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The Happiness Myth: The Truth About Your First Job

July 19 |

As the calendar turns to Summer, we can officially celebrate the end of college graduation season. We’ve been treated to the wisdom that only celebrity commencement addresses – like one by the inimitably quotable Kanye West – can provide. And now, if you’re among the luckiest of the 1.8 million students expected to graduate this year, you’ve got a job lined up and are eagerly awaiting your first day in the real world. But sometime between that first paycheck hitting your bank account and acing your 6-month review, you’ll likely find yourself thinking “What am I doing here? And how long can I keep this up?!”

This may sound extreme, but according to Glassdoor, 61% of employees feel misled during the interview process. Sure, employers play a major role in this – with the constant barrage of epic company video montages and crazy perks it can be tough for bright-eyed candidates to get a genuine sense of the work they’ll be doing. But it can’t all be on the employer – it’s also important for graduates to truly understand what a first job is all about.

When I started my first day with Apple, I had countless expectations about what the job would be. I was on my way to becoming the next Steve Jobs or Ron Johnson (pre-JC Penny Ron, of course). Yet, just a few months later, I was considering renewing my job search in earnest. Why? Because I was chasing happiness. I remember spending time each day trying to figure out my passion as if some divine inspiration would lead to unmatched career bliss. Fortunately, at the urging of a mentor and some guidance from my favorite Shark Mark Cuban, I abandoned this search for passion and began focusing my efforts on learning the most important lesson a first job can teach you: how to be a professional.

With this newfound objective, I began asking myself different questions including:

  • What am I good at and how can I utilize these strengths in different ways?
  • What types of people should I surround myself with to create the most effective team?
  • How do I improve my ability to take and receive feedback?
  • How can I use my attitude to impact others?
  • Am I better with people or with the process?

As a result, I gained a new appreciation for the role and was almost immediately more effective. Abandoning the quest for happiness also left me, surprisingly, happier, though not in the way I’d previously defined it. And it’s the same approach that helped me land a job at AlphaSights, a company that hires only .2% of applicants!

Since joining this team I’ve interviewed hundreds of students and young professionals, all with elite educational and career backgrounds. Despite their glowing records, nothing stands out more in an interview than the composure and perspective that comes from a mature, balanced approach to your career. Professional maturity is something you’ll rarely find in a job description, but it is arguably the most important thing you can learn in your first job and something very few young professionals are truly able to develop. If you do, good luck fielding all of those jobs offers when you finally begin your search – you may need an assistant just to keep track!


Chris joined AlphaSights in February 2013 and serves as our People Operations Director.