College graduation time is here. Around the country, hundreds of thousands of fresh-faced 20-somethings are raring to go out and make a difference in the world. For many, this includes getting an amazing job with a killer salary and lots of benefits.
While this is a great dream and certainly a reasonable goal to strive for, the reality is that most grads will be hired for an entry-level position — one that will pay the rent and not much more. But as it turns out, these basic jobs can provide you with all sorts of invaluable lessons that are worth far more than a beefy paycheck.
My son happens to be graduating in a few weeks, and that gets me in the 'pondering' mode about what's next. He and I have spoken about entry-level jobs, and he is definitely pragmatic about getting into a "grunt work" kind of job in order to prove himself.
So - what are the benefits of an entry-level job anyway?
Entry-level jobs offer a peek into the industry
A low-paying position in an industry that you are interested in offers an insider’s look at the company and the way that the business handles the executive roles. In some cases, you may realize pretty quickly that what you thought would be your dream job is actually a nightmare position. You may hear stories from your boss about 90-hour work weeks, endless business trips and very little time with his or her family. Starting at the bottom rung often helps you realize that you don’t want to climb that ladder any further.
One of the things I've noticed is that there are an awful lot of people who end up doing something totally different than what their degree area - an entry-level job can be a great way to figure out if you really want to focus where you once believed you would.
Additionally, you'll learn a lot about the culture of a company from the way they treat the inexperienced new employee. If you don't like the culture, you can always look for another place.
Entry-level jobs provide great lessons in self-discipline
Entry-level work offers an outstanding opportunity to learn self-discipline and persistence, especially if the job is with a company that you really like. It can be time consuming and challenging to move up in the corporate world, and these first jobs really help hone those skills of striving to do more than is required and putting in extra hours to make a favorable impression on the managers. If you want to take a more self-directed and entrepreneurial route, look for entry-level positions in companies like Amway that offer these types of opportunities.
Entry-level jobs are an excellent vehicle for learning the basics like: showing up on time; listening well before acting; figuring out how to meet and learn from experienced people; determining what you'll tolerate for a commute; and so forth.
Entry-level jobs help you learn “soft skills"
Higher level positions may include some major training and learning significant skills like heavy duty software systems and more, but the “soft skills” one learns in entry-level jobs are also incredibly important. Never discount how crucial it is to learn how to communicate with managers, work in a group, speak with customers and be on time for work every day. In many ways, these basic-yet-invaluable skills will be used far more over your career than a more specific task.
Entry-level jobs help you learn to see the big picture
Sometimes, when young employees are getting started in their careers, they are so focused on making the big bucks that they forget that jobs are about much more than a fat paycheck. In many cases, the happiest people are those earning a small salary doing a job that they genuinely love.
Jobs that people may consider to be menial or not important can be immensely rewarding, and they are also positions that have a lot of merit and are important to the company. The ultimate goal should not be a certain title or annual salary, but rather to find work that makes you feel good about yourself.
When I think about my early jobs, I still remember some key things from my first couple of jobs:
McDonalds: I was lucky enough to work in a franchise owned by the Valluzo family in Louisiana. They insisted on quality, cleanliness, and customer service in their restaurants and drilled it into the employees' (and managers') heads - and their McDonalds locations stood out. If you didn't have high standards, you didn't last in the Valluzo's franchise. I started out mopping floors and ended up doing just about every job at the restaurant over time.
A lot of the things I learned there still stick with me, including how to treat your employees like team members, not subordinates.
In short, embrace the entry-level job - it can be a great foundation for your future.