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Kill Yourself in Getting Your First Job

By Marty Nemko

A man had a job in the circus carrying a bucket behind the elephants to catch their dung. A blunt friend asked him, “Why don’t you quit. You could get a better job than that.” The dung catcher replied, “What? And give up a job in show biz?”

Everyone says you have to pay your dues, that you need to work your way up from the bottom. That message is reinforced by media stories of people who started in the mail room and now run the company. Such stories are audience pleasers: It’s the reassuring Horatio Alger tale that no matter how crappy your job, you too can be a big success.

Unfortunately, “pay your dues” is bad advice. Sure, occasionally, someone rises from the pits to the palace, but they’re anomalies—that’s why the media does stories about them. Statistically, you’re wiser to make all efforts to get a first job that isn’t at the bottom. That’s the message of a report in the New York Times (May 25) by University of Chicago economist, Austan Goolsbee. He starts by criticizing Hillary Clinton’s recent remarks to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urging new graduates to pay their dues. He then cites a body of research that finds her advice to be dead wrong: “Graduates' first jobs have an inordinate impact on their career path and their future income stream. Think carefully about your first job because it can matter for the rest of your career."

Of course, thinking isn’t enough. That research should be a wakeup call to go all out in finding your first serious job. Don’t settle for a crap job, rationalizing, “It’s a place to start,” “It’s better than nothing,” or, “It gives me something to put on my resume.” Don’t fall for “You gotta pay your dues.” You may end up paying dues until you retire.

Do what it takes to land a true launchpad job: one at a solid organization, working at the elbow of a star performer with clout. That way, he has the opportunity to see you in action and, if impressed, can fast-track you.

What do you need to do to land a great launchpad job? It’s all laid out for you HERE.

Then, in job interviews, don’t just sit there and get bombarded with questions, vet that job. If your interviewers allow it--and they usually will--ask questions to help you determine if the job is likely to be a launchpad or a dead end. And certainly, when a job is offered to you, before accepting it, ask such questions as, “Who will I be reporting to?” “What sorts of training opportunities will be provided?” and “Assuming I do a good job, how likely am I to be promoted? To what sort of position?” Also ask, “Would you mind if I speak with a few of my potential co-workers?”

Of course, landing a launchpad job is one thing. As we all know, some rockets take off from the launchpad and soon crash. To ensure, you don’t, follow these rules:

1. During your first week, meet with your boss and key coworkers, plus, if any, supervisees or customers. Ask questions such as, “What should I know about the corporate culture?” “Is there anything I should know that might not appear in the employee handbook?” Ask your boss, “What are you hoping I’ll accomplish in the first week? First month? First three months?

2. Schedule an informal evaluation with your boss two or three weeks after your start date. That will get you feedback early enough to fix things before your reputation is cast in stone.

3. Focus on meeting your boss’s goals but look for opportunities to take initiative, ideally something big, important to the company, and visible. Before embarking on such a project, ask your boss’s permission. He may be thrilled at your initiative but also might explain why it’s not a good idea—perhaps it was a project that had already been tried and which failed.

4. A few weeks after being hired, rewrite your job description to suit your strengths, including tasks that are higher-level than in your current job description, and which meet the organization’s needs better than your existing job. Propose it to your boss. Even if she says no, you’ve established yourself as enthusiastic and ambitious; that’s just what most employers want. That also makes your boss realize that if you don’t get promoted quickly, you’re likely to leave.

5. After 60 days, meet again with your boss. Ask for feedback and perhaps present a plan for what you could do in your next 60 days to be even more effective.

Have you ever wondered how some people have become CEOs before they’re 30? That’s how.

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