In our industry, career paths are extremely diverse. Like everyone else, I’ve made some really good career decisions, but I’ve also learned some hard lessons along the way – lessons that seem appropriate to pass along to my sons this Father’s Day.
I recently ran across a LinkedIn article describing the first job experiences of highly successful people in business, politics and other fields. In some cases, these individuals’ first jobs were summer internships; in other cases, they were part-time positions that paid for college or put food on the table for their siblings.
As you approach the launch of your own careers, it’s important to learn from the experiences of others and to realize the importance of remaining open to every opportunity, no matter how insignificant those opportunities may seem at the time.
I landed my first job in the fall of 1982. I had just started coursework for a degree in economics when the Delhi University faculty went on strike. Classes ground to a halt and I had no choice but to wait out the strike and hope for the best.
Rather than sitting around at home, I wanted to spend my time doing something useful. But in those days, it wasn’t easy to get an internship in India. There were no real career resources, so we essentially had to fend for ourselves.
One day I found a flyer on the ground at the bus stop. The flyer advertised job openings for room attendants at the upcoming Asian Games (an event that is similar to the Olympics, but limited to Asian nations).
To be honest, the flyer was short on details about the position, but I convinced a few of my friends to apply with me. In the end, five of us showed up for interviews (along with 500 other applicants).
This was my first interview, so I was more than a little nervous. But I stayed upbeat and honest, answering the interviewers’ questions as directly as I could. More importantly, I convinced the interviewers that given the chance, I would work hard and do the job to the best of my ability.
A week later I found out that three of us got the job, and would be paid Rs 25/hour ($.38/hour) to clean living quarters and toilets in the athletes’ lodgings at the Asian Games Village. But when it was time to report for training the following day, one of my friends refused to go because he thought the job was too menial.
Training continued for two weeks, during which time I focused on showing up for work on time and doing a good job for my employer. I also politely suggested some process improvements, which were well received by my supervisor and others.
Two days before the athletes arrived, I became aware of an opening for a supervisor of housekeeping, a position that represented a substantial promotion for me. With just a few weeks work experience under my belt, I knew the odds of landing the job were slim. But growing up, my mother had constantly told me that people who shy away from opportunities are never successful and that I should always be confident in myself.
As luck would have it, the interviewer was the supervisor to whom I had suggested the process improvement. He knew that I was hardworking, did not slack off and always completed my assignments.
When he asked why I should get the job, I told him that I would bring the same work ethic I had demonstrated in the room attendant position to the supervisor role. I assured him that I would get the job done right and would not let him down.
I also reminded the interviewer that I knew the job better than anyone because I worked as a room attendant and understood how to think outside the box to make the operation more efficient.
To my surprise, I got the job. In just two weeks, I went from a college freshman to a room attendant to the supervisor of housekeeping at the Asian Games Village in New Delhi. My salary jumped from Rs 25/hr to Rs 100/hr ($1.50/hr).
I was thrilled. I was assigned to the South Korean contingent and during the course of the games, I did a phenomenal job ensuring that the athletes had a positive experience while at the village.
Although I didn’t realize it back then, this job was a life-changing experience for me. First and foremost, it taught me to take the initiative because no one is going to deliver opportunities to you on a platter.
At the Asian Games Village, I also learned how important it is to stay engaged and sincere in everything you do. To get ahead in life, you have to work hard, be assertive and stay confident in yourself.
As I watch you prepare to take your first steps as adults, I already see a lot of me in you. By sharing my “first job” experience, I hope I was able to offer you insights about the path your father went down when he got started.
I am convinced that each of you will be immensely successful in everything you do, and I’m hopeful that you will think about and learn from this story as you start down your individual career paths.
I love both of you with all my heart and wish you nothing but the best. But remember: In life you will only get what you want if you work hard and strive for it. There are no limits to your success if you set your sights on your goals and remain focused.
All my love always,