first-job.jpgI often ask successful professionals about their first jobs. Rarely does anyone tell me they loved, or really enjoyed those initial gigs.

Why? Because it’s rare to walk out of school and into the perfect job, one that’s fun and fullfilling. That’s just how the real world works. Believe it or not, you may actually hate that first job and spend more time learning and paying dues than sitting back in a rocking chair saying, “wow, my job is so great.”

That may be a bit of a disappointment to many younger workers. One study found that enjoyment at work is the top priority for students.

80% believe a career should be something that brings
enjoyment and fulfillment to their life and 53% believe their career
will play a role in defining them as an individual
, according to CPP Inc., an personality assessment company.

It’s a worthy goal, but it may set kids up for failure when they head to their new jobs and end up cursing life on the drive or bus ride home.

My column on MSNBC.com this week looks at mistakes that recent grads make during those first jobs, and after finishing my research I realized the big faux pas often stem from a disconnect when it comes to expectations and how younger workers have come to see their job futures. Almost all the Gen Yers I talked to for the story told me they definitely got a serious reality check.

According to a recent survey by staffing firm Adecco, about 71 percent of recent college grads would have “done something differently while in college to be better prepared for the job market.”

The reason was they ended up with jobs that didn’t quite fit their majors or their expectations.

Though many did eventually find full-time employment during the downturn, the survey results showed that it was frequently not in positions that require a college degree. In fact, Adecco’s survey found that almost half (43 percent) of these Generation R graduates are currently working at a job that does not require a four-year degree.

Folks, this is not a new phenomenon. Often, recent grads end up doing something other than what they expected in order to pay the rent. I was desperate to get a job for a newspaper, but ended up escorting tourists to watch new sitcoms at CBS. This had nothing to do with my journalism major, and was definitely not fun or fulfilling, but hey, a gal’s got to work.

Even when I got a reporting gig, I was writing about underwear. Hello, I hated it.

Here’s a great first job story from Miriam Salpeter, author of “Social Networking for Career Success”:

My first job out of college was on Wall Street in a fixed-income research group; we published periodicals for institutional investors. It was exciting at first — long hours, fast-paced work. It was also extremely demanding, both from an hours perspective (we rarely worked less than a 14-hour day) and because my supervisor and colleagues were under a lot of pressure to produce.

Tired people, under stress, are not always very polite. Watching my boss, who didn’t get home until 9 or 10 pm every night, I decided the job wasn’t for me long-term. The money was great, but I wanted to have a life! The best thing about it? I learned I could get through pretty much any situation, made wonderful friends with my co-workers, and I still use a lot of what I learned on that job in my business today. I really believe, even if your first job is far from a dream job, there’s always something to learn, and the experiences help you shape your goals and identify suitable next steps for your career.

Clearly, you could look back and realize those bad jobs taught you something or connected you with great people.

Bruce, who is mid career and works for an HR management firm, didn’t like his first job in banking when he was grinding away at it. I asked him this morning if he loved the job and he answered: “In hindsight, yes. Intimidating, but at same time exciting.”

Being intimidated, paying dues, and grumbling about how much you dislike your job are all possible scenarios. So, being pragmatic for a while will serve you well. You’re not in Kansas anymore Dorothy. By Kansas I mean the sheltered school and home environment which gets so many of us thinking we’re better than we really are.

“The problem that many of us face is that we do not know how to adapt to a non-school environment,” said Renee Mitson, 22, who works for a tech company and also writes for The Next Great Generation, an online magazine written by and for the millennial generation,

“For instance,” she continued, “asking a ton of questions, and doing exactly what is on the syllabus makes you an honor student, but can make you a super annoying employee. Employers value independence and ultimately they are hiring you to make their jobs easier.”

Making an employer’s job easier? What fun is that?

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