Insights into the forces shaping our industry.

First Job


Every one of us can remember our first job. It’s seared into our memory; we can tell you how much we were paid, what our specific job was, what hours we worked and most details of our boss at that time. It’s a notable part of our lives. For many of us, 1st job goes back to high school, or earlier. My first job was delivering newspapers and then mowing lawns. My first job with a supervisor was a grocery store; where I bagged groceries, cleaned the floors and stocked the shelves. My first ‘real job’; i.e. post education was a sales position, in an industry I knew nothing about; lighting.

For the past 10+ years, I’ve qualified candidates for leadership positions. Now that means that my typical candidate is probably early to mid-50’s, with 30+ years of experience; post college. I always ask them to do a complete career review starting with their first job out of college. And then I ask them what their ‘best job’ has been. I’ve interviewed hundreds of leadership talent and the one answer that comes back more often than any other…. Their first job.

Over the years, careers have changed as the employment market has shifted away from 30+ year employment cycles with a retirement party, a gold watch, and a full pension. Now, the millennial career path is moving every 2-3 years… for more money and more responsibility and the ability to learn something different. I first noticed the shift in career moves when I did my first VP, Operations role for a Chicago manufacturer. The number of job changes for operations executives was off the charts… 7, 8, 10 or more. I recognized quickly that this wasn’t a personality trait of operations people; it was a reflection of the change in manufacturing in the US; especially Chicago, with heavy unionized labor forces and the high cost of living and taxes. Operations leaders would go through their ‘career’ and list the number of plants that had closed and moved to Mexico or China, or transferred production to contract manufacturers. It was a sobering search for someone who believed that ‘job-hoppers’ were somehow less-qualified employees. Most of my clients were vocal about job-hopping. I still get that concern, but it’s waning as the reality of the employment market is shifting away from ‘permanent employment’.

We live in a time in history that is unprecedented; 4 generations of workers, the longest growth of jobs in modern history (over 8 years and counting) and an unemployment rate that is virtually zero. Most people who are not working don’t want nor need to work. (Sadly, for low wage laborers, there is still significant unemployment and they’re not as mobile to go to where the job growth is). Our population is growing slower than the expansion of the economy.  We have government policies that are trying to cut immigration in half and limit visas for highly trained help, or low-wage laborers for agricultural, seasonal work.  Despite efficiency gains and robotics, the pace of societal growth can’t significantly outpace the growth of the population; for the simple reason that population growth drives economic growth; more houses, cars, refrigerators and cell phones to feed the larger population base.

China, Japan, Italy and parts of the EU are already bracing for significant shortages of labor; which will ultimately impact global growth and opportunities. The race for quality talent will increase and the competition will spur rapid wage growth. The War for Talent; written in 1997 predicted the demographic impacts of the retiring Boomers and attendant, downstream competition for quality talent to fill jobs; at all levels. It’s truly arrived and will become increasingly more challenging over the next 15 years.

But I keep coming back to the first Job. It’s almost a form of imprinting; similar to a duck following their mother (which could also be a human). But the first job appears to also be the place where they learned the most. They had the freedom of ‘ignorance’ with them… they could make mistakes and learn and grow, rapidly. They all mentioned that money was low, but the chance to learn and get better at their craft resonated with them for 30 years or more. Their mentors tend to come from that first job as well.

I wonder how our worker movement would change if we treated every employee as if they were on their first job? Give them slack for making mistakes; have a formal on-boarding program that is open and supportive and encourages questions to help them get up to speed more quickly.

We pride ourselves on recruiting people for the challenge; an extension of their success or expansion of their responsibilities. We don’t recruit anybody ‘for money’. It’s never about the money; it’s always about the challenge. If we find the person who loves the challenge… our clients’ company improves.

In the ensuing War for Talent… offer a chance to grow. Simulate that first job experience.


Ted Konnerth, Egret Consulting Group’s founder and CEO, recruits on a retained basis, helping leaders in the electrical and lighting industry identify their next C and V-level hire. He is also the executive director for the International Retained Search Associates, allowing him to liaise with skilled recruiters around the globe. To learn more about how Ted can help your company attract talent view his biography, check him out on LinkedIn or email him at