Do our first jobs shape our professional lives long-term?

Do our first jobs shape our professional lives long-term?

When you are at school, many decisions are made for you. You are told where to sit, what to wear and when to take a break. But as school leavers enter the adult world and, as exciting as that is, it also brings a new challenge that’s a key skill, crucial to the workplace – making decisions.

Choosing the right profession when you leave school can have a long-term impact on your professional life. Therefore, it is crucial that during the decision making process that young people are given as much advice and support as possible to ensure that they are making the right choice for themselves.

This is important not only for individuals but for employers themselves, who are reporting an increase in ‘job hoppers’ – younger people who jump from job to job for a host of reasons (pay, benefits work/life balance).

We wanted to share our thoughts and expert opinions on the ways that HR departments and businesses leaders can help support school leavers in deciding on what path to take in their professional lives.

Understanding your options

It is vitally important that school leavers are presented with a comprehensive range of options available to them as they enter the adult world of working. While careers fairs can be useful, they would be of a wider value if a wider range of businesses was involved. Many are limited to the armed forces and a couple of the area’s larger employers; a wider representation of sectors and roles will present young people with an opportunity to broaden their horizons.

Going to college or sixth form

Sixth form is still part of a school, whereas a college is not. Both offer further education (colleges generally offer a greater range of courses such as NVQs, City and Guilds, Higher National Diplomas. BTECs and A-levels) and you can gain qualifications this way.

If you’re not sure which college or sixth form is right for you, check them out at open days and evenings, to get a feel for the place and the courses they offer. These qualifications can then make you eligible for further education such as university.

Do an apprenticeship or a traineeship

These help you learn new skills and set you up for the working world. They’re good if you don’t want to give up learning but have had enough of traditional education. Do some research on how to get an apprenticeship or traineeship, and which ones are best for the sorts of careers that might interest you.

For employers that offer apprenticeships or traineeship schemes, they need to ensure that they are explaining the stages and fully explain the different job roles and how they will/could progress within the business. By fully explaining the apprenticeship and what is involved, you will be able to retain a young person as they are motivated and understand the career path they are taking.

Schools and businesses need to work in closer conjunction when it comes to apprenticeships, as they are now being seen as a more viable option.

Get a job

You can get a proper wage and your first taste of working life. Jobs are advertised in lots of places: try looking at recruitment sites, LinkedIn, social media, local newspapers and by asking people you know and trust. Career advisers at school will be able to also support you in finding your first adult job, they will help in creating a CV and preparing for an interview.

If you are an employer looking to hire someone in a full-time position, again, you must explain to potential employees that are school leavers of the stages and fully explain the different job roles and how they will/could progress within the business.

Making a decision and how employers can help

  • Do your research

Once someone has decided on their chosen career, they now need to think about how to get there. Find a job ad for your chosen field and look at what employers require.

If they’re after experience, how can you get it? If they want a degree, what are the entry requirements? By working backwards, you can map out your course of action.

Businesses can help school leavers in this process by providing them with as much information as possible on how they can achieve their chosen careers.

  • Don’t worry

A lot of people think choosing a career path at age 16 is the only decision they’ll ever make. It’s not. If you change your mind, you can change your career. You can always go back to school, change your degree or job, do another apprenticeship, or even re-train.

Think about where you’d like to be in two, five, even 10 years’ time. Sit down and create a plan of how you might get there. Why not take inspiration from people you admire? How did they get to where they are? Remember, every journey is different so focus on what feels right for you.

If you are a business, offer a mentoring scheme to young adults, this could help them discover the next steps and have personal support.

  • Take a career personality test

Career personality tests are also known as career aptitude tests or self-assessment tests. It doesn’t matter what they’re called, though. They ask you easy questions to figure out your likes and dislikes, then bring up a handy list of career ideas that match your interests.

If you are a large business with a range of different departments, creating an in-house career personality test could help find the best jobs and roles for an individual. This would ensure that they are placed in the department that is suitable to them and their skillset.


Your first job choice will have an impact on your long-term professional life, if you make a wrong decision it can create long delays getting into the right career for you. This is why businesses and schools need to provide as much information, advice and support to school leavers.

If you require any additional information on how your business can support, attract and retain school leavers, consult an independent HR expert for advice and support.