Turn Your Starter Job Into a Long-Term Career

The starter job is that first position college graduates take to bring in income and learn the fundamentals of going to work.

Given the tough economy, right now that starter job is usually outside your major and likely pays less than you expected. However, If you're smart about learning what you can from it, it can be useful platform for building your longer term career path, reports Ruth Mantell in The Wall Street Journal.

Being smart means identifying the knowledge, skills, and contacts that you can gain from the experience and developing your own little strategic plan for leveraging all that to get your next position. You can boost the payoff of the starter job by volunteering to do tasks not in your official job description. If the organization reimburses costs for career-related training, take advantage.

Being smart also means you have to assess how long you should give yourself in that job. Leave prematurely and you might not have laid enough of a foundation for the next steps in your professional life. In addition, employers might perceive you as anything from disloyal to unstable. That could result in a mediocre reference. As the cliche goes, employers might damn you with faint praise. Stay too long and you can get stuck in low lifetime earnings, reduced professional expectations for yourself. and a habit of not taking risks.

The way to determine when it's time to leave is usually by feeling a sense of mastery over everything required by that first phase of your career. Learning has reached the point of diminishing returns.

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