We knew getting that first job after graduating college could take a while. We also knew we’d probably have to relocate to maximize our chances of finding something.
So we made a pact that we’d be flexible in our life and careers. We agreed to move close to wherever the first good job showed up, no matter which one of us got it. My being a woman, and how that would affect my career, never entered my mind.
He got the first job
After an extended stay with his parents … way out on Long island … he got the first real job – in Manhattan. Since he had a business degree and I had a theater degree, we weren’t too surprised his job came first. And because we had almost no money, we wound up living in a funny little attic apartment in suburban New Jersey, where he could easily get the train.
While my husband was at work at his entry-level government job, I did my best to find my own first “real” job. And I will tell you now that I did everything wrong. I sent out hundreds of resumes and cover letters, all the same and all based on the “hope principle.” Just getting a letter back that said “We’re sorry … ” felt like a major accomplishment.
And I did it all from the anonymity of our little home in the burbs. No networking. No informational interviews. Way before social media. Not even attempts to get myself in person to an HR department. Just endless snail mail copies of my hand-typed resume supposed to magically convey just how special I am.
I can only take sloth so long
After staring at the walls (and the ants that the landlady refused to believe existed) for way too long, I decided to get any job I could just to bring in some money – and get myself out of the house and mingling with real live people again. Even that took a while, since recessions, as we well know, bring competition for jobs that applicants might never consider in normal times.
And so, when I finally found a part-time job at Bamberger’s (it used to be a major department store), I was thrilled. Sure, it wasn’t my dream job, but I knew sitting around the house wasn’t getting my career started either.
It wasn’t a bad job. In fact, I enjoyed talking to customers and complaining about them later to fellow staff members. (Hey … I was young.) Best of all, was the 20% discount, even on sale items. But of course, I still dreamed of something more. Just sometimes you get in a comfort zone and keep going. I bet you know what I mean.
The turning point for me
And then one day, a turning point, a neighbor invited us to her house for a party. The well-dressed men gathered in one corner and the well-dressed women in another, something that felt out of another age to me, especially coming from 4 years of hanging out in jeans and tie-dye with theater folks of all genders!
And while we “women folk” were chatting, one of the women turned to me and said she heard I’d gotten a job at Bamberger’s. “Yup,” I said “I’m a part-time fitting room checker at the young men’s fitting room.”
“Why that’s a PERFECT job for a woman,” she smiled. “Even better might be a little job at that cute candy store at the mall.”
Wait just a minute!
Now I know you don’t know me and you certainly didn’t know my gender politics at the time, so you don’t know the look I get on my face when I’m seething inside. But I assure you it took every ounce of civility not to tell her what I really thought.
I did not go to college for a sweet little part-time job. Or to be some woman in a corner, talking about decorating and shopping while the men discussed meatier subjects.
In retrospect, the men were probably talking golf or football. But I was young and my mind was hungry and I yearned for so much more. I was just starting my career – something I had dreamed of for so long – and this was absolutely the kick I needed to get my butt in gear.
What this woman decided to do with her career
By the end of that year, I was in graduate school getting my MBA. And, based solely on my being in grad school, I found a great part-time consulting job at a much higher hourly rate in this up-and-coming field called technology.
And as far as what a woman should or shouldn’t do, I never let a couple of x chromosomes keep me from going where I wanted to go!
So what’s the best first career for a woman – or anyone? One that you feel especially drawn to, even if you aren’t sure where it will lead. Or one you happen to fall into that just clicks – even if it wasn’t what you were thinking. If you don’t have all the pieces yet, you can’t have all the answers.
Career is a fluid process, and the main thing is to get started, give it your all, build relationships, have fun where possible, and keep your eyes open for opportunities – they will come!
Would love to hear your thoughts and stories.