Work experience, first jobs and eventual careers: how did we get here?

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When I was in high school, I wanted to be a lawyer. At least, I thought I did. Yes, I was writing poems and novels in my spare time but when anyone asked, I insisted I wanted to be a lawyer. “A lady lawyer,” my great aunt Violet said to me. “No,” I replied in my youthful feminist beginnings, “just a lawyer.”

In support of this, I did Year 10 work experience at a legal firm where my mother knew the owner. I don’t remember much about that week except for a couple of things:

  • I spent a lot of time in the archives doing filing.
  • I accidentally drew with a red whiteboard marker on the white shirt the receptionist was wearing because I was holding it out and she walked a little too closely past me.
  • I was mistaken for a criminal when I accompanied one of the lawyers to the court to observe what he did. (One of the clerks asked me if my case was up next and I was mortified. Clearly my work experience wardrobe was on a par with that of someone who commits crimes in their youth, gets caught and has to appear in court.)

I recognise now that I was extremely lucky not to have to venture back into the workforce for another seven years as I completed high school, my first university degree and then immediately followed it up with a two year writing and editing diploma, finally realising I was destined to be a writer. But it took just two weeks from the day I completed that diploma to land my first job.

I thought it was a dream job. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world. I thought it was going to be the first step towards a glorious career. (I’m sure you can see where this is going.) The job was executive assistant to an American film producer who had come to Australia to set up a film and television production company. He also had an executive administrator and they were both live-in positions. I moved into an apartment with him, his girlfriend and his executive administrator on the twenty-second floor of the Republic Towers in Melbourne. I had made it.

Of course, it didn’t quite turn out the way I was hoping it would. It was three months (I quit the job and moved out of the apartment after three months, not necessarily in that order) of watching a con man scam writers into thinking he was going to produce their hard work and scam investors out of their money. I didn’t actually know that’s what was happening at the time (I was young and completely lacking in real world experience) but for a reason I couldn’t quite put my finger on, I started to feel uneasy about working for him. There was a lot of flash and little substance. I needed some “honest” work so I asked my sister, who was managing a little Italian place in a shopping centre food court, for a job.

If you Google the name of that American film producer and the word “scam” now, there are lots of results. He went from scam to scam to scam (never was a genuine film producer that I can tell) and seems to be able to keep doing it, relieving unsuspecting people from their hard-earned money. There are a few websites devoted to informing anyone prepared to do a little research that he’s not what he seems. I wish there’d been one back then.

So instead of the administration role I should have begun my career with to get some experience, I spent three months being jerked around and then a year working for my sister before finally landing my first proper office job eighteen months after I finished my studies.

Now, all these years later, I wonder about where taking the other option in my own personal Sliding Doors choice – declining that executive assistant role – would have led me. Would I still be in roughly the same place I am today after spending time in the financial services, not-for-profit and mobility industries? Would I have embraced being a full-time writer more quickly? Or would it have taken longer? I could spend years trying to figure it out.

In the meantime, I’d love to read your comments about where you thought you wanted to go, the first step and if you ever got there or went in a completely different direction. Maybe we can help someone on the verge of their first job to avoid making the mistakes we have. Or maybe it’s just something everyone has to go through for themselves.

*First published on LinkedIn 17 January 2016

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