It’s All About Perspective: Being Thankful for Early Jobs
By Nicole Spiegel‒Gotsch
It’s no secret that, much like top-ranked schools, big-name companies have become status markers. Look on social media and you’ll see people’s bios filled with former company mentions. Whether out of pride of accomplishment or to make them seem more follow-worthy (or job-worthy), who’s to say?
The merits of listing a former role or company in your Twitter bio are debatable, but one thing people tend to agree on is that name recognition creates an immediate cache and opens doors. If your early experiences were at Fortune 500 companies or sexy startups, it’s easy to see why it would be readily embraced as part of your CV.
But what if your role was at a lesser-known company, in an unrelated field or not what you expected? This comes up a lot in my conversations with early and even mid-career stage professionals. There’s a lot of pressure to get the perfect first (or second) job and concern that one “wrong” move will hurt your career.
Depending on your circumstances there may be times when you take a less than ideal job. And, while it may not end up on your resume, as we enter into the New Year, I’m here to say we can (and should) be thankful for the early job experiences that shape us. Here’s why. What you get out of a job can be just as much about what you bring to it (and how you frame it) as it is about a specific company or role. And, if you open yourself up to it, the results may surprise you.
My early jobs ran the gamut, including working at a specialty paper store and being an admissions counselor and using PowerPoint a lot. Some of the jobs were meatier than others, but each one imparted its own lessons. For example, at the specialty paper store, I learned firsthand the importance of product knowledge and customer education for selling premium products. Working on countless PowerPoint decks for board meetings and new business pitches gave me otherworldly attention to detail.
Many of what are commonly referred to as “soft skills” like delivering on deadline, communication and teamwork are gained in early roles. Soft skills are transferable. It’s just a matter of identifying them, being able to articulate them and then contextualizing them for your next role.
Take my earlier example of the specialty paper store and understanding the role of product knowledge in sales. The most frequent question staff would get from customers (and new hires) was “what can I use specialty paper for?” Seeing this, I created a list of the “top” uses for specialty papers for customers, employee training and marketing. That experience helped form skills like gathering customer insights, identifying needs and communicating features and benefits that I’d later apply across roles in different disciplines.
This isn’t to suggest that you shouldn’t set your sights on a particular goal and go after it. It’s more about offering another way of looking at your experiences. One that creates room for experimenting, learning and curiosity—because roles that seem less than ideal on the surface can still be great experiences that we can be thankful for.