Does Your First Job Affect Your Entire Career?

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From the friends we choose to spend time with, to hobbies we pursue on the weekends, ALL decisions we make have some kind of long-term effects (whether we realize it or not). When it comes to your career, however, does your first job affect your entire professional life?

How much does that first job really matter?

If you started working in high school, immediately after high school, while enrolled as an undergraduate student worker, or otherwise, your first job is rarely a position that you will remain in long-term. Assessing whether or not your first job affects your entire career is complex. Most importantly, it should not be anxiety-provoking. While your first job is important, it does not serve as a make or break to your ultimate success.

If you are searching for your first job, or you are currently working in the first position you ever accepted, don’t put an unnecessary amount of pressure on yourself.

To address the main question: Does your first job affect your entire career? The short answer is: yes, but only as much as you want it to or allow it to. Keep in mind that your career is long, and you will not necessarily remain in the same role or field as you might have originally planned. Career changes are more common than you think!

Why does your first job affect your career?

Your first job affects your career because it shapes your expectations of reality in the workforce and paints a picture of what you are ultimately looking for in a position. While molding many aspects of your professional life, your first job also shapes your career because it shows you what aspects of the position and field are or aren’t a good fit for you.

In order to know whether or not an industry is right for you, we recommend to work in the field and test the waters. Expert tip: Even if your first position is not your dream job, gaining experience in a relevant area with transferable skills will increase your chances of getting hired down the road.

On the other hand, if you accept your first position out of necessity and are unhappy, or if it’s simply not the industry for you, then there’s no need to worry. While it might have a small effect on your second job, it will not negatively impact your entire career.

Thinking long-term

According to 2019 data from the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans change careers 12.3 times from the ages of 18 to 52. Additionally, nearly half of these positions were held from ages 18 to 24. The chart below contains data from a national longitudinal survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demonstrating the number of jobs had by Americans based on sex and age.

This information makes it evident that your first job is not a firm predictor for the rest of your life. As a young adult in your 20’s, you still have a long career ahead of you. You do not need to put unnecessary pressure on yourself to land your dream job.

Don’t overthink it

You might be feeling a lot of pressure to find an amazing first job to set yourself up for success, but don’t overthink it. If an opportunity knocks, even if it is a position that you are hesitant to take, remember that it can have a very positive impact on your future.

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Actionable Steps


Don’t stress about that first employment opportunity

Though your first job might appear to be extremely high stakes, do not put too much pressure on yourself.


Do some self-reflection and take your time

Whether searching for your first position, or trying to figure out next steps for your second opportunity, take some time for self reflection. Ask yourself: What are my short-term goals? What are my long-term goals? Is it important for my first job to align with my career goals?


Seek assistance

Contact a career coach, speak with your professional coaches, and seek out friends and family to learn more about what’s to come after your first job. Everyone has had a first job, so capitalize on your resources to get assistance during this process.


Read more about starting your career

You can learn more about how your first job affects your career by reading the following articles and book, reviewed to be the best by our professionals: Number of Jobs, Labor Market Experience, and Earnings Growth, Why Your First Job May Not Be Your Dream Job, and Indispensable: How to Succeed at Your First Job and Beyond.

About the Author

Dr. Alyssa Harmon-Salter

Dr. Alyssa Harmon-Salter

Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership

Alyssa holds an Ed. D. in Educational Leadership from Northern Arizona University. For the last 7 years, she has coached hundreds of college students on how to be successful academically and in prepping for a job.
Full Bio | LinkedIn

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