The Significance of Your #FirstSevenJobs

As far as hashtag memes go, #Firstsevenjobs and its derivatives (#first7jobs, #1st7jobs, etc.) is, to me, a fascinating one. I’m hard pressed to find another way to convey as much formative biographical information as is contained in a simple listing of one’s first seven jobs. Of course, I study career development for a living, so I’m probably a bit biased. I love asking people to describe the job they hated most, and even more, the job they loved the most. I love seeing a list of positions a person has had and then identifying themes that are embedded in that list. And I love imagining people in their first jobs, wondering what they learned from their experiences. Can you imagine Stephen Colbert working in construction, and then as a bus boy, cafeteria server, library data entry, futon frame maker, futon salesman, or waiter? (It makes me very curious about his futon recommendations). Does it make you at all amused to learn that Sheryl Sandberg was fired from her first two gigs as a babysitter? Good help is indeed hard to find.

Some observers have astutely identified some lessons from what has emerged from the hashtag—that your first job doesn’t dictate what you will do with the rest of your life, for example, or that career paths are seldom linear. Others have oh-so-badly missed the point, attempting (poorly) to argue that #firstsevenjobs advances a self-made man ideology that disguises one’s privilege. To be sure, the role and function of privilege as both facilitator and limiter of career mobility is a critically important issue. But should we avoid reminiscing about our earliest jobs on twitter to avoid perpetuating the rags-to-riches American myth? That seems like a case of privileging guilt to me.

If you want to have a sense of a person’s career trajectory, it’s usually more telling to start with the present and go in reverse chronological order. The first seven jobs, plain and simple? That’s often more of a window into a person’s adolescence. Most of us found our first jobs because they were the most accessible, because our friends were working there, or because it just seemed like an easy way to make a few bucks. First jobs usually have very little connection to one’s eventual career path. That’s not to say they aren’t important, or formative. Research indicates that early jobs help teens develop a sense of curiosity about the world of work. Parents and youth both appraise their early jobs in a positive way, although again, few suggest they had much influence on their eventual career choice. Jobs with a reasonable number of hours help adolescents develop good work habits and the beginnings of useful networking and job searching skills; only when hours become long does employment hinder career development (by negatively impacting educational attainment). All told, when we’re coming of age, it’s the experience of working that matters to our development much more so than what we do and where we do it. Still, it’s fun to share about our first jobs—so do it. Here’s my #first7jobs: corn detasseler, sporting goods sales, dish washer, house painter, personal care attendant, landscaper, teaching assistant.



4 responses to “The Significance of Your #FirstSevenJobs

  1. 1: Babysitter. Inspired meticulous birth control in my late teen years. This enabled me to have some great adventures in my 20’s.
    2: Burger and root beer float server at a tiny restaurant. Instilled respect for family-owned businesses while I discovered I had a talent for talking to customers. Even difficult people did not bother me. Free food was a plus.
    3: Medical receptionist. I discovered I could be well organized while still being flexible. I discovered I performed well under duress.
    4: International airline stewardess. Pan Am taught me everything I needed to know about global travel. I survived earthquakes in Japan, bomb threats, celebrity shenanigans, getting lost in paradise, military charter transports, political uprisings, martial law, blistering sunburns, on-board deaths, re-routing, jet-lag, and several near-misses. I discovered the phrase “Cheated death again”. After 6 years, I knew I wanted to go back to college.
    5: Seafood waitress. Paid for college and …. free food.
    6: NICU RN. I learned to say hello/good-bye to life. Tenderness and toughness. Joy and heartbreak. The stuff of life. My soul.
    7: Family Practice RNP. Too many lessons to list. In the beginning my goal was “Don’t accidentally kill anyone”. Every day I learned the power of observant listening. Eventually I discovered that the elderly often had lessons to teach and all I had to do was ask the right questions. What a joy work had become. Babysitting sure paid off! I miss the free food though….

  2. I’m 37 and have only worked at two businesses. I’m now part owner of the second business. I wonder what that says about me.

  3. 1. I delivered advertising flyers for my dad’s carpet-cleaning business in the summers starting at about age 10
    2. Carpet cleaner’s assistant, nearly always assisting my dad. Started this at about age 12, though at age 16 I would sometimes take solo jobs and wish that I had an assistant….
    3. Herald Trumpeteer at Medieval Times after graduating high school.
    4. Temp at Motorola packing cell phones into boxes
    5. Missionary. Door-to-door religion sales ain’t no joke….
    6. Point to point delivery driver/messenger
    7. Customer Service Call Center Agent for Cellular One.
    8. Door to door Health Insurance salesman for Capital American Insurance. I lasted 4 days doing this. Ugh.
    9. Mortgage Insurance Claim filer, specializing in HUD and VA loans for a sub-servicer called Dovenmuehle Mortgage.
    10. Sales associate for Franklin-Covey (retail store)
    11. Mortgage refinancing consultant for PNC Mortgage (call center)
    12. Ford car sales (lasted 2 months. I really suck at sales, but sometimes you gotta take “something” to keep money coming in, ya know?)
    13. Small Business Customer service (call center) for US West/Qwest.
    13. Office Temp, various companies, doing various things
    14. Tier 1 Help Desk agent (call center)
    15. Tier 1 Help Desk supervisor (call center)
    16. Tier 2 Help Desk agent (call center)
    17. Tier 2 “End User Support Analyst” — current

    Took me until job 14 before I finally settled into “my career.” That was about 15 years ago. The other jobs span the prior 18 years before that. No idea what it says about me.

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