Making a Career Out of an Entry Level Job

‘Entry level’: The very word suggests that you will continue on in this same firm or industry, having opened the door, and having walked through.  What is the reality, however?  In all too many cases, the phrase ‘entry level’ translates into ‘the work that no one else wants to do’.  From the perspective of the employee entry level often translates into ‘dead end’.  For the firm, entry level jobs can be a revolving door that only occasionally garners a long term member of staff.  For employees, entry level jobs waste time that could be spent on finding and learning a job that is a more suitable match, and often at very low wages. Is there a solution to this expressing prospect?  A real entry level job offers the chance to learn about the industry, the industry segment, and the firm itself.  A true entry level position gives an employee who performs well the opportunity to compete for promotion within the firm.  It may even allow them to take their newly acquired skills and knowledge to another company and move up the ladder there. 

Let’s consider some strategies that might turn an level job into something longer term.

Job hunting

The task of avoiding a dead end entry-level job should begin long before filing an application, sending a resume, or conducting an interview.  It begins when we are looking at possible openings or, even better, firms in which we would like to work.  This includes firms that may not even be currently advertising for new hires.  Your targets include any firm where you think you would be happy.

This is where you need to do research on the firms of interest.  If you can manage to speak with a current employee, even if they are not in a position to hire, do so.  If it seems comfortable, ask questions that reveal the firm’s personnel management approach.  Ask whether new staff are trained, and how.  Is it formalized or just on the job?  Does the firm offer any sort of tuition support to help staff acquire skills and knowledge?  Is there supervisory training?  You should also inquire whether promotions are made from within the organization, chosen from the outside, or reflect a mixture of these two alternatives.  These are two areas where a firm reveals their real behavior vis-à-vis career advancement, as opposed to their published policies.  You are looking for organizations that do more than pay lip service to training staff, and consider them for upper level positions.

Interviewing

These days, most of the job hunting process may occur online.  Resume volume has increased massively.  Once upon a time, firms sent confirmations – today, even this minor courtesy is missing in many cases.  Don’t let it discourage you, and don’t use it as an excuse to give up.

If you are fortunate enough to get in to a face-to-face interview, this gives you a chance to assess whether this is a real entry level job.  Ask some of the same questions noted above.  You have the right to ask explicitly about career ladders.  Let the interviewer know that you have ambition to move up within the company – not to take the interviewer’s job (that is threatening) but definitely to progress.

As you speak with the interviewer, you should have in mind what you are prepared to do yourself to qualify yourself for promotion.  This could include:

  • Pursuing a degree or certification program on your own, with or without the financial support of the organization,
  • Taking training offered by the company even if it requires travel or extra outside work to complete,
  • And, of course, working hard at the entry-level job, should you be offered it.

First days: Set yourself apart

If hired, you need to establish a pattern that is both admirable and sustainable over the long term.  Set yourself apart from those without a good work ethic, good manners, and good attitude, and stick with it.  This may require some code switching  when you are dealing with co-workers versus supervisors.  This means that if you normally use vernacular, you need to drop that when communicating at work, as much as possible.  It is very important that, from the start, you present the appearance of aligning yourself with the values and goals of the management of the firm, rather than the line employees.  This may sound cynical, but remember, your co-workers do not sign your paycheck.  Adopt the following behavioral markers of managerially oriented workers:

  • Punctuality of arrival and lunch/breaks
  • Correct, professional dress – Dress like your boss or even their boss!
  • Grammatically correct, formal speech

Longer term strategies

Aim for the job above your boss, at the very least.  Watch out for promotions that occur anywhere in the organization and try to investigate how they happened.  Subtly, trying not to be obvious, essentially interview anybody you can who is close to a promotion, and figure out what the successful candidate did over the previous months and even years.

Add the following behaviors that characterize upwardly mobile employees:

  • Keeping track of job openings in the office
  • Doing a bit more than asked
  • Documenting what you do
  • Keeping a private journal of what occurs day by day – Watch for informative patterns in interactions and events at work
  • Being proactive about solving problems
  • Taking initiative, having first cleared such actions with your supervisor
  • Socializing with employees at a higher job level
  • Socializing across the organization
  • Make friends with someone in Personnel/Human Resources
  • Keeping current  with events and trends in the broader industry
  • Acquiring more training (see above)

Entry-level need not mean a cul-de-sac.  If you are in, then you are ahead of the game.  Observe closely, and take advantage of every opportunity to make it a career.

Article contributed by Alex Dundee. An experienced blog writer and editor, Alex currently works with Place4Papers.com – content management service. If you ever ask yourself, “Who can write my research paper?” – Place4Papers.com is your solution. They offer quality guideline materials and model papers, to be used as sources/citations for your own work. Alex loves coffee and video games, but his family and friends is always a priority for him.

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