Are You a Doogie?


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.


  1. 2017-01-22 15:55:28

    It’s hard to find knowledgeable people on this topic, but you sound like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks

  2. 2011-10-17 15:04:07

    Your first job can matter whether you stay on the same career path for your whole working life or not. Unless accepting your first job was a monumental mistake and you left it very quickly, the lessons and experiences you learn from the beginning of your career can still be important after a career or industry switch. When I first moved to the US from the UK I was surprised how closed to the idea of career change many people and companies seemed to be, as there are many skills that can be transferable and relevant in other roles. It seems that this is changing to some extent now, but I'd say the important things if you're considering a career change are: 1. Being clear why you want to change track. 2. Knowing what skills and experience you have that may be relevant. 3. Being realistic about the level (both in hierarchy and earning) that you may have to enter the new career at. If you can clearly communicate the above to a prospective employer, experience from your first job might be just as relevant as subsequent experience.

  3. 2011-10-17 14:59:49

    You're right that most first jobs have nothing to do with a final career path. But that's not the same as "your first job doesn’t (really) matter." Even for the person that ends up being a brain surgeon, that first fry cook job taught timeliness, the importance of following instructions, working as a team, cleanliness, and the value of a dollar. Many workers don't have anything as organized in their work history as a "work path." The next job may have little in common with the last. So, for a worker like that, does any job matter? Again, yes. While skills necessary to do the next job may be completely different from the last, work habits and work-appropriate attitudes can certainly ease the transition.

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