Jodi Glickman at Harvard Business Review Blogs writes (provocatively) that your first job doesn’t (really) matter, citing a poll of 100 women business leaders, only 3% of whom in mid-career are on the same career path they started out on. About 20% are still in the same industry, however.
Glickman recommends that, rather than striving for certainty as to how it’s all going to come out, people in their first job should be focused on “learning, earning, and contributing.” Of course, that would be fairly sound advice to anyone of any age at any stage of career development.
I wrote a while back that having a plan is an awfully good idea when starting out in one’s career. The discipline of thinking things through ahead of time is important. The likelihood of occupational or even industry changes along the way should not discourage planning. It’s probably better to have a plan that changes than not to have a plan at all.
As to whether first jobs “really matter,” I think that depends a lot upon the individual and the job. Some people know exactly who they are and what they want to be at a young age and line their lives up accordingly. The fictional exemplar of this principal would be Doogie Howser, the precocious TV doctor of a couple decades back — a fully licensed MD at age 14.
But we don’t all get to be Doogies. Some of us make discoveries along the way, either that we made an incorrect choice or that there was a better choice we could have made. People who know what they want from day one seemingly have a first-mover advantage over those who make changes, but time tends to level some of that out. Not everyone at the top of every field is a person who, as a child, always dreamed of having that job.
I was interested to note, reading the Wikipedia entry on Doogie Howser linked above, that the producers of that show had apparently planned a story arc in which Doogie decided to give up being a doctor in favor of becoming a writer.
Some exemplar. In the end, even Doogie couldn’t be a Doogie. But I’m guessing he would have argued that his first job “really mattered” nonetheless.