have to say that this feels like a strange question to me. Not that the question itself is strange, but that it seems to have so little relevance to my work life.

    My first career was college professor, and it’s one of those things where all the steps are pretty clearly laid out for you. My first job on that track was grading papers my second semester, and it was one of those jobs where it was almost considered part of your course schedule; everyone assumed that you were going to do that work, and so it was only a matter of finding a person who needed a grader. Ditto with the TA-ships that followed, the fill-in lecturer position I held, and eventually all the “visiting” assistant professor positions and adjunct jobs I held after that.

    The application procedures for assistant positions are all pretty much the same, and there are no short-cuts around the process. Adjunct positions are different; if you’re credentialed and reasonably competent, you’ll get work if you just show up and demonstrate a willingness to teach.

    The problem is that none of these jobs can turn into anything more, really, with the possible exception of getting more classes as an adjunct more frequently; they’re all just ways to gain experience so some other institution might be willing to hire you. (This was the hardest thing to explain to my parents: however much the people you work for adore you and your work, they can’t create a position just for you. And even if they can get a new position approved, it typically has to be opened to a nation-wide search and while you’re not at ground zero with the other candidates, being an inside candidate is no guarantee if someone in another department decides they need someone with a slightly different skill set than you have.)

    Unfortunately for me, however, working these jobs (teaching intensive) took me away from the area that I was originally more competitive in (research), and there’s now too much lost ground to regain. I never wanted to teach per se; it was a skill set I acquired in order to improve my chances at getting a tenure-track job, which typically involves a combination of teaching and research (my true interest), and the teaching is usually in a specialized area instead of general subject areas. If adjuncting had paid better, and had job security and a future (the last position I had only offered $800 a month, no benefits, and no guarantees of work past the semester one was hired), perhaps I could have endured the work, but unfortunately adjuncting is a dead-end path for the majority of people who take it, including me.

    So I’m now starting over in a new career, freelancing providing scholarly support services like indexing and editing. So far it’s been a matter of working my network, getting training, and gaining experience through people’s willingness to take a chance on me. It’s entirely project based, as there is no employer, just me, so I don’t think it counts as a “first job” in the way the OP meant.

    So you can see why this question is odd for me.

  122. Kerry*

    I really enjoy grammar nitpicking, and at university, I used to mark up the student newspaper, which didn’t have a copy editor at the time, and leave it in the student editor’s inbox with my name on it.

    After two semesters of that (and me heckling him about it at the student union bar – in a friendly way, of course), he asked the staff supervisor for the budget to hire me, and got it. It paid around $250 a month for eight hours of work on Sundays, which I really loved (it didn’t feel like work). I learned the Adobe software that all editors use, as well as how a newsroom runs on press day.

    When I graduated with my drama degree (oh yes), I “knew” I wanted to be an actor, but I applied for full-time jobs in copy editing because I knew I had the skills and I had to pay rent. I got an offer to work full-time on a well-regarded industry weekly. I graduated on Saturday and the job started on Monday.

    (This was in June 2008, before the global recession. The job market isn’t like that at all any more, and I was incredibly lucky to graduate when I did.)

    I realised pretty quickly that I really loved going into work every day, and that while acting was a fun way to spend four years of undergrad it wasn’t something I wanted to do all day every day, like I did working on copy. I worked at the magazine for a year and a half before being made redundant along with 1/3 of the editorial staff – eight days before Christmas, might I add – but I quickly found another job and have been working steadily in editing since.

  123. BadMovieLover*

    I agree with you. I definitely feel stressed when I interview, but I also feel stressed when I have to deliver bad news to a parent of one of my students, when I have to write 90 report cards, when I have to deal with a sick child on a field trip, or when I have a conflict with a co-worker. But I have to deal with those things professionally and competently anyhow.

    OK, quick! You have 15 minutes to create a lesson plan for the first day of 5th grade math course, along with solutions. Or maybe I’ll just have you answer an arbitrary number of questions any 5th grader would know. Go.

    If you can’t do that within the allotted time, I won’t even interview you.

    1. RF*

      Seriously, I don’t see any problem with that.

      I am in IT (programming), and I get really, really nervous when interviewing. Still, I was delighted when a company gave me a programming question to solve on paper at an interview this year. It showed me that they knew what they were doing. And it wasn’t supposed to be “compilable” or perfect – these things are supposed to test a) basic programming knowledge (syntax, structure) and b) how you approach problems.

      A teacher should be able to at leats list the basic steps they would take to make a lesson plan during an interview process and a programmer should be able to outline a simple program. Just as they should be able to answer questions about their strengths and their past work experiences and things like that.

      1. BadMovieLover*

        OK! You convinced me! Failure due to interview nerves never happens. All of the people who have related their experiences attesting to just that are just awful programmers not worthy of even shining the interviewer’s shoes.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No one is arguing that some people don’t do worse in interviews because of nerves. Of course they do. But that doesn’t eliminate the need for employers to test applicants’ skills. If a test isn’t producing candidates who you want to hire and who you’re ultimately happy with once on the job, then you reconsider the test. But otherwise, it’s not up to employers to give everyone a fair shake; they use the methods that they’ve found effective for their needs.

          1. BadMovieLover*

            Again, we are talking about testing _before_ they even bother to actually interview you. Tests that often involve writing algorithms under abnormal working conditions (no computer, a piece of paper, someone breathing down your neck).

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes, I know. Many employers use pre-interview screening tests, and it’s a smart thing to do, as I’ve argued here before. If it’s not producing the candidates they want, they’ll reconsider it.

              1. BadMovieLover*

                Well, some people don’t consider it such a smart thing to do. If these tests are in fact cutting out 199 out of 200 candidates which may have coded just fine under other conditions, then maybe there’s a possibility it doesn’t work that well.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Again, if it’s not producing the candidates they want, they’ll generally reconsider it. As long as it is, there’s no real incentive for them to alter something that’s working well for them.

                2. BadMovieLover*

                  If you take the comments on those blogs as true, and all the belly aching about a lack of viable candidates (so much so that they have to flood the country with HB1 visas), then it’s apparently not working that great.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Plenty of employers aren’t in that boat and are finding that their hiring practices, including testing, produces plenty candidates they’re interested in. For those where that’s not the case, they’re reaping the consequences of their actions. But they’re under no obligation to provide perfectly fair conditions to all candidates.

                  I don’t think we’re going to agree on this, and the argument has been going in circles for a while.

                4. Wilton Businessman*

                  If you can’t write code in a stressful situation like an interview, how are you going to fix a bug in my system when I’m losing $1MM a minute?

                  Think about it. I’m not only testing your ability, but how you apply that ability under pressure.

                5. Anonymous*

                  Ultimately, that’s why Joel suggests internships as the best recruitment tool. That way you can have your candidates work on real problems in a real environment.

                6. Neo*

                  some people are being obtuse about this

                  pressure under an interview != pressure at work, even during emergencies

                  pretty obvious who has actually worked in IT and who hasn’t

                7. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  People are not being obtuse; they simply disagree. But as I said above, this argument is going in circles. It’s also off-topic for the thread. Let’s put it to rest now.

        2. RF*

          So if someone “fails” another part of the interview due to nerves, like people suddenly not knowing what to say and falling silent or giving an extremely inappropiate answer, what should interviewers do? Just excuse it with “they were just nervous”? Then what’s the point of interviewing?

          1. BadMovieLover*

            Um, if you fail the actual interview that’s another issue, but if a company requires me to take a test before they will even talk to me, they go to the bottom of my list– unless I’m desperate for what they’re offering.

      2. Anonymous*

        Indeed. If someone is writing a program on a whiteboard (or even just drafting in a text editor, an interviewer shouldn’t be expecting compilable code. But you should still be able to write a reasonable program. And I’d argue that simple things like FizzBuzz are quite good tests in that regard. Simply because you’ve got to be careful about handling the cases, and make sure that you don’t double your output or spray extra newlines all over the place. It shouldn’t be the majority of the interview, but I would view it as a necessary part. Even getting it wrong first time wouldn’t necessarily discount some one, provided they corrected their error in response to a hint.

      3. Neo*

        I agree with the commenter. it’s a very asinine way of screening people. but we all tend to put up with it despite the apparent fact that it doesn’t work that well.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Please don’t change screen names just to make the same point while appearing to be someone else. That’s not in the spirit of the discussions here and really undermines the point you’re trying to make. (And it’s clear to me when someone does it, because I can see the IP addresses behind comments.)

          1. Neo*

            looks someone else’s comment regarding IP addresses was deleted. for the record, I am NOT the other poster you think I am.

            I do post from behind a big company proxy with employees in the tens of thousands.

            And remember, there is no spoon.

  124. Anne*

    I’m currently a trainee accountant, and all-rounder at a small tech company. I was hired here as the Office Admin right out of college about a year ago, but right now I’m partly sales, partly support, partly accounting and also still doing the admin. It’s a bit much right now but I’ve spoken with my managers about it and they’re happy for me to decide what to focus on and take ownership of it. They’re also paying for me to study towards Chartered Accountant status in the evenings.

    I got this job basically by knowing the right person at the right time, with just enough experience to say I had some. I did a Philosophy degree and thought I was going to be a Religious Education teacher (boy was that a bad idea), so I had a lot of experience relevant to that – I ran a guide troop, worked part-time as a nanny during college and had a great student teacher internship. I also ran my college’s sci-fi society, and during the last few months of the semester and the summer after graduating, I paid the bills by working in a phone bank administering surveys. (It sucked. A lot.)

    When I was graduating, my boyfriend (now fiance) was working here. The boss had a stroke, and his PA/admin took advantage of the fact that he was out for a long time and she didn’t have a contract to basically stop showing up until they eventually fired her (at least a month later). When the boss started talking about getting a replacement, I got my boyfriend to ask his boss whether he would mind me applying, knowing that if I was hired he’d have a couple in the office. The boss was fine with that, got my CV and had a quick chat, where I was able to say yes, I’m used to reading through regulations (so much of this for childcare stuff), yes I’m good on the phone and with data (call center work) and yes I have some technical skills (pointed him at a couple of WordPress sites I’d made). He was happy not to have to sift through hundreds of applications and I had a job.

    I still feel immensely lucky, especially because it’s developed into an actual career position.

  125. Long Time Admin*

    Two weeks after graduating from high school, I walked in the door, asked to speak to the Personell Manager, talked to him, and was told to report for work on Monday.

    This was a long, long time ago. The economy was booming, industry was booming, and companies were hiring anyone who walked in the door. We got a lot of on the job training, people were promoted from within, and we all expected to stay with that company for at least 30 years (not in that same job, though).

    In a lot of ways, it was an unreal world back then. We just didn’t know it.

  126. BlueGal*

    I finished college 4 years ago. My plan throughout college was to go to law school. But after bombing the LSAT I changed my mind. Luckly, I was a social science and physical science double major, so I went looking for more STEM related careers.I got a part time receiptionist job within days of finishing undergrad. I had worked various retail and customer service jobs throughout college. Within 4 months of graduating, I had 2 offers, one as a intern with a federal agency the other is now my current position. I think this was due to my strong academic record and 2 related internships. There’s also a big customers service aspect to my job, so I’m sure my past experience in that was helpful. Also, it was an entry level position, so they were willing for overlook the lack of direct experience and look for potential.

  127. Laura*

    I had an internship in college (randomly sending in a resume!) at an awesome company, that post graduation, allowed me to continue in my intern role. They kept me as an intern for a year, and although they COULD NOT hire me, we had such a relationship that my boss reached out to her colleagues in industry and found helped network me into a job.

  128. Beth*

    I work in an administrative position for a large regional library system. I started at my workplace in 1998 as a shelver of books at one of the branch libraries in the system, then moved up a few times into roles with more customer contact, one of which allowed me to have a flexible schedule while I got my MLIS. I had planned on having to move away to get my first real ‘librarian’ job, but my organization underwent a restructure and a bunch of positions opened up. I applied for three of the openings, was offered two of the jobs, and took the highest salary and most responsibility. I have no doubt that having been with the organization for so long got me my position. My MLIS was icing and probably tipped the scales in my favor, because on paper I look more qualified in terms of experience + education. It’s also pretty awesome that I have 14 years with one organization and am only in my very early 30s.

  129. CassJ*

    I graduated in 2004 with a BS in Computer Science and wanted to be a software developer since I was SIX (I know, not a normal case for most people). The industry was starting to recover, but entry level jobs were still pretty rare.

    First job out of college was referred to me by a friend who just started there. The company had a habit of hiring recent grads and paying them very little. After I got a year and some of experience and realized that I was actually worth more than I was making, another friend who was a recruiter at another software company brought me in for interviews for a junior developer role, which I was hired for.

    1. Adam V*

      Sounds exactly like my experience – except I stayed with the cheap company 3 1/2 years before moving on.

  130. Anonymous*

    I graduated in 2001, in the middle of another (albeit less harrowing) recession. I have a BA in English (creative writing) which I parlayed into a marketing communications career. I too had no idea what I wanted to do and just kind of fell into this industry! In college, I worked 30-40 hours a week to pay the bills, which included both customer service jobs (coffee shop, campus cafeteria, dorm front desk) and more professional work study jobs. My two work study jobs were in the education department at an art museum (two years; I did a lot of marketing support for education programs), and as a production assistant for the NPR affiliate on campus (nine months; writing, research, etc. best job ever!). After college I got a job as a marketing assistant at another museum. I knew I wanted to work in organizations that aligned with my values in some way, and marketing seemed like a good area where I could use my writing skills. I currently work for a consulting firm that provides sustainability and green building services. I’ve still never gotten any formal business or marketing education, but managed to stay in the marketing field for the past 10 years and now I’m running my own department (of 1 person, but still).

  131. Jack*

    I had two main interests in college, music and writing. Basically, after I graduated I knew where I wanted to live, and I applied for any job that combined music and writing in any way. This city had a lot of big arts organizations and music venues, so I applied for entry level jobs in marketing, editorial type stuff, development, and so on. Eventually my resume landed in a development department and it so happened that the guy doing the hiring was an alum of my college. So he called me in for an interview and they offered me the job on the spot.

    The short version is, I had a relatively narrow focus and then I happened to meet someone in my network who was hiring for a job within that focus area.

    I should add, though, that I was a bit of an overachiever in college and I had a lot of extracurricular and work-study experience that was directly relevant to the field.

  132. Maraca*

    My first job out of college was total serendipity. I was a Spanish and Portuguese major and my goal was to go to graduate school for linguistics. I wanted to work for year between college and grad school because I wasn’t ready for another round of school just yet. I thought I would research translation companies and apply at graduation since I wanted to at least work in some way with languages (I wasn’t qualified at that point to do actual translation myself). My last semester of college, I made one last dentist appointment before I would no longer be covered by my parents’ plan. It turns out that a good friend of my dentist owned a small translation company. He gave me a referral, and I called them. They didn’t have any openings but they interviewed me anyway and I got an offer a week later (Ah, the 90s!). I started at their lowest level, but it was a small company and soon I was a project manager. I took on projects on my own on outside of my assigned translation projects to build the base of freelance talent and create translator assessments for the high-demand African and Southeast Asian languages. Through the experience I realized that HR was for me. Now I’m 10 years into a satisfying HR career.

    Two pieces of advice I would give to young people just starting out in the work world: 1. Whatever job you have, no matter what, do you absolute best. 2. Pay attention to the things that you enjoy doing – the things that you lose track of time while doing. Maybe it’s helping people, or maybe it’s taking a huge amount of data, organizing it and analyzing and drawing conclusions.

  133. A.D.*

    My advice on getting your first job out of college is internship, internship, internship. Treat the final year of school as the real transition rather than devoting that year to “living up” your last year of relatively few responsibilities. (I’d use the junior year for that ;) For me, by senior year I didn’t have that many mandatory credits left to take, so I turned my attention to seeking part-time (and yes, unpaid) internships. I was a bit unfocused in what I wanted to do, so I ended up doing three successive internship: one on a political campaign, one at a visual communications/design firm, and one at a PR firm. The PR firm liked my work and right before the end of the school year offered to hire me on full-time. From then on, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have held an unbroken string of professional jobs within my field of study. When I look at my friends, some sort of drifted for a year or two (or more) after graduation before eventually settling in to a professional job. While it’s impossible to say for sure, I think hitting the ground running starting my senior year really helped accelerate the start of my career.

    At the same time, though, I now realize there are big tradeoffs either way. In some ways, I envy friends who took a while to settle into finding their first professional job–some traveled overseas, others moved to a new city and worked odd jobs, others got involved in service projects. Realize that as you get older (and more entrenched in professional life) it becomes harder and harder to break out and take a few weeks or months for yourself or to pursue a big adventure. In many ways, the early to mid 20s is a great time for this. At the same time, obviously it all depends on your situation–many students need to get a job asap to start paying loans back and/or really do just want to jump right into professional life and moving up the ladder. And if that’s your situation, I really recommend taking advantage of that senior year as an opportunity to explore internships, your college career center, and any local industry or networking events. Be strategic and DO NOT give up. Good luck!!

    1. Tomas J*

      I think your advice is well thought out, but I am concerned that job-seekers have ceded too much ground in terms of the mandatory perpetual internship. If young workers would stand up for themselves, this mysterious new requirement that everybody work for free for a year or more might not be so prevalent. You couch it in terms of what to do during your senior year of college, but far too often people in many fields are interning for free or almost for free well into their mid 20s.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The problem is that there are far more qualified candidates than there are job openings currently. If young workers all refuse these opportunities, employers will simply hire more experienced workers for their paid slots, while young workers will go longer and longer with no experience (paid or unpaid), making it harder and harder to get hired for anything. Young workers don’t have a lot of power right now, because employers have so many other options.

  134. danr*

    I got my first teaching job since I was local. The district had a new superintendent who wanted to change things in a big way. All of the new teachers but me were from out of state and were involved in various top of the line new type teacher education programs. I had sort of that type of teacher education from the local university, but it was not well known for it. The bigger factor was that I was from a neighboring town.

  135. Kat*

    I know I’m 3 days late to the party, but I wanted to add my story after being inspired by everyone else’s. When I graduated with my English degree in 2008, I knew that I had no idea what I wanted in terms of my career. However, I did know that as a relatively smart 22 year old, I had the time to learn just about any career. So I kept an open mind and applied to jobs that sounded interesting at companies and organizations that also sounded interesting. I started out temping at an international public health nonprofit as a back up receptionist which lead to a job in a fundraising office. And now, working in a different fundraising office, my organization is helping me go towards a more finance heavy role. My fiance took a similar approach after getting his master’s in literature and now he’s a software programmer.

    Finding a career path that worked for me was a lot like finding that fiance. You have to keep your mind open, learn from mistakes, and realize that every job will have something that annoys you but it is all worth it in the long run because it does the dishes.

  136. Alysia*

    I think I just got extremely lucky, really. While I had work-study jobs through college and worked at my college’s radio station as well, I hadn’t actually had a real, full-pay job by the time I graduated college. I sent out a ton of resumes and went to job fairs and ended up finding a job as a cashier at a new Kohl’s opening in my town. The first few weeks of the job were just putting together the store for the opening, and I was rarely on the schedule during this time. About a week into that, I got a call from a law firm about a receptionist position. I started the job the same day I interviewed and quit the job at Kohl’s. That’s pretty lucky, but the extremely lucky part is that a few days into my receptionist duties at the firm, one of the lawyers asked if I would be interested in an open legal assistant position they had. My degree was in Sociology and Philosophy, so I didn’t have any training or experience in the legal field, but he saw that I learned quickly and was eager to learn new things, so he took a chance.

    Now, the unlucky part comes in that while the attorney was amazing, his wife was the office manager, and I don’t think she liked me much. Best practices for things would change all the time without notification and I would be fussed at for doing things the way she had told me to do them the day before and not the way she suddenly wanted them done now. She also made a lot of comments about my appearance, saying my handbands were too wide or my heels not high enough. After about a year at that position it became clear that I wasn’t happy there, and she wasn’t happy with me, as I found my job posted on a board while I was still there. I looked around for another job, but couldn’t find anything. I ended up deciding to move to a new state where my mom had moved, as opportunities and pay seemed better there.

    Once here, it took me a while to find work, but I was eventually contacted by a recruiting company to work as an in-house admin for them. That job got me started in HR as I learned about paperwork and recruitment and payroll and employee relations.

    I was laid off after a year there and ended up as an HR Assistant at a mental hospital, which was interesting. After a year there they started having problems meeting payroll, giving everyone live checks instead of direct deposit so that everything wouldn’t hit at once. I got lucky again when another staffing company called me about an HR Admin position, which I accepted, and I’ve been here 2 years now. I think a combination of luck, education and a wide variety of experience has landed me on an actual HR career path. I’ve got a great boss now that is very supportive of helping me grow in my position and I recently passed my PHR exam thanks to the company paying for me to do a prep class and paying for my test!

  137. Frieda*

    I love this question!

    Short answer: (1) get an actual office job BEFORE you graduate college; (2) look for a good work environment with a supportive boss, regardless of what the actual work is; (3) follow Allison’s advice to “figure out what you can’t not do.”

    Long answer: I went to a small liberal arts college and had no idea what I would do after that. I didn’t have the option of not working while in college, so I always had at least a part-time jobs. Some food service/retail, but enough of these were in some kind of office that it really helped me get my first post-grad job. It didn’t matter that the work of my summer-job office was totally unrelated to the work I was ultimately hired to do. I didn’t appreciate until later how much I gained just by learning office-culture: wardrobe, being on time, how to use a copier and a fax machine, writing professional emails, meeting etiquette, reasonable expectations as a new person, etc. I know people whose parents gave them money during college so they could “focus on their studies,” but I think this actually does them a huge disservice in the job market.

    This helped me get an entry-level job in the publishing field–which wasn’t something that I aspired to, but it seemed like something I could do for a year “while I figured out what really I want to do.” It was difficult sometimes seeing my school friends travel and start interesting grad school programs while I was “stuck” in my 9-to-5 office job, but what I didn’t realize was all that I was learning during that time.

    I’m still in this industry seven years later, and I really love it now. I owe most of that to my boss at my first job, who was a real mentor to me. He saw my strengths and gave me projects that harnessed them, exposed me to many different areas of the industry even when it wasn’t directly related to my job, gave me challenging work but also supported me through it. My “maybe a year” turned into five, and when I resolved that it was time to start looking for a new job I realized that what I was really looking for was a career path within publishing–even though that was never my plan when I started.

    I was lucky enough to find a new job with an equally awesome boss who is supportive of me moving into a different role–more of a data analyist-type position. This is so far from what I thought I’d be doing when I graduated college. But it’s what I “can’t not do,” and I’ve had people who have seen this and encouraged it. Now I’m doing work I genuinely enjoy, working for someone I respect and admire, living in a city I absolutely love, and starting a part-time grad program in analytics partily paid for by my company.

  138. Listmoney*

    I got my first job, as an assistant radio producer, two months after graduating from grad school because I did a two-month unpaid internship at the UN (UN Radio) during grad school. That two months in a prestigious position was enough to get me a job that normally requires 3 years of radio experience.

  139. 1040Glory*

    I was lost and bored. I started volunteering for a nonprofit doing taxes for low income residents. By pure luck I was hired to work for the org. I found I liked the work I was doing and after lots of temping/seasonal tax jobs, eventually I went back to school to get a degree in accounting. Whiule I was studying, I took on internships and did work study in Accounts Payable/bookkeeping. after graduation, I was hired on as a tax accountant.

    Yeah right–I wish this would happen.

  140. Jessica*

    I graduated with my Bachelor’s in Political Science and Economics in 2004 and immediately started a Master’s program in public administration. During my program, I did several coop terms, which provided me with much-needed, real-life experience. I even got paid the equivalent of an entry-level salary to boot! Combined with lots of networking and some low-paid but relevant consulting work and tons of coaching on how to ace interviews, I landed a contract position.While doing contract, I applied to many full-time positions and landed my dream job when I was 24. Now I have over seven years of experience in my field, and am thankful for the combination of my liberals arts background and my ‘job’ degree.

    People often ask me if I regret my so-called impractical undergraduate degree- I can emphatically say no. It helped me acquire skills in quantitative and qualitative research, writing and research, just to scratch the surface. It provided me with a solid foundation for the years that followed.

  141. Jake*

    I’m a little late, but who knows, maybe somebody will see this.

    I worked a couple standard retail jobs while in high school and I was always towards the top of my class, especially in math and science. I kicked around going to college for psychology (it was interesting), law (money) and engineering (good at math and science).

    After researching, I decided to go to the local state university for Civil Engineering. We had to pick 2 emphasizes within our degree and I was interested in a primary with transportation and a secondary with structures. The local state university was 2 hours from home and was the #2 ranked CE school in the country.

    My freshman year, I joined the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps without a commitment to contract. I spent my entire first year doing school work or ROTC work 80-100 hours a week, and barely treading water. I was miserable, but didn’t realize it at the time. I didn’t even look for things like internships and outside employment because I didn’t even have time to play tennis with a buddy for more than an hour a week, let along anything else.

    My sophomore year things took a bit of a turn and I quit ROTC because they gave me the “8 year commitment or get out” speech. After quitting ROTC I was working on school work about 60-70 hours a week, getting better grades and actually enjoying time with friends. That summer I tried for internships, but never got one.

    My Junior year it dawned on me that I hate engineering. Like, seriously hate it. I was good with conceptual stuff where the answers were paragraphs, but if the answer was anything like “12 meters per second” I hated it. I was still doing really well in my classes, but when it came down to it, I hated everything about engineering that most engineers love. Numbers, equations, free body diagrams? Hated them. What I loved was the creativity involved in solving the problems and understanding the how and why things behaved why they do. I could write all day about the chemical reactions within concrete, but I’d rather poke my eye out than solve another dynamics problem.

    After this realization, I made the decision to change my emphasizes within my program to construction management and construction materials. These both dealt far more with processes and understanding than numbers and equations. Once I made that switch, I started doing undergrad research for one of my professors. I also did an internship in a design office that summer.

    My senior year I kept up with the undergrad research. My professor thought I was pretty good, so she gave me leads on research opportunities after graduation, but nothing overly interesting. As graduation neared I sent out 3-5 applications a day for weeks (this took 6-8 hours a day because finding a good fit and making a decent resume/cover letter is very time consuming).

    After working my butt off all four years there were 2 companies truly interested in me. One was for an administrative position that would have paid me less than my minimum student loan payment would have been. They liked me because of my cover letter and eagerness to learn.

    The other company was offering a field engineering position on a multi-billion dollar heavy civil construction project. My interviewer was genuinely annoyed by my academic achievements. He later told me he actually counted my research against me because I came off as “all booky.” He only agreed to interview me because of my ROTC experience. On the phone interview, he decided that I was worthy of an in person interview because of how I answered a single question, “We have incredibly hard personalities to work with on this job, how are you going to make sure you survive?” My answer to that put me on top of the list, and I never got kicked off, despite having a ho-hum in person interview.

    I wrote all of that to show that you never know what is going to make people interested in you. I thought I was a good candidate because of my passion for construction and my ability to reason through problems. Turns out I was a good candidate because I had some ROTC experience that I had considered irrelevant for this job and how I used the army’s model for respect in answering his one magic question.

    I worked in that position for 2.5 years, got great raises and promotions and learned more in 2.5 years than I had in the previous 8.

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