How to find your first job the right way

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I know it can be daunting. You worked so hard studying for a good result, and now you are out there trying to find out how this all works.

Before we get into some detailed steps, we need to discuss some basic rules to help you navigate this like a pro.

Here are the steps that will get you there:

  • Define your value
  • Layout your career path
  • Decide on who you want to work for
  • Get into action

This article will not be your common 1,2,3 – step approach.

Those kinds of articles you can find everywhere. But, what you want is to stand out in the market and find your way to make a mark. For that, you will need to understand your position and the value you can create in your chosen market.

Define your value

You probably think that your value is close to zero, as you are just leaving university or school, but don’t underestimate your worth yet.

When you think about value, you might think about your experience and knowledge, and you are right. This is what most companies look for. So, what kind of experience do you have?

Let me help you here: You have an enormous amount of experience in learning new things. You have been doing it for the last ten or more years, and you have proven to be good at it. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here today.

Whatever position you decide to take, you can learn the skills needed in a very short period. Don’t underestimate that value for companies. Most seasoned employees, coming from other companies with experience, struggle with adjusting to a new job. They very likely did things very differently with their previous employers, and it is hard to change and adjust.

Let’s recap:

You’ve got the knowledge. You’ve been studying for quite a while for this and its all fresh and up-to-date in your brain – check.

You are amazingly good at learning new skills. You’ve been at school and university for a long time now, and learning is one thing you’ve done and proven yourself in – check.

You’re ready – you’re motivated and ready for action. In a way, you’re a self-runner. All you need is some guidance and direction and being part of a team with focus – check.

What better could any employer want?

Layout your career path

When planning for your first job, don’t just stop there. Think about the longer-term direction you want to take. Where would you like to see yourself in 5 or 10 years?

Times are changing quickly, and what sounds amazing today might be out of date tomorrow. Just look at the computer and software industry to see how quickly things change. Changes are happening everywhere. Having a direction will help to decide on the following steps to take.

I know, you probably think, “Let me just get that first job, and the rest will sort itself”, but that would be a short-sided approach. So don’t fall for that.

When thinking about your career, think about what it is you would like to do. Don’t base it on tools or current ways of doing things. For example, you might see yourself developing an amazing team, starting your own company or getting engaged fully in saving the planet. Whatever gets you going, it is most likely your long-term direction you will measure your actions and decisions against.

So, when planning your career path, focus on those points and keep developing yourself in that direction. Then, take what is available at each step to bring you nearer to that distant vision, choose the employers that will help you on your way, and learn the skills you will need to be ready when you get there. This is the part I call defining your purpose.

This does not mean that your outlook can’t change. Of course, it can; everything changes all the time. But if you have nowhere to go, you will never arrive. So pick one and get going.

Decide on who you want to work for

This directly connects to the previous point. Once you decided which direction you want to go, you have a focus point. Within that focus vision, a whole range of employers will fit, and you can choose from.

I know you might be living in a very remote place with only a handful of employers around, but that is okay. Let me explain how this works:

Imagine it like a satellite navigation system. You enter the direction you want to take; the system identifies where you are right now and shows you all the possible paths you can take to get there. If it is a good system, it will tell you the time it will take and show you the path on a map. It might even allow you to select the kind of roads you prefer or to avoid. Clever those systems.

Imagine this for yourself. It doesn’t matter where you start from. It isn’t anything you select. It just is the place you are right now. If you live in an area with a lower choice of employers, you start with what is available and plan your way to where you want to go. The point is that you know where you want to go, at least for now, and you base your decision on that.

With that out of the way, create a list of all the companies within your reach and choice and start investigating how far those companies can take you on your path.

The aim is to identify the value you can create for them and what they can return to you. In that regard, let me give you a tip: Don’t measure the value based on the money they might be willing to pay you. Money is the worst measuring unit if you are planning a career.

For many people, money has this magnetic tendency. It keeps you in place and stops you from moving forward. Let’s say you found an employer willing to pay you more than the market average or any of your friends get; it’s going to be hard to move on from there, especially if the next step pays less. Please don’t get caught by that money spider; it won’t let you go.

Instead, focus on your path.

Get into action

Once you established your market value and are clear about where you are right now and where you want to go, and you decided on the path to take, it is time to get into action.

There are different ways to go about this. It depends a bit on your situation and starting point.

However, if you’ve gone through the previous steps, you will have established a list of companies to contact (at least one company).

It’s now time to get in touch, but it does require some preparation.

First of all, you want to make sure that you find a good working environment. That means you will need to get in touch with people working there. The easiest way could be to use Social Media channels like LinkedIn to connect to people working there. The aim is to find out about the working environment and get to know the people who might interview you. Getting a recommendation from someone already working in the company of your choice is an excellent way in.

Also, checking out the company profiles and seeing what they focus on will be a great way to prepare for the first contact.

Once you’re clear about the company and decide to go for it, you will apply for the job to the right people, focusing on the right information. Being able to mention some employees working at the companies who would like to see you working there is always a great step in the right direction.

I am not going to go into writing CVs and Cover Letters here. However, there is a lot of information out there to help you get this right.

But there are a couple of things I would like to point out to you:

First, don’t just focus on one company – If you have a choice, use it. Second, apply to options you decided on.

While researching the specific companies, try to find out in which direction your chosen market is moving. What skills will give you an advantage? Which people do you want to connect with?

Don’t be dragged into high wages right from the beginning. This is like a golden cage. If you get very good wages right from the start, you will struggle to move on from there. That means you will stay there for a long time, not pursuing the goal you’ve set yourself.

You are not going to marry a company. I mean that there is a time on your career path where working for a specific company is the right choice. And there is a time to move on. Just make sure that you can provide amazing value to whoever you work for and that that company, in return, helps you achieve your goals and brings you into the direction you want to go.

I hope this will help to get the first steps right without getting lost in the tons of advice you will find out there. Focus on your goals and measure your decision on that direction.

But most importantly, believe in yourself. Yes, you are just starting, but that is exactly your strength. Enjoy the ride 🙂

John Di Stefano

An entrepreneur at heart and founder of the Entrepreneur Academy in Brussels, Belgium. He is teaching and supporting entrepreneurs in the skills every entrepreneur needs to create a better life for themselves and the people around them.

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