When job seekers talk about entry level jobs they often have different things in mind, depending on who is doing the talking and what their situation is. But whatever your situation, you should consider that there’s more to an entry level job than simply getting hired at the highest salary with the shortest commute.
Whether you are graduating from school and getting your first job or are reentering the work force after several years abscence, it’s normal to worry most about getting hired and at the highest salary, often without giving thought to their long term career. The problem is that what you take as your first job will a big factor in determining what your career options will be in the future.
When you are ready to leave your first job, employers will want to know about your experience. It stands to reason that you are likely to get paid the most to do the kind of work you did in your first job. And so on with subsequent jobs, until one day you wake up and realize you have chosen a career without actually being aware you were doing it!
You may be happy with career you have wandered into. But if you are unhappy with your job, it’s time to think about the kind of work you would like to do for the rest of your life. Once you have researched your options and have decided on a new career, the problem becomes how to get a job in that new career when your experience is based on your first few jobs in an area you have now chosen not to work in.
At this point, you are ready to change gears and seek an “entry level” job in the new career you have chosen. One good thing is that now, because you are no longer new to the workforce, you actually do have experience (your soft skills) that should transfer to any situation. You can cite examples from the jobs you have already had of your initiative, teamwork, reliability and other traits that would be valued in almost any kind of work.
One you have decided what you want that new career to be, there are three important factors to consider in targeting and accepting your first job in that career.
Company reputation: When your are breaking into a new career, which company you work for, is often more important than the specifics of what you do. Ideally you want to work for a company that everyone in the industry knows and admires. If you want to break into transportation, for example, you might choose FedEx or UPS over a local trucking company. Employers feel more comfortable with candidates who have worked with a brand name company in their industry. The mere fact that you held a position at the company for more than a year gives you added credibility and prestige.
Job description: When you are starting out in a new industry the opportunity to learn can be more important than how much you make. Look for a position that is in an area critical to your company’s success so that you will have a better chance to do meaningful work. Since FedEx is in the transportation business, for example, you will be closer to the center of the action working in logistics or dispatching rather than working as an accountant.
Company size: After two or three years in your new job, unless you get a good promotion and raise, you will probably be looking to move to another company to get a better job. The best way to find out about these jobs is by networking. And the best way to build your network is by working in a larger company where you can meet more people who will also move on to new employers and be able to tell you about job openings before they are advertised. That’s the real advantage of working for a larger company. On the other hand, the disadvantage of working for a larger company is that the job you do will tend to be more specialized and may not offer the broad experience in working with all the specialties that make a company successful.
At some point in your career, it may pay off to work at a smaller company where you can be less specialized and get broader experience that will gain you entry into a wider variety on jobs in the industry you have chosen when it comes time to move on.
Job title: Do not be overly concerned whether the position you are looking at is for assistant, associate, coordinator and so on. Your job title matters somewhat, but the kind of work you do is more important than the job title.
Salary: This is the tough part. As we mentioned, employers tend to pay more based on experience in past jobs. So when you are moving into a new career, you won’t have prior experience in that career yet. Don’t be surprised if the price of taking a position that’s good for your career in years to come requires you to accept less pay than if you had stuck with your original career.
If you are willing to make a few tradeoffs to take a job that builds a good foundation for your new career, you can typically expect to more than make up the money you gave up to work at a lower salary early on.