Are You Thankful for Your First “Real” Job Out of College?

I graduated college in 1993 with a degree in marketing. After 3 months of interviewing with a number of companies, I finally made the decision to accept a position as a management trainee with a rental car company. I have to admit that when I took the job, it wasn’t what I envisioned for myself…cleaning cars in a suit, hanging out at car dealerships and body shops, and driving people around, all so they would rent a car. I still remember thinking to myself, at $25,000/year, was college worth it?

My friends were working fewer hours for big name companies in the pharmaceutical/medical industry, and I was renting cars. In fact, one Friday after work, I met up with a friend for happy hour, and we ended up talking about paychecks. He pulled out the latest check. It was for $20,000. I would have needed to work for almost a year to make that.

Although I knew I wasn't making what I could, I was getting an MBA worth of experience at my rental car company. What I learned there would prepare me for the rest of my career. (And yes, I definitely realized that after…not in the moment.) Within my career at that time, at age 25, I was running a 5 million dollar office, where I was responsible for managing 10 employees, as well as managing profit and loss, sales, customer service, collections, and operations. I realize now that I was ultimately the owner of a company, just without the title.

Looking back, what I learned in that first job helped prepare me to start and now run one of the fastest growing companies in Minnesota, with over 140 employees.

Looking at it another way, your career is similar to that of a major league baseball player. You start out in rookie league. You are thrown in with everyone else, and not many will advance. I have a co-worker who used to play baseball (pretty well actually), and he told me that they would ride 2 hours on a bus to play a game, and he wondered if that was what being a professional baseball player was like.

He could have thrown in the towel and decided it wasn't working for him. Instead, he outworked and out-learned the people he was competing with. As you know, fewer and fewer players make it from rookie, to A-ball to AA, AAA, and very few will ever make it to the BIG Leagues. My co-worker, by the way, made it, and he played AAA for the Tigers.

Something he shared that really surprised me was that not much separated most of the players in talent. Does that tell you something? It tells me that those of you who outwork your peers now, will experience greater career success in your future. Your first position, and most definitely the first few years after graduating from college will define where your career goes. It’s not the company you work for that will shape your career…it’s YOU. For me, it was the rental car company, and for that, I am forever grateful!

Tony Sorensen is the CEO of Versique Executive Search and Consulting, and McKinley Consulting. He brings over 16 years of experience to the recruiting industry, and can be reached at