4 Critical First-Job Factors

Even in social settings, I find myself in situations where people ask me this question – “Jean, can you find my son [or daughter] a job?” As a career coach and executive recruiter with a 15-year tenure on the front lines of the employment business, I can confidently say that it’s not that simple. And believe me, I wish it was. Every time I hear this question, I’m always shocked by how little people know about the preparation process of beginning a career.

Credit: themoneyprofessors.com

Credit: themoneyprofessors.com


The first step is undoubtedly the most difficult to overcome and the most overlooked. In order to land a role in today’s challenging job market, you must first adopt an attitude that attracts employers. Around the office we call it a “growth mindset” – an individual who understands that their talents and abilities can be developed through personal effort, coaching, and persistence. The reality is that employers are looking for a partnership, not an employee. They need someone they can count on who treats their career as a business and possesses a readiness to grow.

Like an employer, a growth-oriented person develops a solid plan for their career to ensure that they make strategic and purposeful decisions that drive their mission forward. Today, most professionals fail to look beyond the present, and when their current gig is up, they find themselves scrambling for answers in their search for a new position – any position. Would you invest in someone with no clear direction? Let me put it this way: if an employer ran his business the way most candidates run their careers, they simply wouldn’t survive. It’s no wonder why hiring managers are complaining about the quality of candidates marching into their office. Today, having good hard skills just isn’t enough.


After adopting an employer-worthy mindset, it’s important to understand that every position is housed in a specific company. Big, small, public, or private, every job seeker must decide what his ideal work environment looks like based on his individual behaviors and motivators. It’s another factor many people fail to consider, and at this point, I’m willing to bet that some of you are rolling your eyes. Believe me, I know it can be tempting to take the first job that remotely relates to your field. You have bills to pay and mouths to feed, and you don’t have time to be picky – I get it. But I’m telling you right now that there’s a definitive difference between being picky and being open-minded, yet strategic. Oftentimes, job seekers who frantically accept positions without considering their own personal preferences end right back in my office nine months later.


Let’s go back to the example I mentioned earlier. A relative asked me where her son, a fresh college graduate with a degree in math, could find a job. After all, degrees in general disciplines can go in several different directions, making it that much harder to define a specific career path. When you look at the 12 Top Jobs of 2014, for example, a math degree applies to at least half of them. As a behavioral specialist, my first inclination is to assume that because this youngster has a strong left-brain, he’ll most likely prefer occupations that are BOH. The point is, regardless of your background, you need to decide whether you’re a social butterfly who loves dealing with people (FOH) or if you prefer to keep your head down and solve problems behind the scenes (BOH). Once you figure out who you are professionally, only then can you think about specific roles. 


When I first began my career in human resources, I recruited candidates in the restaurant industry, a field that’s as cut and dry as it gets. Positions were simple – you either worked in the front of the house (FOH) or the back of the house (BOH). The FOH was all about the customers, made up of hostesses, service managers, wait staff, and bartender, and the BOH was all about operations, comprised of chefs, dishwashers, and kitchen managers. When I spread my recruiting wings to other industries, I realized that they were all run in the same manner. In every company, there is a FOH and BOH, and each has it’s own set of departments: Human Resources, Sales & Marketing, Operations, Technology, and Finance. These departments, regardless of size, must be covered in order for a business stay afloat and be successful. If each industry functions under the same structure, shouldn’t your career also maintain that same level of organization?

After deciding where you fit in the employment world, you’re finally ready to build a sustainable career plan that showcases your preferred company culture, unique behaviors, and background in a way that connects to the employer mindset. And I’m not talking about the half-thought-out dream career that exists in your brain. I mean a written plan that covers all the bases of a standard business: Human Resources, Sales & Marketing, Operations, Technology, and Finance.

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