Are you a young professional, fresh-from-the-university jobseeker, or an aspiring professional? Are you thinking of how to land your first job? Or, are you at a crossroad as to what job offer to accept? I have come to tell you that your first job matters! All you will become, how high you will rise professionally, how rewarding your career would be, fifty five percent of the time, is determined by the first job you take! This article specifically speaks to young professionals, fresh graduates, and jobseekers.
I have been musing to write on this for a while until a recent post by Subomi Plumptre of Alder Consulting gave me the spur to put pen to paper. Her piece broke my inertia and gave me the resolve to write about this. By the way, I am a huge fan of her writings.
Fifty percent or more of graduates in Nigeria that sign up for advanced degrees choose to do so because they couldn’t find good jobs. On completing NYSC (National Youth Service Corps), for many graduates in Nigeria, the next item of the agenda is getting a job. Even if the plan is to have their own business at some point, for many a youth, getting a job is a priority concern. Apprenticeship or learning the ropes of a new trade/craft (photography, fashion design, artistry etc.) is often, a kind of first job.
But what kind of job should a young graduate go for, post-NYSC? Any kind?
Come with me.
See, whatever job you choose to settle for, do well to remember that your first job, post-NYSC, will most likely define the path your life would take. The frustrations, successes, quality of life, nature of challenges, possibilities, quality of thoughts, calibre of team/network etc. that you will experience in the early stages of your career are often tied to the type of first job you accept. This is one of the things they don’t teach at the university. This is one of those things you wish you had known earlier.
If the first job you do, post-NYSC, is as strategic as this write-up argues, then, it means that what you do during NYSC is also important. NYSC isn’t a waste, it is not a time to chill and while away time. For many, NYSC was the year they found destiny. Don’t waste yours.
In my graduating set (in OAU) a few years back, the first of my mates who got their (corporate or entrepreneurial) careers quickly on track, were those who had a “spectacular” NYSC year, “fantastic” jobs post-NYSC, or well cut-out plans during university. I still remember the faces of some of those mates right now. Asides the usual challenges of life, those guys and ladies continue to experience meteoric lifts till this day.
See, that you went posted to teach a school in the middle of God-knows-where during NYSC is not a license to frustration. Teaching or any other “boring” task during NYSC can be an opportunity to impact lives and build new skills yourself that would be relevant to your future endeavours. A task is only as boring or challenging as the individual saddled with carrying it out, makes it. Even in boredom, you can re-invent the wheels, and turn it for your good.
But that you are posted to teach during NYSC does not mean you should be a teacher, post-NYSC. For those posted to local government councils and other lax places where almost nothing is done all year long, your case is serious. If you love yourself, do something tangible with that one year. Don’t let it slip. Hundreds of thousands of Nigerian graduates cannot account for certain periods of their lives (particularly the one year compulsory NYSC); those were probably times they let slip by, doing nothing tangible.
Now, let me beg you. After NYSC, if you can, don’t accept just any job. I am not asking you to be choosy, unreasonable or hard to please. No. Rather, I am asking that you be circumspect about the first job you accept.
If you are lucky to have more than two or more job offers to choose from, please, don’t necessarily choose the one with the highest pay, don’t also hastily choose the easiest. Rev. ‘Gbeminiyi Eboda would always tell us: “Those who easily follow the path of least resistance often find out (sometimes, too late) that such paths lead nowhere”.
Young wo/man, rather, choose the one that offers the best prospects, the one that will give you best opportunities to learn new things, the one where you will be thoroughly challenged to climb up the ladder. Choose where talent is placed above connections or ethnicity, where evidence trumps sentiments, where human development is as important as net revenue, where accountability, diligence, fairness and character are core values.
And if I may add, don’t accept sheepishly jump at any civil service job just because they say government jobs have job security. Without good prospects and fluidity, so called “job security” (especially what people mean when they talk about job security in the Nigerian Civil Service) is the greatest source of redundancy and frustrations both in midlife and latter life. They are the reason why things are the way they are around here.
If the public/civil service job offer on your table is not in one of the top corporate governance areas or service/grassroot areas where your impact/improvement can be measured and scaled and where some professionalism still exists, don’t accept it; well, that’s provided your dream is to someday be in the top 1-10 percent of your peers, performance, achievement and relevance-wise.
And should you accept a “conventional” civil service job (especially in some of the Federal and State Ministries), please, know why you are there. Don’t lax. Don’t join the nothing-dey-happen group. Guy, “something dey happen”. Ask you mates in the “real” private sector. Something dey happen; only that it takes some people twenty years or more to find out.
This bear repeating. If the first job you settle for is in low priority MDAs in the public sector at the Federal, State or Local Government Level, then, you need to pay more attention to yourself. If you are unlucky, like most green horns like you turn out to be, you probably won’t get any substantial training in there in five to ten years!
If your first job is in high priority MDAs like the CBN, FIRS, the Military, NNPC, DPR etc., then, you are lucky; trainings and exposure could come handy, and you would be on your way to a productive career.
And by the way, please, don’t believe the lie, “Just take it, there are no good jobs out there.” I tell you, “Na wash”, it’s a trap. Once you get into a wrong first job, getting out will be more difficult. And before you know it, you’ve lost 5-10 years. Before you accept any job for that matter, be sure to ask questions. It’s your life; you have a right to ask.
This is the reason why a few years down the line, most folks in low priority public sector MDAs get off the pace in life and can hardly compete, shoulder to shoulder, exposure-wise, skills-wise, legitimate finances-wise, competence-wise and job satisfaction-wise when compared to their contemporaries in high priority private sector. As sad as this is, it is the sad reality today.
Sometimes, you need to take a “small” job or to learn the ropes in a smaller company before the big offer comes; if that’s the situation you are in, take the “small” job but know why you are taking it, keep the big picture in view. A job may be small but the lessons to be learnt on it and the prospects it promises must not be small. Accept a small job that has big lessons and big prospects.
Every good job, especially in the early days of your career, is a journey, not a destination. Always remember this: A good job improves you, inside out. Every good job is an opportunity that prepares you for a bigger role… Your first job matters.
- Kunlere Idowu
I originally wrote and published this article on April 6, 2017. But due to popular demand, I am re-publishing it with minor modifications on our website, wastesmart.org.
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