Your First Job: Why it Matters and Why it Doesnt

Your first job; why it matters, and why it doesn't. //

I was recently introduced to TheLadders, a comprehensive job search platform. When I was asked to do a post on what my advice would be to college grads about to begin job searching, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself.

Because I’ll be honest, I’ve been on nine interviews total. In my life. Nine. And that’s counting my first one at McAlister’s Deli when I was fifteen. And to top things off, I just quit my full-time career in aviation to be a stay at home baby grower/lover (aka mommy.) Oh, the irony!

So, I’ll just go ahead and put it out there that initially, in a panic, I texted the men in my life (my step-dad and hubster) and pleaded with them for some advice. Because, who am iiiiiiii to give advice?

But then I realized… there’s a ton of advice out there. So I found myself asking, “what will I tell my baby girl, Finnley, after she graduates?”

Would it be: “travel, travel, travel, because once you start working, you never stop.” Or, “dress the part.” Or, “do your research on the company.” Or, “you’re interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing you; it has to be a win+win all around.” Or, “get to know anyone and everyone in your line of work, and remind them you’re on the prowl. Everyone knows someone, who knows someone.” Or, “edit your resume, and have others vet it for you.” … Yes, all those tidbits might help her land the job. But she’ll have her dad and grandpa to tell her about those things.

So no, I’m not going to give you “the twelve steps to scoring your dream job.” Instead, I’m going to share with you why I believe your first job matters, but more importantly– why it also doesn’t matter.

I haven’t always been this way.

I began my working career at fifteen; running the front counter, and instructing a few fitness classes in a small women’s gym in Dallas. I built relationships with women literally three times my age, they called me an “old soul”; we were a community comprised solely of women. Meeting almost daily, despite different sizes, heights, preferences, and favorite exercises; they all had with one thing in common—the desire for a healthier lifestyle. Here, I learned that encouragement is not a one-man sport. Supporting each other was not optional, but instead, desperately needed and simply required.

When it was time for weigh-in, I loved seeing results of hardworking ladies and watching their faces light up when they had reached their goals. They were a visual reminder that hard work pays off. Here, I learned that consistency is irreplaceable. No shortcuts, no cheating, just good ole’ fashioned, honest hard work.

Around the same time, I landed my first runway modeling gig at the World Trade Center, for Max Studio and BCBG. Sixteen, innocent, and trying to make a living, I had no clue what I was doing. I didn’t come from a large modeling agency like the other girls; it was just me and my agent. I felt like a country bumpkin in the middle of New York. But I put my best foot forward (literally) and learned to take advice. Even if it meant asking other models for it. I wanted to learn, and I didn’t care how. Here, I realized the value of trying. And to keep trying until I had it. To sink or swim– and even if I failed miserably (thank God I didn’t) at least I could say that I tried. And try I did. And before to long, I had it.

In between modeling; at my other job, ShapExpress, I found and fell in love with outside sales. I shadowed our Marketing Director. Running around in workout clothes, acting much older than I was, raiding parking lots and neighborhoods, using adult vocabulary and offering free weekly memberships in exchange for a completed survey card. No, not everyone purchased a membership, but that didn’t stop us. Some weeks we would go almost all day outdoors in our hot, hot, southern Texas, 107 degree weather—and return without a single lead. Using the same methods while selling the same product. Other weeks the same places were goldmines. Here, I learned that perseverance pays off. No quitting, no backing down or letting up, but instead—pressing forward.

After about six months, I received notification that despite our efforts, the gym wasn’t bringing in enough revenue and would be closing without notice within a few days. I was heartbroken and terribly sad to leave. Thankfully, Our Marketing Director worked her magic and quickly placed my co-worker and I, in a new upscale and private gym that happened to need a few front-desk girls. New Job, new dynamic, new boss, new people, new environment, new job description. And I was once again, at the bottom of the food-chain. I was the 17-year-old new girl in charge of turning on the radio, washing and folding gym towels, and sanitizing the fitness equipment. But I had heard a message in church that week about “dressing and acting for the part” and challenged myself to broaden my responsibilities. Here, I learned all about excellence. Doing everything I was required to do—and more, going the “extra mile” set me apart. I wanted to learn to do everything– and to do everything well.

Before long, I began managing marketing, payroll, trainers, and our owner’s busy schedule—who was primarily a prominent Dallas architect in high demand. He taught me to smile and greet any person in my line of vision. David taught me that everyone was a somebody who knew somebody. To him, business cards were gold and genuine confidence in person and on the phone was key. I spoke and met with everyone and anyone, from the Mayor of Dallas and high profile athletes, to small business owners and single moms. He reminded me that comparing myself to others was a waste of time; as it can only make a person insecure or prideful. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who’s who, or what title sits on your desk. We all come from dust and breathe the same air. And this nugget of wisdom gave me an advantage. Here, I learned equality.

One day, while cold-calling a manager in an attempt to raise corporate sales, he asked me if I would interview for their company. Within hours, he had come up to The Fitness Club and given me his business card. He was the Line service Manager at Million Air Dallas.

Soon after, I found myself in a bigger pond—but once again, at the bottom of the food chain. I started at Million Air Dallas on the airport’s tarmac. Pouring coffee, fetching newspapers, and driving fancy cars around. I was in “the pit” with the boys. I went home every day drenched in sweat and smelling like jet fuel. But I learned to work hard, and anticipate and appreciate the details. I learned to care about my work.

After about a year of working as a Ramp Girl, I was promoted to a Customer Service Representative. With dozens of other girls lobbying for the position — it was a highly sought after role within the company. But I got it! And I went from dickeys and tennis shoes, to a custom wardrobe—with new designer clothes almost bi-weekly. I had the privilege of serving both meek, non-profits and flashy celebrities alike. Here, I saw men worth billions go out of their way to show genuine humility and kindness. And I learned that all the money in the world cannot buy character. No, character is chosen and earned.

Looking back, I can see now how each job I had plays a huge role in who I am today. My work ethic was developed, determined, and discovered because of everything leading up to this moment.

So, maybe you’re like me and have worked since you were just a high-schooler. Or maybe you’ve never worked a day in your life. But I encourage you to look back and glean from what you’ve obtained. Maybe it was through sports, or a certain teacher, or volunteering, or being bullied, or God, or relationships.

What are the things that make you, you? Those are the things that matter. Not your first, or even your next job. But instead, who you are today because of what you’ve learned, and how you’ve grown. Lead with those qualities. Trust that everything you’ve gleaned and experienced thus far is for a reason. When you interview, let them know who you are and why. Be confident in who you’ve become– because in the long run, that’s all that really matters.