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A millennial’s brief guide to first jobs

Nicole Kelly (right) interviewed Justin Rushing for a server job at a job fair held in January by The Genuine Hospitality Group in Miami.
Nicole Kelly (right) interviewed Justin Rushing for a server job at a job fair held in January by The Genuine Hospitality Group in Miami. (Lynne Sladky/Associated Press/File)

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” -- Confucius

So, you need to work. Here’s a list of the types of jobs out there and what to watch for.

The money job. By far the most popular position to take after graduation, these jobs range from being a tech or marketing consultant to working as a barista and wondering why you majored in English. Only take if you or your family actually need the money now. Paying off debt, the status boost, the lifestyle boost, or “because this is the only job that will hire me” (Starbucks) are all bad reasons. No exception.

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The stepping stone job. You know you don’t want to stay long term, but this experience will look great on your resume. Make sure you first ask the company where ex-employees have gone, whether they maintain contact with former colleagues, and how long managers expect the average employee to stay. Try to discern whether this position will actually help you in the quest for your ideal job. Make sure your new employer knows you’re there to learn crucial skills, and never say that you intend to stay for life.

The lifestyle job. You’re going to have a lot of free time, fun, make just enough money to be happy, and have a great feeling of security. In general, any job that makes you feel like you can’t leave is a problem, so unless this job meets other criteria, plan on making this a stepping stone and apply those rules. Only take if you’re planning on making a huge lifestyle change (like having children) and this is the only job that allows it. Again, you want to be upfront with your bosses and let them know your expectations for work-life balance.

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The reach job. You know you’re underqualified. You’re worried that exaggerations on your resume or your interview might mean hundreds of hours of catchup learning and late days. Almost always take a reach job. Just work the extra hours to be the person the boss thought you could be when you were hired. But don’t take if advancement requires brutal competition with your more qualified peers.

The prestige job. Closely related to the money job, this is the big corporate gig that sounds great on paper and drains every bit of your time or ethics in real life. Only take if it is the best way to get to a certain goal you have (like being a consultant at a nonprofit, running for public office, or starting your own company) and you know that you won’t lose sight of that goal. Don’t get used to the prestige or the money and make sure you keep things in perspective. Plan your exit now. Or you may never leave.

The skills job. You’re in it to learn. It doesn’t matter what type of paycheck you have, this is going to teach you how to program, write great articles, or be a great chef. It’s kind of like an internship, so make sure you treat it like that. Find great mentors from day one and make the most of it. Keep track of what skills you wanted to learn and make sure you’re still learning a few years down the road, or it may be time to move on.

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The self job. Starting your own business may sound like a great idea, but if you’ve never worked a day in your life, now is not the time to figure out whether you can do it on your own. Remember that if you’re working with friends or are your own boss, you need to control every aspect of your schedule and never procrastinate or slack off. Don’t choose this because you think it’s easy. You’re more likely to work many more hours, see less of your family, and earn less money. But if you do well, the payoffs are astronomical.

Did you notice there’s no such thing as a lifetime job? Today, everyone moves for career and personal development and the few people who do stay in their first job for decades never intended to. Don’t start with your dream job (Google or the White House or anything else) and expect to stick for life.

Regardless of which job you pick, there are three rules to keep in mind: 1) Always pick opportunity over salary, 2) Always know why you’re actually taking the job and what you hope to get out of it, and 3) Most importantly, always pick a job with good coworkers.


Isvari Mohan is in law school. Her views on employment are not necessarily shared by her editor, for whom every job has been a reach job. She can be reached at voice@isvari.com. Follow her on Twitter @IsvariM.

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