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How to Go From First Job to Dream Job

Last updated September 5, 2023

While landing your first job in high school or college can help you earn money in the short-term, it can also be a valuable opportunity to start shaping your future career path! If you have a dream job in mind for your future, you can start making it a reality through your first job. Here’s how to use your first job as a stepping stone to reach your dreams.

What’s the difference? Job vs. career

It’s important to understand the difference between a job and a career. At its core, a job is a role that you perform to get paid. Jobs usually help people meet more immediate financial needs. A career, on the other hand, is a long-term professional journey that involves a series of connected jobs, where one's skills, experiences, and interests align to create a path of advancement and fulfillment. While slightly different, jobs and careers are still very connected. There is no single perfect path or a guarantee of a “dream job,” but finding a career that excites you is an amazing place to start. If you want inspiration on what your dream job might be, check out these stories from professionals who have worked towards fulfilling their career dreams!

Exploring interests through first jobs

Your first job in high school or college can help you explore your potential career interests. The good news is that very few jobs or careers are forever. It’s common to change jobs many times over the course of your career as you follow your interests and advance professionally. Your first job, however, can provide you a glimpse into various industries, helping you identify what you enjoy and want to pursue further. A job at a fast food restaurant, for instance, can help you decide whether you thrive in customer-facing roles, enjoy working in a fast-paced environment, or have a knack for problem-solving during stressful situations. Skills like listening, problem-solving, communication, and collaboration are often called employment skills, or soft skills, and your first job is where you will begin to build them. Working your first job is the perfect time to evaluate your strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes as you start to think about your future career.

Translating responsibilities into competencies

A crucial skill in using your first job to launch into your career is translating the everyday tasks you complete at work into “professional competencies.” A “professional competency” is more about the underlying skill or quality that it takes to complete a certain responsibility. For example, if you work as a customer service representative in a retail setting, your tasks might include stocking shelves, interacting with customers and helping them find what they need, and being a team player. These tasks translate into professional competencies such as exceptional communication skills, the ability to navigate challenging situations, and the ability to problem-solve and work on a team. As you progress through your current job, be sure to write down what responsibilities you have and how they have helped you develop your professional competencies. Use your manager as a resource, and be sure to update your resume as you go!

Another great resource for this translation from workplace tasks to professional competencies is using AI tools or online research. These tools can simply and effectively help translate your job duties into career-focused language that employers look for when hiring. If you decide to use these tools, be sure to edit the language it gives you to ensure that it resonates with you and accurately reflects your contributions, responsibilities, and achievements. Any resume or cover letter you submit to employers still needs to sound like and be true to you! Need a second opinion before submitting? Send them to us for free review!

Build your network

Building and maintaining positive relationships with your supervisor or manager during your first job can help you in the future. These connections can serve as references when you're applying for future opportunities, such as internships in your desired field during college. These supervisors are also the building blocks of your professional network! If you think that your first job has no connection to what you want to do in the future, that is okay! The relationship with your manager and the skills you learned can still translate to seemingly unrelated opportunities. For example, if you worked as an after-school tutor to young students during high school and are now pursuing an internship related to your engineering degree, your previous manager can speak to your work ethic, punctuality, and ability to handle responsibilities– which can help you stand out to potential employers!

Aligning college education with career interests

As you advance in your educational journey, it’s important to keep your career interests and dream job in mind. This is true if you are starting high school or, especially, if you are starting college. If your first job sparked an interest in marketing and social media, for instance, you might consider majoring in business or marketing-related fields in college. Another example is that if you enjoyed the problem-solving aspects of customer service, courses in psychology, communication, or conflict resolution might be a great fit for you. This alignment enhances your knowledge and skill base, making you a more competitive candidate for internships, entry-level positions, and long-term career opportunities.

If you’re in high school or college, there are free or low-cost ways to build career skills and earn certificates now so you will be a highly competitive job candidate later! If you don’t know what your career interests are, that’s okay too! You can use your intro-level classes in college to do similar reflection. Additionally, counselors at your college’s career center can help you reflect on your interests and how they connect to your area of study and future career path. As you choose a major and begin brainstorming careers, lean on your passions, strengths, and curiosities!

Your first job is more than just a way to earn some extra cash; it's an opportunity to explore your interests, develop valuable skills, and lay the foundation for a successful career. Remember, every experience, no matter how big or small, contributes to your growth and can help you reach your dreams! Be sure to check out all of our free job and career exploration resources as you continue to plan for your future!

Have any questions about landing a job? Text #Jobs to 33-55-77 to chat with one of our advisors. If you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!

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