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 Your Early Work History Is Critical

By Joe Stein

This week’s column is primarily for either our newer Job Seekers or those who know someone in that situation and are in a position to provide some guidance. One of the most underappreciated aspects of one’s career is the importance of those first few jobs greatly affect a person’s work history. In fact, one of the latest social media viral trending topics is #firstsevenjobs, where people have communicated on Twitter what they did in their first seven jobs. The idea being that their life and career have been shaped by doing these jobs.
 
Now I don’t know if you have to analyze the first seven jobs, that seems like a lot and may be an entire career for some, but I think you get the point. What you do early in your career can tell a Recruiter so much about your initiative, work ethic, and interests. What you learn, do, and finish in the early formative stages of your work life can shape not only your outlook, but how people perceive you.
 
Don’t believe me? Well…let me give you an example. Recently I interviewed a person who has been in the professional work environment for the last five years. In that time, this person had three positions for a total work history around 3.5 years. Time off was taken for moving (months of time) and needing to recharge after a poor work experience (again many months). It was clear that this person lacked initiative and needs to professionally mature (and soon!).   The person, in my eyes, could not overcome the work history despite having an advanced degree from a good school. The recommendation is simple…limit your gaps and stay busy. If you do find yourself with an unexpected gap, then immediately look for a part-time job or perform volunteer work so you show your strong work ethic. You are not at the stage in your career where you “need to recharge your batteries” or take an extended vacation from employment.
 
An early work history review goes beyond job hopping and work gaps to what transferable work or life experiences you developed. As you are starting your career, you most likely will not have a substantial relevant work history and may be competing with more senior candidates that do. What Recruiters want to see, beyond some work stability, is what you learned in these early formative roles. For example, any job that has direct customer interaction serves to build your focus in this area. Any time you spent as a shift lead will show an aptitude for leadership. Any experience on a work crew, such as with landscaping, can show how you are a team player and will work well with others. During the interview, gauge whether the Hiring Manager is making the connection between your history and transferable skills. If they do not, then gently nudge him or her in this direction by making the connection during the course of the conversation.
 
Please don’t think that any job is beneath you. Working at starter jobs (such as a dish washer, lawn mowing or cashier) display early maturity and responsibility that will assist you in your work life. The fact that you paid your dues and maintained employment will be noted and appreciated by the Hiring Manager.
 
By working these positions with the right attitude, you will probably be amazed with what you learn from not only the position, but those around you. You will be able to observe different leadership styles and work environments. This will give you a sense of what works for you and perhaps apply this knowledge in other companies. If you are really lucky, you will obtain some mentors or networking contacts that will prove valuable to you throughout your career.
 
Every position you perform plays a key role in the development of your work history. Don’t get tricked into feeling that the jobs you do in the early formative years of your career do not hold much value. They are actually critical indicators of key attributes that Recruiters and Hiring Managers hold dear: work ethic, team playing, initiative, professional maturity, customer focus, and leadership.
 
In summary, remember these “Top 5”:
·         Don’t job hop around. Employers want to see that you have some sense of loyalty and make thoughtful job choices.
·         Limit your employment gaps. Even early in your career, employers want to see that maintaining constant employment (regardless of level) is important to you.
·         Build transferable skills. You will be amazed that you are building crucial skills in almost everything you do.
·         Nothing should be “beneath you”.
·         Have the attitude to learn something in everything you do.
 
As always, best of luck in your job search.