5 Lessons Successful Women Can Teach You About Your Early Career
Career Fit

5 Lessons Girlbosses Can Teach Us About Starting Out

by Kaitlin King
Photos Stephanie Yang | April 01, 2016
Fact: most first jobs are ones we debate about putting on our resumes, recall with slight (maybe much) embarrassment, and write off when considering our overall career success.
Just something to get us out of our parents’ house and some money in the bank, right? 

Maybe, but many of the top women leaders out there regard them as key experiences that paved the road to future success. And many top companies think the same— “What did you learn from your first job?” is a trending interview question with recruiters right now. 

This month LinkedIn launched a series about career starts, asking top movers and shakers how their first jobs shaped their career success. If these women were candidates answering that interview question, they’d definitely move to then next round. 

CHELSEA HANDLER, COMEDIAN AND INNOVATOR  

Chelsea’s first job was a waitressing gig, where she developed the simple but difficult skill of dependability—partly because she just wanted people to like her. She would cover other people’s shifts, get up and get to work when she didn’t want to, and later, use the same get-up-show-up mentality in her stand-up career:

“Later in life, my habit for reliability bled into my stand-up vocation. I kept showing up. Showing up shows great character… and I want to be remembered if for nothing else than to have had great character. And once you master the art of physically showing up, the art of mentally showing up usually takes care of itself.”
"Taking the time to recognize, understand, and appreciate what the people around you have to say will mean the difference between success and failure.”

TIFFANY PHAM, FOUNDER AND CEO MOGUL

Sorting fan mail for a singer-songwriter was Tiffany’s first work gig, and one in which she’d encountered a hot pink email from a 14-year old Taylor Swift, professing her admiration for the artist. Fast-forward to today when Tiffany gets her own fan mail (minus the Comic Sans and pink font). She had the practical experience to know how important it was to answer young hopefuls’ fan mail, and she gives this advice:

“There will be times when you wonder what it would be like to return to something easy, something safe. But if you persevere, that 'no' will become a 'not right now'—and that 'not right now' will become a 'yes.' 

MEG WHITMAN, CEO OF HEWLETT-PACKARD

Meg Whitman’s first job is atypical in terms of prestige—fresh out of business school, she was a marketing manager for Proctor and Gamble. Her first task? Determining how big to make the hole in P&G’s shampoo bottles. At first, she thought it might be a trick question, that the answer would be to create a larger opening so that the consumer uses more shampoo and thus buys more product. Instead, after conducting interviews, panel discussions, and consumer reviews, she came to the opposite conclusion.

“You do not know what you do not know. Don’t forget to listen to the people who have a stake in whatever you are about to do. Taking the time to recognize, understand, and appreciate what the people around you have to say will mean the difference between success and failure.”

By the way, she reveals that the perfect shampoo bottle opening is a small hole where dispensing is easy to control (but the actual dimensions are protected by a P&G trademark).

ADENA FRIEDMAN, PRESIDENT AND COO OF NASDAQ

Adena started at a small air conditioning company, and as a result of her early experiences, she now oversees the NASDAQ internship program with great care. Her takeaway from her own experience and watching others in their first job experiences is spot-on, and is something to keep in mind regardless of tenure:

“[Show] an eagerness to execute whatever is asked. Rockstar interns show us that they believe they can learn something from every task. If they’re asked to do data entry, they’re scoping out what the data is and figuring out why it’s needed. If they’re tasked to answer phones or conduct Internet research for a new project, they approach the assignment as an adventure in the best sense of the word—a chance to acquire or perfect a new skill or new knowledge.” 
"Once you master the art of physically showing up, the art of mentally showing up usually takes care of itself.”

RACHEL ZOE, CEO OF THE ZOE REPORT

It probably comes as little surprise that Rachel’s first job was in fashion—she worked in a shoe store in a New Jersey mall, where she first discovered her penchant for styling. She was a top seller in her store month after month (of course), but learned that her skills at the cash register were less than stellar. Her takeaway?

“My biggest piece of advice for anyone starting his or her first job would be to make sure to never act entitled. It’s important that no matter what your situation is, you work like you have only $5 in the bank.”

Now, revisit that barista job, the summer of babysitting, and the seemingly meaningless internship, and think again about how much that job might affect your career and success. 

What foundations were laid for your career through your first job?