You’d be surprised how much it matters to make the most of your first 10 years of work. This is the time when you need to really hammer out the best possible starting salary, work hard toward promotions and position yourself with a high-quality company. If you do this, you’ll continue to build your professional career throughout your life, rather than peaking early and eliminating your potential for future success.
There’s a difference between those post-high school jobs and your real “first job,” though. That’s where a lot of folks get mixed up. Chances are you’ve heard the argument about minimum wage/low salary jobs, so you’ve probably got a pretty good handle on what they’re all about, so there’s really not much need to rehash the specifics there.
Retail, hotel, and restaurant jobs fall neatly into this category, and reasonably so. High turnover is often sparked by what appears to be a “clear road” to higher positions within the company that simply don’t lead anywhere. Typically, there are only a few of these positions available, and most employees find themselves passed over because they might simply be out of favor with management. Often, favoritism is the preferred method for advancement, instead of plain hard work.
As soon as possible, workers who want the best possible career should begin looking into their best opportunities to be successful, and sometimes that means getting away from the low-wage environment and looking for more challenging, rewarding work. In other words, if you aren’t going to open a restaurant of your own some day, you’d best be looking around for your next opportunity. You may think those jobs are closed off to you, but the reality is that they’re often open, but require employees to prove themselves before significant advancement and good living wages can be made.
As soon as you nail down a job worth staying at, whether it be a factory position, warehouse, or anything else, focus on switching your mindset into “career mode,” rather than trying to move up in a company that may not have room for advancement for anyone but the owner’s nephew. It’ll take some time to move up, but if you excel and prove yourself, you will move up. Spend your first few years of work trying your best to excel at what you do. This will also tell you whether you’ll be a good fit for that workplace over the long term. (It should be noted that you should be constantly on the lookout for better positions within the company or with another company, and make sure you apply for those that interest you.)
Once in place, focus on staying on top of emerging trends in your field. Be aware of potential automation that could eliminate your position, and strive to be the best employee you can. Sometimes, it’s important to keep your head down, especially when the company’s got heads rolling! Avoid being the name on everyone’s tongue. It’s a two-edged sword that more often than not will land you in trouble, either with higher-ups who are just plain sick of putting up with you, or jealous co-workers who might like nothing more than to see you fail.
If you consider the prospect of being in a career field for 30 years or more, then you really shouldn’t give too much thought to starting out at $10-$15 or so an hour. These are the jobs to give your first ten years to. There’s plenty of room to move up through most companies, particularly when they start employees out at this range. Alternatively, if the company you’re working at wants to start you out at minimum wage, chances are good you’ll never be able to make a living wage there anyway, so don’t bother with them if at all possible.