Why my first jobs mattered

Barack Obama's first LinkedIn article had this same title, so let's see how this goes.

At the age of 16 I was a Saturday girl in a local chemist, my sole career goal being to earn a few pounds to blow that same weekend with my friends. I remember the fun points - the young lad who would buy the largest box of cheap shampoo in order to hide condoms underneath; the Christmas Eve stampede of husbands wanting perfume for their wives - and their relieved gratitude when I offered to gift-wrap it for them.

But it wasn't all rosy. My boss was over-bearing and controlling, and my strategy back then was to avoid her.

Fast forward to the end of my first year at uni. I had a six-month study exchange looming in Nice, and with money tight at home, no means to pay for the flight. So I took a summer job in a factory, and this time I don't really recall any fond memories: apple peeling is tougher than it looks. Decked out in wellies, overalls and a hairnet (thankfully no Instagram back then), trying to keep pace with the coring machine whilst it sprayed me with apple juice was no picnic (pardon the pun). The regular staff wouldn't talk to the temps and we had segregated tables at break times.

I learnt that when you hate your job, the hands on that clock you're watching move infinitesimally slowly. I vowed I would do whatever it took to gain control of the work I did in future.

Fast forward to my first ‘proper job’ - a graduate scheme at General Electric where I stayed for 20 years. For the most part I loved it. I was using my skills, the culture fitted me perfectly; I worked with people smarter than me who taught me a lot, and colleagues who made the toughest moments fun. The size of the organisation meant I had multiple careers across different business units without feeling stifled.

That's not to say it was an easy ride. I still had nightmare bosses, and some assignments that were uninspiring, but I developed the skills and the resilience to approach each problem and get a resolution. I discovered that every role is a learning experience which builds capability for the next set of challenges.


What you’ve done can help you discover what you want to do, and more importantly it can be the foundation of the personal development that will get you there. If this resonates with you and you want a career change or some guidance on how to turn those tricky experiences into interview answers to be proud of, then simply contact me at holly@hollyashford.com - I'd love to help you!