Business | My Career

Good first job should lay a strong foundation

A narrow focus at the start may limit future opportunities

  • By Gaurav Ghose, Financial Features Editor
  • Published: 00:00 December 17, 2011
  • Gulf News

  • Image Credit: Supplied

You have landed your first job and are raring to go: young and raw, you want to get on with the next stage of your life.

Or, you take a post that you don't enjoy or doesn't suit you, for a little more money: already spending your first salary in your head.

Whatever the reason for rushing into your first job, it's entirely possible that you do not fully understand what the position entails.

And, a serious misjudgment on your first job could ruin your career in the long run. Becoming frustrated in a position can lead to you losing patience and quitting in a huff.

A good first job should lay a strong foundation for a long, satisfying and rewarding career. But the reality is, as career and human resources experts point out, very few new-comers to the workforce think about what they want to get out of life and their career. Instead, they focus on compensation and benefits and grade enhancement, even at the cost of decisions that would be better for their career.

Ron Villejo, managing director of Ron Consulting, has witnessed new recruits demand increases and promotions, beyond their skills and experience.

The best solution, said Villejo is an "honest, objective appraisal of one's experience, knowledge and abilities vis-à-vis a particular job, and a fair, market-competitive salary package from the company. Unless there are gross discrepancies or unfairness on either or both parts, the young person mustn't hop from job-to-job just for the sake of salary." A career needs to be about "learning and earning," said Andrew McNeilis, Europe, Middle East and Africa managing director of Talent2, an executive recruitment and HR company.

"Graduates need more than just money to gain career satisfaction. They might not think that when they are using salary as ‘bragging rights' with their peers, however after a while just staying in a job for the money will rot the soul."

Common mistake

In fact, in this part of the world, a common mistake made is for a graduate to expect too much too soon, said Mike Haynes, managing partner at Kershaw Leonard, a Dubai-based recruitment consultancy. Simply having a good degree is not enough, Hynes noted.

"They have to be ready and, most importantly, willing to put in the hard work for more than just a few weeks to gain the work experience needed."

Most first jobs tend to be repetitive, but these tasks must be mastered before more challenging assignments can be expected.

"Learn to be disciplined and discipline requires patience and concentration," said McNeilis. "Ask yourself ‘what am I going to learn from this company and how will they train and develop me so I can become an in demand employee'"?

Counselors and managers must strike a balance between supporting aspiration and ambition, while injecting a dose of realism and patience in the young person, said Villejo.

"I would expect a good manager to have a comprehensive induction programme in place which moves the new graduate around the business to gain exposure to as many different disciplines as possible," he said.

Companies should not promote even good performers prematurely, adds Villejo. "It usually takes two to three years to learn and develop in a challenging role, before moving on," he said.  "What's more, this moving on has to be lateral ones as well.  I've heard so many staff wanting to become a general manager, but they've spent several years working within just one or two sections in the business."

Focusing too narrowly on their field of education could be another mistake for new recruits. The should branch out into several different fields and explore different aspects of their industry. For example, Villejo said, sales and marketing can cover: research, advertising campaigns and traditional and new media.

Some reports suggest that young people are preparing for jobs that won't exist when they actually enter the workforce. Villejo pointed out that with the nature of employment slated to undergo rapid changes, a young person need to have a diversified base of experience, knowledge and abilities.

"A narrow-focus at the start is very likely to limit his or her career opportunities in the future," he said.

McNeilis encouraged graduates to think about what motivates them and stimulates their mind. "If a graduate likes life fast and furious then perhaps they need to join a dynamic changing industry rather than predictable sedentary one," McNeilis said.

In competition

A new recruit must also understand that from day one they are in competition for a small number of managerial roles in the medium term, and an even smaller number of executive roles in the longer term, said Chris Greaves, managing director, Gulf and India, Hays, a recruitment consultant.

This means that managers will be making continuous judgements about new employees and these will be considered when decisions have to be made about who is best placed to take up new opportunities.

Greaves advice to new recruits include: always be punctual, don't take time off sick, don't get caught up in office politics or gossip, look for ways in which you can take on additional responsibilities or for ways in which things can be done differently, communicate with management and show an interest in the business, seek mentoring and ask questions. "If you are seen to be going through the motions and working to your contracted hours you shouldn't be surprised when your peers start overtaking you after about 18 months," Greaves added. 

Finally, own up to mistakes and take a stand for what you believe is right, Villejo notes, adding that developing such qualities is more a question of a capability and a confidence that must be strengthened over time and with effort.

And in today's world in which the younger generation is hooked on to social media, McNeilis says that those in their first jobs should be careful never to vent their frustrations against the employer, mouthing loud criticisms that could jeopardise their career on such platforms. "Never discredit your employer, fullstop," he says.

How to shine in your first job
  • 1. What separates the good from the bad is ‘attitude' as much as qualification.
  • 2. Strike a balance of between aspiration and ambition with realism and patience.
  • 3. Find companies that have a genuine commitment to high performance through decent development programmes.
  • 4. Know yourself: work out what environment brings out the best in you. If you like a team, join a team-oriented firm.
  • 5. Don't focus too narrowly on compensation and benefits.
  • 6. Conform, perform and then reform. When you join a firm fit in, work hard and then tell your boss what's wrong with his company, rather than do it on day one.
  • 7. Be punctual, work hard and be an asset.
  • 8. Take initiative on a job and volunteer for a project that will give you new skills
  • 9. Pick a mentor from who you can learn.
  • 10. Always make new mistakes. All make mistakes — high achieves don't ever repeat the same mistakes.
  • 11. Don't moan: misery loves company. And also be careful not to vent your frustrations and discredit your employer on social media platforms.
  • 12. Never complain about your job: either improve it or move and give the opportunity to someone who would appreciate it.
     

Comments (1)

  1. Added 18:42 December 17, 2011

    yes correct, but at that young age, one does not have the thought of long term career, life target, goals etc. The importance of first job should be taught in the colleges/schools.

    ramji yahoo, Chennai, India

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