On Choosing your First Job

My friend E,

I am writing to you in hope that my words help you in one way or another.

Choosing a first job is difficult. It’s nerve racking, and it forces you to put life in perspective. The choice becomes imminent with each passing day. The dreams, hopes, and aspirations of a younger self resurface. Often times, these dreams are not in line with the job that you are certain to have. This is only one of the reasons that make this choice difficult.

Choosing your first job poses as a path with no return, much like choosing your major. The biggest fear with these two is that we might choose wrong and endure irreparable damage to the our life trajectory. We fear that it might not be what we want to do for the rest of our lives. We believe that choosing our major or a first job means that we are stuck in it forever. When choosing a first major, we want to know that we will be good at it, before we ever try it. We want to make sure that it is what we want to do for the rest of our life. We do not want to realize too late that we always wanted to do something else.

However, much like choosing a major, choosing a first job is a reversible decision. I remember many of my friends decided switched out of engineering. Some dropped after a semester, others after two years. For both cases, the folks dropped a few classes, stuck with with the the math, physics, and/or the chemistry to finish the semester. After their immersion (short or long) in their previously chosen major, they were able to switch. Unlike their pre-college fears would have them believe, this choice did not cause them to die or become failures. They simply switched to a major that was more interesting to them.

Their second choice, however, was more deliberate than the first. During their time in engineering, they accumulated knowledge about themselves and about engineering. They explored their options beyond their current major and did not see themselves in any of the careers that it offered. Through their exploration of engineering, they found the few things they liked about it and the many they did not. They researched alternative majors. They talked with deans, director of undergraduate studies, and students of different majors. They identify their new field of study, and made the switch with confidence. A confidence they would not have had if they followed through with their engineering studies.

Much like you can with a major, you can always switch from your first job to one that interests you more. The job you choose the second time will be the result of a more carefully and more thought out process. You will have accumulated experiences that will reinforce your interests, and increased confidence in your second choice. As much as people make it seem, choosing your first job is not, and does not have to be a path of no return. It does not fix you in the same place, or at the same company, or in the same profession for the years to come. It only does so if you fail to realize that your first job does not change the dreams, hopes, and aspirations you had when you were younger. Your first job just marks the first stroke of the painting about your journey out of college, not the final one.

Knowing that choosing your first job does not seal your fate might not be a good enough to guide you in making a choice. Maybe the pressing question you’d like an answer to is: “how do I know if the job I am taking is the right job for me?” It is not an easy question to answer. However, there are a few things that helped me and I believe could help you too.

Do you remember when they asked you: “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Depending on how old you were, or the trends of the time, the answer was different. I was lucky that my best friends and I lived within walking distance of each other, and together, we searched for answers to this question. Almost every weekend, we would see each other, and talk. We talked about girls —of course—, but we also talked about dreams, hope, aspirations and much more. We pushed each other to define how we could accomplish our grandiose goals. Back then, everything was hypothetical. Our discussions were based on uncertain and perhaps improbable events. We tried to predict our futures, and we did so with very little accuracy. It seemed pointless, but there was value in it. We placed ourselves in the future. We evaluated our values and interested at the time, then mapped them to the work we would be doing as adults. By doing so, we discovered the things that interested us early on. If we talked about a topic for multiple weeks, that was a sign that it meant a great deal to us. We’d spend weekends convincing each other why we believed in our goals. My friends would ask me questions to help them understand my goals better. With each question they asked, I made myself clearer, further defining my goals. More than often, their questions helped me consider perspectives I had not thought of before. This exercise of clarification was beneficial to all of us as it helped us answer the question “what do you want to do when you grow up?”

Until this day, whenever I go back home, I meet my best friends and have the same types of conversations to answer the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This has been the guiding tenet of my personal career exploration, and I always sought the help of other when trying to find answer. Through various conversations, I changed my mind countless times, further refining my goals as I learned something new about myself or about the world surrounding me. It is never too early or too late to have these conversations. I am a phone call away if you ever need to talk. Talk to people who know you: they will know your background and will allow you to better refine your goals. Once you know the “what” and the “why” of your goals, it is a simple matter of perspective. You no longer see your first job as an irreversible decision. It is just a step towards becoming the person you want to be. If the job offer you have can help you become the person you want to be, you should not hesitate in choosing it. If you have more than one offer, simply weigh the options and make a choice. There are no wrong choices, just some that are different from the others. Celebrate your newfound employment. As my first engineering professor told me, “just pick a job, and see where it goes. If you don’t like it, you can always switch.”

I would like to thank Iheanyi, Keri and Lauren for reading drafts of this. Sorry it took awhile for me to publish.