By Ashley Stahl, Originally Published in Forbes
It’s well-documented on this Forbes blog and on my website that my first job wasn’t necessarily spectacular.
I was excited to enter the work for as I was preparing for a career in counterterrorism; I learned French and Arabic, got a Master’s degree in War, and so much more…. Needless to say, I didn’t expect the job hunt to chew me up and spit me out when I moved home from college. Yet after three sad months of applying for jobs online, I ended up as… drumroll, please!
…An admin assistant hardly making minimum wage (with the lowest confidence I’ve ever had).
The pain of being stuck in a job that didn’t align with who I was inspired me to learn how I could eventually be the best job hunter I could. I eventually landed a senior position for the Pentagon (at age 23), and fast forward to six years later, I’ve now helped thousands of job seekers.
Everyone’s career path looks different, and I’ve found hands down that the most successful people accept that success is nonlinear. Gone are the days of following a prescribed career path; we now live in a world of the “slash career,” where success has become a quilt of many experiences, versus a straight line with no guessing.
I’ve always wondered what stories other entrepreneurs had about how they got their first jobs. What was it? How did it lead to the work they are doing now? Did they “hustle” in a way I should have when I first got started, or did they also stumble into their career?
I got the opportunity to ask some high-profile entrepreneurs this question as I recently contributed to the new book 3 Billion Under 30 by TED speaker and award-winning author Jared Kleinert. By writing for the book, I met many of the entrepreneurs who’ve shared their stories below, and curated their stories for you in order to provide some inspiration as you work to one day become an entrepreneur yourself or “level up” your career.
“How did you get your first job?”
“I dropped out of college and started marketing my first website that was an online forum and newsletter for stock traders to discover new trade ideas. Each member had a rating like on eBay and it grew to 10,000 active users on the website. This prompted a CEO from a nanotechnology public company to contact me to advertise on the website but when he found out I was only 19 he told me I don’t realize the value of what I had created and offered me a job to work for him. Not only did it become my first job but it became the first time I had a hands on mentor as an apprentice to learn how investor and public relations was done. After a year, I learned the business of IR and PR along with my digital marketing skills and built an agency to $10 million in revenue by time I was 24.”
Gerard Adams, President and CVO, Fownders
“I was a big Backstreet Boys fan, and they partnered with Burger King for special toy releases. Being the big fan I am, they had all these cut outs and promo items in the store. They wouldn’t give it to me or sell it, so I filled out an application to work at the establishment just for the items. After the promo was over, I loved being in customer service and talking to people so I worked there for close to a year. I used it as my opportunity to work on my people skills, interacting with strangers and resolving conflicts.”
Karen Civil, Founder and CEO, KarenCivil.com
“When I was 15, I went to a demonstration for the memory of the kids who died during a terrorist act in Beslan, Russia. I didn’t know who organized it because there were no symbols or flags, but I was touched by this meeting and the way they made it very sincere and true. I wanted to know who these people were, which is eventually how I knew about the new anti-fascist democratic youth movement. I joined it the same week and, in the next two years, it grew from 2000 to 50,000 people. I became one of the leaders of it.”
Masha Drokova, PR Studio Founder and Angel Investor
“I went into the family catering business at about 11, and worked on occasion at various events in South Florida until I became an entrepreneur at 15. Then, I started a tutoring site that was ‘supposed’ to connect you with experts from all around the world via webchat, but that failed quickly for every business mistake you could think of. It wasn’t until I worked for two VC-backed startups in Silicon Valley starting at 16 that I learned how to be a successful marketer, entrepreneur, and decision-maker.”
Jared Kleinert, Founder and Author, 3 Billion Under 30
“The first time I was hired to build a website for money I was about 15 or 16 years old. I was in the library at school using the computer lab and a teacher asked me what I was doing. I explained that I was working on one of my websites, and they asked to see my work. Then, they hired me to build one for their side business.”
Roberto Blake, Founder, Create Awesome Media
“A local entrepreneur in Austin had heard that I was in The Game and was fascinated by that, so he offered me a job. I didn’t want a job, but every time I came up with an objection, he would solve it. I didn’t want to work normal hours, so he said to come in whenever I wanted. I like to travel, so he said to take as much time as I needed. I got bored working on one thing so he said I could work on anything in the company. In the end I ran out of objections and took the job.”
Tynan, Founder, CruiseSheet
“Early on, I started to question where all the money was going, which vendors we used on different shows, and why we needed certain items for various productions office but not others. Dur-
ing the four seasons I spent working on Drop Dead Diva especially, I sorted through purchase orders, invoices, and day-to-day business transactions as part of my job and learned what everything really costs. Most people only think about how they will make money, but this alone isn’t your business. No matter what field you are in, operating costs and time expenditures must be considered.”
Tara Ansley, Feature Film Producer
If your first job (or current job) isn’t ideal, it’s key to remember that you are not your circumstances. These high-profile entrepreneurs were all where you are currently at one point in their careers, but they were proactive and engaged in growth.
And if they can do it, you can too.